No matter if Maker’s Mark, Woodford Reserve or Wild Turkey is your favorite bourbon, you need to visit Kentucky and see where the spirit is produced. It’s a trip that all whiskey drinkers should make at least once in their lifetimes.
September is a great time to go, since it’s National Bourbon Heritage Month, but the distilleries are open year-round and are all located in north-central Kentucky (within a 90-minute drive of both Louisville and Lexington). Most of the tours are free (or cost a nominal fee) and of course include healthy samples.
Bourbon Heritage Center, 1311 Gilkey Run Road, Bardstown, 502 337 1000:
Six years ago, Heaven Hill opened its vast Bourbon Heritage Center, which offers a comprehensive exhibition on the history of the liquor. Don’t miss trying the company’s two flagship bourbons, Elijah Craig and Evan Williams, inside the barrel-shaped tasting room.
Buffalo Trace, 113 Great Buffalo Trace, Frankfort, 502 696 5926:
Buffalo Trace offers three different tours: a general one-hour overview of production, a behind-the-scenes “Hard Hat Tour” and a special talk about its post-Prohibition expansion. Visitors to the Trace can also buy its flavorful white dog (the spirit straight from the still) in the gift shop.
Jim Beam, 526 Happy Hollow Road, Clermont, 502 543 9877:
The world’s best-selling bourbon is currently building a new visitor center. In the meantime, you can tour T. Jeremiah Beam’s home and see a rackhouse where the whiskey is aged. Afterward, have a taste of some of the brand’s spirits.
Maker’s Mark, 3350 Burks Spring Road, Loretto, 270 865 2099:
At Maker’s Mark, you’ll get a tour of the stillhouse, a barrel warehouse and also the bottling line where the bourbon gets its signature crown of red wax. (You can dip your own souvenir bottle in the gift shop.) The post-tour tasting includes both the original Maker’s and the new 46.
Wild Turkey, 1525 Tyrone Road, Lawrenceburg, 502 839 4544:
Wild Turkey has been open to the public for many years but didn’t previously have a license to offer tastes of its whiskies. Fortunately, that changed this past spring, and the brand now has a “Road to Flavor” tour that includes two samples of your choice from its full product line.
Woodford Reserve, 7855 McCracken Pike, Versailles, 859 879 1812:
This historic facility is located in prime Kentucky horse country. You can take a basic tour or one focusing on the architecture of the distillery, and for serious bourbon fans, there’s also a two-hour, in-depth “Corn to Cork Tour.”
(Photo courtesy of Buffalo Trace Distillery)
Looking for more great watering holes? Check out our bar guide for the best bars in the world.