It is no secret that we at The Manual love bourbon. Like, really love it. Like, if we could get away with naming a first-born child Bourbon, we would. (Our second choice would be Barrel-Proof.) When it comes to bourbon, there is no place more sacred than Kentucky, where 95 percent of the world’s bourbon is made, making it a necessity to visit if you have even a passing fancy for whiskey.
Once you’re in Kentucky, though, what do you do? You can’t just go there without a plan (technically, you could, but then you’re likely to miss out on bourbon-y goodness somewhere along the way). That is where the Kentucky Bourbon Trail comes in. Created in 1999 by the Kentucky Distillers Association, the goal of the trail was to give eager visitors a chance to see all that goes into making America’s spirit.
Oh, and sample the bourbon too.
Spread out between Louisville and Lexington, there are currently 10 distilleries on the KBT. Many of these — especially if you’re a regular reader of The Manual — you’ve probably already had the pleasure of enjoying (many, many times most likely): Angel’s Envy, Bulleit, Evan Williams, Four Roses, Heaven Hill, Jim Beam, Maker’s Mark, Town Branch, Wild Turkey, and Woodford Reserve. Some, like Angel’s Envy and the Evan Williams Experience, are as little as a mile apart, while Town Branch (located in Lexington) can be as far from others as 80 miles. Without a little preparation, you might realize you’re in over your head if you wanted to visit all ten.
The KBT suggests taking around three days to visit all 10 distilleries. This amount of time allows you time to fully enjoy each (and do so safely). You could drive to each, but if you don’t want to do any of the driving on your own, there are multiple options for you, including booking a tour through companies such as Mint Julep Tours. Lyft and Uber also offer discounts if you choose to go that route. In our opinion, getting someone else to drive you around to places where you will drink bourbon is literally the best of both worlds.
The fun doesn’t end with bourbon, though. Lexington and Louisville are both amazing places to stay while on the tour. From restaurants like Proof on Main to classic bourbon bars such The Silver Dollar to breweries like West Sixth or Country Boy Brewing, there is plenty to keep you occupied when you’re not contemplating the finer points of a barrel-proof whiskey. Each city also has a number of fine hotels at a variety of price points, depending on what you are looking for. Once in said hotel room, you could also just drink whiskey that you purchased earlier in the day, but then you’re missing out on what is helping make both cities stand out as premier destinations in the South.
If you really want to see all of the distilleries, but planning isn’t your strong suit (in fact, it’s the weak suit that sits in your closet for the two times a year you have to show up at something fancy), the KBT has put together a guide for everywhere you should go, eat, and stay in the best order. By picking up a KBT Passport at your first stop, you can mark your journey with a stamp at each consecutive stop. Get all 10 stamps and you will receive a commemorative T-shirt.
If you still want more bourbon, you’re in luck. There is also a newer addition to the KBT: a craft distillery trail. On this trail, you’ll find: Barrel House Distillery, Bluegrass Distillers, Boone County Distilling, Corsair Artisan Distillery, Hartfield & Co., Kentucky Artisan Distillery, Kentucky Peerless Distilling Company, Limestone Branch Distillery, MB Roland Distillery, New Riff Distillery, Old Pogue Distillery, Wilderness Trail Distillery, and Willett Distillery. You won’t get a T-shirt for visiting all of these, but you will get the chance to try just about everything the state of Kentucky has to offer when it comes to bourbon.
Twenty-plus distilleries later, you will probably now consider yourself pretty knowledgeable when it comes to bourbon. Your next adventure? Well, the Tennessee Whiskey Trail, of course.
Photos by David Handschuh/Distilled Spirits Council.
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