For Memorial Day Weekend this year (May 28 – 30, 2016), my fiancé and I took a weekend trip to Cincinnati, Ohio. We also spent a good part of the trip in Kentucky visiting bourbon distilleries. The weekend was not only a good chance to explore both states, but also a nice opportunity to see more of this country.
How did we decide on Cincinnati?
Price. That weekend is typically one of the pricier weekends to fly, but out of curiosity, I did a last-minute search from our nearby airports to “everywhere.” Read the guide to finding cheap flights using Skyscanner if you want to see how this is done. We found a flight out of Philadelphia for $160 per person/round trip on Frontier Airlines that fit our schedule perfectly. After looking up potential things to do, we went ahead and booked two tickets.
We had a few main goals for this trip:
- Try Cincinnati Chili, a regional dish consisting of a Mediterranean-spiced meat sauce served on spaghetti or hot dogs
- Try Goetta, a meat-and-grain sausage popular in the greater Cincinnati area
- and of course, visit bourbon distilleries in Kentucky (Cincinnati is on the Ohio-Kentucky border and the Cincinnati’s airport is actually located in Kentucky)
This was our first time flying Frontier Airlines and it is quite similar to Spirit Airlines. You’re allowed a “personal item” (a small book bag), but you will need to pay for carry-on baggage. Our flight was delayed 2 hours and they e-mailed me a $25 voucher, which is non-transferable and expires within 90 days. It was a good gesture, but I don’t think I will be able to use it as they are very limited in their destinations.
For our hotel stays, I used Marriott points to pay for our stays. There is a good amount of Marriott locations around Cincinnati and in Frankfort, Kentucky near the bourbon distilleries. We saved about $275 over two nights by paying with points versus cash.
Cincinnati Chili is extremely popular in the Cincinnati area. You will find local chains that specialize in this regional dish such as Skyline Chili and Goldstar at every corner. This dish is not really “chili”—or at least chili in the way the rest of the country is used to; it is a sweet meat sauce that is typically poured over a bowl of spaghetti, or sometimes, used as a hot dog topping.
The system for ordering. Yes, there is a system for ordering that involves how many “ways” you want your spaghetti.
- Two-way – topped with chili
- Three-way – topped with chili and cheese
- Four-way – topped with chili, cheese, and beans
- Five-way – topped with chili, cheese, beans, and onions
Pictured above is a plate of spaghetti and hot dogs from Skyline Chili. There are at least 6 Skyline Chili locations that surround the Cincinnati-Northern Kentucky International Airport (CVG). Regardless of whatever direction you need to head, you can easily stop in and grab some Cincinnati Chili. Admittedly, I was a bit disappointed because I found the spaghetti and the hot dogs to be too bland. There is hot sauce on the table but it is more tangy than spicy. This was still a good, local experience, and I was looking forward to trying more Cincy Chili.
At Gold Star, I only ordered the hot dogs so that I could sample the chili. It is slightly sweeter than Skyline’s, but also lacked the kick of spice I was looking for. I don’t think I prefer either one; I think what does help is that the cheese that is used bland. Another location we wanted to try was Blue Ash Chili which people raved about on Yelp! and was described as being thicker and meatier.; however, Blue Ash is closed on Sundays (and that Monday, given the holiday).
The Bourbon Trail
Bourbon is mostly made in Kentucky and a lot of the distilleries have tours open to the public. The Kentucky Distilleries Association runs a marketing campaign called “The Bourbon Trail” which promotes its members’ distilleries. We went to the Buffalo Trace Distillery, which used to be a part of the marketing campaign but left in years prior. The decision to go to Buffalo Trace is that we heard it was one of the best stops of Bourbon Trail (and its tours are also free).
The tour was informative and you left knowing the ABCs of bourbon. The legal definition for bourbon is:
- Alcohol – The bourbon goes into the barrel at no more than 125 proof and gets bottled at no less than 80 proof
- Barrels – New charred oak barrels are to used for the aging process
- Corn – The grain mixture must be at least half corn
The only geographic requirement is that it has to be made in the United States. I guess the first A can also be short for “American” if you need help remembering that fun fact. Two other nearby distilleries are Woodford Reserve and Wild Turkey, which we didn’t get a chance to visit.
The rest of our trip in pictures.