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Bourbon Country

Please note that this in not an "official" website.  The information presented is entirely my opinion based on my personal experiences and tastes.  These pages do involve the consumption of alcoholic beverages and are designed for adults of legal drinking age.  As with any alcoholic beverages, it is important to know your limits and enjoy them responsibly.  This site is not related to the Kentucky Distillers Association or the Kentucky Bourbon Trail.  Not all distilleries in Kentucky as members of the Kentucky Bourbon Trail.  For the official KDA "Kentucky Bourbon Trail" website click here.

When you think Kentucky you think bourbon.  Yes, I know that it doesn't HAVE to be made in Kentucky and I am quite certain that there are some fine non-Kentucky bourbons out there, but seriously, when I want a bourbon drink, I want and will ask by name (if I have to) for "Kentucky Bourbon Whiskey".  I have always been fascinated by bourbon.  One thing we decided when we moved to back to Kentucky in 2006 was that we was going to visit every bourbon distillery.  We are fortunate to live within about an hour's drive of all the major bourbon distilleries.  As of 2014 we completed the task including visiting a couple places that weren't even in existence when we started this journey.  You can use the navigation buttons above to check out the distilleries we have visited.  While they are all worth visiting if you have the time, there are a couple that I feel are head and shoulders above the other in terms of the completeness of the tour.  If you only have time to see one, my recommendation would be either Jim Beam, Wild Turkey, Maker's Mark or Woodford Reserve.  Probably the least detailed tour is given at Buffalo Trace (although I understand that they now offer something called "The Hard Hat Tour" which is much more in depth than the regular tour).  My "ranking" of tours is below.  Please note that my observations are all based on my last visit to each distillery.  Distillery tours do change over time and I am sometimes surprised a bit during a visit.  As always, if you are coming from a long way it wouldn't be a bad idea to call ahead just to make sure the place is open and offering tours as operating hours do change too.  Also note that bourbon distilleries generally don't operate during the hot summer months since yeast generally doesn't like the heat.  In some ways that isn't entirely bad as during these periods you often can see inside equipment that would normally be in use.

I have been asked before how the bourbon distilleries and tours stand up to each other.  Here is my personal take on them all in order of "highest ranked" first.

(1) Jim Beam - They opened their new "American Stillhouse" in October 2012 and at least in my opinion have easily shot to number one as far as tours go.  This tour has it all.  Some people may be put off by the eight dollar charge but trust me it's worth every penny.  I think that the tasting at the end of the tour by itself is worth the money.  When you add in that the distillery is less than two miles east of exit 112 on I-65 you really do have the total package. (Last visit January 2013).  If you do visit the Beam distillery and are a wine fan, one of our favorite local wineries, the Forest Edge Winery is very close by.  Click here for details.
(2) Maker's Mark - A very close second.  This is also a very complete tour.  You get up close to every aspect of the bourbon producing process.  You even get to see them hand dipping the bottles (for an additional fee you can dip one yourself!).  Loretto is a little off the beaten path (you'll probably think you're lost but GPS is accurate), but absolutely worth the effort. (Last visit July 2009)

(3) Woodford Reserve -  A close up third to complete the trifecta.  This place is way off the beaten path but also worth the effort.  This is another place where you might feel you are lost but again, your GPS will get you there.  There is a five dollar charge for the tour but it is worth it at least one time. (Last visit November 2011)

(4) Wild Turkey - The new visitor's center is now open.  The facility is beautiful and the tasting room overlooks the Kentucky River  The tour itself is very complete and visitors get a very good look at the mashing, fermenting and distilling process. (Last visit January 2014 - photos pending).   Similar to the Jim Beam distillery, another of our favorite wineries is rather close by in Lawrenceburg.  If you are interested, check out the Lover's Leap Winery.  This tour rounds out the superfecta.

The first four are all very close in quality of the tour.  Please don't get me wrong, they are all worth visiting but somebody has to be number 1 and somebody has to be number 9.

(5 tie) Four Roses - No aging takes place on site.  The tour however is very good and gets you very close up to the mashing and distilling process.  This one is very close to exit 59 on the Martha Layne Collins Bluegrass Parkway.  (Last visit September 2011)

(5 tie) Barton's 1792 - This is a pretty decent tour and worth the time if you happen to be in the Bardstown area.  This tour is close to Four Roses. (Last visit June 2013)

(5 tie) Town Branch - This is almost a "micro" distillery compared to an outfit like Beam, but the tour is very nice and you get a two for one with the Lexington Brewing Company. (Last visit February 2014).

(8) Heaven Hill - The displays in the Bourbon Heritage Center are of museum quality, but the tour doesn't show any of the distilling process. (Last visit June 2010)

(9) Buffalo Trace - The least complete tour but still worth a visit if you are in the Frankfort area.  The guides are very informative and well versed in bourbon. I do understand that they offer something called "The Hard Hat Tour" on a limited schedule that requires advance reservations.  We plan on doing this tour sometime in the spring of 2014.  (Last visit September 2012)

N/R- The Evan William's Bourbon Experience - This is a new attraction in downtown Louisville.  It is not really a distillery although they have a working 1 barrel per day operation as part of the experience.  I don't rank it since it isn't a distillery even though it is part of the Kentucky Bourbon Trail.  It is an excellent attraction and certainly worth a visit if you are in downtown Louisville. (Last visit February 2014)

I need to say it one more time - it is certainly worthwhile to visit any of these places.  They are all decent; it is just that in my opinion some of the experiences will be better and if time is a limiting factor I would stick to the order I present them in.  I will add that if you really want to enjoy the experience you'd be better off to make sure that time wasn't a factor and that you could fully enjoy the complete experience at any of these places.

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