Bourbon tourists should keep a few things in mind. Some tours require participants to wear closed-toe shoes, and with all the walking involved, it’s a good idea to pack athletic shoes for this trip. Tour times vary by day of the week; check each distillery’s schedule before finalizing your plans. The final tour at most distilleries departs one hour prior to the posted closing time. Don’t assume you can show up at the end of the day and get on a tour. The distilleries shut down production during the high heat of summer, so plan to visit at a different time of year if you want to see bourbon being made. Spring and fall are the best seasons for bourbon tours. Finally, don’t drink and drive. Samples are small, but the cumulative effect of many samples can be an impairment, and the roads between distilleries are often windy and can be dangerous. Don’t assume you’ll be fine. Have a designated driver or opt for a tour. Mint Julep Tours offers a selection of Bourbon Trail tours.
Start your tour of Kentucky’s bourbon country in Louisville at the Evan Williams Bourbon Experience, located in an old Whiskey Row building. Then jump on I-65 and cruise down to Clermont for a tour of the Jim Beam American Stillhouse in Clermont. If you planned in advance, you could also visit the nearby Four Roses warehouses. From Clermont, follow KY 245 to Bardstown, where you might still have time to jump on the 4pm tour at Willett Distilling Company, a craft distillery that bottles four boutique bourbons. End your evening with a bourbon-focused dinner at Kentucky Bourbon House.
Spend your second day touring the remaining two distilleries in Bardstown, Barton 1792 Distillery and Heaven Hill. Give yourself extra time to enjoy the Heritage Center at Heaven Hill. Tours completed, head to the Oscar Getz Museum of Whiskey History. You could spend a second night in Bardstown or get a head start on your next day by pointing your car toward Lebanon, stopping in Springfield for the night at Maple Hill Manor.
Rise early to continue your way through the countryside to Lebanon to see bourbon barrels being made on the 9:30am tour of the Kentucky Cooperage. If you don’t dillydally, you should then be able to drive to Maker’s Mark in time for their 10:30am tour. Retreat to Lebanon for lunch and a quick stop at Limestone Branch Distillery, where you can taste moonshine if the bourbon’s not yet ready. From Lebanon, head on to Lawrenceburg, where you can spend the night at the Lawrenceburg Bed & Breakfast.
Get up and moving so that you can tour both Wild Turkey Distillery and Four Roses Distillery before lunch. Then grab a sandwich at Heavens to Betsy before driving on to Frankfort to do some sampling at Buffalo Trace Distillery. If you get a chance, try the bourbon balls at Rebecca Ruth Candy before dinner at Serafini, where at least one of the nearly 90 bourbons on offer ought to satisfy.
Head east to Versailles to continue your trip with a visit to Woodford Reserve. You can have lunch in the café at the distillery before making the drive to Lexington, where you’ll end your tour. Once there, make your way first to Barrel House Distillery before sipping your last sample of Kentucky bourbon at Lexington Brewing and Distilling Co.
Excerpted from the Second Edition of Moon Kentucky.