The Kentucky Bourbon Trail is a group of eight original Bourbon Distilleries located between Louisville and Lexington Kentucky. Each of the eight distilleries have a very unique story of how they started distilling and the lag of production during the prohibition years, World War II and the downturn of Bourbon in the 1970’s.
Today, bourbon is hotter than ever and while these original producers are in high demand there are other Craft Tour Member Distilleries located within the same bourbon trail creating some delicious bourbons.
There are several flights from Los Angeles to Louisville, KY but we opted to drive from Nashville, TN and make it a week vacation. After a quick three-hour drive, except for the last few miles of country road, the South Bourbon Trail begins at Maker’s Mark.
Maker’s Mark Distillery located in Loretto Kentucky makes a Wheated Bourbon because it contains wheat instead of rye. Many locals consider Maker’s a sweeter bourbon and quite expensive for the product. We enjoy Maker’s Mark, especially mixed with a fresh sour juices like lemon or pomegranate.
The Maker’s Mark tour is quite extensive and begins with a walk through the grounds and distillery to see the sour mash and yeast fermenting.
Next, Maker’s invites you into the large storage facilities full of racks of barrels loaded with aging bourbon. The next part of the tour includes bottling, labeling and bottle wax dipping.
The tour concludes with four samples of bourbon to sip – Maker’s White, Maker’s Fully Aged, Maker’s over Matured and Maker’s 46. A dark chocolate bourbon ball is presented to you upon your exit. Yum.
We found out later that Maker’s Mark has a larger production facility outside of Loretto where they produce most of their bourbon. I was wondering how they could possibly get it all done on site??
Heaven Hill Bourbon Heritage Center is a large scale facility in Bardstown, Kentucky who produces several bourbons as well as other distilled liquors for various producers. The tour includes as short film on Kentucky and the bourbon process followed by a tasting and bourbon ball.
After a few distilleries, we drove an hour to Harrodsburg Kentucky where we checked into The Beaumont Inn. The inn was a former girls school in the late 1800’s, but has been an inn for the same family for the last four generations. Dixon, the family innkeeper, bourbon master and chef was kind enough to give us a private bourbon tour through his bourbon collection. We spent 2 1/2 hours learning all about bourbon, I highly recommend it.
There are three dining options at the Inn – the Main Dining Room, the Old Owl Tavern and the Owl’s Nest Lounge. I highly recommend The Owl’s Nest Lounge for the casual atmosphere, the selection of bourbon and the comfort food. The ribs, horseradish coleslaw and wedge salad all hit the spot and paired well with our bourbon. The Oreo Ice Cream Cookie covered with Filo Dough and Sweet Cream was a little unique for my taste, but I thought it was fun.
As for the rooms, they have a variety to choose from including the Greystone Inn next door which has larger rooms with screened porches. Breakfast in the morning was included in the room rate and starts with a buffet bar full of favorites – cheesy grits, bacon, country ham, potatoes, breakfast breads and sausage. Eggs and corn cakes are ordered separately and made fresh from the kitchen.
The next day we set out to Buffalo Trace Distillery for a tour and tasting. The tour guide Jimmy was a hoot and covered every aspect of bourbon making. Pappy Van Winkle is one of Buffalo Traces high end bourbons which is almost impossible to find these days and we were lucky enough to smell a batch that awaited bottling the next day.
Blanton’s is another high-end bourbon made at Buffalo Trace from a long standing Master of Distillery who recently passed away a few years ago and inside the former kitchen they have his recipe for Kentucky Burgoo.
Our next stop was Four Roses Distillery located in Lawrenceburg, Kentucky. The Spanish style architecture is reminiscent of California design. The tour and generous tasting was a trip highlight because of their nicely created bourbons. My favorite was the Small Batch which was the perfect blend of sweet and spicy. Four roses basic bourbon is another great mixing bourbon for the price point, but the limited edition single barrel is the one to collect.
Woodford Reserve Distillery in Versailles Kentucky is located in the most beautiful place of all. The drive into the property has thoroughbred breeding and training facilities on both sides.
Woodford has tours and tasting, but we couldn’t seem to get the timing right to catch one. Woodford only makes two products – Woodford Reserve and Woodford Reserve Double Oaked which they add additional toasted wood into the barrel for flavor.
You can find Woodford’s bourbon in most local liquor stores. Our next stop was Willett Distillery in Bardstown which is a small craft distillery. The tour and tasting were unique because of the smaller scale production facilities and the bourbons they are producing. Willett is one of the only distilleries creating a bourbon that contains both wheat and rye in their sour mash mix.
The Kentucky Bourbon Trail is a brilliant way to learn about distilling bourbon and the history of Kentucky bourbon. The distilleries all conduct tours and unless it is a special event or tour, it is all done on a first come first serve basis.