Ready to wet your whistle? Well, here’s your chance to explore the birthplace of Bourbon and awaken your senses during a self-guided tour that reveals the story inside the Kentucky Bourbon distilleries.
What is the Kentucky Bourbon Trail?
In 1999, a group of bourbon whisky distilleries created The Kentucky Bourbon Trail as a way to increase Kentucky’s tourism. Visitors get an up-close look at how bourbon is distilled, while learning the history behind the crafting of bourbon and the art behind the perfect bourbon tasting.
There are ten bourbon labels that are a part of the Kentucky Bourbon Trail:
All of the Kentucky Bourbon Trail distilleries charge a fee for a tour or a tasting. Fees rang from $5 to $15 per person, depending on the distillery and the type of tour you choose to take. Specialty tours cost more. (You can visit the distillery's website for up-to-date pricing.) Touring the distilleries, learning about the origins of bourbon, and tasting lots and lots of bourbon whiskey is an excellent way to spend a long weekend.
But there's more to the Kentucky Bourbon Trail than just distillery tours and bourbon tastings. It’s a step back in time where you learn about the history of Kentucky. You will drive through scenic bluegrass Kentucky, with horse farms as far as the eye can see. Spend the night in a historic tavern, enjoy the nightlife in Louisville, or visit the birthplace of Abraham Lincoln. Whether you have two days or a week, there is plenty here to keep you busy.
So let’s look a little closer and check out what the Kentucky Bourbon trail has to offer!
The Kentucky Bourbon Trail Passport
At your first distillery, pick up a Kentucky Bourbon Trail Passport. All ten distilleries, which are located within 80 miles of Louisville, mostly clustered between Louisville and Lexington. Each distillery is listed inside, with space for your own notes and a stamp from each distillery. If you collect all ten stamps you can redeem your passport for a Kentucky Bourbon Trail T-shirt. What’s not to love? You get to sip bourbon at nine different distilleries and then get a T-shirt to proudly show off your accomplishment!
How Much Time Do You Need?
Each tour lasts about an hour, ending with the tasting. To take a tour at all ten distilleries we recommend three days. With driving times averaging about twenty minutes between distilleries, most people can fit in three tours per day (in some distilleries, tours are only offered on the hour).
Of course, you don’t have to tour each distillery. Many of them will allow you to do the tasting without a tour. You’ll still get to learn about the history of the distillery and what sets it apart from the others. Many of these distilleries are historic and their story is fascinating.
If you don’t have time to visit each distillery, you could just visit the gift shop, get your passport stamped, and do a little shopping. Each distillery has a gift shop selling bourbon and related souvenirs. But for most people. A combination of tours and tastings is the perfect way to sample the Kentucky Bourbon Trail. Some of the tours get to be a bit repetitive, as they all explain the distillation process. You’ll want to set time aside to enjoy the scenic drives, great towns to explore and some really cool restaurants to sample!
Let’s Talk Itinerary
Start by spending one day visiting the four distilleries near Lexington: Four Roses, Wild Turkey, Woodford Reserve, and Town Branch. In order to see all four, you should be at the first distillery at opening time. While you are in the area, consider a tour at Buffalo Trace or lunch or dinner in Lexington. The City Barbecue in Lexington, a chain restaurant, has rave reviews!
On day two, visit the three distilleries located south of Louisville: Maker’s Mark, Jim Beam, and Heaven Hill. There’s a barrel of Maker’s Mark that has my father-in-law’s name on it … he was the Food & Beverage Manager at a prestigious Country Club in Atlanta for 35 years and he bought a LOT of Maker’s Mark! As recognition, the distillery honored him with his own barrel! Several months before he passed, dad made the Kentucky Bourbon Trail – the last item on his Bucket List – and had a sip out of that barrel!
in loving memory of paul hynish
Nov. 4, 1930 - Feb. 17, 2016
e Old Talbott Tavern in Barnstown, said to be the oldest western stagecoach stop in America and to be visited by Jesse James’ ghost, is a recommended stop for lunch! While in the area, consider a visit to the Kentucky Cooperage, where the barrels are made for the storing and aging of bourbon. Also in the area is the birthplace of Abraham Lincoln.
Finally, day three can be spent in Louisville, visiting Bulleit Frontier Whiskey, Angel’s Envy, and the Evan Williams Bourbon Experience. Check online for more great things to do in Louisville.
Visiting the distillery is an experience that tickles all five senses. As soon as you step out of your car, you can smell the grains cooking, the first part of the distillation process. It smells like you are at a bakery, only they are baking slightly sour bread. It smells wonderful – but watch it! It can make you kind of hungry!
During each tour, the guides will lead you through the property, talking about the distillation process and the history of the distillery. They’ll explain their mash bill and the yeast strains that they use. The strain of yeast they use is one of the most important factors in how their final product tastes. Some of these yeast strains have been used for decades at each distillery.
One of my favorite places to visit in any distillery is where the barrels are stored. It smells amazing and I love the history behind the barrels!! The rickhouse is a favorite place to visit on the tour. Bourbon has a wonderful aroma and the rickhouse is the best place to smell it. During the aging process, a small percentage of the bourbon evaporates per year, what is referred to as the “angel’s share.” If you want to take home this aroma, many gift shops sell bourbon-scented candles. How cool is that?
As for accommodations, you may want to plan your trip around where you will be staying. If you are flying to Kentucky, the two airport gateways to Bourbon Country are in Lexington and Louisville. This is where you will find the largest selection of accommodations from historic grand hotels to contemporary boutiques and national chains. Many visitors like to use a home base and others like to move around for a variety of experiences. The smaller towns have wonderful bed and breakfasts offering a bourbon nightcap and country breakfasts served fireside. Some are part of the BB&B program. Many hotels have world-class bourbon bars on property including those on the Urban Bourbon Trail. Just like enjoying bourbon, there are many ways to experience it by staying in a variety of places from romantic countryside to vibrant downtown cities, and checking out all that the area has to offer.
We're putting together a list of folks who would like to join us on the Bourbon Trail next fall (October). If you'd like to be added to the list to hear more, just click the button below.
Share the knowledge