Louisville’s Distilleries on The Kentucky Bourbon Trail

Louisville's Distilleries on The Kentucky Bourbon Trail

We have been busy this past year!  Having lived in Kentucky for a decade, we figured it was finally time to make our way through the famed Kentucky Bourbon Trail.  While working our way through it, we created this guide and review of the distilleries in and around the Louisville area, Kentucky’s largest city.  

There are six bourbon distilleries in the Louisville area alone that are part of the official Kentucky Bourbon Trail.  A section of Main Street in Louisville is dubbed “Whiskey Row” because it contained a large number of saloons at one time.  Today, Whiskey Row still hosts a few distilleries and is undergoing a major restoration project with future hotels, retailers, and a distillery tourist attraction.

About The Kentucky Bourbon Trail

Developed in 1999, The Kentucky Distiller’s Association created this road trip style tour through the state to visit some of Kentucky’s best bourbon distilleries.  The creation of the Kentucky Bourbon Trail has brought an influx of tourism to Kentucky with millions of visitors annually.  

There are two versions of the Bourbon Trail:

  1. Kentucky Bourbon Trail – these are the official distilleries that are located throughout the state.  Some are clustered around the cities of Louisville, Lexington, and Bardstown, allowing you to visit multiple distilleries in a day.  There are currently 18 distilleries on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail.  
  2. Bourbon Trail Craft Tour – these distilleries go a bit deeper into the craft of distilling.  Created in 2012, this tour allows visitors to get an up close look at these often smaller distilleries, some with a long history, some the new kids on the block.  As for 2023, there are 23 distilleries on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail Craft Tour.

This post will focus on the distilleries in and around Louisville which are part of the larger Kentucky Bourbon Trail.  We have completed the entire Kentucky Bourbon Trail.  For information on the full trail check out, The Complete Guide to the Kentucky Bourbon Trail.

What is Bourbon?

During our tours, we learned a lot about bourbon and the craft that it is.   Below are some facts on what makes bourbon bourbon.

  • The number one rule is that it must be created in the United States.  Contrary to popular belief, it does not need to be made only in Kentucky.  Kentucky does account for 95% of the country’s bourbon produced, however.
  • The makeup of bourbon must be at least 51% corn.  Beyond that, it’s up to the individual distillers as to the rest of the makeup, usually a mixture of barley, rye, and wheat.  This mixture is known as a mashbill as it ferments in large barrels.
  • Bourbon has to enter the barrel at no higher than 125 proof and has to be be bottled at no more than 80 proof.  The limestone laden waters in Kentucky lead to purified waters, great for aiding in the distillation process.  Many distillers dilute the whiskey with purified water to get it to the proper proof.  
  • The aging process must take place in a new charred barrel.  Barrels have to be new and some amount of charring needs to take place.  Charring refers to a flash burn of the interior of the barrel.  Again, it’s up to the individual distillery as to how long they char the barrel.  Charring a barrel is rated from 1-5 with 1 being the lightest char level and 5 being the highest.  Different char levels result in a wide difference of flavors, all in the hands of the individual distilleries.
  • Rickhouses are the buildings that house the barrels as they age the bourbon.  Most distilleries are naturally climate controlled.  Some distilleries will rotate the barrels so each barrel spends time in the same temperatures:  cool at the bottom and warm on the top, as heat rises.  Other distilleries don’t move the barrels but then mix bourbon from different barrels together.  Some of the distilleries, especially those within Louisville’s city limits, send their barrels off to the age at rickhouses in the countryside.
  • Whiskey officially becomes bourbon when it has aged for a minimum of two years.  

How to visit the distilleries:

  • Visit each of the distillery websites for up-to-date information in terms of hours, cost, and tours available.  This is where you book the tour with that distillery.
  • Get the Kentucky Bourbon Trail Field GuideYou can pick this up at any of the distilleries or at the official start of the Kentucky Bourbon Trail, The Frazier History Museum on Main Street in Louisville.  The Field Guide has a map along with a page dedicated to each distillery on the Bourbon Trail.  Also on each page is a section for a passport stamp, which you get stamped when you check in for your tour.  Once you’ve collected all the stamps, turn in your guide for a complimentary gift!
  • Transportation is especially important, as everyone needs to enjoy the distilleries while still drinking responsibly.  With just visiting Louisville’s distilleries, I suggest breaking up the visits over two days.  Each tour lasts around 60-90 minutes.  Not to mention, after a couple tours, tastings, and often times extra cocktails at the on-site bars, you won’t want to be self-driving.  Several of the distilleries are located near one another in downtown Louisville, which makes walking to them easy.  Stitzel-Weller, however, is on the west side of town so you’ll need transportation to visit that one.

Louisville’s Distilleries on the Bourbon Trail

Bourbon is as synonymous with Kentucky as horse racing and bluegrass.  The culture of bourbon making runs deep, with many distilleries generations in the making.  Each distillery has its own unique history and way of making bourbon.  Learning about the history of bourbon and viewing the entire process of making this American export is a great way to spend the fall and winter months in Kentucky. 

Now, for the distilleries in Louisville!

Angel’s Envy

Angel’s Envy Website

We toured Angel’s Envy, located on Main Street in downtown Louisville on a Monday evening in December.  

Barrels here are sent to age in rural Henry County.  After aging for 5-7 years, the barrels are then sent back to the distillery in Louisville where they are emptied, filtered, and poured into port wine barrels for six more months to finish.  This lends a very unique flavor to the bourbon.

Angel’s Envy ages its bourbon in barrels charred to a 3, which is lighter in color.  When the barrels char, vanillin comes to the surface which is often a flavor you can detect when tasting this bourbon.

FUN FACT:  Angel’s Envy was the first distillery to open once prohibition ended.  Today, the bottling process can be watched from the sidewalk outside the building!

Watching the bottling from outside Angel’s Envy

Evan Williams Bourbon Experience

Evan Williams Website

The Evan Williams Bourbon Experience is unique in that its tour is interactive.  It’s located right on Main Street in downtown Louisville in the heart of Whiskey Row.  We toured in late December with family in town for the holidays and our group enjoyed the experience!

The lobby of Evan William’s Bourbon Experience

The tour starts off with an immersive movie, sharing the history of the bourbon company’s founder, Evan Williams.  While watching the immersive movie, you are meant to feel as if you’re part of the town hall meeting which the founder, Evan Williams, took part of.  

Next, it was off to an area to watch another immersive video about how the bourbon is made, distilled, and barreled.  We got a quick glimpse at the distillery and more history upstairs.  This area was designed to look like an old fashioned street with old whiskey bottles on display behind glass.

From here, we entered the tasting room where we had four samples and a delicious bourbon ball. 

The bourbon ball was too yummy to make it into the pic!

We really enjoyed the immersive experience at this distillery and the guide who shared a lot of info we had not heard before.  

FUN FACT:  Evan Williams is Kentucky’s first commercial distillery, having been founded in 1783!  Today’s distillers at Evan Williams continue to use the same methods as Evan Williams did when he first created his bourbon.

Michter’s 

Michter’s Website

As America’s first whiskey company, Michter’s was originally founded in 1753 by a farmer in Pennsylvania.  It changed hands a few times until the 1990s when a team of two wanted to honor the Michter’s legacy by resurrecting it, this time in Kentucky, the heart of bourbon making.  

Located on Main Street in downtown Louisville, the historic Fort Nelson building is Michter’s modern day home.  This is the last distillery to come back to Whiskey Row after prohibition ended and it has remained here ever since!

Michter’s, located in the historic Fort Nelson building

The tour was very thorough, taking us through production, a demo of the charring of the barrels, and explaining heat cycling in the warehouses. 

The pot stills

Mashbill was fermenting in old barrels, which smells like sourdough bread.   You can feel the heat rising when holding your hand over it!

The bubbling pot of mashbill

The best part at the end – the tasting

After the tour, we enjoyed some drinks in the bar, which has great views of downtown Louisville.  

FUN FACT:  George Washington bought whiskey here for his troops at Valley Forge!

Old Forester

Old Forester Website

We have to give props to Old Forester as giving one of the best tours we experienced on the Bourbon Trail!  Our guide was very informative and engaging and we had a great time!

Another distillery located right on Main Street in downtown Louisville, Old Forester is set in a beautifully restored building.  Old Forester’s founder, George Brown, was a pharmaceutical salesman, which ended up leading him to distilling whiskey!  

Back during prohibition, it was realized that doctors, dentists, and pharmacists could “prescribe” alcohol every ten days for medicinal purposes.  This is how many distilleries survived and even thrived during prohibition 🙂

FUN FACT:  Old Forester is the only bourbon that has been continuously sold by the same company before, during, and after prohibition.  It is also the only distillery in Louisville that chars its barrels on site.

Barrels char on site at Old Forester

Rabbit Hole

Rabbit Hole Website

What began as a passion project by a clinical psychologist, the modern-day distillery known as Rabbit Hole took off and is now part of the Kentucky Bourbon Trail.  Its founder married a native from Louisville, which piqued his interest in Kentucky’s biggest export.  He soon decided that the bourbon landscape needed a modern take, thus he developed his own recipes and desire to change Bourbonism.

Our guide took us throughout the facility, taught us the history of Rabbit Hole, and even encouraged us stick our finger into the bubbling pot of mashbill to taste it!

At the end, the bourbon tasting was fabulous and we found a new favorite – Cavehill.  After our tasting we ordered a cocktail and took it out onto the deck which overlooks downtown Louisville.  

A great selection at the tasting

Some great seating on the deck; overlooking downtown Louisville

FUN FACT:  This is the only tour we have been on thus far where you are given a small cup of bourbon on the rocks to begin the tour!

Stitzel-Weller

Stitzel-Weller Website

Located in the Shively area of Louisville, Stitzel-Weller is the furthest distillery from downtown Louisville.  While it is no longer is a distillery, it is still an aging facility with a storied past.  We also had a fabulous guide here.

On site at Stizel-Weller

The Garden and Gun Club, Stitzel-Weller’s bar, is a great place to grab a drink, be it the speakeasy style indoor bar or the outdoor patio.

The Garden & Gun Club

FUN FACT:  Stizel-Weller’s symbol are a set of five keys.  Five keys used to hang on the door of the distillery and they represented the five stage process to creating bourbon:  grains, yeast, fermentation, distillation, and aging.  Have fun collecting the keys, which are numbered 1-5, when buying Blade & Bow Bourbon.  Once all five keys are collected, send a photo to the distillery via the website and you’ll get a special commemorative gift.  Mike has collected all five keys and has received an engraved cup – pretty cool!

The door where the five keys hang

The room with the Five Keys Club “earned” cups

If in Louisville, why not visit these fantastic distilleries, part of the larger Kentucky Bourbon Trail?  You’ll learn something different from each distillery and the important part bourbon continues to play in Kentucky.  Of course, it’s not too shabby getting to try all the different bourbons along the way!  

Read more!

For a great list of things to see and do in Louisville, Kentucky, including visiting these distilleries, check out the post:  Ten Great Things to do in Louisville, Kentucky.

For the full guide to visiting all 18 distilleries on the official Kentucky Bourbon Trail, check out our article, The Complete Guide to The Kentucky Bourbon Trail. 

We came away with favorites during our visits to the Kentucky Bourbon Trail Distilleries.  You can read all about that here, Top Experiences on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail.  

Leave a Reply