Off the Kentucky Bourbon Trail
is a review of things to do, places to stay
and honey holes to visit off the
Kentucky Bourbon Trail.
Commonwealth Tapby Jeremy Schell
When thinking about the Kentucky Bourbon Trail in Louisville area, it is the obvious choice to stay in the revitalized and booming downtown of Louisville. This hasn’t always been the case but it’s back. It’s awesome. It’s the place to be. There’s so much to do and after spending several days, it is entirely possible to not experience everything downtown has to offer. It is, however, often a great idea to get Off the Kentucky Bourbon Trail, venture out and try the road less traveled. Surprisingly, if yourself headed northeast towards Prospect, Kentucky, you’ll find the Stepford community of Norton Commons. Tucked away along the main drag, is the almost hidden gem, Commonwealth Tap. Once inside, you may not ever want to leave … unless you're craving food.
At Commonwealth Tap, their slogan may be “Life’s too short to drink bad wine”, but don’t fret, the bourbon and whiskey selection is one of the best around. Boasting more than 350 wines, 250 bourbons and whiskeys, decent craft beer on tap and the local favorite, Bourbon Slushies. The Tap is a quaint, wood-paneled, hole-in-the-wall neighborhood hang-out. Once inside, the back wall is lined with hundreds of wines and behind the bar is covered with bourbons and whiskey from nearly floor to ceiling. About a half-dozen high top tables and the dozen or so seats around the bar are a perfect place to gather after work with your socialite friends, stick your pinkie out and enjoy a dram or a glass of wine. I have heard their "Friends with Benefits" Wine Club is something worth joining. When the weather is nice, sit and relax at one of the tables out front or just stroll up to the huge roll-up bar window and order a drink or a Bourbon Slushie. Did I mention they have Bourbon Slushies on tap?
If cocktails are your thing, the Tap offers several that are sure to please; Manhattan ($10) with Buffalo Trace, Whiskey Sour ($9) with Buffalo Trace and please be sure to ask to use an egg white, Old Fashioned ($10) with Rittenhouse Rye and the Sazerac ($9). I was surprised they make their Sazerac with bourbon instead of a rye whiskey but, that’s one way to go. If you’re looking for something south of the border, I’ve been told the Margarita ($8) is darn good too. The whiskey list is rather extensive and can be overwhelming even for the well versed bourbon enthusiasts. Pricing is across the board and with two-ounce pours, there are some really good offerings at a reasonable price. Henry McKenna Single Barrel ($11), Heaven Hill 6-yr BiB – yes, that one! ($4), Eagle Rare Small Batch ($11), Booker’s ($15), Ezra Brooks 12-yr single barrel ($11), Old Forester Signature ($7), Elmer T. Lee ($16), Woodford Reserve Double Oaked ($16) and Sazerac 6-yr Rye ($7). Usually there are a few solid private barrel selections available, each for ($10). At the time of this review, this included Old Forester Single Barrel, Knob Creek and an outstanding 1792 Full Proof. I was almost impressed with the Evan Williams BiB ($4) being available on tap. Unfortunately, it was all sold out while I was there and I didn't get to see them pour anything from it. Perhaps it is just a novelty. For myself, I enjoyed the 1792 Full Proof single barrel ($10) and the Booker’s 2016-05 ($15). Both excellent and didn't break the bank.
If money has no meaning or you’re looking to enjoy a seldom seen unicorn, you’ll find a few to choose from readily available up on the bar. These include Cream of Kentucky ($35), Elijah Craig 18-yr. ($30), Elijah Craig 23-yr. ($40), Booker’s 30th Anniversary ($46), George T. Stagg ($36), Heaven Hill 27-yr. ($76), Michter’s Toasted Barrel Bourbon ($28), Kentucky Owl – several batches ($35), Old Rip Van Winkle 10-yr. ($32), Lot B 12-yr. ($35), Pappy Van Winkle 15-yr. ($42), Pappy Van Winkle 20-yr. ($65), Pappy Van Winkle 23-yr. ($85), Willett Family Estate 14-yr. bourbon ($86) and Van Winkle 13-yr. Rye ($45).
If you enjoy any of the wines, canned beers and a lot of the bourbons, Commonwealth Tap also has a package license so grab a bottle to go. I was disappointed that despite having 7-8 of their 1792 Full Proof single barrels on the shelf, sadly, none of them were for sale.
If food is your thing, don’t expect much. The only items on the menu consist of Bread and oil or a Cheese plate. This might be slim offerings, but the management is happy to allow food to be brought in or delivered. There are several excellent local selections including a wonderful sushi restaurant two doors down.Commonwealth Tap offers an excellent selection and a fun atmosphere, you just have to get Off the Kentucky Bourbon Trail.