Exploring Kentucky Bourbon Country
Updated: Apr 1
All bourbon is whiskey but not all whiskey is bourbon.
Have you ever been to the Kentucky Bourbon Trail? Want to spend a weekend touring bourbon distilleries and exploring rural Kentucky? Here's a list of my favorite bourbon stops along the Kentucky Trail.
But first, do you know what makes bourbon unique? In order to call itself bourbon, there are strict rules and standards for production.
The spirit must be distilled in a new charred oak barrel. While American white oak is not required, it is the industry standard.
Unlike other types of whiskey, no additives (coloring or flavor) may be added in order to maintain the natural, unadulterated profile.
Bourbon must consist of at least 51% corn. The recipes may vary beyond that by adding other grains, such as wheat, rye or malted barley to provide complexity and individuality.
While bourbon is not required to come from Kentucky, the extreme annual temperatures of hot, humid summers and cold winter seasons help create a unique aging environment. As such, 98% of all bourbon is made in Kentucky.
Lastly, the limestone water found in the Kentucky rivers removes the iron from the water, providing bourbon’s unique flavor.
Set off for a weekend (or two) in Kentucky’s bourbon country to explore. Visit the big production sites, as well as many local, craft distilleries. You can travel from Bardstown and Frankfort to Louisville and Lexington, visiting more than 40 distilleries spread around 250 miles.
We take an annual bourbon tour, visiting 3-4 new locations each time looking for the best bourbon tours. Our annual pilgrimage includes selecting a big-name brand, a craft distillery and one in between. Family-run, small shops that produce <100 barrels each year are a completely different experience to the Jim Beams of the world that produce >1500 barrels each DAY. You can sample premium barrels, explore historical landmarks, and tour production facilities that give a look behind the secret sauce. Be sure to schedule a tour and/or tasting well in advance as bookings are limited.
Big Production Distilleries:
Woodford Reserve – Kentucky’s oldest and most respected bourbon
Barton 1792 – since June 2022, they no longer offer tours of the facility
Maker’s Mark – dip your own bottle in their unique wax method
Lexington Brewing & Distilling Co. - part of the Pearse Lyons' Distillery in Dublin
Smaller, Craft Distilleries:
Three Boys Farm – now owned by Whiskey Thief Distilling
Castle & Key – the historic Old Taylor distillery reimagined
This is certainly not an exhaustive list. There are many others registered with the Kentucky Bourbon Trail that offer tours and tastings.
I suggest grouping a few along the Kentucky Bourbon Trail for each trip, staying in Bardstown or Lexington for nearby distilleries. Make sure to plan a lunch stop during the day of tastings! Realistically, three or four bourbon tours can be done each day, though make sure to build in travel between each location. Visit all of them to mark your Bourbon Trail Passport. Bottoms up!