The Complete Guide to The Kentucky Bourbon Trail

The Complete Guide to the Kentucky Bourbon Trail

Last fall I came up with the notion that we should make our way through Kentucky’s famed Bourbon Trail.  Having lived in Louisville for over a decade, we had only been to one distillery in that time.  So, we enjoyed spending the fall and winter months keeping warm touring distilleries, experiencing tastings, and doing mixology classes.  And we did it, we visited all 18 distilleries!  

About The Kentucky Bourbon Trail

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

As of 2024 there are 18 distilleries on the official Kentucky Bourbon Trail.  There is also a new movement with smaller distilleries focusing on the craft of creating bourbon and not commercializing their product.  These distilleries are known collectively as the Kentucky Bourbon Trail Craft Tour.

This article will focus on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail, taking you through all 18 distilleries.  This upcoming year, we are visiting the distilleries on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail Craft Tour so stay tuned for our complete guide on that as well!

First things first, what is bourbon?

During every distillery tour, you will learn how bourbon is created.  Each distillery tour includes a little history on that particular distillery.  Some are deeply rooted in the past, generations old, while others are relatively new.  Regardless of how long a distillery has been around, there are very specific rules a distillery must follow in order to create bourbon:

  • Bourbon must be made with at least 51% corn.  After that, the rest of the makeup is up to the individual distillery.  A variety of wheat, barley, and rye is combined with the corn in order to create a mashbill.  The distinct varying flavors of bourbon is mostly due to its particular grain makeup.
  • Aging of bourbon must take place in new charred oak barrels.   The char refers to the flash burning on the inside of the barrel which will help age the whiskey, eventually turning it into bourbon.  A lower char, one that was flash burned for less time, will result in a lighter hued bourbon.  A longer char, one with a longer burning time, will result in a darker colored bourbon.  Each distillery has the creative hand to decide what level their char will be. 
  • Bourbon MUST be made in the USA!  Contrary to popular belief, it does not need to be made only in Kentucky.  However, Kentucky accounts for 95% of bourbon created.
  • The maximum proof of bourbon is 160 proof, the minimum is 80 proof.

What is the Mashbill?

A mashbill refers to the combination of corn and other grains – wheat, barley, and rye – all “mashed ” together.  Large steel drums hold the bubbling pots of mashbill where it continues to ferment. 

Bubbling pots of mashbill

The bubbling is from the active yeast, not from heat.  Holding your hand over the mashbill you feel some warmth due to heat rising, although the mashbill itself is comfortable to the touch.  Some distilleries will let you stick your finger in and taste it.  The best way to describe it:  it’s like eating beer 😉

About the Aging Process

Once the whiskey is placed in the charred oak barrels, they are sent off to age in a rickhouse.  Rickhouses are the storage facilities where the whiskey ages in barrels.  The barrels are stored horizontally with airflow around the barrels somewhat restricted. 

Barrels stored, full of aging bourbon.  Some rickhouses are old while some are brand new.

This process results in the aging of bourbon.  Some distilleries rotate their barrels while others let them be.  Most choose to have their rickhouses be naturally temperature controlled.  The high humidity coupled with the extreme temperatures in Kentucky (cold in the winter and hot in the summer), makes for prime bourbon making grounds.

How to visit the Kentucky Bourbon Trail

We live in Kentucky so it was easy to do the trail at our leisure over the course of the fall and winter.  However, on most tours we were the only locals!  

If you want to see all the distilleries on the bourbon trail, it will take time.  Don’t be the folks who do a few too many tours in a day and become obnoxious in the group – we had that experience on one of our tours!  With 18 distilleries you have a lot of bourbon to sample and probably want to enjoy each tour and tasting.

To craft your itinerary you can break down the distilleries to visit into regions to make the most of your time.  By picking up the Kentucky Bourbon Trail Field Guide, you’ll have a map with all of the Kentucky Bourbon Trail distilleries.  Many are located in the central region of the state, with six in the Louisville area.  As much as I’d recommend multiple visits to see them all, if you want to do the trail in one fell swoop you will need at least 5 days to 1 week.  Consider a tour such as Mint Julep Experiences, Pegasus Distillery Experiences, or Central Kentucky Tours.  These tours offer itineraries and transportation so the only thing you have to do is enjoy the bourbon!  You also can visit a select few, basing yourself in either Louisville or Lexington.  Uber and Lyft are available for private rides in Louisville and Lexington, while LouLift is free public transportation in Louisville.

Booking distillery tours should be done well ahead of time.  You can check out the Kentucky Bourbon Trail Website to find the distilleries you want to visit and book directly with each distillery.  For up-to-date information including current fees based on the type of tour offered at each distillery, check out their websites listed within each distillery review below.

The Kentucky Bourbon Trail officially begins at the Frazier History Museum on Main Street in Louisville. 

The official beginning of the Kentucky Bourbon Trail | Frazier History Museum, Louisville

Here, you can check out the Kentucky Bourbon Trail welcome center and explore the exhibits.  You can also pick up the Kentucky Bourbon Trail passport book and Kentucky Bourbon Trail map.  The gift shop features great Kentucky and bourbon trail merchandise and there are several cocktail classes to get you going in bourbon country!  Check out the website for more information:

Website:  Frazier History Museum/KBT Welcome Center

And now for the Kentucky Bourbon Trail!

__Angel’s Envy __

Angel’s Envy | The Kentucky Bourbon Trail

Location

Louisville, KY

Website:  Angel’s Envy 

The Tour + Tasting

We visited Angel’s Envy in downtown Louisville on a Monday evening in December.  Our weekends in December were pretty busy so it was nice to be able to do a tour during the week.  

During the tasting, we had two types of whiskey, bourbon and rye.  Each drink had a special chocolate pairing so we could see how the flavor of the bourbon changed as we sipped.  The tasting room was gorgeous with a repurposed fallen oak tree crafted into a beautiful tasting table.  The distillery recently went through a massive renovation and has a brand new visitor’s center.

When the tour was over, our guide told us we could watch the bottling process from outside, looking into the windows from the sidewalk.  We exited the building and took a left onto Jackson Street, walking about three-quarters of the way down the block.  Sure enough we could see the bottles being hand labeled through the windows.  Such an appreciation for this technique in this day and age of fast machines typically taking over.

Watching the bottles being hand labeled | Angel’s Envy

What made this unique

We got to “sample” some White Dog, which is raw, unaged whiskey before it ever goes into a barrel to age.  We each got a bit on our hands and were encouraged to smell or even taste if desired! It was very strong smelling, burning our noses.  Our guide said it makes a great hand sanitizer!


__Bardstown Bourbon__

Bardstown Bourbon | The Kentucky Bourbon Trail

Location

Bardstown, KY

Website:  Bardstown Bourbon

The Tour + Tasting

This was one of our favorite tours on the entire Bourbon Trail!  We did the Shaken & Stirred Cocktail Class and it was one of our most memorable Kentucky Bourbon Trail experiences.  In fact, we have taken friends multiple times since because we have enjoyed it so much!

To start, the building is beautifully designed.  With a large area for dining and a beautiful bar area, you have a great way to pass time before or after your tour.  

The restaurant and bar area | Bardstown Bourbon

Our group was guided outside for a short walk to a room in a rickhouse for the cocktail class.  We were introduced to the bar equipment, recipe cards, and what we would be making.

The set up for Shaken & Stirred | Bardstown Bourbon

We made a shaken Old Fashioned and a stirred Manhattan.  In between drinks, we had the opportunity to go into the rickhouse while sipping our drink and learn about their history and production.  We also had the chance to thieve directly out of a barrel as well bottle our own bourbon straight from the barrel.

Thieving right out of the barrel | Bardstown Bourbon

Overall we had so much fun at this class and highly recommend it while visiting Bardstown Bourbon.  Our guide was awesome and made the class really fun!  

What made this unique

The Shaken & Stirred Cocktail class was our favorite experience on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail.  The space where the class is held is unique in that a lot of furnishings and decor are from the Versace Mansion.  Beautiful floor-to-ceiling glass windows allowed us to look into and wander into the adjacent rickhouse were bourbon was aging.  We could do this with our newly crafted drink in hand and also thieve right out of the barrel.  This was not rushed, we were encouraged to take our time and just enjoy our surroundings.  It made for a personal, memorable experience!


__Bulleit Distilling Co.__

Bulleit | The Kentucky Bourbon Trail

Location 

Shelbyville, KY

Website:  Bulleit Distilling Co.

The Tour + Tasting

We visited Bulleit as our first official stop on the Bourbon Trail.  Here, only Mike and I went.  When booking, there is an option to add on minors to the tour but after touring I’m glad we did not bring the kids here as I’m not sure where they would go during the tasting. 

We checked in and hung out in the cozy main area, with its high ceilings and large two-story barrel display, decorating either side of the lobby.  Markers were sitting out for people to sign their names to the barrels on the walls of the lobby if desired.  

The lobby with old bourbon barrels to sign | Bulleit

Once it was time for our tour, we were gathered and given a quick history by our guide.  The Bulleit brand is fairly new, created in 1987. 

We were then brought outside to board a bus that took us to the distillery.  There were two flights of stairs to climb and then we were walked through the general process of the distilling.  We peeked into a very large vat with mashbill, watched alcohol infiltrate the mash, and then boarded the bus back to the main building where we had the tasting.

Lastly, we were brought into a beautiful tasting room.   In front of us were four types of Bourbon and four small shaker bottles in front of each glass.  We were also given a decanter of water and small cups to stay hydrated during the tasting.

During the tasting, the lighting and music changed depending on the drink we were tasting.  This multi-sensory experience was very unique!

To start, we were to smell the Bourbon, take a small taste, lightly shake our shaker, inhale, and taste again.  It was neat to see how different smells or tastes would come out after smelling.

Fun Fact

Bulleit works hard to be sustainable by practicing reusing, recycling, and reducing.  The bus we rode out to the distillery emitted zero carbon emission as it was operated by propane.  Bulleit also has its own water source so as not to drain the town’s water supply.  It is definitely a good neighbor! 


__Evan Williams__

Evan Williams | The Kentucky Bourbon Trail

Location

Louisville, KY

Website:  Evan Williams

The Tour + Tasting

We did the Traditional Tour and Tasting on our visit here in late December.  

After checking in, our group was taken to a room where we watched an immersive video as we sat between two screens.  It looked as though we were sitting live during the 1700s when Evan Williams first began distilling right here on the banks of the Ohio River, in Louisville, KY.

We were then taken to another area where we watched a visual explanation of how the whiskey becomes bourbon, and finally upstairs to an area that was created to look like a street in the town from back in the day.

The tasting area | Evan Williams

We finally got to our tasting, trying four types of bourbon, along with a delicious bourbon ball, my favorite part!

What made this unique

The immersive experience was unlike any other distillery on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail.  We had a view into a time when bourbon distilling was in its beginning stages with Evan Williams.

And a fun fact is that Evan Williams was Kentucky’s first commercial distillery!


__Four Roses__

Four Roses | The Kentucky Bourbon Trail

Location

Lawrenceburg, KY

Website:  Four Roses

The Tour + Tasting

Four Roses Bourbon is aged in barrels with one of the highest chars on the market, a four.  Four Roses believes this gives their bourbon a very unique flavor than that of other bourbons.  All ten types of bourbon distilled here are mingled together.  The small batch bourbon is only available in 30 states at 104 proof.

Bottles of bourbon | Four Roses

What made this unique

Four Roses wins the award for most unique building on the entire Kentucky Bourbon Trail! 

The Spanish style facility with yellowed stucco exterior and terra cotta roof is a very unusual building for Kentucky.  The building is on the National Register of Historic Places.


__Green River__

Location

Owensboro, KY

Website:  Green River

The Tour + Tasting

Green River is the located in western Kentucky, about two hours west of Louisville.  This was the further distillery we traveled to and we set aside a day to do it.

Green River’s slogan “The Whiskey Without Regrets” dates back to 1915 when it was promised this whiskey would leave you headache-free!  

We enjoyed a cocktail class here, one of our favorite things to do on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail.  We made two drinks and enjoyed them both.  It is a fun way to experience bourbon, that is for sure.

Fun Fact

Green River was founded in 1885, making it Kentucky’s tenth oldest distillery.  In the early 1900s, it became the official whiskey of the US Marine Hospital due to its high quality.  

In 1917, twenty barrels of the very popular Green River Bourbon were traded for a Colorado Gold Mine!  It was then known as “the most expensive  whiskey or spirit ever sold”.


__Heaven Hill__

Heaven Hill | The Kentucky Bourbon Trail

Location

Bardstown, KY

Website:  Heaven Hill

The Tour + Tasting

The Heaven Hill distillery has a beautiful view of the barrels through massive glass windows in the rickhouses. 

A brand new rickhouse | Heaven Hill

Heaven Hill makes several different brands such as Henry McKenna, Larceny, and Elijah Craig.  We had fun bottling our own bourbon in the lab.

What makes this unique

Heaven Hill has a large museum on site, which takes you through the history of bourbon and showcases various artifacts from the industry. 

On-site museum | Heaven Hill

We learned a lot and it was a great way to pass time before the tour & tasting.


__James B. Beam__

James B. Beam | The Kentucky Bourbon Trail

Location

Clermont, KY

Website:  James B. Beam

The Tour + Tasting

James B. Beam is the biggest distillery on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail.  After having been to many other smaller distilleries, we expected this to be over-commericalized.  We were pleasantly surprised!  The tour was thorough while feeling personal as well. 

Distillery and rickhouse | James B. Beam

Along the way we watched barrel dumping and had the opportunity to taste right out of the barrel.

As for the tasting, we enjoyed the typical bourbon tasting but then it was followed up with the opportunity to pick a cocktail from the bar!  What a fun way to end the tour & tasting.

My delicious little cocktail! | James B. Beam

Fun Fact

James B. Beam has been around for eight generations!  


__Lux Row__

Lux Row | The Kentucky Bourbon Trail

Location

Bardstown, KY

Website:  Lux Row

The Tour + Tasting

We visited Lux Row on a December weekend right after Christmas.

The tour started off with a very beautiful movie on the history of the distillery as well as its distilling process.    

Distilling in action | Lux Row

In the tasting room we were all seated around a bar with four types of Bourbon to taste.  

The tasting | Lux Row

What made this unique

My favorite was at the end we were given a tiny glass of Bourbon creme – a little holiday cheer!


__Maker’s Mark__

Maker’s Mark | The Kentucky Bourbon Trail

Location

Loretto, KY

Website:  Maker’s Mark

The Tour + Tasting

Maker’s Mark distillery sits on Star Hill Farms deep in the Kentucky countryside.  The rolling hills are beautiful and the grounds of the distillery are lovely to wander.

The grounds | Maker’s Mark

The tour had us moving through the buildings that make up the distillery.  At the end, the tasting had us sampling four different types of bourbon.  

What made this unique

The outdoor bar was great after the tour.  We enjoyed a cocktail while taking in the beautiful scenery on this unseasonably warm November day.  The grounds of Maker’s Mark were the prettiest of the whole Kentucky Bourbon Trail.


__Michter’s__

Michter’s | The Kentucky Bourbon Trail

Location

Louisville, KY

Website:  Michter’s

The Tour + Tasting

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 country.  

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 home in the historic Fort Nelson building | Michter’s

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

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

Mashbill in old wooden barrels | Michter’s

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 | The Kentucky Bourbon Trail

Location

Louisville, KY

Website:  Old Forester

The Tour + Tasting

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.

Charring barrels on-site | Old Forester


__Rabbit Hole__

Rabbit Hole | The Kentucky Bourbon Trail

Location

Louisville, KY

Website:  Rabbit Hole

The Tour + Tasting

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 encouraged us stick our finger into the bubbling pot of mashbill to taste it – this is always fun to try!

Massive drums of mashbill | Rabbit Hole

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.  

The tasting room and views of Louisville | Rabbit Hole

Fun Fact

This is the only tour where we were given a small cup of bourbon on the rocks to begin the tour!


__Stitzel-Weller__

Stitzel-Weller | The Kentucky Bourbon Trail

Location

Louisville, KY

Website:  Stitzel-Weller

The Tour + Tasting

Stitzel-Weller ended up being one of our favorite tours thank to our awesome guide!  A good guide really makes the tour for sure. 

While Stitzel-Weller is no longer a distillery, nowadays it is just an aging facility, it is steeped in history and was interesting to learn about.

The grounds and old still | Stitzel-Weller

After our tasting, we enjoyed our favorite part of this place:  the Garden & Gun Club, an on-site bar and lounge area .  

What made this unique

The five steps of crafting bourbon are the grains, yeast, fermentation, distillation, and aging.  Stitzel-Weller represents these five steps with five keys that actually still hang on the door to this day. 

To this day, 5 key still hang on the door | Stitzel-Weller

They say that the keys also represent the southern traditions of hospitality, warmth, and the enjoyment of the finer things.  On the Blade and Bow brand, created at Stitzel-Weller, a key hangs off the bottle and it is numbered 1, 2, 3, 4, or 5.  Collect all five keys and your name will be engraved on a golden cup that is displayed on-site at Stitzel-Weller.  Mike has one  after collecting all five keys of Blade and Bow 🙂


__Town Branch__

Town Branch | The Kentucky Bourbon Trail

Location

Lexington, KY

Website:  Town Branch (Lexington Brewing & Distilling Co.)

The Tour + Tasting

Another wonderful tour!  Our guide was engaging and made the tour a lot of fun.   The tour took us through the whole distilling process through the building.  Our next stop was a…brewery!  That’s right, on site Town Branch not only distills bourbon but also makes beer.  At the beginning of the tour, we were given four tickets that we could use in either the brewery or distillery to try samples of beer or bourbon.  We had a lot of fun as our guide was lively and the fellow tour guests seemed to enjoy the different samplings.

The distillery was beautiful!  In fact the header photo is taken from the tasting room.  Those of us who chose to save a ticket or two for the bourbon tasting cashed them in and sipped while our engaging guide prepared a special drink for us.  It’s still a favorite to this day.  

The beautiful tasting room | Town Branch

A special treat! | Town Branch

What made this tour unique

This is one of only two distilleries that also houses a brewery.  Getting the chance to try either beer or bourbon (or both!) was unique for a visit on the bourbon trail.


__Wild Turkey__

Location

Lawrenceburg, KY

Website:  Wild Turkey

The Tour + Tasting

Unfortunately, Wild Turkey’s Visitor’s Center has been closed for about two years and tours have not been going on.  We are unsure as to when they are reopening or why it has taken so long.  We waited a while to visit in hopes that it would be open and we could do a full review on the new facility.  However, Wild Turkey was the last distillery on the bourbon trail we needed to visit to complete the Kentucky Bourbon Trail.

The temporary gift shop & bar | Wild Turkey

So, on a nice September day, we set out to visit the 18th distillery on the bourbon trail.  For now, the Station Master’s House is a temporary gift shop with a small bar in the back.  We got a cocktail and took it out to the front porch to “cheers” our completion of the trail!

Our final drinks of the Kentucky Bourbon Trail | Wild Turkey

Fun fact

Wild Turkey has the only father-son duo of Bourbon Master Distillers.


__Wilderness Trail__

Wilderness Trail | The Kentucky Bourbon Trail

Location

Danville, KY

Website:  Wilderness Trail

The Tour + Tasting

Here they say you get 100% of the color and 80% of flavor from the barrel alone, one reason why charring is so important.

Wilderness Trail uses a sweet mash, which is less acidic, resulting in a smoother taste.  Here they use only locally-sourced grains and bottle their bourbon unfiltered to yield the most hearty flavors.

The tasting | Wilderness Trail

Fun Fact

The owners of Wilderness Trail are fermentation experts and offer their expertise throughout the bourbon industry.  


__Woodford Reserve__

Woodford Reserve | The Kentucky Bourbon Trail

Location

Versailles, KY

Website:  Woodford Reserve

The Tour + Tasting

We really enjoyed the tour at Woodford Reserve, it was great for the whole family.  Woodford’s grounds are beautiful, with both the new buildings and the old storehouses.  The building is registered in National Registry of Historic Places, and it’s one of the oldest, dating back to 1812.

The historic building with barrels being rolled | Woodford Reserve

Stills and barrels | Woodford Reserve

The southern style tasting room was set up with a lemonade and chocolate for our kids while we adults enjoyed our bourbon tasting flight and a bourbon ball. 

What made this unique

Woodford Reserve bourbon ferments for seven days, which is the longest of all bourbons.  

Also, the tour was unique in that it was family friendly with providing lemonade and a chocolate for those under 21.  Many tours do not allow children on site and if they do, usually do not provide anything for the kids.  The kids learned a lot about Kentucky’s biggest export and ended with a treat at the end, just like the adults!  


Tips for the Kentucky Bourbon Trail

My number one tip is be sure to pick up a Kentucky Bourbon Trail Passport and Field Guide.  We used this to help plan out our tours and also got a stamp at each distillery.  Once we completed the entire trail we got the final stamp of completion.  Scan the stamp (QR code) and your prize will be sent in the mail.

If you are military, veteran, or a first responder, check for discounts at the distilleries, where you’ll need to show your ID.  

Photos are almost always allowed, but be sure to review before snapping away.  Some don’t allow video or certain areas cannot be photographed.  Always check with your guide before taking photos.

Lastly, enjoy!  Not only will you get to taste a variety of bourbon but you’ll get to see a lot of the beautiful state of Kentucky.  Rolling hills and horse farms lead you to distilleries throughout the state.  This spirit is native to the United States is special in that no other country can produce bourbon.  And that’s pretty special! 


DRINK RESPONSIBLY! AS THE KENTUCKY BOURBON TRAIL SAYS: Know Your Facts | Set Your Limit | Bring Your ID | Plan Your Ride

Read more!

There are six distilleries in Louisville alone if you want to just stay in the Louisville area.  Check out our guide:   Louisville’s Distilleries on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail.

Interested in great things to do in Louisville?  Our guide, Ten Great Things to do in Louisville, shares great things to do in the Louisville area, besides bourbon!

We came away with favorites during our visits to the distilleries on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail.  Read all about them in our article, Top Experiences on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail.

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