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The Most Quintessential Kentucky Things Ever

Today is Kentucky’s 226th birthday, and to celebrate, I came up with a list of 22.6 things that are quintessentially Kentuckian. I’m talking about the stuff that, if you’re raised here, is in your blood, even if you move away. Stuff that people from outside the Commonwealth just don’t understand. Stuff that’s just…Kentucky.

1. Bourbon

Obviously. The pride of the Commonwealth, bourbon is as Kentucky as it gets, right down to the limestone that makes it so unique. As bourbon has boomed over the past ten years, so has Kentucky’s tourism. If you’ve got friends visiting from out of state, odds are you’ll take them to a distillery or along the bourbon trail. Even if you’re not a huge bourbon fan, basic knowledge of the spirit is instilled in you. We do this better than anyone. (Sorry, Brooklyn.)

2. The Kentucky Derby

The other obvious top choice. For two minutes each year, the world turns its eyes to Louisville, and between the horses, the hats, and the B-roll of horse country, our state never looks better. For us ex-pat Kentuckians, there’s no homesick like Derby homesick, especially when “My Old Kentucky Home” starts up.

3. Keeneland

The Derby and Churchill Downs are more well-known, but Keeneland has my heart. Despite the fact that you’re, you know, gambling, trips to Keeneland almost feel religious to me, from the unparalleled beauty of the grounds, the pilgrimage from your parking spot to the gate, and (almost) everyone decked out in their Sunday best. Give me a spot on the rail, a program, and a Keeneland Breeze and I’m at church.

4. Kentucky Basketball

There is no fanbase like the Big Blue Nation. Alabama football is a close second, but Kentucky basketball fans are an unique breed. What other program can boast that its fans camp out for free tickets to a practice? Or support websites like this? I have a job because Kentucky fans love their Cats so much, something I never take for granted.

5. Ale-8-One

Kentucky’s official soft drink has been around for over 90 years and only now are people outside of the state sitting up and taking notice. Ale-8-One has started popping up at hipster foodie spots across the South, but whenever I see one, I’ll always flash back to commercials like this:

Has anyone tried the new Cherry flavor?

6. Hot Browns

Because I’m from Kentucky, I feel like I have to like hot browns, but really, I don’t. Most people will say that’s because I haven’t had a good one, but an open faced turkey sandwich with Mornay sauce all over it? No thanks. Sandwiches are not meant to be eaten with forks and knives. Just give me the bacon, please.

7. Burgoo

Now, this is a Kentucky food I can wholeheartedly support. Spicier than a normal beef stew, it’s the perfect thing to warm you up on a cold, rainy day at Keeneland. Just don’t ever tell me all the different types of meat in it.

8. BBQ Mutton

Don’t worry, Western Kentucky, I didn’t forget you. Owensboro is the Mutton Capital of the World, which is why Moonlite Bar-B-Q Inn is a must stop. North Carolina has pulled pork with vinegar sauce; Texas has brisket; Memphis has dry rub; Kansas City has burnt ends. Kentucky has mutton. It’s just our thing.

How many of us have a picture like this in our phone?

9. The Castle

If you’re from the Central Kentucky area, odds are you know some some version of the history of the castle on Versailles Road. It’s like the Bluegrass’ demented fairy tale. A man started building it for his wife and then they got divorced. Instead of finishing it, he put it on the market and for decades, it sat vacant. Finally, someone bought it in 2003 and a year later, it caught fire. After a series of owners and renovations, it’s now a successful bed and breakfast, restaurant, and concert venue.

10. Dinosaur World

Even though I’ve never actually been to Dinosaur World, I feel like I have because the 65-foot T-Rex statue marks the midway point between Nashville and Lexington. Like the Castle, it’s always a good photo-op while on the road.

11. Beer Cheese

I didn’t realize beer cheese was just a Kentucky thing until I moved away and couldn’t find it. How is this not a staple on any bar or deli menu across the country? Even Queen Elizabeth became a fan after trying some on a visit to Lexington.

12. Chained Rock

If you listen to KSR, you know the legend of Chained Rock, a large rock that sits on a cliff above Pineville in Eastern Kentucky. In 1933, a group of Pineville residents grew tired of people worrying the rock would roll down Pine Mountain and flatten the town so they put a giant chain around it and anchored it to the cliff. Turns out the rock is actually part of the cliff itself, so the chain isn’t really needed, but it’s still there to this day, serving as a cautionary tale for parents to use on their children.

13. Mint Juleps

Since it’s the drink of the Derby and all, I guess I have to put mint juleps on the list, but as I wrote last month, they’re gross:

I’ll say it: Mint Juleps are gross

14. Derby Pie

On the flip side, Derby pie is delicious. Bourbon, pecans/walnuts, sugar, chocolate…how can you go wrong?

15. Mammoth Cave

The longest known cave system in the world, Mammoth Cave was a requisite field trip for any kid who grew up in Kentucky. For that reason, I still remember the difference between a stalactite and a stalagmite.

Image result for pulled candy kentucky

16. Pull Cream Candy

If you’ve ever gotten a Kentucky-themed gift basket, this was probably in it. And it’s probably still sitting in the back of your pantry.

17. Cumberland Falls

The Niagara of the South, Cumberland Falls and its moonbow are another reminder that Kentucky is one of the prettiest places in the world.

18. Shakertown

Like Mammoth Cave, the other requisite Kentucky school field trip. My childhood is flooded with memories of going to Shakertown, watching sheep be shorn, making corn husk dolls, and singing along to “‘Tis A Gift To Be Simple” (I still know all the words). Nowadays, Shakertown is a much cooler place, with yoga, hiking trails, a farm-to-table restaurant, and even a music and beer festival (Shoutout to Well Crafted, which takes place on June 16).

Image result for the rock quarry kentucky lake

19. Land Between The Lakes

You know that commercial that boasts Kentucky has more shoreline than Florida? That’s true in large part to Land Between The Lakes, the largest inland peninsula in the country. Lake Barkley and Kentucky Lake border the 170,000 acres of forested and protected public land, and if you’ve been there, you’ve probably visited The Rock Quarry on Kentucky Lake, aka Party Cove, which always needs more UK graffiti.

20. Benedictine Spread

Kentucky tzatziki, I call it. This cucumber cheese spread was created by Jennie Carter Benedict, a caterer from Louisville a long, long time ago. It’s perfect on just about anything.

21. Country Ham and Beaten Biscuits

Another Derby favorite, and one that I will probably never make properly. (Thankfully you can order them online.)

Image result for natural bridge kentucky

22. Red River Gorge/Natural Bridge

A nature-lover’s paradise, Red River Gorge offers some of the best hiking trails not just in the state, but the entire Southeast. The area encompasses 29,000 acres in the Daniel Boone Natural Forest and is adjacent to Natural Bridge, a magnificent sandstone arch that spans 78 feet and is 66 feet high.

22.6 Miguel’s Pizza

No trip to Red River Gorge is complete without a stop at the eccentric Miguel’s Pizza, which has been fueling climbers for years.

 

So, happy birthday, Kentucky. We love you.

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Article written by Mrs. Tyler Thompson

No, I will not make you a sandwich, but you can follow me on Twitter @MrsTylerKSR or email me.

66 Comments for The Most Quintessential Kentucky Things Ever



  1. jimmer
    5:57 pm June 1, 2018 Permalink

    Bluegrass Music.



    • gobble gobble
      7:31 pm June 1, 2018 Permalink

      Kentucky basketball DEFINITELY comes before Keeneland… the only people in KY who care about Keeneland are people in Lex



    • DelrayCat
      7:44 pm June 1, 2018 Permalink

      This deserves to be high on the list….but sadly, there is not a single place in KY that consistently has bluegrass bands. Gotta go to Denver or maybe Asheville for that.



  2. JC3
    6:03 pm June 1, 2018 Permalink

    No self respecting Kentuckian would ever exclude Kentucky Moonshine! Great list though Mrs. Tyler. GOD bless. JC



  3. BBNDan7
    6:10 pm June 1, 2018 Permalink

    Cherry Ale8 taste like cough syrup. Ruined a good thing



    • UKPROF
      10:01 pm June 1, 2018 Permalink

      Don’t buy the cherry…or drink it. Stick to the original!



  4. My Dixie Wrecked
    6:22 pm June 1, 2018 Permalink

    23. Inbreeding



    • runningunnin.454
      6:42 pm June 1, 2018 Permalink

      We have an expert here.



    • KentuckyFan232
      7:22 pm June 1, 2018 Permalink

      People who use stereotypes shows true ignorance



    • Bull Filmer
      8:52 pm June 1, 2018 Permalink

      My Dixie is inbred…. ‘hizzown self’. Dumb ass uavel fan. L O S E R !



  5. kingave66
    6:23 pm June 1, 2018 Permalink

    I always load up on Grippos when I head back!!!



  6. runningunnin.454
    6:45 pm June 1, 2018 Permalink

    When I think of hot brown, it’s open faced roast beef with gravy. A cheese sauce over turkey would not be brown.
    FYI, burgoo has to have squirrel.
    Good article, enjoyed that.



    • unbridled
      9:41 pm June 1, 2018 Permalink

      Squirrel is not required but encouraged. Burgoo is just an economical way to pull a delicious meal together. Burgoo can pretty much have anything in it.

  7. Hipster foodie joints? I don’t know what qualifies as that, but I’ve bought it at Cracker Barrel in Bama. lol



  8. KentuckyFan232
    7:21 pm June 1, 2018 Permalink

    Hot take: Ale8 is not good.



  9. Ridge Runner
    7:21 pm June 1, 2018 Permalink

    Awesome, yes I would add moonshine and .. Abe Lincoln cabin / birthplace as well as a new entry The Arc.



  10. DelrayCat
    7:35 pm June 1, 2018 Permalink

    Soup beans and cornbread



    • Bull Filmer
      8:57 pm June 1, 2018 Permalink

      DelrayCat!

      Day um, man!

      I was gonna bring that up. So glad you did!

      There is simply nothing like it. It was TRUE Farm To Table – only, we didn’t know any better.

      Got to have fresh garden green onions with that meal. Well water cool aid.

      And Fresh garden grown watermelon for desert.

      That is just the best!



    • bigbluebanana
      11:30 pm June 1, 2018 Permalink

      Well water cool aid is a great band name



    • unbridled
      9:48 pm June 1, 2018 Permalink

      Yes it’s great but I don’t think of it as “exclusively Kentucky”



    • Bull Filmer
      10:28 pm June 1, 2018 Permalink

      unbridled…..thank you for your comment.

      Son, if you are from Eastern Kentucky…….appreciate it.

      Otherwise…….

    • YES! My favorite Delray. The best! Add a little Tabasco to the beans.

      The watermelon also. Y’alls a makin me HONGRY!!!

    • And my mom always does awesome fried taters in the iron skillet to go with them. Beans n taters!



  11. bigbluebanana
    7:55 pm June 1, 2018 Permalink

    KSP, the castle in the Cumberland! When people find out I’m from Kentucky and I say “Eddyville”, they ask if it’s near Louisville. I then tell them it’s where the prison that looks like an old European castle is and they always know.



  12. Mathlete
    8:37 pm June 1, 2018 Permalink

    Dippin dots didn’t make the list? That’s a shame



  13. Bull Filmer
    9:14 pm June 1, 2018 Permalink

    Love Impellizzeri’s Pizza. Whenever I travel to the ‘Ville, Impellizzeri’s Pizza is a must stop. It is some of THE best Pizza I’ve ever had.

    If you’ve never stayed at the Brown Hotel, book a room. And, the Bar is phenomenal.

    Seelbach is cool too.

    If you go to Lextown, you have to stay in one of 2 hotels connected to RUPP Arena…..and go to a game….then dine within that area having truly never left the skyway (except for Saul Good which is around the block).



  14. UKPROF
    9:58 pm June 1, 2018 Permalink

    The fact that the Corvette is built in Kentucky, and has been for 38 years, should have made this list…IMO. The Corvette Museum and GM Assembly Plant have been voted the #1 tourist attraction in the state. Too bad the Corvette was overlooked for Dinosaur World and Shakertown. True, Corvettes are more expensive than a dinner at Miguel’s Pizza or a trip to Moon-Lite BBQ.



    • Bull Filmer
      10:39 pm June 1, 2018 Permalink

      Completely agree. it’s on the bucket list.



    • Wade
      9:39 am June 2, 2018 Permalink

      Disco balls



  15. riss1819
    10:03 pm June 1, 2018 Permalink

    No to Moonlite, if you know better you go to Old Hickory in Owensboro.



    • henderblue
      9:26 am June 2, 2018 Permalink

      True that ^^^



    • AncientOne
      9:30 am June 2, 2018 Permalink

      Absolutely! Old Hickory has always had the best BBQ in O’boro.



  16. CatBlue in LR
    10:53 pm June 1, 2018 Permalink

    The Kentucky-Indiana All-Star basketball series. I realize it’s not what it once was, but it has its place historically.



  17. LocoWildcat
    11:50 pm June 1, 2018 Permalink

    Quite surprised that you made no mention of anything having to do with the production of tobacco in Kentucky, which dates back to the mid 19th century, and is recognized as one of the very top tobacco producers in the country. It’s probably the top cash crop in the state and generates boatloads of cash in tax revenues. And I daresay many tens of thousands, if not more, Kentucky kids grew up on tobacco farms. And old tobacco barns can very picturesque and add much to the Kentucky countryside. Don’t mean to nitpick, Tyler. I love your writing and read everything you post with great pleasure. Probably because I’m an old nostalgic tobacco kid myself. Please keep up the good work. As this is my first post, please let me say that I’m crazy about the irreverent and ridiculous manner in which you guys go about your work! I consider KSR itself to be “Quintessential Kentucky”.



    • UKnowMe
      12:53 am June 2, 2018 Permalink

      As someone who spent their formative years setting, topping, cutting and hanging I salute you.



    • jaws2
      3:12 pm June 2, 2018 Permalink

      Waaaaaaay to damn politically INCORRECT for the libs running the place! Tobacco is EEEEEEEEVILL to the libs!!



  18. DerBaron
    7:50 am June 2, 2018 Permalink

    Burgoo? Calumet and Claiborne Farms? Rock Walls? Shakertown?



  19. timer2
    8:05 am June 2, 2018 Permalink

    The Cumberland River

    The Sweet Sixteen

    Joe Bologna’s



    • CatBlue in LR
      11:54 pm June 2, 2018 Permalink

      Absolutely. How is the Boy’s Sweet 16 not on there?



  20. BossDawg
    8:51 am June 2, 2018 Permalink

    Good article Mrs TT. I’d like to add;

    Bluegrass Music-Bill Monroe,Osbourne Bros,Ricky Skaggs,Dave Evans etc…
    Country Music-Loretta Lynn, Judds,Keith Whitley,Gary Stewart, Chris Stapleton etc…
    Coal Mining
    Moonshine

    And for modern times…Welfare and Pills!



  21. The Big Lebowski
    9:30 am June 2, 2018 Permalink

    Louisville Slugger???



  22. The Big Lebowski
    9:32 am June 2, 2018 Permalink

    Bill Monroe and Bluegrass Music



  23. The Big Lebowski
    9:32 am June 2, 2018 Permalink

    Marijuana



    • 4everUKblue
      9:55 am June 2, 2018 Permalink

      My father grew and sold hemp (not marijuana) in the 50’s. We should be able to do that now.



  24. The Big Lebowski
    9:32 am June 2, 2018 Permalink

    Justified



  25. Wade
    9:36 am June 2, 2018 Permalink

    Barn quilts



  26. janiemae2001
    9:39 am June 2, 2018 Permalink

    Looks like some bias toward the eastern part of the state.
    What about Columbus Belmont Park and Fancy Farm
    Picnic .



  27. N-UR-i
    9:48 am June 2, 2018 Permalink

    *** Muhammad Ali?!?!?



  28. Mojo Risin
    10:56 am June 2, 2018 Permalink

    I feel like Kentucky Fried Chicken is pretty much quintessential



    • UKPROF
      1:45 pm June 2, 2018 Permalink

      Absoluted Mojo! Only complaint with KFC is their STUPID commercials. When will they learn, if you advertize your product like it;s a joke, people take it as a joke. Wake up KFC marketing and advertize like you have a real product, something other than actors acting silly and stupid.



  29. DerBaron
    12:11 pm June 2, 2018 Permalink

    Falls City beer



  30. Wade
    12:36 pm June 2, 2018 Permalink

    Abraham Lincoln



  31. sincitycat
    12:49 pm June 2, 2018 Permalink

    Dr. Hunter S. Thompson



  32. BNClay
    1:57 pm June 2, 2018 Permalink

    Dinosaurs World and Shaker town suck. Mammoth Cave and Chain Rock are friggen awesome.

    Hot brown, Ale-8, Grippos!



  33. nonamejoe
    4:55 pm June 2, 2018 Permalink

    I applaud your effort to compile a list, but you whiffed on several of them. Dinosaur World?, Burgoo?,BBQ Mutton?…….Over My Old Kentucky Home, Tobacco, Kentucky Fried Chicken?……..and haven’t we marketed ourselves for generations as the “Bluegrass” State?



  34. CatBlue in LR
    11:59 pm June 2, 2018 Permalink

    Not to quibble, but there’s no way Keeneland comes in ahead of Kentucky basketball!