Did you know Kentucky produces over 95% of the world’s supply of bourbon? Bourbon is a signature industry for the state of Kentucky. There is a multitude of bourbon distilleries including the nine distilleries making up the official Kentucky Bourbon Trail.
September has been National Bourbon Heritage Month since 2007 and currently there are one million more barrels of Bourbon aging in Kentucky than there are people (4.4 million) living in the Commonwealth. As a result, Kentucky celebrates throughout the month in a variety of ways including the Bourbon Festival held in Bardstown, Kentucky.
One does not have to wait until September to gain a first hand look at the art and science of creating Bourbon. The official Kentucky Bourbon Trail consists of 9 bourbon distilleries. Each distillery offers a unique experience with a variety of types of tours. These tours have become a major tourism draw with 75% of visitors stating the bourbon tours are the main reason for visiting Kentucky.
I must state over the years that James and I have visited each distillery multiple times. I realized how much I had learned about the process when I began educating some friends about it during a baby shower. I can tell you that bourbon must be at least 51% corn, aged in new charred oak barrels and can be made outside of the state of Kentucky (but why would you want to drink it?).
The Kentucky Bourbon Trail consists of 9 distilleries in varied locations throughout the state. It is recommended to plan for 3 days if one is hoping to complete the tour at one time. I should also add that by having a passport stamped at each distillery, one receives a complimentary Bourbon Trail t-shirt. T-shirt designs change each year so there is always an incentive to complete another tour!
I recommend each of these Kentucky Bourbon Trail tours and throughout the remainder of the month, I will be highlighting a few of my favorites.
The Kentucky Bourbon Trail consists of the following distilleries:
Woodford Reserve is one of the oldest and smallest distilleries in Kentucky. This is also one of my personal favorites in regards to the tour and the bourbon.
If visiting Central Kentucky and there is only time for one distillery tour, I highly recommend the beautiful and short drive to Versailles, Kentucky. Nestled between beautiful thoroughbred farms (Triple Crown Winner American Pharaoh is on the farm next door), visitors can choose from a variety of tours ranging from the one hour educational tour to more in depth detailing the science of bourbon making and the history of the distillery grounds. Guests can also choose something to eat from the Glenn’s Creek Cafe and Chef Ouita Michel.
Even those who do not drink bourbon, have likely heard of Maker’s Mark. Recognized for the traditional red wax bottle, Maker’s Mark Distillery was the first tour I ever visited (before there was an actual Kentucky Bourbon Trail).
Located in Loretto Kentucky, this distillery is a drive but well worth it. The grounds are beautiful and guests are able to dip their own personal bottle in red wax at the gift shop. Maker’s Mark has one of the best public relation campaigns in that anyone can sign up to be a Maker’s Mark Ambassador. Ambassador’s receive special invitations to events throughout the year, gifts from the brand each Christmas and the opportunity to have your name placed on a Maker’s Mark Bourbon Barrel. (I was able to purchase bottles from my barrel this year).
Jim Beam is a brand that one will find at almost any bar in the country or world. With a variety of over 16 different bourbons, there is likely a bourbon for every taste.
The Jim Beam tour is often not as intimate as other distilleries but also offers a unique way to taste test each of the bourbons after the tour.
I knew nothing about Wild Turkey Bourbon when I attended this tour. Wild Turkey ages bourbon for at least 5 years (and often 6 or 7). Located along the Kentucky River, there are some truly beautiful views from this distillery.
Most recently, Matthew McConaughey has become a creative director for the brand. Wouldn’t it be great to be on tour and see Matthew walking around?
Located close in proximity to Wild Turkey, it is a good idea to do both of the tours on the same day. Owned by Kirrin Brewery, Four Roses produces a few bourbons that are sent directly to Japan and can no be purchased in the states. Four Roses small batch is another of my personal favorite bourbons. Beautiful grounds with a beatuiful story of love being behind the naming of the brand.
Located five miles from downtown Louisville, the Stizel-Wheller Distillery was at one time shut down and bourbon barrels were even left behind. Bourbon from those “orphan barrels” is now expensive. Bourbon barrels are stored on the grounds you will tour but you are only able to see a small still as the distilling process is done off site and that will soon be available to tour.
Located in downtown Louisville and within walking distance of 21c Louisville Hotel. Evan Williams was the first commercial distiller. The Evan Williams experience is an artisanal distillery that offers two different tours. We chose the Speakeasy Tour which takes you downstairs to a speakeasy where you are treated to an educational tasting at the bar.
Heaven Hill Distillery is the largest, independently family owned distillery in the country. In 1996 the original distillery was struck by lightning and burned to the ground. The story of how other distillers in the area helped Heaven Hill continue to make bourbon displays the unity in the community.
This is a beautiful educational center that offers three different tour options.
Alltech Brewing and Distilling Company is one of the first distilleries builit in Lexington Kentucky in over a 100 years. Visitors are treated to a behind the scenes look at not only the distilling process of Town Branch and Pearse Lyons Reserve Bourbon but also the brewing process of Kentucky Ale.
The members of the Bourbon Trail each offer different options and I have found that there is always something new to learn from visiting a new distillery. It’s a fun way to learn about the history of the product as well as enjoy the beauty of the state of Kentucky.
If you are visiting Kentucky, I highly recommend finding time for at least one bourbon tour.