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Kentucky is the birthplace of bourbon, so we’re going right down the iconic Kentucky Bourbon Trail, listing off the significant and age-old places to throw back some barrel-aged goodness. Those who come to explore will get a glimpse into the unique craftsmanship that goes into each distillery’s recipes, as well as an understanding of the deep historical roots bourbon has in Kentucky, that date back to the 18th century. Don’t forget to grab your trail passport at the first distillery stop, so you can check off all the ones you hit.
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Might as well start out with what is known as America’s number one bourbon—Jim Beam. The American Stillhouse in Clermont is where it all began, so the site has seven generations of history tied to it as well. You can also hit the urban Louisville location. Although, a cool thing about the stillhouse tour is that you can pack your own bottle to take home, and can even get it engraved.
The distiller here has been making magic happen for 64 years, and he has been doing it longer than anyone in the world. His son has fallen in line and has racked up over 30 years in the business. Together they personally assure every bottle is perfection.
The Lexington Brewing Company dates back to the 1700s, and Town Branch acquired it in the late 90s, merging into what is known as the “Brewstillery,” the combination of both a brewery and distillery if you didn’t already guess. This is a great quick stop spot as the tours are short and sweet. You’ll also find other neat knick-knacks and bits of historical info.
Some say the limestone-filtered water is the secret behind this bourbon, others think it’s the modern yet traditional technique. Regardless, O.Z. Tyler is a charming stop along the trail, and you can take part of a whiskey barrel home from the gift shop, to add as a rustic decoration to your home.
From charcoal filtered, pristine selections, to extra aged varieties, Lux Row has an impressive line up on site. They dig deep into the experience so each guest leaves educated rather than just tipsy. A tour will take you amongst the fascinating grounds where you’ll get more than a glimpse of the process and dedication. Perhaps one of the more intriguing bourbons is the David Nicholson, as the recipe for the honey butter noted concoction was developed 200 years ago.
Located in Louisville, Old Forester has been around since before prohibition, and is touted as the “Hometown Bourbon of Bourbon’s Hometown”. The facility has been modernized and has a cool look. The tour is wonderful and you get to do more than just taste—watching a barrel get charred is pretty interesting. Probably one of the best places to come for a detailed explanation of bourbon distilling, the bartenders also have a wide range of knowledge to inform while tasting.
On Salt River in Lawrenceburg, Four Roses offers a longer distillery tour which sells out quickly, and a shorter history directed familiarization tour offering a tasting of a few bourbons. What really makes the tours stand out is the personalities of the guides, whom guests say completely “make” the visit for them, along with the tasty Single Barrel Bourbon.
Louisville’s historic “Whiskey Row” House’s the Evan Williams Bourbon Experience, and it’s a historically focused journey that ends with a tasting of three delicious whiskeys, and a sweet treat that compliments the flavors. If you feel inclined, definitely don’t leave without bourbon flavored coffee to sip on at home.
You won’t find Maker’s Mark Cask Strength bourbon anywhere but at the Kentucky location itself—this alone may warrant a trip to the state. The unique creation develops its flavors in seared French oak staves, and yes, it’s as good as it sounds.
This distillery is a National Historic Landmark, further enriching the experience. Craftsmen began distilling bourbon here back in 1812, and today continues with very unique methods when creating their line. Copper pot stills and triple distillation are used in the heat cycled barrelhouse, making it one of the few of its kind in the whole world. Double Double Oaked Whiskey has more of a kick than the double oaked and is noted to only be available at the Woodford Distillery.