Let's face it, the bourbon industry is booming.  Luckily for us, we live in Kentucky - the heart of Bourbon County.  People have been enjoying this liquid pleasure for years, but only recently has it really become a huge drive for tourism and economic development in our great state.

Dave loves bourbon.  He loves the taste, he loves the history, he loves the tradition... if it has to do with bourbon - he loves it, period.  Although Jess doesn't love it like him, she does embrace it because he does so much.  She too loves the history, tradition, bottles and tastings.  

Bourbon is certainly an interest of his and could even be referred to as a hobby that he enjoys.  So because of that, Jess has learned to enjoy the experience of bourbon with Dave.  And Jess has become quite the little bourbon hunter, because who doesn't enjoy finding exclusive treasure?

Being in Kentucky at the beginning hype of bourbon is exciting.  People from all over the world are wanting to taste (and learn) about the bourbon that is practically made in our own backyard.

Additionally, they are willing to pay big bucks for it.  Which is not so great for us, but it is good for Kentucky and we'd like to think that it's also good for bourbon.  Just not bourbon lovers like us... because the prices are high and you can't get your hands on it like you used to.

Kentucky has become famous for more than the Derby.  Now people travel from all over to venture the Bourbon Trail.  We have marked several of the locations off our list.  We still have a few to visit, but we enjoy taking our time and spreading them out so that we still have new places to look forward to.  We've also started at what we believe to be the cream of the crop, so we've already hit the ones that were are the top of our list.

The bourbon industry has grown a lot recently.  With so many people wanting to visit the distilleries, they have really become tourist stops in our state.  Several of the tours used to be free, in fact, almost all of them never had a fee.  Now, it's uncommon if they don't charge you for the tour.  But hey, at least the tours come with small samples so that you can make a tasteful decision in their growing gift shops.  

The Kentucky Bourbon Trail was founded in 1999 by the Kentucky Distillers’ Association.  The idea was to encourage visitors to get a firsthand look at the art and science of crafting Bourbon, and to educate them about the rich history and proud tradition of our signature spirit.  Join in on the fun and get your passport stamped at each of the stops on the trail.  The bourbon trail can actually be biked, yes... really.  Step by step instructions can be found here on the Bourbon Trail website.

Here's a look at 4 stops along the Kentucky Bourbon Trail:

3350 Burks Spring Road
Loretto, KY 40037
(270) 865-2881

Tucked away in Loretto, Kentucky.  Beware GPS users!  When you use GPS to find the distillery, it gives you directions to their business office in Louisville.  So double check that you are headed to the right place.  This distillery is stunning.  You will feel that you have been taken back in time.  

Tour Information:
$12 for Adults 21 and Over
Tour is Mostly Outdoors 
Duration is Approximately 1 Hour
Tours are First-Come, First-Serve
Monday - Saturday: 9:30 am - 3:30 pm
Sunday Hours are 11:30 am - 3:30 pm

If you know much about Maker's Mark, you can recognize their distinct bottles by the red wax on the top.  One very unique thing about the tour, is that you are able to dip your purchased bottles from the gift shop.  You don't have to dip your own, but it is a fun experience.

The distillery has an entirely new restaurant, Star Hill Provisions.  It is located in the renovated Distiller's House and will be opening in March 2017.   This gives us a great reason to visit the distillery again soon... I mean, we've got to check out the new restaurant.  The food they had at their quaint little cafe was too good, so we've got great expectations.  

Bill Samuels Jr., President of Maker's Mark is pure genius.  He is such an interesting person and has worked hard to make Maker's Mark a recognizable brand across the globe.  We had the opportunity to hear some of his stories first-hand and he truly gives you a new respect for Maker's Mark as a distillery and a brand.  Not to mention all that the Samuels family has dreamed and created.

7855 McCracken Pike 
Versailles, KY 40383
(859) 879-1812 

Woodford Reserve is one of Kentucky's oldest and smallest distilleries.  The distillery sits in Versailles, right outside of Lexington.  Woodford is another true beauty.  From the land to the buildings, the history and atmosphere is stunning.  After all, Kentucky is a beautiful place... especially in fall, and especially at a historic distillery.

At Woodford, you'll see their iconic copper pot stills and 100-year-old cypress wood fermenters. They also boast one of the only heat cycled barrel houses in the world.  This distillery has lots of history and you learn a lot about it from the audio recording that is part of the tour.

Tour Information:
$14 Per Person
Duration is Approximately 1 Hour
Reservations Can be Made Online
Tours are Done on the Hour
Monday - Saturday: 10 am - 3 pm
Sunday (March-December) 1 - 3 pm
Headset Guides Part of the Tour

While you’re at Woodford, if you're hungry they've got a cute little place to grab something.  Glenn’s Creek Cafe is located in in their Visitors Center.  The cafe is open daily and offers a variety of culinary fare.  If it's a pretty day, we encourage you to grab your food and sit on the patio.  

This distillery is special to us, as we visited and toured the morning that we got engaged.  Looking back, I see why Dave may have had more on his mind than just bourbon while we were there.  We haven't been back since that day, but we're sure to be back someday.  It's an easy distillery for people to tour while visiting Kentucky (especially if they are staying in Louisville or Lexington).  The drive is easy, and it encompasses all of the history that you want people to experience.

Like most tours, guests over the age of 21 get samples following the tour.  The tasting at Woodford not only includes bourbon, but bourbon balls as well.  This is always nice for the guests that might not enjoy bourbon, but love a sweet treat.  This way, they can still feel like they were part of the experience and get to try something new.  

113 Great Buffalo Trace
Frankfort, KY 40601
(502) 696-5926 

Buffalo Trace is not only historic to Kentucky, but is listed as a National Historic Landmark.  Bourbon and history just go together.  That is something that both of us love about it.  Like Woodford, this is also a distillery that is easy for people to tour while visiting Kentucky (especially if they are staying in Louisville or Lexington).  Visiting a distillery seems to top the list of what people want to do when they travel to Kentucky nowadays.  

The Trace Tour begins with an engaging video of the history of Buffalo Trace Distillery.   Another highlight of the tour is going inside the renowned Blanton’s Bottling Hall where you will see signature bourbons being filled, sealed, labeled, and packaged—all by hand.  This is a unique part of the tour where you experience how hands-on the bourbon industry continues to be, even with such recent growth.  If there is one thing about bourbon, the people who create it (and love it) are not willing to sacrifice the quality for the now quantity demand.

Tour Information:
All Tours are Complimentary
Duration is Approximately 1 Hour
No Need to Make a Reservation
Families of All Ages are Welcome
Tours Leave Every Hour, on the Hour
Monday - Saturday: 9 am - 4 pm
Sunday Hours are 12 - 3 pm
I Repeat, All Tours are Complimentary! 

Following the tour, guests (age 21 and over) can indulge in a tasting of different Buffalo Trace Products.  Aside from serving bourbon balls with other select bourbons, this tasting also includes Buffalo Trace Bourbon Cream... which is something that every person on earth will like.  Now, you'll just have to decide for yourself if it's appropriate to use as creamer in your coffee Monday through Friday.

Something to note about Buffalo Trace, is that due to limited quantities of their whiskies, they only offer a few brands for tasting and purchasing in their Visitor Center.  If you want more information on this, check out their website.  

This tour was especially fun for us!  Not only did we visit on Dave's birthday, but Blanton's is one of Dave's favorites.  Not don't get me wrong, there are others that top the list - but Blanton's is a single barrel bourbon (the first of it's kind) that you can typically get your hands on.

A fun fact about Blanton's is that their tops have different letters on them that spell out Blantons... now you know what I'm doing when I look at all of them at the liquor store.  You can purchase letters at the gift shop, but isn't that technically cheating? 

In addition to a number of brands, Buffalo Trace is unique in the fact that it is also home to the Van Winkle family.  And anyone who knows anything about bourbon knows the importance of that.  The history of Buffalo Trace is unmatched.  At the distillery, they live by the motto to honor tradition and embrace change.  You can check out more about their great history here

401 Cross Street 
(Near Intersections of Versailles Road and W. Maxwell Street)
Lexington, KY 40508
(859) 255-2337

Alltech Brewing & Distilling Company, which you'll find in the heart of Lexington, Kentucky is home to Town and Branch.  We toured this distillery with a group of friends, which we recommend.  Friends always make distilleries more fun!  Here you can choose to do the brewing tour, the distillery tour, or both... which is clearly what we picked.  

The distillery tour is a great option if you have limited time, but are still interested in learning a little about Kentucky bourbon.  Town and Branch is a newer distillery and has been on the Bourbon Trail since 2012.  You can definitely notice the newness of the distillery in comparison to some of the others that come with over a hundred years of history.  Speaking of one hundred years, this is the first distillery that has been built in Lexington over that time.  Although there might not be a ton of history with their space, there is certainly history to the company which we enjoyed.

Tour Information:
$7 for Adults 21 and Over
Duration is 30 - 35 Minutes
Tour Times are Booked Online
Tour Times Vary, Check the Website
Brewery + Distillery Tour is Available

With both a brewery tour and distillery tour being offered at this location, we recommend checking their website for times, pricing and hours.  It just depends on what you want to do!  The pricing and timing information listed above is just for the distillery tour.  If you are interested in doing both, check out the details here

Tastings are done on this tour by receiving four tasting tokens (or 8 if you do both tours) to use for sampling.  This is unique compared to other tours that you get to choose what you want to taste out of the selected options.  If you really like something then give another token and try it again.  

Bourbon, Distilleries, Kentucky... it's all good.  All of the distilleries are unique and different, just like all bourbon is unique and different.  You'll have your favorites - both bourbon and distilleries.  And, that's OK.  

While discovering your favorites, let us leave you with just a few 
recommendations that apply no matter which distillery you are visiting:

1.  If you are over the age of 21, always have your ID with you for the tours (and tastings).  Especially if you look young, like we do!
2.  Always check websites for the most up-to-date information on tours.  You can also give them a call if you have any specific questions.
3.  All distilleries have special procedures if you are touring with a large group so check their websites or give them a call. 
4.  Most tours include at least some walking outdoors, so plan accordingly when it comes to weather.
5.  Our favorite time to visit distilleries is in the fall (Kentucky and its changing leaves are gorgeous), but most can be visited year-round.  Double check websites for changes to winter hours.  
6.  Most distilleries are closed on Easter, Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and New Years Day - but like we said, check their websites.
7.  Some of the distilleries give Military Discounts for Tours.  If applicable, bring your Military ID.
8.  Most of the distilleries offer more in-depth tours.  These are scheduled at more limited times and often cost more.  Before your visit, check the distillery website to see if they offer an additional tour that you would be interested in.
9.  You can go on these tours and learn about the history of bourbon in Kentucky without tasting the samples - it's part of the history of the state.  Enjoy it, even if you don't drink it!

These tours will help you understand that bourbon is something special in Kentucky.  It's special to our state, it's special to our people and it's even more special to the families that rely on it for their livelihood.   It is special, and taken seriously.  From the smallest details, our fellow Kentuckians take pride in bourbon and the entire process that accompanies it.

If you missed our Bourbon Country posts that feature visits to other distilleries on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail and Craft Trail you can find them here:

BOURBON COUNTRY PART TWO - Willett, Four Roses, Wild Turkey and Barton
BOURBON COUNTRY PART THREE - Old Forrester and Angel's Envy

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