Kentucky has been making bourbon for centuries and you can visit some bourbon distilleries. But in the last decade or so, the silky drink with the lightening bite has been surging in popularity. New fans now want to know where it comes from. So people are flocking to central Kentucky to get on the ‘trail’ so they can get close and personal with their favorite beverage. Hint: There is really no trail, so don’t ask someone where to ‘get on’. Just head to Central Kentucky, Bardstown, the Bourbon Capital of the World to get a sampling of the Kentucky Bourbon Distilleries. Both the world-famous and the small craft distilleries are scattered about, generally between Louisville and Lexington.
Kentucky is the maker of 95% of the world’s bourbon. Everything else is whiskey… and, frankly, the ‘everything else’ doesn’t even compare. It has to be made in Kentucky, where our limestone infused water is mixed with sweet corn and then stored in charred oak barrels where it ages for years in really cold winters and really hot and humid summers. The result: Kentucky firewater… also known as Kentucky Bourbon.
Your guide to the distilleries is in no particular order. Bourbon drinkers have their favorite, so you know where you want to go first. Although the ingredients in bourbon are pretty much the same, it is the process that really defines the flavor. So go to as many as you can, and you will learn something each time. Then drink the sample and savor the flavor and think about all the years of craftsmanship that went into that one sip.
Frankfort is home to Buffalo Trace Distillery where they make the famous Pappy Van Winkle and Blanton’s, a bourbon with a nod to Kentucky’s horse racing ties, right on the top of each bottle. In downtown Lexington, a relatively new distiller is Town Branch Distillery. Although they don’t have the generations-old history to tell, their bourbon tour shows the dedication that goes into each batch.
When you get to Four Roses Distillery you are going to wonder what is up with this beautiful but weird Mexican-style building in the middle of Kentucky’s bluegrass region. They tell you the story of the building and how they got their name in the tasting room.
Surrounded by horse farms, Woodford Reserve sits on some gorgeous property. Their visitors center features comfy couches and a huge, inviting fireplace. Makes you want to stay all day. And you can, as they have a casual restaurant on site. Plan to have lunch before or after your tour.
The tour of Wild Turkey Distillery is a little more industrial than the others, emphasizing the process more than the heritage. But after the tour you get to have a sample in their magnificent tasting room with floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking beautiful Anderson County.
In the Bardstown area you can visit some of the big boys in the bourbon world: Jim Beam, Barton 1792 Distillery, Heaven Hill Distillery. These three have new, modern visitor centers to cater to all the tourists who come to town to take a sip. Probably the most remote, but most worth the trip, is when you finally reach Maker’s Mark Distillery. Yes, Kentucky’s favorite red-head is made on the picture perfect grounds where you can observe the whole process and even dip your own bottle in that beautiful red wax.
Tour one, or tour them all. You won’t be sorry.