5 Great Places to Drink Bourbon on Northern Kentucky’s “B-Line”

Drink Lists Kentucky
5 Great Places to Drink Bourbon on Northern Kentucky’s “B-Line”

Most cities with tourism built around “night life” spots tend to conduct a certain, delicate dance around directly or bombastically advertising themselves as destinations for drinking. Alcohol is, after all, still viewed as a vice to a sizeable segment of polite society, which leads many cities known for craft beer, spirits or cocktail scenes to obliquely hint at the booze opportunities involved in a visit rather than trumpeting them to the heavens. There’s a certain bashfulness, in other words, in completely embracing the popularity of most drinking scenes.

This is not the case in Kentucky. Not by a long shot.

The heartland of bourbon whiskey is a world unto itself, when it comes to the way spirits permeate society and popular culture. The very moment you step off the plane in a city like Louisville, it’s entirely likely that bourbon advertising is the first thing you’ll see in the airport. Giant maps of the Kentucky Bourbon Trail adorn the walls, driving home the enormity of the state’s whiskey industry and its status as a major tourism driver. And it’s not just the likes of Louisville, Lexington and Bardstown, either–the same whiskey enthusiasm also greets you the moment you disembark at the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport. This is the gateway to one of Kentucky’s richest bourbon regions, but one that can be too easily overlooked, especially by first-time visitors. This is the zone they now call The B-Line, a string of whiskey-centric distilleries, bars and restaurants in Northern Kentucky, centered around the twin cities of Covington and Newport, just across the river from Cincinnati. Taken together, stops on The B-Line promise a first-hand immersion in bourbon culture, while highlighting both whiskey history and the cutting edge of the segment’s modern evolution.


Having recently had a chance to participate in the city-wide party that is Opening Day in Cincinnati, allow us to point you toward some of the best B-Line stops to visit on a bourbon-centric long weekend in Northern Kentucky.

1. New Riff Distilling

The city of Newport is known for its rough-and-tumble history as America’s original “sin city,” but it’s also home to one of its finest new-guard Kentucky bourbon producers. In the decade that New Riff has been in operation, they’ve ascended the ladder of bourbon hype in an impressive fashion, becoming one of only a small handful of 10-year-old distilleries out there today that is regularly mentioned in the same breath as some of the industry powerhouses that have been in operation for more than a century. Their core bottled-in-bond flagship product has only gotten better over time, and with access to increasingly older barrels it’s become clear that their distillate also ages beautifully. Look no further than their new release of a core 8-year-old bourbon, which scored one of our highest grades of 2024 to date. It’s a product lineup that feels like it’s firing on all cylinders now, and the new-era techniques they were championing when opening a decade ago (such as low barrel entry proof) have subsequently become common practice in the industry.

Couple that with one of the most attractive distillery bars I’ve seen in recent memory, the top-level Aquifer, and New Riff feels very much like an anchor or hub for the entire B-Line in Newport. Visitors may even have a chance to sample some products here that have never been intended for wide release, such as New Riff-produced Nocino or apple brandy. It has the quality that all the best distillery bars have, which is the ability to offer something totally novel to people who already know the brand well.

Other distilleries on The B-Line, meanwhile, include the likes of Augusta Distillery, Pensive Distilling Co., Second Sight Spirits, Neeley Family Distillery, Boone County Distilling and Old Pogue Distillery.


2. Smoke Justis

The oddly named Smoke Justis is actually in reference to celebrated minor league baseball pitcher Walter “Smoke” Justis (he threw five no-hitters!), who played for the short-lived Covington Blue Sox professional baseball team on a field just steps from where the restaurant now stands. Located in the historic Citizens Telephone Building in the shadows of Cincinnati’s famous Roebling Bridge, Smoke Justis has the rather unexpected distinction of geographically being the very northernmost tip of the Kentucky Bourbon Trail, seeing as if you go any further, you’re venturing into Ohio.

Smoke Justis specializes in smoked meats and BBQ, as the name might imply, and those who are in the know will seek out the smoked and flash-fried chicken wings in particular, which manage to be both crisp and decadently juicy. At the same time, the restaurant’s bourbon lounge can boast more than 500 brands and a solid array of Smoke Justis’ own barrel picks. It’s the perfect place to kick back with a lunchtime old fashioned and a piled-high plate of meats before setting out on a walking tour of other Covington-area bourbon hot spots.

Other B-Line restaurants, meanwhile, include Caproni’s, Pompilio’s, Lisse Steakhuis, The Beehive Augusta Tavern, Three Spirits Tavern, Libby’s Southern Comfort, Rich’s Proper Food & Drink, Tousey House Tavern, Bouquet, The Globe and The Purple Poulet.

3. Old Kentucky Bourbon Bar

Old Kentucky Bourbon Bar, located in the German-inflected MainStrasse Village neighborhood of Covington, is pretty much precisely what it sounds like, except perhaps for “old.” It opened in 2012 to fill a niche, as the area was lacking the type of extremely deep whiskey lists that visitors so often expect to find in pretty much any other city on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail. Bourbon tourism has subsequently grown up around it in Covington, but the Old Kentucky Bourbon Bar can still boast one of the deepest bottle selections in town, surpassed only by the Prohibition Bourbon Bar in Newport. But what “OKBB” has in spades is charm–the small, cozy space feels like an instantly familiar neighborhood watering hole, where newcomers are immediately welcomed into the fold and made to feel like they’ve been there for years. Case in point: When I visited the night before Opening Day in Cincinnati, a man on the end of the bar was spending the entire evening distributing homemade peanut butter and chocolate chip muffins to Reds fans filled with hope for the next day’s events.

OKBB also offers some very cool weekly opportunities to break out of one’s own bourbon comfort zone, including a $5 mystery pour wheel, and days dedicated to “dusty” vintage bottles. It’s pretty much everything you would imagine a classic Kentucky bourbon bar to be. For neat pours, this is the place to hit.


4. Knowledge Bar & Social Room

If the Old Kentucky Bourbon Bar is the quintessential old school whiskey bar experience, then Knowledge Bar, located next to the posh Hotel Covington, represents the modern opposite side of the same coin. Quite honestly one of the most aesthetically pleasing bars I’ve seen in recent memory, this place is dedicated to cocktails and modern mixology first and foremost, with a lounge-like feel and long windows that allow it to soak in natural light, particularly in the mid-afternoon. This place has a feeling that radiates luxury.

I appreciate the modular sort of nature of Knowledge Bar’s whiskey menu, wherein guests can take any selection and then apply it to pretty much any template of classic cocktail, from the boulevardier to the vieux carre. But you’re perhaps even better off exploring the bar program’s in-house creations, which range far beyond bourbon. Of course, if you want to stick to the classics, they have some nicely evolved riffs on the old favorites–particularly the house Manhattan, which combines rye, orange liqueur, amaro and fig jam, with particularly decadent effect. It’s hard to imagine a better nightcap.

5. Revival Vintage Bottle Shop

Even hardcore whiskey geeks and collectors tend to have blind spots in their whiskey experiences, and vintage or “dusty” bottles are a big one. It’s simply not easy for the average drinker to come across spirits distilled and bottled decades ago unless they know the right out-of-the-way bottle shops or estate sales to raid, but Covington’s Revival Vintage Bottle Shop is the rare business that takes a privileged experience and democratizes it, making the contents of those bottles available to everyone … and at a fair price! The latter point is of particular importance, as the retail whiskey industry is all too happy to gouge customers these days to take advantage of bourbon mania, but Revival blessedly resists that temptation. Each day, owner Brad Bonds chooses a few antique spirits to offer at a particularly deep discount, allowing curious customers to taste a dram of history.

On any given day, the opportunities to taste vintage spirits here are going to be thrilling to whiskey geeks–when I stopped in, there was pre-fire Heaven Hill bourbon flowing, or a vertical of Maker’s Mark from the 1980s and 1990s, or any of the shop’s own modern bottle picks. It’s not solely bourbon, either, as the tiki cocktail geek in me particularly enjoyed the opportunity to sample some vintage Barbados rum from the 1960s, distilled around the time that the tropical cocktail genre was at its zenith. It’s hard to imagine any spirits or cocktail geek stopping in here without finding a totally novel experience.

Taken together, these B-Line stops in Northern Kentucky represent a deliciously intoxicating way to appreciate the state’s most treasured cultural export. Just try to utilize a little restraint, when the whiskey is flowing.


Jim Vorel is a Paste staff writer and beer and liquor geek. You can follow him on Twitter for more drink writing.

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