The holy grail for bourbon aficionados, The Kentucky Bourbon Trail is located in North-Central Kentucky between Louisville and Lexington. Within an 81-mile radius, pilgrims can tour all nine-heritage distilleries, and a number of craft distilleries as well. We’ve created the following guide to give you a few logistical pointers, great places to eat and sleep, and share which distilleries are an absolute must stop on the trail. This is the complete guide to the Kentucky Bourbon Trail.
So about the Bourbon…
To get the technicalities out of the way, for a whiskey to officially qualify as a bourbon it must be made in the USA, contain at least 51 percent corn, and can only be aged in new oak charred barrels. Once in the shiny new oak charred barrels, the liquid can only be distilled to 160 proof and enter the barrel at 125 proof. Finally, bourbon cannot contain any additives, flavoring, or coloring. And now you know why not all whiskey is bourbon.
So how does this work…
There are nine heritage member distilleries on the trail and ten craft distilleries (distinctions are based upon volume of barrels produced rather than age or prestige). You’re going to need at least three days, and closer to five if you want to visit the majority of the distilleries. There isn’t a set path or sequence, but we recommend starting and ending your tour in Louisville (especially if flying in). If you don’t have a designated driver, tours can be arranged through Mint Julep Tours.
A few of our favorites…
Bulleit Frontier Whiskey – Bulleit is conveniently located in Louisville and originally opened up in the mid-1930s. A pillar of the bourbon community, the distillery just finished a renovation and the bourbon is based upon a family recipe originally created in the 1830s.
Buffalo Trace Distillery – The most awarded distillery in Kentucky, Buffalo Trace produces a number of incredible whiskeys, including the most sought after bourbon in the world: Pappy Van Winkle (not technically part of the Bourbon Trail).
Woodford Reserve Distillery – Located in Versailles, Kentucky, and designated as a National Historic Landmark, Woodford Reserve produces some the smoothest bourbon in the world.
Willett Distillery – A privately owned distillery, the Willet family has been making Bourbon since the Civil War. Located in Bardstown, the Willets have invested significant time and money to continue the family tradition of distilling, creating some incredible bourbons in the process.
Something to pair with your bourbon…
Kentucky has an ever-growing food scene centered in Louisville, and there are a number of excellent restaurants along the bourbon trail as well. A few of our favorites are listed below.
Fontleroy’s – A laid back farm to table restaurant in Louisville’s Highland Neighborhood, Fontleroy’s is an upscale take on southern inspired cuisine. Highlights include the fried green tomatoes, the chicken and waffles, and the old fashioned.
Harrison Smith House – Offering a locally sourced menu, the team at this restaurant (located in Bardstown) is focused on exploring rustic Kentucky cuisine. A great place to end your day while on the trail (order the Amish Chicken Thighs).
Old Owl Tavern – With over 70 types of bourbon, the Owl (located in Harrisburg) is a great place to order a flight. The food on offer is no-nonsense; it’s time to calorie up cuisine. Stay true to the Blue Grass State and order the Classic Kentucky Hot Brown.
And the accommodations…
The Brown Hotel – Start the journey with some class and stay at the Brown Hotel in Louisville. Historic architecture, a fantastic bar and great location make the Brown the perfect starting point for your bourbon escapade.
Bourbon Manor Bed and Breakfast – Centrally located on the Bourbon Trail (in Bardstown), the Bourbon Manor is an excellent second day stop. Originally a plantation home built in 1830; the bed and breakfast has received numerous awards and is a great place to recuperate before more bourbon exploring.
Gratz Park Inn – Stylish, convenient, and close to four distilleries, the Gratz is the spot to stay in Lexington. Located close to Rupp Arena and in the middle of horse country, the Gratz offers entertainment options outside of drinking bourbon (at least for a few hours).
For a nightcap…
Bourbons Bistro – With more than 130 bottles of bourbon, a bourbon flight is the obvious move at this family-owned bar in the Clifton Neighborhood of Louisville (the food is great as well).
The Cellar at Decca – A fantastic cocktail/jazz bar, the Cellar is one of Louisville’s best kept secrets. Order one of the expertly mixed drinks, sit back, and enjoy the music.
Want to read more about the best bourbon? Click here for Cool Material’s Guide to Bourbon.