The Bourbon Trail
By Deanna Roberts
There was once a time in my life that I hated whiskey. I'd thought it was the worst thing ever. My palate was used to sweeter drinks, fruit infused confections such as Pina Coladas, Daqueri's, Margarita's. And while I still love those drinks, my mind and my taste buds have been awakened.
About 5 years ago, I was visiting my best friend, Candi, in Kentucky. Her boyfriend (now husband) kept trying to get me to try Bourbon. And, I was reluctant, sharing my prior negative experiences. Though, he simply stated I'd just not tried the right bourbon, and asked if I wanted to plan a road trip adventure on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail. He had me at adventure.
Candi was our designated driver, which was a good thing. I neither had experience with Bourbon, nor the hilly back roads of Kentucky. It was a life changing trip, that I will never forget.
Back then, there were only about 8 official distilleries on the tour, which were easy enough to get to in a weekend. Each distillery had something unique to offer, whether it was the setting, process of distillation, or the product itself. I learned so much, it was amazing. One of the things I took from the trip, was why I thought I didn't like Bourbon (or Whiskey, in general), and it comes down to what it's made of. I found that I am not a fan of rye, and I much prefer whiskey with a high corn content, or even wheat. And I learned why each one of those grains creates the flavor it does.
Even the mash process, to the barrel charring, the water, the aging process, and the rickhouse construction can all influence the flavor of Bourbon, and it's fascinating to learn the intricacies of the dance that creates this gorgeous amber colored liquid. It's magical.
Over the years, I've gone on the Bourbon Trail, no less than 6 times. Sometimes taking friends on their first visits. Each year they add new distilleries to the list to try, and I have my personal favorites that I insist on stopping at. In 2019, after a 4 day weekend of visiting all 16 distilleries, I had many people ask for more information, tips, and recommendations for the Bourbon Trail.
I made a spreadsheet of the Trail, more or less, broken up into areas and/or days. Some of the distillery tours can go for 1-2 hours. The list I have below, was based on what was on the Official Bourbon Trail, June of 2019. Hours for tours, and gift shop hours vary, and can change. My list is a guideline only, and not the exact operating hours. Please check the distillery website for operating hours, and to make tour reservations.
The plan I made, gave us one full tour per day, and the rest we either did a tasting, or just visited the gift shop to get our Official Bourbon Trail Passport stamped. The Kentucky Visitors Center gives a gift for anyone who completes the Bourbon Trail & gets all the stamps in their passport. My first completion garnered me an Official Bourbon Trail T Shirt. The newest gift, I believe, is a tasting glass, which I still need to collect.
You can certainly choose which distillery you’d prefer to tour, based on your favorites. But mine are Angel’s Envy, Maker’s Mark, and Buffalo Trace (more on this one later). Or, if you have the time, tour them all.
While there are a TON of distilleries in Louisville, the majority are all in a small area of the downtown & within walking distance of each other. Also, many are also a bar, open until quite late & thus, easy to do all of Louisville in a single day.
Louisville also had a Urban Bourbon Trail passport that contains a list of bars, restaurants, and tours. After collecting 6 stamps, you can redeem your passport at the Louisville Visitors Center for a T Shirt.
Louisville, being a major metropolitan city, has a lot to offer; great food, lots of entertainment, and plenty of places to stay. I've stayed in both boutique hotels within walking distance of Main Street, and at an Air BnB in a quiet residential area.
Some Distillery Specifics
Stitzel-Weller/Bulliet is the only distillery in Louisville, that is actually just outside of the city. I would start there first, to visit the gift shop, and head into Downtown Louisville. They've also added a separate Bulleit Distillery, in Shelbyville, that is brand new for 2020 & I’ve not been there…..yet.
Jim Beam has 2 locations, the Urban Stillhouse in Downtown Louisville, and their American Stillhouse in Clermont. The American Stillhouse is very charming, though a bit out of the way, and it’s not necessary to get stamps at BOTH locations, only one. So, we chose to save time & only stop at the Urban Stillhouse. IF you can take your time & have 5+ days in Kentucky, I would say it’s worth the stop. Even though I’m not a Jim Beam fan, they have more than a few products that are very much worth stopping for.
Four Roses also has two locations; their main distillery in Lawrenceburg, which is South of Frankfort, and Four Roses warehouse and bottling facility in Cox's Creek, KY.
There are a few distilleries that are out in the middle of nowhere, with miles of backroads between. Again, some are clustered in a way you can get to them in a single day, if you time it properly. We did the Bourbon Trail in 4 days. Louisville on