Tusk to Tail: On the trail for bourbon, horse racing and good food … and a football game

I hope everyone enjoyed their week off from Razorback football. Perhaps you were even lucky enough to take in the Red-White basketball game at Barnhill on Saturday afternoon. It looked like a packed house, and I hear it brought back a lot of fond memories for everyone who attended.

Tusk to Tail is excited for the Musselman era. We hope we have finally found the right man to get men’s basketball back to relevance and sustained success.

This is still football season, however, and there is a winnable game out there for this team in Lexington, Ky., on Saturday. The temperature has finally dropped, and it is beginning to feel like fall. The SEC Network picked this up for a 6:30 p.m. central kickoff, and the weather is looking favorable for those of us making the trip.

If you have hung out with TTT over the past several years at home or on the road, you have more than likely heard us tell you that this is the trip you want to make. There is actually very little that sets Kentucky football apart from the SEC. They do not have the rich tradition of Alabama, they don’t have anything that compares to The Grove at Ole Miss for tailgating, and they certainly don’t have the tasty grub that can be found in the state of Louisiana. They don’t even have a particularly nice stadium.

But what they do have lifts them up to be one of the top tailgater destination locations and games in these United States. You mix in the Bourbon Trail, the Horse racing capital of the world, and enough good southern cuisine to make the Colonel sit up and listen, and what else do you need? Oh yeah, a football game. Notice, no mention of basketball there.

I started with hotel reservations last fall. We have 18 in our traveling party so it’s split between a hotel and an Airbnb location. Our Northwest Arkansas party is planning to pull out with all of the gear around 6 a.m. on Wednesday, which should put us in Lexington about 12 hours later. If you are traveling from NWA, I do not suggest following the southern route via Paducah, Ky. It is 60 miles shorter but only 3 minutes faster and not a safe route. We will go to Joplin and over to St. Louis for lunch at Bogart’s BBQ and then on over to Lexington, all via the interstate. That route should have us through Louisville before rush hour and into Lexington around 6:30 p.m. local time.

If you are leaving from central Arkansas, I’d suggest about a 9 a.m. departure, grabbing lunch in Memphis and then over and up to Lexington around 5pm. However, if you are looking for something different than Memphis BBQ you could leave at 7 a.m., grab lunch in Nashville and be in Lexington mid-afternoon. It’s all interstate, but you might hit some interstate construction in eastern Nashville.

As I mentioned earlier, one thing that makes this trip a must do is the Bourbon Trail. Bourbon has leapt from the bottom of the shelf and taken its place as one of the most desired spirits in the world over the past decade. I feel like this is due to the ability of each master distiller to impact the flavor profile of their product much like Scotch Whiskey has done for years. Different mash bills, different casks, and the aging of the product can all give you different taste. Searching for a new favorite is half the fun.

So, this Thursday will be a Bourbon Trail day for our crew. Some distilleries we plan to hit are Buffalo Trace, Woodford Reserve, Wild Turkey, and Four Roses. That being said, there are so many quality distilleries, and the proximity is so convenient you can’t go wrong. Some of our guys are even going to Louisville on Friday to take in the tours and eats that can be found there. The remainder will be attending Keeneland Horse Racking Park located in Lexington. They have a 30-day racing season in October that will feature several of next year’s Kentucky Derby contenders.

I’ve only spent one weekend in Lexington back in 2009, and we got there so late on Friday we didn’t have much time to enjoy the city. From what I’ve been researching, there is no shortage of bourbon bars, top notch restaurants, and sports bars.

We hope to set up our tents at a tailgate spot that we found 10 years ago, when most of us first visited with Bobby Petrino’s first team. Best I can tell from satellite imagery, it is still there. I have their number to call on the way over to confirm, and I have some back up spots in mind, too.

The primary location was fairly close to the stadium and allowed for all day tailgating with some shade. The official lots near the stadium appear to limit access until about 4 hours before game time, and best I can tell don’t offer any shade and limited tailgating grass. Football tailgating just isn’t a high priority at a basketball school.

It’s going to be a long day, so we will start with some chicken nuggets early and graduate to some BBQ. Right now, we are planning on about 30 to 35 joining us for food and drinks, which is a great number for being so far from home. We plan to take a lot of gear to make sure everyone is comfortable and to show the Kentucky fans that even though we are 12 hours from home, Hogs fans can bring the intensity and hopefully pull out a win.

Go Hogs, Beat Wildcats!

Editor’s note: Now in its eighth year, Tusk to Tail is the sport of tailgating as organized, performed and perfected by a group of Hog fans who have been tailgating together sober and otherwise for more than a decade. The primary focus of Tusk to Tail will be to follow the Hogs through the fans’ perspective with their insightful, irreverent, smart-alecky and sometimes practical style. Tusk to Tail sponsors are the Arkansas Lottery Scholarship program and Turn Key Construction Management. The diehards may also be followed on their Facebook page. Or follow the crew on Twitter and Instagram, all @TuskToTail.

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