With the excitement of the Kentucky Derby just around the corner, we can’t think of a better time to tour the Kentucky Bourbon Trail. Comprised of six distilleries, the trail takes an average of two days to complete (spending at least an hour and a half at each distillery). Each distillery tour includes a trip to the tasting room and is free of charge, except at Woodford Reserve where the admission fee is $5 for adults age 18 and older.
Heaven Hill Distilleries Bourbon Heritage Center
While there is no set location to begin your trek, we’re starting with Heaven Hill Distilleries Bourbon Heritage Center in Bardstown, Kentucky. A true family affair, Heaven Hill is run by The Shapira family, who founded the company, and the Beam family (yes, there is a relation to Jim Beam). The distillery is responsible for the production of Elijah Craig, Parker’s and Evan Williams bourbon, touted as Kentucky’s first distiller since 1783.
A bourbon tasting at Heaven Hill
Photo courtesy of Heaven Hill Distilleries Bourbon Heritage Center
Maker's Mark Distillery
Tucked away in the quiet countryside of Loretto, Kentucky is the Maker’s Mark Distillery. This distillery is thought to be the only one to exclusively use “pure iron-free, limestone water” provided by their limestone, spring-fed Bourbon Lake. Maker’s also boasts a unique bottling process that is completed by applying a hand-cut label to each bottle, and hand-dipping the bottles into distinctive red sealing wax.
Hand-dipping each bottle in red sealing wax
Photo courtesy of Maker's Mark
Four Roses Distillery
The next stop on the trail takes us to the Four Roses Distillery in Lawrenceburg, Kentucky. In true Southern tradition, the founder of Four Roses, Paul Jones, Jr. once became enraptured by a gorgeous Southern belle, to whom he subsequently made a proposal. If her answer was “yes,” she would attend a grand ball wearing a corsage of roses. She arrived to the grand ball donning four red roses, and thus illustrating his passion, Paul named his bourbon “Four Roses.”
As for the bourbon itself, the production is a unique combination of numbers: five yeast strains and two mashbills combine to create ten different recipes. The products yielded by the ten different recipes are also combined to create distinguished batches of bourbon.
A bottle of Four Roses Single Barrel
Photo courtesy of Four Roses
Wild Turkey Distillery
Also located in Lawrenceburg, Kentucky is the Wild Turkey Distillery. Wild Turkey distills its bourbon at a low proof, which serves to lock in its distinct flavors. The bourbon is also aged in new white oak barrels, allowing it to draw in flavors of vanilla and caramel. The barrels are also responsible for giving Wild Turkey its deep color (important because it’s illegal to add coloring to bourbon whiskey).
White oak barrels contain aging bourbon
Photo courtesy of Wild Turkey
Woodford Reserve Distillery
Located in Versailles, Kentucky, Woodford Reserve produces the official bourbon of the Kentucky Derby. The bourbon is handcrafted in small batches, allowing precise control of the five sources of flavor: water, grains, fermentation, distillation, and maturation. And, in addition to playing a crucial part in thousands of Derby mint juleps, Woodford Reserve is the oldest and smallest bourbon distillery in Kentucky; the facility is recognized as a National Historic Landmark.
Official bourbon of the Kentucky Derby
Photo courtesy of Woodford Reserve
Jim Beam Distillery
Finally, we end our time on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail just south of Louisville, in Clermont, Kentucky, at the Jim Beam Distillery. Using the same strain of yeast since the end of Prohibition and limestone-filtered water, the bourbon is distilled twice and aged in brand new oak barrels in a hilltop rackhouse. With credentials like that, it’s no wonder that Jim Beam is the number-one selling bourbon in the world.
A statue of Booker Noe, a master distiller
Photo courtesy of Jim Beam
So, what are you waiting for? The trail beckons in the land of bourbon and Southern hospitality. As Jim Beam says, “You’ll come as a friend, and leave as family.”