If you’re looking for a weekend getaway, I would highly recommend spending two days on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail. With my dad’s acquired taste for bourbon and the joy our family receives from taking weekend trips together, we decided to gift my Dad a trip for two days on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail for his birthday and it did not disappoint. I learned an immense amount of knowledge about the bourbon industry, how prohibition affected jobs in Kentucky, and the distilling process. Plus, I found out I like (after the first couple of sips:) ) some of the sweeter and double barreled bourbons, bourbon blackberry sours, and chocolate bourbon balls. So delicious!
Currently there are 10 distilleries on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail with four more being added this year. We had two full days on the trail and decided to see three distilleries each day, which was the perfect amount from my perspective. If you decided to just do tastings at each location and skip the tours, you could easily fit four distilleries in one day.
We really enjoyed the tours. All were unique in their own way as you learned about the history of the bourbon, how the distilleries came about, and some of the unique qualities that make it their own. However, some parts of the tours were repetitive. Bourbon is made with specific ingredients and the aging process is very similar – so you will quickly begin to pick up on these reocurring themes.
A few things to know while you’re planning your trip:
Wild Turkey: 9:00am tour
This was the first distillery on our trip and one of the favorites amongst our group mainly due to the wonderful tour guide we had – Bubba. Full of stories and witty jokes, you can tell he absolutely loves his job and everyone he meets. Wild Turkey’s campus is a bit spread out so you take a bus from the gift shop to the rick houses (where the store the barrels) and the distilling and bottling buildings. The tour is about an hour long and ends with a tasting of 4 of their bourbons. Also, if you’re lucky like we were, you might get to meet the Master Distiller – Jimmy Russel. Jimmy is the longest tenured master distiller (I believe going on 68 years) and rumor has it he can taste a bourbon, tell you which brand/distillery it’s from and what aged barrel it was from. That’s impressive!
Woodford Reserve: 11:20 tour
Next stop on our trip was Woodford Reserve. It was about a 25 minute drive from Wild Turkey and the trip was beautiful. We drove past multiple fenced lined horse farms and pristine barns and farm homes that kept us inspired. Woodford Reserve was more mature and structured than Wild Turkey. It had a bit of elegance about it that made the aesthetic of the campus feel more rich and top of the line. The tour was about an hour long and ended with a tasting of 2 of their bourbons. The distillery had a beautiful outdoor patio where you could enjoy cocktails after the tour or explore their giftshop and get your name engraved on a purchased bottle. We decided to grab lunch after relaxing at Woodford Reserve for a bit and stopped at Sage Garden Café on our way to the next disilltery. It’s a cute café with soups, salads, and sandwiches and located in a garden center.
Buffalo Trace: 3:00pm tour
Buffalo Trace was stop number 3. While Buffalo Trace is NOT on the bourbon trail, it was highly recommended we check it out as it’s one of the oldest distilleries around and filled with history. This was actually one of our least favorite stops of the day (partially because we were tired and ready for a nap, but partially because the tour was not as energetic and engaging as the first two stops of the day) Since Buffalo Trace was not part of the Bourbon Trail, the tour was FREE and came with 2 tastings, plus some desert at the end (bourbon cream + root beer – YUM!) If I were to do it again, I would skip out on this tour and go to Four Roses or Town Branch instead.
If you are spending additional time in the area or want the opportunity to swap out some of these distilleries with other favorites on your must see list, you could also go to Four Roses or Town Branch. They’re about a 30 minute drive from each of these aforementioned distilleries on the Bourbon Trail.
That evening we went to Lexington Green Lakeside for live music and a delicious dinner outside. Lakeside is a small “pond” located outside of a shopping mall in Lexington with a few outdoor resturants/bars to choose from and live music in the summers. We felt like we were on vacation somewhere in the South for the evening. Afterwards, we drove to Drake’s Sports Bar to watch the NBA Finals.
Maker’s Mark: 10:00am tour
On our second day, we got up and drove a little over an hour southwest to Maker’s Mark to hit one of their first tours of the day. We purchased tickets ahead of time, but it’s first come first serve at Maker’s Mark so we wanted to beat the Saturday crowd. Maker’s Mark was by far the overall favorite tour of the trip amongst our group. Few reasons being the tour was extremely knowledgable and expanded on the history of the campus, the distilling process, and the family heritage. Secondly, the distillery is absolutely beautiful. The campus is very expansive compared to the other’s we went to, beautiful landscaping, and there was a café and bar that opened at 11:30am where we enjoyed some bourbon slushies and bloody mary’s. Thirdly, you got to taste 6 different bourbons after the tour! It could be because we had 3 tours the day before, but after our Maker’s Mark tour I felt like I had learned something. After the tour we walked around the campus for a bit and the men hand dipped their own bottle of Maker’s Mark in their signature red wax!
After Makers Mark we drove towards the Jim Beam distillery and stopped in Bardstown, KY for some lunch at The Old Talbott Tavern. Great food and a historic atmosphere, this Tavern is said to have Jesse James’ ghost making an appearance every now and again.
Jim Beam: 2:00-2:40pm drinks/explore campus
We stopped at Jim Beam to explore their campus and grab some drinks before heading to our last stop of the day. The grounds were beautiful. Plenty of space to sit back, put your feet up and relax with a bourbon sour in hand. Besides Maker’s Mark – this was our second favorite distillery in terms of the campus. We were planning to do a tasting, but didn’t realized we had to purchase the tour in order to do a tasting and we were out of time for the day since we stopped for lunch. If we were to go again, we would tour Jim Beam and push out our Evan Williams tour an hour.
Evan Williams: 4:00 pm tour
Our last stop of the day was Evan Williams in downtown Lousiville. This tour was extremely unique compared to the others as it was a fully emmersive and digital experience. You walked from room to room learning about the history of Evan Williams, watching videos about the the early days of Evan Williams and how it came about and learning about prohibition in more depth and the affects it had on the bourbon industry in Kentucky. This tour ended with a tasting of 4 of their bourbons.
If you have the opportunriy to stay another day or are looking to swap some distillery tours with others you might like better, here are some additional ones along the drive and in the area of the Day 2 Bourbon Distilleries: Angel’s Envy and Bulleit.
Favorites from the trip:
I want to share a couple resources that helped me plan out our two days on the Kentucky bourbon trail and were extremely knowledgable when choosing which distilleries to go to and where to stop along the way:
We had a blast spending 2 days enjoying the beautiful Kentucky bourbon trail, feeding our minds with knowledge and new experiences, and laughing away at the memories made.
xx – Alyssa
Alyssa Thomas is a Wedding and Event Planner based in Pittsburgh, PA and serving clients in Pittsburgh, Columbus, and Worldwide Destinations. Her work spans from weddings and corporate events, to meetups and intimate gatherings. Contact her today for your consultation and stop by her instagram to see some beautiful events, design work, and a peek into her personal life + traveling adventures. @alyssathomasevents
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