|Our Favorite Bourbon Distilleries to Tour
Bourbon is America's only native spirit. And almost all bourbon— 95% according to the Kentucky Distillers Association — is produced in Kentucky. Like the story of Kentucky itself, the story of Kentucky bourbon began in the Bluegrass region. And what a story it is: Visit distilleries, historic sites and other Bluegrass places with a bourbon connection and you'll encounter such fascinations as the "white dog" and the "angel's share." You'll hear how Kentuckians ranging from a cantankerous Baptist minister to a feisty school teacher changed the course of bourbon history. You'll also meet modern-day Kentuckians and Kentucky families who continue the state's most spirited tradition. (Read what the New York Times said about our Bourbon region.)
The Woodford Reserve (formerly Labrot & Graham) is a restored historic distillery and a showplace of the distiller's art and Kentucky bourbon heritage. Definitely map your trail to this one! You might want to stop to take a look in Versailles, a nice, small town with several interesting shops. As you turn off the highway to the distillery you will pass by many beautiful horse farms. Once you arrive at the distillery you will be impressed with the beautiful limestone structures that house that precious brown liquid. This small, picturesque distillery is nestled along Glenn's Creek at the site where Elijah Pepper, one of the famous early Bluegrass distillers, set up his distillery in 1812. The Labrot & Graham name goes back to 1878 when James Graham and Leopold Labrot bought the property. Re-opened in 1996 by the Brown-Foreman Corporation, the Woodford Reserve Distillery gives visitors a sense of what bourbon making was like in the 1800s. With its small-scale production, old-fashioned copper pot stills, longer fermenting and distilling time, and hand-bottling, Woodford Reserve Distillers Select Bourbon is made much as Pepper's bourbon was in the 1800s. The tour, leisurely in pace and sprinkled with fascinating distilling history and terms, covers the process from sour mash starter to "farewell" (the residue of aroma left in an empty barrel). A small bus transports you from the visitors center to the distillery buildings, minimizing walking and weather problems. The tour begins and ends at the visitors center, where exhibits explain bourbon making and bourbon history and a long porch offers a scenic overlook of the whole operation. The large gift shop includes a wide variety of Kentucky crafts. The Woodford Distillery is open to visitors from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays. It's open on Sundays from April through October. If you are 21 or over, you are invited to sample. For more tour info, go to the Woodford Distillery Web site.
Wild Turkey Distillery (Austin Nichols Distillers) tours reveal an intriguing combination of tradition and modern mass production. Although the Wild Turkey brand of bourbon wasn't introduced until 1952 (supposedly named because the hunting partners of then-company president Thomas McCarthy loved the bourbon he always brought along on their annual turkey shoot), the lineage of bourbon and bourbon making at this site at the Kentucky River near Lawrenceburg goes back to the mid 19th-century. In the fermentation room, for example, 70-year-old cypress tanks stand next to modern stainless steel ones (the old tanks will be used as long as possible, the tour guide explained). The mechanized bottling line shows you that this is a modern production plant. Yet if you happen to run into Master Distiller Jimmy Russell in the warehouse and hear him talk about the time and personal effort that went into developing just the right mix of aging for the "Rare Breed" barrel proof bourbon -- "Jimmy's pride and joy," your guide explains -- you're reminded that many aspects of fine bourbon making will always be low tech. Your visit begins and ends at a visitor center and gift shop located in a cottage across the road from the distillery buildings. You can take home everything from a keychain to an amusing T-shirt to collector decanters featuring the Wild Turkey turkey. Free tours are given Monday through Friday. Closed major holidays, the first full week of January and the last two weeks in July. In the summer months, the tour might not include the fermentation room (like many distilleries, Wild Turkey shuts down production in the hottest months of the year). For directions and more details, go to the Wild Turkey Web site.
Maker’s Mark is the only operating distillery in America to be designated a National Historic Landmark. Originally built in 1805 as a gristmill distillery, it became the home of Maker’s Mark in 1953. Today, it is the oldest operating distillery on its original site. The Master Distiller's House was built in 1840. Today it is the visitor center. Inside you'll find a gallery full of great things: gifts, folk art, and mementos. The Toll House just off the front drive is a permanent reminder of when fees were levied for use of roads nearly a century ago. The Still House is the heart and soul of Maker's Mark. From their antique roller mill crushing the grain to the giant cypress tubs full of sour mash to the "white dog" (new whisky) running through the "spirit safe," this is where you can see Maker's Mark being made by hand every step of the way. The building, or at least the foundation, dates back to 1805 when it used to be a gristmill. The fermenting Room is where the sour mash ferments, producing the alcohol that will eventually become bourbon. These 12 foot deep cypress vats hold about 9,300 gallons of sour mash. Some of the cypress staves are over 100 years old. The final stop is the barrel warehouse. The two warehouses shown on this tour date back to either the late 1800s or early 1900s and each holds around 4,000 barrels. The other warehouses hold 15,000-20,000 barrels. Interestingly, located nearby is the Loretto Motherhouse located on KY 49. The Motherhouse is headquarters of the Sisters of Loretto, established in 1812, moved to this site in 1824. It is one of the first American religious orders of women. A beautiful, interesting, peaceful site. Also home to the Rhodes Hall Art Gallery. For further information on tours, go to the Maker's Mark Web site. Also see their recipe for the perfect Mint Julep.
Four Roses Distilling Company near Lawrenceburg gives tours to individuals and small groups on the hour, Mondays through Saturdays from 9:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. The tour gives a "roll-up-your-sleeves" look at the fermentation and distillation processes. Exclusively exported for over 40 years, Four Roses Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey is now for sale in Kentucky. The distillery is located in an unusual California Spanish Mission-style building constructed around 1910. The distillery stops production in the summer. Be sure to stop by and tour their one-of-a-kind single story rack warehouse
facilities located in Cox's Creek, Kentucky, approximately one hour from the
Distillery by car. Call 502-543-2264 for more information. Warehouse tours are
free of charge and by appointment only. For further information on tours, go to the Four Roses Web site.
Buffalo Trace near Frankfort provides for the complete production of bourbon whiskeys. All bourbon produced by the distillery is aged in century-old warehouses. Constructed of massive wood beams and covered by a brick shell, these structures allow the alternating cooling and warming of Kentucky's four distinct seasons to mature the bourbon by nature's timetable. Steam pumped throughout the warehouses during the extreme cold of winter compensates for the dramatic drops in temperature and gives the whiskey additional cycles in and out of the wood. This makes for a more balanced bourbon, as the liquid is able to take additional advantage of the natural sugars occurring in the charred barrels. The distillery was the first to use this method of aging in 1859 and has been doing so ever since. Buffalo Trace's warehouses were built in the 1900s (some as early as 1903) and represent a variety of architectural styles. The differing styles of warehouses, and their location on the property, contribute to the significant differences in the whiskey coming from each. Within each warehouse, certain floors produce better whiskey than others do. For example, the fourth and fifth floors of Warehouse C and the fourth through sixth floors of Warehouses I and K produce their absolute best whiskey. Consequently, these locations have been reserved exclusively for making Buffalo Trace Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey. After visiting the distillery you might want to drive into Frankfort. The Thomas Clark Center for Kentucky History is very interesting. Nearby is Poor Richard’s Books, a wonderful coffee shop/bookstore. Of course you must see the Capital and Floral Clock, Broadway at St. Clair Mall. One of our favorite house museums is Liberty Hall, 218 Wilkinson St. Built in 1795 by John Brown, one of Kentucky’s first U.S. senators, this house has many original furnishings and provides a very interesting tour. For more tour information, go to the Buffalo Trace Web site.
Jim Beam is the best-selling brand of bourbon in the world. Seven generations of craftsmanship go into every bottle, along with corn, rye, barley malt, water, time and pride. In 2012, they open their distillery doors to the public for the first time. Start your visit with a guided Heritage Tour of the historic T. Jeremiah Beam home where three generations of Beam distillers lived overlooking the scenic landscape and towering rack houses. Then step inside the Stillhouse Exhibit featuring an authentic 1800s copper still. Then venture inside their oldest rack house, Warehouse D, built by Jim Beam after Prohibition. You'll be surrounded by the unmistakably rich and warm smell of Kentucky's finest bourbon aging in 20,000 oak barrels. It’s the perfect warm-up for a sample of one of our Small Batch Bourbons in the tasting room. Commemorate your visit with a purchase of a variety of Jim Beam® merchandise—including apparel and the world-famous bourbon candy—at the gift shop. For tour information, go to the Jim Beam Web site.
We look forward to your visit to our historic Kentucky bed and breakfast inn as you tour the bourbon distilleries. After you arrive at the inn, we will be glad to give you directions to begin Kentucky Bourbon Trail® adventure.