Kentucky may be known for bluegrass music and horses, but its real claim to fame may be its bourbon.
As we’ve mentioned before, over 95% of the entire world gets its bourbon supply straight from the Bluegrass state – and Kentucky has leaned hard into celebrating this iconic part of its history through the creation of the Kentucky Bourbon Trail.
Wait, What Exactly Is Bourbon, Anyhow?
Bourbon is a distinctly (and legally) American whiskey. If you have trouble keeping it straight, just remember this saying: “All bourbons are whiskey, but not all whiskeys are bourbon.”
A lot of folks feel that bourbon is the superior mix between the two spirits because of its composition. It must be made from a grain mash that is at least 51% corn, can contain no artificial flavorings or color additives and must be aged in charred oak barrels. Despite these restrictions, you’ll find that different batches or brands of bourbon each have their own unique colors and flavor profiles, often leaning heavily into vanilla, caramel and rich spices.
And, naturally, there’s a hierarchy among brands and bottles. While pretty much any bourbon will do for a good mint julep in the summer, you may want to go with a bourbon that meets the high standards of the Bottled-in-Bond Act of 1897 when you’re going for that signature Old Fashioned drink at your next party.
Whatever its style or flavor, bourbon has been being made to perfection in Kentucky since settlers got here in the 1700s, and you can celebrate your appreciation of the craft in style at the following locations:
1. Angel’s Envy Distillery – Louisville
Who says bigger is better? Not the folks at Angel’s Envy, to be sure! This family-run distillery specializes in small-batch brews that pair beautifully with chocolate (which is something you can experience for yourself if you take one of their tours).
Come to a signature tour for an hour, fill a bottle of your own or take a class and learn how to craft the perfect Manhattan or another bourbon drink before your next celebration. They’ve got a little something for everyone.
2. Buffalo Trace Distillery – Frankfort
Buffalo Trace claims to be “the oldest continuously operating distillery in America,” and kept its doors open even during Prohibition by getting licensed to make spirits for medicinal purposes.
Well, we’re here to tell you that practice makes perfect! These folks have won the coveted title of “Distillery of the Year” seven times and they have more awards than you can hope to count. Their signature blend is hailed for its notes of vanilla and toffee, but you can taste that for yourself on their distillery tours or garden tastings.
3. Jim Beam – Clermont
Jim Beam is a famous name in bourbon, and rightly so – they’ve been making Old Crow and other bar favorites for more than 200 years. Despite its fame and fortune, the distillery offers an intimate look at the crafting process, and guests can even participate in rotating the barrels full of maturing spirits.
When you’re done with the tour, you can also take part in a tasting session and a full mixology experience that will teach you to make the most out of your bourbon in a few simple steps.
4. Maker’s Mark Distillery – Loretto
Maker’s Mark is known for its distinctive red wax-dipped bottles – but did you know that every bottle is hand-dipped? The folks here like to do things the old-fashioned way, and they’re thrilled to invite people in to see how they work.
When you visit this distillery, you can also dip your own bottle, visit the gift shop and find dinner and drinks at their signature restaurant, Star Hill Provisions.
5. Wild Turkey – Lawrenceburg
Wild Turkey isn’t just another famous name in Kentucky bourbon – it’s a whole experience. Their visitor’s center is a remarkable piece of architecture that often lands on all the “must-see” lists, and their flights of premium spirits are incredible.
The best thing about Wild Turkey may be the fact that it hardly ever closes. Aside from a few winter holidays, they’re open seven days a week, all year long, which makes them accessible no matter what day the spirits call you (pun intended).
6. Green River Distilling Co. – Owensboro
Located at the Westernmost point on the Bourbon Trail, Green River offers tours that will take you from the beginning to the end of the distilling process, starting with how grain is made into mash. You’ll finish up, of course, with a sample tasting of both the distillery’s top-notch bourbons and rye whiskies.
Green River also offers cocktail classes for people who want to learn to mix their own signature drinks, and a “Sit and Sip” experience that’s heavy on relaxation and has none of the walking.
7. Bulleit Distilling Co. – Shelbyville
Bulleit’s bourbon has the distinction of being listed among top-shelf bourbons everywhere, and their tours include a mix of the historical and the contemporary.
Come for the “Modern Frontier Whiskey experience” and explore both the distillery grounds and their incredible tasting room. Or, you can sign up for their Creative Cocktailing course or a Paint-n-Sip workshop, both of which aim to get your creativity flowing along with the spirits.
8. Woodford Reserve – Versailles
Another award winner, Woodford’s bourbons often get cited on luxury lists (both for its taste and its price), so hang onto your wallet – although the expense is worth it.
This distillery is a National Historic Landmark, but don’t that doesn’t mean they’re stuck in time: Woodford Reserve is eco-friendly and aims for maximum sustainability. If you want to feel good about what you’re drinking (or spending), check out their Master Distiller’s tour – which comes with a limited edition bottle that hasn’t even been made public yet.
9. Four Roses – Lawrenceburg
The distinctive Spanish Mission-style distillery is also listed on the National Register of Historic Places – but the history here really isn’t the star; that’s definitely the bourbon. Their single-barrel spirit was even named the best bourbon of 2022 by Luxe.
Four Roses offers numerous tours, some with a distinctly historical bent, but you really should try their single barrel flight tastings at the distillery itself for a unique experience of scents and flavors.
There are more than 40 distilleries on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail, and we’ve highlighted just a few of the best – but be warned, once you become a bourbon aficionado, there’s no turning back: You may just find yourself lured here for good!