3 full days, 3 cities, 13 distilleries, 6 breweries, 2 t-shirts, and some incredible memories.
My friend Joe and I love Bourbon, and fortunately, Kentucky is the perfect halfway point for my friend from Atlanta, and myself (central Illinois) to meet up. As we started planning the trip, we realized it was going to take a few days to complete the official Kentucky Bourbon Trail – with multiple stops in the Lexington/Frankfort area, Bardstown, and Louisville. Planning was much more detailed than we expected, realizing distilleries are miles apart from each other and tours were usually offered at the top of the hour. So our itinerary had to figure in travel and tour times.
DAY 1 – Lexington, KY
After a 6 hour drive for each of us, we met up in Lexington, KY and hit the town. We greased the wheels with a stop at HopCat, a beer bar, and then appropriately went on the search for bourbon. After stopping a couple places, we made our way to West Main Crafting Company – one of Lexington’s premiere bourbon bars. We sampled some fine bourbons, complete with large ice balls.
Day 2 – Kicking off the Bourbon Trail
Wild Turkey’s welcome center was the first distillery open in the morning, so it was our first stop. We picked up our Official Kentucky Bourbon Trail Passports, surveyed the incredible views, and looked at some of the history. We then headed up to Buffalo Trace for the Hard-Hat Tour. We were lucky enough to snag a bottle of Blanton’s in the gift shop before the tour. The tour was interesting and covered a lot of ground. Then it was a trip through beautiful Kentucky horse country to get to Woodford Reserve. The welcome center was beautiful, as was the distillery, rickhouse, and bottling line. Along with our samples, we enjoyed a nice piece of bourbon chocolate. Our next stop was Four Roses, which was under construction. That worked out nicely, as we sat outside for a quick education and tasting. We made it back into Lexington to Town Branch distillery just in time to have our passport stamped. It looked like a very modern facility. Finished with distilleries for the day, we stopped back at the hotel and took an Uber to Country Boy Brewing. We’d heard good things bout their beers, which turned out to be true. Then we went to Ethereal Brewing, another short Uber ride away. We had no idea what to expect and found it was in a nice old industrial complex with other bars/restaurants. We had some great brick oven fired pizza at Goodfellas before Ubering to Blue Stallion Brewery, where we ended the night.
Day 3 – Bardstown area
We packed up the car and headed south for a little over an hour to Maker’s Mark distillery. The Maker’s Mark grounds were beautiful, and the tour was very good. We got caught up dipping our own bottles in the gift shop and realized we were going to be a little late getting to our tour at Heaven Hill on time. We caught up to the tour quickly, and were super impressed with the barrel shaped tasting room at Heaven Hill. In fact, the entire welcome center there was pretty nice. We didn’t realize Willett Distillery was right around the corner, but it was a nice change, as it felt much more quaint than any of the distilleries we had visited thus far. We wanted to hit Barton as our last stop, and fortunately, they offered a couple quick samples in the tasting room/welcome center. Then it was off to Louisville, where we went straight to Angel’s Envy to check out the welcome center right before they closed. We bolted up the street to also pop into Evan Williams before they closed. Then it was on to our hotel, the Seelbach – where we wanted to hit the Old Seelbach bar, another well known bourbon bar. We had a cocktail and kicked off adventure on the Louisville Urban Bourbon Trail – a collection of bourbon bars. Upon visiting six of the bars in the passport book, you could get an Urban Bourbon Trail t-shirt. Fortunately for us, one of the stops is one we already planned on making – the bar at the Brown Hotel, where we also enjoyed an official “Hot Brown.” We found a few more bars on the Urban Bourbon Trail, including 8UP Elevated bar, an awesome rooftop bar where we enjoyed a cocktail while the sun set. Finally, we Ubered over to Against the Grain brewery and enjoyed some thick-cut bacon on a stick.
Day 4 – Louisville
Our final day was a Sunday, and nothing much was open before noon, so we headed over to Heritage Hills Golf Course for a round. It was part of the way toward Jim Beam, where we headed next. It was a nice tour, but seemed to be the most “corporate” of all of the distilleries we visited. We still enjoyed bottling our own Knob Creek and having the bottle engraved to commemorate our weekend. We headed back into Louisville and made our way to Stitzel-Weller Distillery, home of Bulleit and Blade & Bow bourbons. The grounds seemed pretty historic, and during the sampling, I enjoyed trying Blade & Bow for the first time (it’s now a favorite in my home bar). After getting the final stamp on our Bourbon Trail passport here, we headed back downtown to get our commemorative t-shirts – one for the Kentucky Bourbon Trail and one for the Urban Bourbon Trail. We stopped at the hotel and toasted our success with a bottle of Pappy Van Winkle 15 year I brought on the trip. We combined BBQ and bourbon at Doc Crow’s for dinner and then decided it was beer for the rest of the night. We stopped at Bluegrass Brewing Company before Ubering out to Holy Grale, a well-known beer bar, where we finished the night.
For us, it was the perfect trip with lots of distilleries, classic bourbon bars, and craft beer. We had a great time and learned a ton about bourbon, especially what we liked and didn’t like when it came to tasting bourbon.