Did you know that 95% of the world’s bourbon is produced in Kentucky? In fact, you may be surprised to learn there are roughly eleven million barrels of bourbon aging at distilleries in Kentucky right now—which is more than double the state’s population of 4,500,000 people!
If you’re a bourbon aficionado, or even if you’d just like to learn more about the history of bourbon, you can’t miss the chance to embark on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail in Louisville, KY. This once-in-a-lifetime experience allows you to sip, savor, and learn about how bourbon is made and distributed worldwide right here, in Kentucky!
However, embarking on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail isn’t as easy as you might think. There are several logistics you need to think about when planning your trip. This ultimate guide to the Kentucky Bourbon Trail includes everything you need to know, including our best Kentucky Bourbon Trail tips so that you can plan the adventure of a lifetime!
What Is Bourbon?
If you’re like me and you’re not well-versed in bourbon, you may be wondering: what is bourbon? Well, I’m glad you asked! After embarking on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail, I can now tell you all about it.
Bourbon is a type of whiskey that contains at least 51% corn. It must be aged in a brand-new, charred oak container, stored at 125 proof, and bottled at no less than 80 proof. Since 1964, bourbon can only be called “bourbon” if it’s made in the United States, which is why it’s nicknamed “America’s Official Native Spirit.”
What Is the Kentucky Bourbon Trail?
The Kentucky Bourbon Trail is a road-trip experience to the bourbon distilleries across the state of Kentucky. It was created in 1999 by the Kentucky Distillers’ Association in an attempt to bring more tourism to Kentucky—and boy, has it been a success! In 2019, the Kentucky Bourbon Trail set an attendance record of 1.7 million visitors.
However, the name of the Kentucky Bourbon Trail is slightly deceptive. You may think the “trail” is a smooth, linear path to all the distilleries—but this isn’t the case. The bourbon distilleries on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail are primarily located in and around Louisville and Lexington with four major regions: Central Kentucky (Louisville & Bardstown), Bluegrass (Lexington), Western (by Tennessee), and Northern (by Ohio).
List of Distilleries on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail
There are currently eighteen bourbon distilleries officially part of the Kentucky Bourbon Trail:
- Angel’s Envy Distillery
- Bardstown Bourbon Co.
- Bulleit Distilling Co.
- Evan Williams Bourbon Experience
- Four Roses Distillery
- Green River Distilling Co.
- Heaven Hill Bourbon Experience
- James B. Beam Distilling Co.
- Lux Row Distillers
- Maker’s Mark Distillery
- Michter’s Distillery
- Old Forester Distilling Co.
- Rabbit Hote Distillery
- Stitzel-Weller Distillery
- Town Branch Distillery
- Wild Turkey Distillery
- Wilderness Trail Distillery
- Woodford Reserve
Where Does the Kentucky Bourbon Trail Start?
Although you can technically “start” the bourbon trail at any distillery you would like, the official starting point of the Kentucky Bourbon Trail is the Welcome Center of the Frazier History Museum—one of the best museums in Louisville. The Frazier History Museum is a great place to pick up a map and the “Kentucky Bourbon Trail Passport.”
While you’re at the Frazier History Museum, you should also take some time to explore the “Spirit of Kentucky” bourbon exhibit and find the secret speakeasy. Tickets to the Frazier History Museum are just $14, and it’s a great spot to learn more about the history of Kentucky.
The Frazier History Museum is within walking distance of multiple distilleries on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail in Downtown Louisville, including Old Forester, Michter’s, and Evan Williams. One of our best Kentucky Bourbon Trail tips is to start (and end!) your trip in Louisville, KY.
What Is the Best Time of Year to Do the Bourbon Trail?
The Kentucky Bourbon Trail is open year-round except for a few weeks in the late summer (usually August) when the distilleries close for routine maintenance. Plan your trip to the Kentucky Bourbon Trail around this routine closure.
Here’s a breakdown of visiting the Kentucky Bourbon Trail during each season:
- Winter: Winter is a great time to visit the distilleries if you’d like to dodge the crowds and don’t mind the cooler weather. However, if you’re planning on doing a self-guided driving tour, be prepared to potentially drive in rain, ice, and snow.
- Spring: Spring is a beautiful time to visit the Kentucky Bourbon Trail because the crowds are still slim, and the weather is nice. However, remember that the Kentucky Derby takes place in May, and hotels will book up quickly. Early spring is the ideal time to visit!
- Summer: Summer is one of the busiest (and least pleasant) times to embark on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail. If you can handle the heat and humidity, it may be tolerable. However, keep in mind the distilleries close in late August, so plan your trip accordingly.
- Fall: Thanks to the beautiful weather, fall is the most popular season to visit the Kentucky Bourbon Trail. If you’re planning an autumn distillery trip, tours will book out quickly, so book the tours you want to go on a month or so in advance.
Personally, we visited the Kentucky Bourbon Trail in early August. While the heat was tolerable, I can see why visiting in the spring or fall is preferable. I wouldn’t opt for a winter trip since many of the roads to the distilleries are narrow, and I wouldn’t want to drive in winter conditions. However, if you book a tour, you can avoid this problem entirely!
What Is the Best Way to Get Around the Bourbon Trail?
Speaking of driving, the best way to get around the Kentucky Bourbon Trail is either by car or guided tour. As we mentioned earlier, the distilleries are separated into regions, and the only way to move between the regions (or the distilleries themselves) is with a vehicle.
It’s important to note that Uber and Lyft aren’t reliable options for the Kentucky Bourbon Trail—most distilleries are in rural areas and are at least an hour away from major cities like Louisville, Lexington, and Cincinnati.
If you’re planning to do a self-guided driving tour, it’s important to plan in advance to make the most of your experience. I would recommend planning no more than two to three distillery tours per day. Tours are typically at least an hour long, and when you add drive time between distilleries and a stop for lunch—you’re looking at an eight-hour day.
However, many visitors prefer to book a distillery tour for a hassle-free experience. You’re genuinely able to kick back, relax, and enjoy the experience with a distillery tour since you won’t need to worry about planning the logistics or finding a designated driver.
These are a few of the most popular distillery tours of the Kentucky Bourbon Trail. We personally opted for a self-guided tour of the Kentucky Bourbon Trail and did not take these tours. However, they either have excellent reviews or seem like unique experiences that are worth checking out:
- Kentucky Bourbon Weekend Getaway with Tastings—If you’re truly looking for a hassle-free experience, this tour from Bardstown is perfect for you! It includes a two-night stay at a four-star bed & breakfast, tours at Willett, Heaven Hill, Bardstown Bourbon Company, and the Blind Pig, pre-arranged tastings & cocktails, locally-sourced meals, high-end transportation, and more. All you need to purchase is your plane ticket to Kentucky!
- Louisville Half-Day Bourbon Tour—This half-day trip from Louisville allows you to choose three distilleries (from a list of 15!) on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail, including Maker’s Mark, Four Roses, Woodford Reserve, and Jim Beam. You will be able to go on a tour of each distillery and sample bourbons from each brand at the end of the tour. This tour is a great value!
- Bourbon Distillery & Horse Farms Tour—This highly-rated full-day tour allows you to make several stops along the Kentucky Bourbon Trail complete with tours and tastings, and they even stop at a horse farm along the way!
How Long Does It Take to Do the Bourbon Trail in Kentucky?
Well, this is a loaded question because it really depends on you! If you want to hit every stop on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail for a tour or tasting, and you plan to visit three distilleries per day, you’ll need to spend at least a week in Kentucky.
However, spending a few days on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail is much more realistic. For example, on the first day, you may visit a few distilleries near your hotel in Louisville, then the next day, you can check out a few more on a guided tour, and on the last day, you can plan a day trip to the distillery that makes your favorite bourbon.
If you’re only in Louisville for a few days, I recommend spending one day at the distilleries near Louisville (Evan Williams, Angel’s Envy, Old Forester, Mitcher’s, Rabbit Hole, and Stitzel-Weller). If you stay in Downtown Louisville, you can walk to all these distilleries (and other cool things to do in Downtown Louisville!), which is very convenient.
On the second day, visit Maker’s Mark Distillery (about a 1.5-hour drive from Louisville) and another distillery nearby, like Heaven Hill or Jim Beam. If you have a third day, head toward Lexington, where you can visit Four Roses, Wild Turkey, or Woodford Reserve.
How Much Does It Cost to Visit the Kentucky Bourbon Trail?
It technically doesn’t cost anything to visit the Kentucky Bourbon Trail. However, each distillery will have prices for their tours, tasting, drinks, etc., that you will need to purchase.
Typically, tours range from $15–30 per person. If you plan to visit three distilleries per day, you should plan to spend $50–100 per person. This usually would include a one-hour tour and tasting at three distilleries. However, it’s important to note that specialty tours may cost more.
For reference, most guided tours of the Kentucky Bourbon Trail cost between $150–200 per person and include tours and tastings at two or three distilleries, as well as lunch and transportation. When you factor in all the costs—these tours are often a great deal!
Do I Need to Make Reservations for the Kentucky Bourbon Trail?
I highly recommend making reservations for the distillery tours on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail. During the popular seasons (fall & summer), it’s common for popular tours to book out months in advance. It’s also a huge bummer if you have your heart set on touring a certain distillery, and when you arrive in Kentucky, the tour is booked out.
It’s also important to plan to arrive for your distillery tour at least 15 minutes in advance. Distillery tours typically begin promptly on the hour, and if you run into a traffic jam or can’t find parking, you may miss the entire tour.
Where Should I Stay on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail?
Although you can stay in Bardstown or Lexington during your visit to the Kentucky Bourbon Trail, I highly recommend staying in Louisville, Kentucky. It’s one of my top Kentucky Bourbon Trail tips. Louisville is not only the starting point of the bourbon trail, but 25% of the distilleries on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail are in Downtown Louisville!
During my trip to Louisville and the Kentucky Bourbon Trail, I stayed at Hotel Distil, an Autograph Collection Hotel. This luxury hotel is within walking distance of Old Forester, Evan Williams, Angel’s Envy, and other popular distilleries—but it has a unique bourbon experience! The entire hotel is themed around bourbon, so it’s a great place to stay on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail.
These are my top hotel recommendations on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail. These hotels are all within walking distance (or a very short drive) from the distilleries in Downtown Louisville.
- Hotel Distil—Hotel Distil is my top pick for where to stay in Louisville! This hotel has an awesome restaurant, Repeal Oak-Fired Steakhouse, and has a nightly toast with complimentary drinks to celebrate the Repeal of Prohibition!
- 21c Museum Hotel—21c Museum Hotel in Louisville is an art-lovers dream. Not only is this boutique hotel filled with tons of interesting artwork, but it’s also home to one of the best restaurants in Louisville, Proof on Main.
- The Brown Hotel—The Brown Hotel is one of the oldest hotels in Louisville, with tons of unique history. You will be “wowed” by the stunning architecture and décor in the lobby, and the rooms are just as beautiful!
Top Kentucky Bourbon Trail Experiences
Okay, now that we have all the logistics out of the way, here’s the fun part—the bourbon experiences! These are some of the top bourbon experiences on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail:
Maker’s Mark Distillery
- Cost: $20 per person
- Hours: 9:30 AM – 3:30 PM
I don’t think I’m alone in saying the Maker’s Mark Distillery Tour is the best on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail. The grounds are stunning, the tour is informative, and you truly get to see lots—like the “mash” up-close and personal and the rickhouses where the barrels are stored.
Personally, I loved that the business idea behind Maker’s Mark was the founder’s wife, Margie. She was a genius! I also loved that the tasting included five bourbons, including a rare bourbon that Maker’s Mark doesn’t even sell (which is a bummer because it was tasty).
Marker’s Mark Distillery also has a restaurant, Star Hill Provisions, where you can enjoy a cocktail after your tour. I got a bourbon slushie with blackberry, and it was a nice, sweet treat on a hot, humid summer day!
Angel’s Envy Tour
- Cost: $25
- Hours: Friday – Saturday, 10 AM – 8 PM; Sunday, 12:30 PM – 5:30 PM; Monday & Wednesday, 10 AM – 5 PM; Tuesday, 12 PM – 5 PM; Thursday, 10 AM – 7 PM
Although I didn’t have time to do the Angel’s Envy Tour, I’ve heard great things about it, so I wanted to include it on this list. Angel’s Envy offers a few specialty experiences, like the Bottle Your Own Tour, for $150, but the Signature Tour is the most popular.
During the Signature Tour, you’ll embark on a one-hour tour of the distillery that ends with a tasting of two bourbons—the Angel’s Envy Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey finished in Port Casks, and Angel’s Envy Rye Whiskey Finished in Caribbean Rum Casks. When your tour is over, you can purchase and enjoy a cocktail in the Finishing Room Bar.
Evan Williams Bourbon Experience
- Cost: $18 or $25 per person
- Hours: Tuesday – Thursday, 11 AM – 5 PM; Friday – Saturday, 10 AM – 5 PM; Sunday, 1 PM – 5 PM
The Evan Williams Bourbon Experience is a must-do tour during your time in Louisville. It’s a great way to get acquainted with the history of bourbon, the bourbon-making process, the impact of Prohibition on the bourbon industry, and more. I recommend making this your first stop on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail!
The Traditional Tour & Tasting is an awesome tour with four bourbon tastings. You’ll get to walk through a recreation of the wharf in Louisville in the 1700s, watch a video about the bourbon-making process, and see a recreation of Whiskey Row during Prohibition. Then, you’ll walk into a themed bar where you can enjoy your four bourbon samples (and a chocolate ball!).
On Saturday and Sunday, Evan Williams offers a fun Speakeasy Tasting Experience for $25 per person. You’ll be able to sample five bourbons and learn about the history of Prohibition while hanging out in a hidden speakeasy.
Four Roses Distillery
- Cost: $16 or $22 per person
- Hours: Wednesday – Saturday, 9 AM – 4 PM; Sunday, 12 PM – 4 PM
Four Roses Distillery is another spot I never had the chance to visit, but I’ve heard great things, so I wanted to include it on this list.
Four Roses Distillery has three tour options, but the A Taste of History Tour is the most popular (and more affordable) at just $16 per person. This is a guided tasting of four of the distilleries’ bourbons in addition to a brief history of the distillery. The Distillery Legacy Tour is a bit more expensive at $22 a person, but this also includes a tour of the grounds.
Get a Taste of Kentucky with These Kentucky Bourbon Trail Tips
I hope these Kentucky Bourbon Trail tips help you to plan a fun, safe trip to the Kentucky Bourbon Trail. Now tell me—which of these distilleries would you visit first?
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