This is too easy. It’s like shooting fish in a barrel. Really, it would be very hard to make a mistake here. Because chances are, if you visit any distillery within the greater Kentucky environs, it’s almost impossible not to end up with something decent in your tumbler.
And believe it or not, it’s not all going to be bourbon. OK, most of it’s gonna be bourbon. And rye. But some of the distilleries below make other spirits, anything from a sorghum-based rum to absinthe and gin. Generally speaking, if you’re in Kentucky doing a distillery trail, you’re looking for bourbon, and the list below won’t disappoint.
Not that it’s exhaustive. You’ll see all of the heavy hitters down here, plus a few smaller distilleries you may not have heard of before, but there are still more out there. And not every distillery tour is created equal: yes, most last about an hour, most cost around ten bucks, and most—thankfully—end with bourbon drinking. But some tours go a bit more in-depth into the distilling process, while others are more about gloss, presentation, and gift shops. Check with the distilleries before you go (especially since most tours require reservations, and at least one distillery closes up entirely for the summer).
Heaven Hill, makers of Elijah Craig and Evan Williams, dedicated their Bourbon Heritage Center in 2004. Tours are relatively inexpensive, and yes, include bourbon tasting. (Just a heads up, the “Whiskey Connoisseur Experience” tour gets you more bourbon.)
The Four Roses distillery is actually on the National Register of Historic Places. And if you visit, you’ll see why—it’s distinguished Spanish Mission-style architecture. You can tour the distillery or the warehouse in Cox’s Creek (the latter features a building in the shape of a giant barrel, so that’s awesome, but both sites will give you bourbon.
Bourbon tours are surprisingly cheap—Makers offers a one-hour tour of their ridiculously charming looking facility for just nine bucks. And if you’re a Makers Mark fanatic, be sure to buy some merch at the gift shop
Just a few miles outside of downtown Louisville you’ll find the recently reopened Stitzel-Weller distillery. This place is Bourbon’s cathedral. If you’re hitting just one place, we recommend this one for the history alone – Pappy was originally made here. Plus there’s a good amount of bourbon to take in for $10 a person.
Buffalo Trace offers a fairly standard tour, rackhouses and whiskey tasting etc., but we’d recommend the “Hard Hat” tour if you can do it. A lot more behind-the-scenes, not to mention a peek at where they create their Experimental Collection. Second runner-up: Ghost Tour.
Woodford Reserve also offers a variety of tours, from the basic (delicious) bourbon tour to a more in-depth “Corn to Cork” tour, which basically lays out the whole process. And then there’s the National Landmark tour which, unsurprisingly, takes you through the two centuries of history that make the distillery a Historic Landmark.
If you can’t hit the distillery itself—which offers half hour tours every day but Sunday—they also have a recently opened “Urban Stillhouse” in downtown Louisville that actually includes a working, albeit mini, distillery.
Not a working distillery at all—in fact the distillery buildings are caved in—so don’t expect any bourbon. But there are nine warehouses still in use by Makers Mark and Heaven Hill, and the whole thing looks a little creepy. Bourbon history.
The distillery itself was established in 1936, but Willett family history goes back to the 17th Century. A tour is less than ten dollars (though if you spring for the $12 tour, you get to keep the glass!) and gets you a taste of their long line of bourbons.
You know the name, and you definitely know that turkey’s face. Wild Turkey tours go for ten dollars and take you from the sleek modern-looking visitor’s center to a tasting room with a copper still from the original Wild Turkey distillery.
Another unique distillery. In addition to bourbon and rye, they make vodka and a sorghum-based rum. The distillery seems pretty interested in the science of distilling, so we’re guessing the hourly tours will focus in on that, too.
Jefferson’s is a relatively young bourbon, which is why you won’t be able to tour it in a big facility like Jim Beam. In fact, Jefferson doesn’t even distill its own bourbon—they blend and age experimentally. And you can check out the fruits of their labor at this collaborative site with Kentucky Artisan Distillery.
OK, so this one isn’t open just yet (they’re planning on Fall of 2016). But once the doors do open expect to be able to get a glimpse of Michter’s production and a taste of some of their extensive line of bourbons right in downtown Louisville.
Named after the year Kentucky joined the Union, Barton’s 1792 is the “oldest fully operating distillery” in Bardstown. They have three tour options, including a two-hour motorized tour that makes a stop at the World’s Largest Whiskey Barrel. So, yes.
Yes, there is actually a distillery in Kentucky that doesn’t make bourbon! If you want a taste of something different, hit up Corsair in Bowling Green. They do anything from gin and rum to absinthe, which, yes, might be a refreshing change after all that (delicious) bourbon.