When I was asked to be on the American Duchess Bourbon Cruise this year, I admit Rosemary and I were apprehensive about doing the cruise. Covid 19 is still out there and at this time it Is as strong as ever. If the invitation had come after my vaccinated cousin had died from the virus, I might have turned the job down. Covid 19 is a serious problem. However, I decided to work the cruise. 

The American Queen Steamboat Company has adopted the strictest rules for the trip. Everyone has to have proof of vaccination to be on the cruise. We flew to Memphis, wearing our masks the entire time. Upon arriving at the Peabody Hotel, we were told masks were mandatory in all public areas unless eating or drinking. We were also told where we needed to go to sign in for the cruise and to get our Covid 19 tests. Even with the proof of vaccination, the American Steamboat Company tested everyone before they would receive a boarding pass / room key. They texted the results that night and after breakfast the next morning, we received our boarding pass / room key.

Getting on the bus to go to the American Duchess, we were told when on the bus, masks are required at all times. Rosemary and I had decided to pass on the Memphis excursions – an Elvis tour to Graceland or a Memphis music tour. Both tours required masks at all times to limit the exposure when off the bus. Once we were on board and in our room, the masks were not required. Everyone was vaccinated (including all the crew) and tested (including the crew). We had a very nice room on the port side of the vessel with a veranda with two chairs and a table. The boat pushed off at 5:00pm and Memphis was left behind.

We had the late seating for dinner, 7:45pm, and we went to dinner and were assigned a table with two other guests, Bill and Nancy. We were told that would be our dinner companions every night to make contact tracing easier if that became a necessity. Bill and Nancy are lovely people, both are retired teachers. The food was excellent as always. 

The next day was a river cruising day and I gave my first talk and tasting. I had an hour to work in the early history of Bourbon and the tasting of Mellow Corn Bonded, Old Forester 86 and Old Grand Dad Bonded. It was well attended with 89 of the 119 passengers on board in attendance. The cruise was a Bourbon-themed cruise, but not everyone was on board because of the theme. Many passengers just wanted a river cruise. The rest of my day was spent eating meals (excellent food at all three meals), watching the river scenery go by and talking with Rosemary and other passengers. 

I was not on the schedule to do anything the next day. The first port of call was Columbus, Kentucky, on the Mississippi River. There was an excursion to a local park and visitor’s center, but Rosemary and I passed on the trip and stayed aboard. I did volunteer to do an impromptu Bourbon and food pairing at the main bar. The kitchen put together a very nice charcuterie board and we paired it with Old Forester and Maker’s Mark. About 20 passengers attended and a good time was had by all. 

The next day, Thursday, we arrived in Paducah, Kentucky, after turning on to the Ohio River. There were excursions to the National Quilt Museum, but I elected to stay on board. The boat was only there for a few hours in the morning and I had a Manhattan contest to organize after we left the port. We had three bartenders that were on board, working the bars and they each made three of their best Manhattans. We met in the Grand Saloon and I picked two volunteers from the audience to help me judge the contest. We picked a winner and he received a certificate to mark the occasion and a signed copy of my history book, Kentucky Bourbon Whiskey: An American Heritage.

The next day found us in the port of Henderson, Kentucky. The tour offered was to the John James Audubon State Park and Visitor’s Center.  We stayed on the boat as I had my next talk /tasting to prepare. The talk discussed the 19th century distilling industry with the Bottled-in-Bond Act of 1897 and the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906. 

We tasted Wild Turkey Rye, George Dickel Tennessee Whisky and Angel’s Envy Bourbon. The following day was a stop in Owensboro and we visited the Green River Distillery for a tasting of their products. Because of Covid, we did not tour the distillery as we were too large a group, but they offered a tasting of their products and I left with bottles of their Yellow Banks and Kentucky 10, a wheated Bourbon. 

After we left port, I gave my final talk / tasting which covered the 20th century and discussed the regulations put on Bourbon after Prohibition. We tasted Four Roses Single Barrel, Knob Creek Small Batch and Michter’s Bourbon.

The final full day on the boat included a stop in Brandenburg. They offered tours to Lincoln’s Birthplace and a tour to Boundary Oak Distillery. Normally they would have offered tours to Maker’s Mark and Buffalo Trace, but because of covid, the distilleries are not offering tours that are larger than 6 people. 

We decided to stay on board and enjoy the day. It was my only day that I did not have a presentation and I enjoyed just sitting on the veranda with a cup of coffee or a drink and watching the river go by. The next day was Louisville and departure. We were off the boat by 8:30am and home shortly after.

Covid had an impact on this trip, but I would say that the American Queen Steamboat Company did an excellent job ensuring the safety of the passengers and still making it a very enjoyable trip. Hopefully, next year it will be back to normal and the tours of the distilleries will be available to all. Everyone I talked to on board was very pleased with the experience as it was. Some said they will take the tour again when Covid is behind us and they can do even better tours.

Photos Courtesy of Rosemary Miller