When it came time for me to start planning my trip to the Kentucky Bourbon Trail, I was comforted to find that, in many ways, it mirrored Scotland’s Malt Whisky Trail. I should clarify. I was a tad naïve on my first pass through the Malt Whisky Trail when, as I drove through Speyside’s green hills, I noticed many distilleries not mentioned as part of the trail. These were not mere oversights; while a nice service to tourists in the region, the Malt Whisky Trail is also a membership program that distilleries must pay into to reap the benefits of the publicity.
And so it is with the Kentucky Bourbon Trail, which is a program of the Kentucky Distillers’ Association (KDA) to promote the Bourbon industry in Kentucky. I mention this upfront only so that you understood there are other distilleries in northern Kentucky that are not officially part of the Kentucky Bourbon Trail, most notably Buffalo Trace Distillery.
Distilleries on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail
That said, the Kentucky Bourbon Trail has as its members all of the other heavy hitters you surely recognize from supermarket and liquor store shelves. Currently, the following distilleries are part of the Kentucky Bourbon Trail:
- Four Roses
- Heaven Hill
- Jim Beam
- Maker’s Mark
- Town Branch
- Wild Turkey
- Woodford Reserve
Just last fall, the KDA announced that they would add a “Craft Tour” to the Kentucky Bourbon Trail to include the following seven artisanal distilleries:
- Barrel House Distillery
- Corsair Artisan Distillery
- Limestone Branch Distillery
- MB Roland Distillery
- Old Pogue Distillery
- Silver Trail Distillery
- Willett Distillery
That’s potentially a lot of Bouron and rye, so let’s talk about area covered by the trail.
Area and Location
The core Kentucky Bourbon Trail fits snugly in a triangle of land with Louisville, Lexington, and Bardstown (roughly) at its points. This means that the longest distance between distilleries is around 70 miles, but most are much closer to one another than that. In fact, the trail members nicely break down into two pockets of distilleries, with Jim Beam, Maker’s Mark, and Heaven Hill forming the “West” pocket near Louisville and Bardstown and Four Roses, Wild Turkey, Woodford Reserve, and Town Branch forming the “East” pocket near Lexington. For a helpful map, check out the official Kentucky Bourbon Trail site.
The “Craft Tour” is not so neatly situated. These distilleries are scattered around the state of Kentucky in Bowling Green, Maysville, and Hardin among other places, though a couple like Willett and Barrel House fall within the Bourbon trail triangle.
How Much Time?
How much time you should allot for a trip exploring the Kentucky Bourbon Trail depends on your thirst for Bourbon, but you should not try to hit more than two distilleries each day on the trail. You might be able to squeeze in a third, but it will be at the expense of enjoying a more relaxed visit. Trust me when I tell you that sipping Bourbon and mint juleps in the Kentucky sun is all about relaxation.
Where to Stay
Louisville, Bardstown, and Lexington all make excellent places to lay your head at night. Staying in each town as you visit its nearby distilleries can also drastically reduce drive times, which is always a good thing when undertaking a pilgrimage involving alcohol.
An ideal visit to the Kentucky Bourbon Trail would include four solid days in the region and five nights (assuming the first night is spent after traveling to the area). This plan gives you plenty of time to visit all of the distilleries on the core Kentucky Bourbon Trail plus some wiggle room to include visits to places like Buffalo Trace in Frankfort and Willett, for example. Move along with your visits so you spend nights in the nearest towns, places like Louisville and Bardstown, to cut down on driving and inject the trip with a bit more variety.
For Americans, this can be quite an affordable trip if you don’t blow the 401k hauling crates of whisky home. Almost all the distilleries have small tour fees, though some have higher-end and more expensive options, too. For international visitors, your money will go a long way in this part of the States.
What are you waiting for? Bust out the seersucker suit, order a plate of hot brown, and toast to the good life!