Looking for a fall travel destination that combines beautiful scenery with
some of the greatest spirits—and nicest people—on Earth? Those who head for the Kentucky Bourbon Trail will be in good company, as more than one million people visit the distilleries each year.
The starting point is the Kentucky Bourbon Trail Welcome Center in downtown Louisville, where you can gather information and plan your trip. While the trail currently comprises 16 distilleries, remember that Buffalo Trace and Barton 1792 are not included, having opted out after being purchased by the Sazerac Company. In most cases, distillery tours are offered daily for a nominal fee. If you find the choices overwhelming, here are some essential stops.
Angel’s Envy: Lincoln Henderson, the man responsible for Woodford Reserve, Gentleman Jack, and Jack Daniels Single Barrel, founded Angel’s Envy in 2006. Located on Louisville’s Main Street, Angel’s Envy crafts its whiskey in micro-batches and finishes it in port barrels, resulting in a rich, soothing style.
Four Roses: Master distiller Brent Elliott took over when the legendary Jim Rutledge retired in 2015, but Four Roses is still as special as ever. Pay a visit to this historic distillery on the Salt River in Lawrenceburg and be sure to snag the Limited Edition Small Batch, if the opportunity presents itself.
Heaven Hill: Founded in 1935 and still family-owned, Heaven Hill is headquartered in Bardstown, once the epicenter of bourbon production. Fifth-generation master distiller Craig Beam crafts spirits under brands such as Elijah Craig, Evan Williams, and Old Fitzgerald.
Jim Beam: The legacy goes back to 1795, when Jacob Beam sold his first bottles of corn whiskey. Made in a sprawling facility in Clermont, Jim Beam is now one of the largest and most recognizable brands in the world. Don’t miss the Small Batch Collection: Knob Creek, Basil Hayden’s, Baker’s, and Booker’s.
Maker’s Mark: The Samuels family purchased Burk’s Distillery in Loretto in 1953 and began producing its distinctive square bottle with the red, wax-dipped seal. Today, visitors can dip their own bottles, if they so choose. The unique taste of Maker’s Mark is due to red winter wheat replacing rye in the mash bill.
Wild Turkey: Lauded master distiller Jimmy Russell (aka “the Buddha of Bourbon”) has worked at Wild Turkey for 64 years and is now assisted by his son, Eddie. Standouts include Kentucky Spirit, Rare Breed, and Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel.
Woodford Reserve: Kentucky’s smallest and oldest distillery is a National Historic Landmark situated on the spot where Elijah Pepper began making whiskey in 1812. Take part in the Corn to Cork tour to learn all the interesting factoids, like how triple-distilled Woodford is the only bourbon made in copper pot stills.
If time or logistics prevent you from leaving the city, don’t fret: Angel’s Envy isn’t the only distillery in town. A stretch of Main Street has been transformed into Whiskey Row, which houses the Old Forester, Rabbit Hole, and Michter’s Fort Nelson distilleries, along with the Evan Williams Bourbon Experience. And don’t forget to schedule a visit to the Four Roses Barrel Loft.
As you might expect, there’s no shortage of bourbon bars in downtown Louisville either. For a slice of history, try the Brown Hotel lobby bar or the bar at the Seelbach Hilton, which dates to 1905. More contemporary venues include Bourbon’s Bistro (offering 130 labels) and Proof on Main in the trendy 21c Museum Hotel. «