Picture this: Idling away the afternoon, sipping premium spirits while taking in the scenic beauty of the southern USA.
If you travel to Kentucky, you'll have plenty of options to make this a reality. That's because the state is world famous for its bourbon distilleries, dozens of which dot the rural landscape. You can check out the most famous by trekking the Bourbon Trail in Kentucky, an experience that gives visitors a firsthand look at the art of crafting bourbon, along with lessons about the rich history of the spirit. Here's all you have to know about this iconic experience.
A Brief History
In Kentucky, the history of bourbon almost dates back to the founding of the United States. An influx of German, Scottish and northern Irish immigrants brought their whiskey-distilling knowledge to Kentucky in the late 1700s, thanks to the Corn Patch and Cabin Rights Act, which offered 160 hectares to settlers to build homes and plant corn in the territory. Although rye had been the dominant ingredient in whiskey, the plethora of corn crops inspired distillers to change their recipe to a corn-based whiskey. By the 1780s, a distinctive style of whiskey was being distilled in Kentucky, eventually getting its name from Bourbon County, Kentucky, once the major shipping site for spirits heading south on the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers to New Orleans, Louisiana. On the long journey, the whiskey aged in their oak barrels, creating its distinctive mellow flavor and amber coloring.
In 1964, the United States Congress declared Kentucky bourbon as an official product of the United States, or, its preferred moniker, “America's Official Native Spirit." Tours to educate visitors, from both near and far, on the art of crafting bourbon and to pass down stories from the spirits rich tradition are available throughout the state. Today, more than 95 percent of the world's bourbon is distilled and aged in Kentucky, with around 5 million barrels of bourbon always aging in the warehouses of Bourbon County.
Display of some of Kentucky’s finest, and most well-known, Bourbons
Where to Drink
The easiest way to experience the most celebrated bourbon distilleries in Kentucky is by taking four or five days to visit bourbon hot spots around the state. You'll want to start in Louisville, one of the most vibrant cities in Kentucky. On day one, enjoy the Bulleit Frontier Whiskey Experience at Stitzel-Weller, then head back to Whiskey Row in downtown Louisville for a tour of Angel's Envy, where you'll see the distillation process from beginning, to barreled, to poured, concluding with a tasting at The Finishing Room bar. Just outside of Louisville in Clermont, Kentucky, you can participate in the production process and even bottle your own Jim Beam Product at the James B. Beam Distillery. Other recommended stops include tours and tastings at globally-recognized names such as Maker's Mark, Woodford Reserve Distillery and Wild Turkey.
You'd be mistaken to think that the only way to try bourbon is by sipping it. Bourbon culture seeps into the cuisine in many local restaurants in Kentucky, like Bourbons Bistro in Louisville, grilling up tender, braised short ribs covered in a rich, rye bourbon demi-glace.
Guided tour and tasting at Woodford Reserve Distillery in Versailles, Kentucky
If you find you've had one sip too many, ride-hailing apps Lyft and Uber offer on-demand safe ride services throughout Kentucky. To avoid the planning and driving altogether, consider booking a tour with Mint Julep Tours, or creating your own custom itinerary with Pegasus Distillery Tours.
Enjoyable bourbon tasting at Stitzel-Weller Distillery
Multiple airports provide access to Kentucky, through connecting flights, into Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport (CVG), Louisville International Airport (SDF), Owensboro-Daviess County Regional Airport (OWB) and Blue Grass Airport (LEX) in Lexington.
More experiences nearby
Kentucky Bourbon and Barbecue
6 Defining Kentucky Restaurants
24 Hours in Louisville, Kentucky
Plan a Camping Trip You'll Never Forget
Venue Guide: Lesser-Known Hip Hop Spots
7 Festivals to Boogie to the Blues
Covington and Newport
Mammoth Cave National Park
7 Tastes to Savor at Historic Hotels
Kentucky: The Roots of American Wine
Recognizing Black History Across the USA