The Bourbon Trail is a major tourist attraction in Kentucky. Representing 90% of the worlds production of bourbon, there are distilleries located all across the state, from major production lines to smaller local operations. If you complete the bourbon trail (you will need a sober driver and car) you will end up driving many miles and seeing a lot of beautiful countryside.
Let me start off this tour of the three distilleries by saying: I am not a huge fan of bourbon. I would much rather have a glass of wine and do a wine tasting. So if you are looking for a bourbon review, you are not going to get it. If you are looking for an idea of what to expect on each tour…you are in the right place.
Stop 1: Buffalo Trace Distillery
Let’s start off by saying: this is the coolest old distillery of the bunch. As soon as you look at the distillery grounds you know that it is old and hasn’t changed much since it was founded. With few things changed the visitor center is updated and rustic. With pictures from the distillery’s past, a tasting bar, and gift shop, it is a one stop visitors center. Tours leave from this spot and you can choose one of two. One is for 13 years old and up which is a full look at the distillery process. The second one is of the grounds and all ages. We decided to do the actual distillery process tour and learned all about the corn, meal, yeast, and time it takes to age and process the actual bourbon. Our tour guide was very animated, well informed, and totally willing to answer any questions. Everyone at Buffalo Trace Distillery had something MAJOR in common…they all LOVED the business. They knew everything to know, they shared their love, and radiated pride of Buffalo Trace.
Bottom line? Buffalo Trace isn’t far off the freeway and resides close to Kentucky’s capital. They are the longest running distillery in the state and you can tell as soon as you walk on their property. The staff and tours were informative but fun and the differences in bourbon were explained well and tasted properly. (Don’t forget to try the creamy bourbon! So delish!) Although this isn’t part of the official Bourbon Trail, it should be. My favorite distillery, it’s a place to go if you find yourself in that part of Kentucky.
Stop 3: Makers Mark
Makers Mark is out in the middle of nowhere. 1.5 hours out of Louisville, be ready for a windy ride and seeing what feels like the whole state of Kentucky. Soon enough you’ll get there and it will be 100% worth the drive. When you walk into the visit center it is an old house. I am not sure if this house was actually occupied by the family, but it sure seems like it. It has talking pictures (Harry Potter anyone?!) of the founders, things dipped in red wax, a full 50’s kitchen with complimentary bourbon flavored coffee and lemonade, and plenty of written history on display. This is where the tour starts, and off you go to see how the bourbon is made. It was really the usual, a good mix between new and old, traditional and commercial. The distillery is set on incredibly beautiful property that is rich with green trees, tailored buildings, and a short hike up to a natural spring lake. (The lake is what apparently makes Makers Mark so delicious.) The tour guides all work at other parts of the distillery, meaning that no one is just a tour guide. It’s not rehearsed, our guide knows everyone who works there and each employee has to pay their tour guide dues. This creates a passionate educational tour that culminates in a fantastic tasting experience.
Bottom line: The attention to detail sets this distillery tour apart. The branding, the labeling, the actual bourbon…all done with specific details and tradition. Very little has changed since it was founded, including its employees. Employees/tour guides/workers are clearly passionate about what they do and what they make. The tour is well thought out and creates a well rounded understanding of the bourbon industry as well as what goes into bottling, marketing, and a brand. It’s definitely a can’t miss on the Bourbon Trail.
A thank you www.kybourbontrail.com/ which helped plan my trip to the distilleries.
Stop 2: Jim Beam
If you are looking for perfectly groomed grounds, perfectly restored buildings, and perfectly stocked gift store, Jim Beam is for you. Although I didn’t go on the tour, I am glad I didn’t. It’s commercialized and clear that they are the biggest name and biggest business on the Bourbon Trail. I am glad I went, it was about 30 minutes outside of Louisville, but I am also glad I didn’t pay to go on the tour. I think that I would have been bored and a total tourist. The redeeming quality? The Distillery sits in the middle of beautiful rolling hills. The scenery was the best part.
Bottom line? Love Jim Beam? Go. If you couldn’t care less about the brand, it is a commercial distillery that knows how to pump out the bottles. The only think I thought was worth it was the stamp in my Bourbon Trail Passport
The coolest part for me? The old printing press they use for every. single. label. that goes on Makers Mark bourbon. The artist in me was fascinated and so excited to see the antique presses still being used.