Did you know that September is National Bourbon Heritage Month? Did you know that 95% of the world’s bourbon is produced in Kentucky? Combine these facts and there’s no better time to plan a road trip to America’s bourbon country. The Kentucky Bourbon Trail® is your gateway to the best brands, flavors and varieties at the helm of this world-famous bourbon culture.
“The world got its first taste of the profound history and proud tradition of ‘America’s Official Native Spirit’ when the Kentucky Distillers’ Association® established the Kentucky Bourbon Trail® in 1999, a road trip-style experience for bourbon lovers to visit the Bluegrass State’s signature distilleries. In 2012, the Kentucky Distillers’ Association® created the Kentucky Bourbon Trail Craft Tour® to complement the world-famous Kentucky Bourbon Trail® experience. The Kentucky Bourbon Trail® and the Kentucky Bourbon Trail Craft Tour® have drawn more than 2.5 million visitors from all 50 states and 25 countries in the last five years and have become leading educational and tourism attractions.” -kybourbontrail.com
With 16 distilleries on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail™ tour, you’ll sip, stroll and savor your way across the Bluegrass. There are many ways to plan your route, including a variety of transportation options, but here’s what kybourbontrail.com suggests for visiting all 16 distilleries. For your convenience, notable spots to see, dine and stay are included. Advanced online tour reservations are recommended for each distillery. To help you plan shorter stays, we’ve listed the days distilleries are closed.
Begin in Louisville, where the official drink is the Old Fashioned. The Frazier History Museum partnered with the Kentucky Distillers’ Association® to form the The Kentucky Bourbon Trail® Welcome Center, which serves as the official starting point of the Kentucky Bourbon Trail™ tour. Included in the welcome center is a professional and friendly concierge service that can help visitors plan trips to distilleries throughout the state and show them how to navigate the hot spots of Louisville’s burgeoning bourbon, culinary and nightlife scenes.
–The Spirit of Kentucky Bourbon Exhibit – look for the special speakeasy entrance
From the welcome center, Whiskey Row beckons. With four distilleries within a one mile stretch of Main Street, it’s an easy walking tour.
At Mitcher’s Fort Nelson Distillery, see the pot stills from the original Michter’s Pennsylvania Distillery, which traces its history back to 1753. Test your senses in the lab and finish your tour off in the second-floor bar. Closed Tuesdays and Wednesdays.
Two blocks away, visit the Evan Williams Bourbon Experience, just a stone’s throw from where Evan himself used to send barrels down the river. Tickets for the experience can be purchased online up to one hour in advance. Walk-ins are welcome on a first-come first-served basis. Open daily.
Next, stop in at Old Forester Distilling Co. for four floors of bourbon education. You’ll see barrels being assembled and charred in their onsite cooperage. On Fridays and Saturdays, their Whisky Drummer drums up business on Whiskey Row (the Scots spell it whisky and the Irish spell it whiskey). Watch as the barrels built and filled in the cooperage are rolled onto Main Street and into their vintage-style barrel truck.
Closed on Tuesdays. Distillery operations do not run on Sundays, but a limited (and discounted) tour is available.
With a different take on bourbon, visit Angel’s Envy, where they age bourbon in ruby port wine casks, giving it a subtle depth of flavor. Tours are by reservation only. Follow their Facebook page for distillery updates. Closed on Tuesdays.
At the ultra-modern Rabbit Hole Distillery, learn how the owner fell in love with bourbon as he fell in love with a girl, and what drives him to make what he considers the best bourbons and ryes. Tours by reservation only, maximum of 10 people per tour. No tours on Mondays.
Just five miles from downtown Louisville, take in the Bulleit Frontier Whiskey Experience. Housed in the historic Stitzel-Weller Distillery, which originally opened on Derby Day in 1935, it’s one of the true cathedrals of the American whiskey industry. Closed on Tuesdays.
–Marriott Louisville East features The Bourbon Suite with bourbon barrel décor – enjoy “Bourbon of the Day” and nightly drink specials at Charr’d Bourbon Kitchen and Lounge
-Downtown, try the Omni Hotel – with an onsite bowling alley, rooftop pool, on-site spa, market and two restaurants, you may find it hard to leave
-For luxurious, southern accommodations, look into the Chateau Bourbon B&B – featuring a great night’s sleep and a bourbon-inspired breakfast
For the next leg of your bourbon journey, travel to Shepherdsville for convenient for shopping, dining and lodging near the Jim Beam American Stillhouse. Visit travelbullitt.org for more information.
Seven miles from Shepherdsville, in Clermont, visit The Jim Beam American Stillhouse. After seeing every step of the process, you’ll have the chance to dip your own bottle of Knob Creek right off the bottling line. (You can also visit the Jim Beam Urban Stillhouse in downtown Louisville for a passport stamp.) Open daily.
–The Bernheim Arboretum and Research Forest, across from Jim Beam in Clermont Visiting O.Z. Tyler will extend your journey, but the folks at The Kentucky Bourbon Trail® promise it’s worth the drive to Owensboro. Occupying the Charles Medley Distillery site, O.Z. Tyler has been touted as a “distillery of the future.” Their proprietary TerrePURE® process renders a delicious whiskey priced to sell. *Please note, O.Z. Tyler is in the central time zone. Closed Sundays.
To continue your journey, head to historic Bardstown – the Bourbon Capital of the World®. At the Heaven Hill Bourbon Heritage Center, visit the nation’s largest family-owned spirits producer, making brands such as Elijah Craig, Larceny, Henry McKenna and more. Enjoy samples in the barrel-shaped tasting room. Tour tickets can be purchased online up to one hour in advance. Walk-ins are welcome on a first-come first-served basis. Tours are available Monday-Friday.
One of Kentucky’s newest distilleries is now on The Kentucky Bourbon Trail®. Lux Row Distillery is not new to the industry, but their brand-new home in Kentucky is. With a perfect blend of timeless craft and innovation, Lux Row upholds some of Kentucky’s most iconic bourbon brands. Tours available by reservation only, Tuesday-Friday.
Visit Bardstown Bourbon Company for a Napa Valley-style destination, combining distilling, culinary and beverage expertise to create a modern authentic bourbon experience – including the Bottle & Bond Kitchen. Tours can be booked through their partners – visit bardstownbourbon.com. No walk-in tours are available, but they offer quick tasting tours in the gift shop.
-The newly renovated Oscar Getz Museum of Whiskey History
-Dine on classic Kentucky fare in the Old Talbott Tavern and have a nightcap in the world’s oldest bourbon bar
-For southern food at its finest, plan a private dinner at the Harrison-Smith House
From Bardstown, travel 16 miles to Maker’s Mark in Loretto, Ky. You’ll see the barrels aging beneath the Chihuly blown-glass installment, and don’t forget to dip your own bottle in the gift shop. Settle in for a delicious, southern meal at Star Hill Provisions, and get a cocktail or alcoholic Ale-8-One slushy. Tours given daily. Next stop, the Lawrenceburg area, where you can see the Four Roses Distillery (you can also visit Four Roses Bottling and Warehouse Facility in Cox’s Creek for your passport stamp.) You’re sure to fall in love with the romantic story behind this iconic brand and the Spanish Mission style architecture. Stop and smell the roses that are abundant on the grounds or relax in the gazebo and barrel swing. Tours daily, reservations recommended, walk-ins welcome on a first-come, first-served basis.
Just 8 miles away, the Wild Turkey Distillery sits atop the Kentucky River. Take a tour of the state-of-the-art distillery and look for legendary Master Distiller Jimmy Russell roaming the grounds. Jimmy has been crafting bourbon for over 60 years and is always willing to sign a bottle or pose for a picture. Tours available Monday- Saturday, and Sundays March-December.
–Sweet Southern Mash Goods for unique bourbon gifts, food items or a grab-and-go lunch
-In nearby Frankfort, set sail on the Bourbon Boat to learn about the area’s history along the river.
Lodging: For dining, drinks and lodging, settle in to the historic Beaumont Inn. Listed on the Register of Historic Places, the Beaumont has 31 guest rooms, spa and massage services and offers southern cuisine. The adjoining Old Owl Tavern has a generous selection of bourbon brands.
A breath-taking drive to Lexington will lead to the historic Woodford Reserve Distillery. Call ahead for availability and reservations for the extended National Landmark Tour and the Corn to Cork Tour, offered at different times of the week. Grab a bite from the seasonal offerings of the Glenn’s Creek Café. Tours available daily, except on Sundays in January and February.
Named after the river that flows through the streets of Lexington, Town Branch is a small distillery that is making a big name for itself. The only brewery/distillery on The Kentucky Bourbon Trail®, samplings are available of their bourbon, rye, or beer. Take home a four-pack of their signature Bourbon Barrel Ale. Tours available Monday-Sunday.
-Thoroughbred farm tours at Horse Country Tours
–Lockbox restaurant for cuisine highlighting the area’s best ingredients, and their bar with more than 60 fine bourbons and ryes
–Distilled at Gratz Park for a romantically exquisite meal and bourbon drink
-Popping the top on an Ale-8-One, Kentucky’s oldest surviving soft drink with a kick of spicy ginger
Lodging: The 21c Museum Hotel is part boutique hotel, part contemporary museum, part restaurant in the heart of downtown Lexington.
The History of America’s Native Spirit
Bourbon, America’s whiskey has a storied past. Necessity and ingenuity came together for the birth of bourbon, as American settlers, many from Scotland and Ireland combined their knowledge of distilling with the bounty of local crops, namely corn. Bourbon was less expensive than imported liquors and easy to distill and transport.
Established in 1785, Bourbon County is one of Kentucky’s oldest counties. As an early hub of the whiskey trade, farmers shipped whiskey in oak barrels stamped from Bourbon County down the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers, all the way to New Orleans. The long trip aged the whiskey, while the oak wood lent it a distinct mellow flavor and amber color. As whiskey from Bourbon County grew in popularity, the liquor became known simply as “bourbon.”
In 1964 Congress declared bourbon a “distinctive product of the United States,” giving it special trade protection in overseas markets, and naming it, “America’s Native Spirit.” In August 2007, the U.S. Senate declared September National Bourbon Heritage Month.