Chapter 2: Bourbon Trail Road Trip
Traveling the Bourbon Trail can take 3 days or 2 weeks. It is whatever you make it. Some people stop by the gift shop and that’s enough for them. Others, like my brother-in-law (Joshua) and I, we wanted to take a distillery tour at each location we visited.
We took a 6 day round trip tour from New York City through the Bourbon Trail and back home again. We spent 5 of those days touring distilleries. We hit all the big distilleries and some craft distilleries. Someday, we will go back and hit up the smaller distilleries because those were some of our favorites to tour.
Each distillery offers a history lesson of the distillery, discusses how their bourbon differs from other bourbons, and a tasting. Because of Kentucky laws, distilleries are only permitted to offer guests a sampling at the end of each tour. If you are planning on doing multiple tastings in one day, I suggest you do what Joshua and I did, which was alternate driving days. You can also get around by the use of a tour company, Uber, or Lyft. Another option is to spit out the whiskey much like a wine tasting. There is no judgment if you spit or dump out your whiskey.
Buffalo Trace 7:00 pm 113 Great Buffalo Trace
We hit the road at 5:30 in the morning because we had an appointment at Buffalo Trace in Frankfort, Kentucky at 7:00 for a ghost tour. I wanted to see a distillery at night and I thought the ghost tour option would be a great way to capture an evening photograph of a distillery.
We arrived a little late and jumped right into line as the ghost tour began. Most of the tour discusses findings from an episode of Ghost Hunters filmed at the location and some personal stories. We spent a small amount of time in the actual distillery and listened to ghostly tales from within office buildings. If you are looking for a distillery tour, this isn’t the tour for you. If you are interested in paranormal activity or something different from the many distillery tours available, then the ghost tour is a fun way to tour a distillery.
Tickets are free. Duration is 1 hour.
After our tour, we checked into the Capital Plaza Hotel in Frankfort. Because the hotel is only 5 minutes away from the Bourbon Trace distillery, it was the perfect location for us to rest after a long drive and to plan our week ahead. The Capital Plaza Hotel also offers guests a terrific breakfast.
After breakfast, we headed to Lexington, Kentucky to visit the Lexington Visitors Center. I thought we had to pick up our bourbon passports at the Visitor Center, but turns out you can get them at any participating distillery along the Bourbon Trail.
If you are not familiar with the Bourbon Trail Passport, you need to be. They stamp the passport at each location and if you complete the passport; you get a commemorative bourbon glass at the end of the tour. There’s also a space in the passport to take notes about your favorite bourbons and any notes you want to jot down.
11:00 Town Branch Distillery Lexington 401 Cross Street
Our first tour of the day was at the Town Branch Distillery. Town Branch makes whiskey and gin and also has a brewery on site. Town Branch does not have a warehouse on premises, so the tour focuses on the bourbon and beer making process.
Tickets are $10 – Duration is 1 hour
After our tour, we stopped by Justin’s House of Bourbon to check out some of their vintage bottles. If you got a few hundred dollars to spend (or a thousand), then make this a stop on the tour. Even if you can’t afford a bottle, it’s still a great place to peruse old bourbons and dream.
3:00 Woodford Distillery, Versailles 7855 McCracken Pike
Upon walking into the lobby of the Woodford Distillery, you get the sense you are entering a luxury hotel, not a distillery. A huge waiting room is lit up by a fireplace. Soft couches and a café greeted us. Actually, the friendly staff greeted us, but you get what I’m saying.
The Woodford Distillery is in Versailles, Kentucky and is one of the more beautiful settings. As you meet other tourists along the Bourbon Trail, they’ll almost always mention Woodford as being a highlight. Kentucky’s oldest distilling site is a must-stop for bourbon lovers even if you’re not trying to get all the stamps on your passport.
Tickets are $20 – Duration is 1 hour
The Kentucky Castle 30 Pisgah Pike, Versailles, KY 40383
After our tour, we drove to the Kentucky Castle in Versailles where we had a great night’s rest in one of Kentucky’s most luxurious stays. Click here to read about our visit to the Kentucky Castle.
We had an early morning on day 3 and said “goodbye” to our lush lodgings at the Castle and jumped into our Kia Stinger and drove to Lawrenceburg.
9:00 Wild Turkey, Lawrenceburg 1417 Versailles Rd.
Wild Turkey is a brand that provides a lot of bourbon drinkers with a variety of thoughts and memories. I’ve got so many, but this isn’t the place to talk about them. Nor do I think I should. As we arrived for our Turkey tour, we met three veterans. Most of the distilleries offer discounted rates to veterans.
After our tour, Master Distiller Jimmy Russell was sitting in the lobby and I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to have a bottle autographed by Mr. Russell.
Tickets are $11 – Duration is 1 hour
11:00 Four Roses, Lawrenceburg 1224 Bonds Mill Rd.
The Four Roses Distillery is under construction, so it limited us to what we could see. The history of the distillery is covered inside a classroom and we were provided a short tour. Since it was pouring outside, it was good they limited us to what we could see.
Tickets are $5 – Duration is 1 hour
General Nelson Inn, Bardstown 411 W Stephen Foster Ave, Bardstown, KY 40004
After touring Four Roses, we drove to Bardstown, which is called, “The Bourbon Capital of the World.” We checked into the General Nelson Inn, which is a nice motel that came recommended. The room was clean, cheap, and the beds were soft. What more could you want on a road trip?
2:30 Maker’s Mark, Loretto 3350 Burks Spring Rd.
We arrived at the Makers’ Mark distillery during a brief stoppage of rain. And I mean brief because soon after arriving the skies opened, and those that were outside got soaked. This was my second trip to the Maker’s distillery, and this tour was a lot different from my first. Because of the rain, they rushed us through many of the buildings and some building we could not visit. Many websites I came across concerning the Bourbon Trail lists the Maker’s Tour as one of the best. I loved my first tour, and it was too bad they cut our tour short. But that’s something that can happen with any tour. Most distillery tours tell you when you schedule the tour, it can change at any moment and sometimes certain buildings cannot be entered. The grounds at Maker’s is a beautiful location and if you are planning on visiting, give yourself time to walk around.
Tickets are $12 – Duration is 1 hour
While in the Maker’s Mark gift shop, buy a bottle of bourbon and hand dip your bottle in wax. It’s a fun way to put your own design on the bottle.
5:00 My Old Kentucky Dinner Train, Bardstown 602 N 3rd St.
We had our best meal during our Bourbon Trail tour in Bardstown on the My Old Kentucky Dinner Train. We chose the bourbon train option and enjoyed our meal while listening to a bourbon expert explain the bourbons paired with our meals. I wrote about our Dinner Train meal and you can read more about it here.
11:30 Limestone Branch, Lebanon 1280 Veterans Memorial Hwy.
I wasn’t familiar with Limestone Branch before the trip, but it’s my most talked about bourbon since I’ve returned. Joshua and I were the only ones on the tour and we appreciated an in-depth history of bourbon form our tour guide. It was a master class in bourbon history. While our tour guide was talking, his phone continued to buzz and ring, which he checked. Over the next hour of our tour, he walked us through whiskey history and Limestone’s bourbon-making process. During the tasting, our guide shared that his grandpa died during the tour and apologized for his phone interruptions. My bottle of Minor Case Bourbon that I purchased from the gift shop is one of my new favorite bourbons and I toast the man’s grandpa every time I open the bottle.
(Check back soon because I have more to say about Limestone Branch.)
Tickets are $8 – Duration is 1 hour
1:00 My Old Kentucky State Park Bardstown 501 E Stephen Foster Ave.
We headed back into Bardstown for tours at Heaven Hill and Willett. It was a beautiful day, so we stopped at My Old Kentucky Home State Park, which was a home owned by the Rowan family and the place where Stephen Foster wrote the song, “My Old Kentucky Home.”
We wished we would have had more time since we love history and enjoyed reading about the Rowan family and were intrigued by the history of slavery at the mansion. The problem is, we enjoyed ourselves too much and had to race over to the Heaven Hill distillery for our tour.
2:00 Heaven Hill, Bardstown 1311 Gilkey Run Rd
We arrived at Heaven Hill’s Bourbon Heritage Center shortly before the tour began and looking back, we should have arrived earlier because our tour at Willett began right after the tour at Heaven Hill ended. There are a few changes that if I had to go back and do the whole thing all over, I would make. Spending more time at Heaven Hill would be one. The gift shop is huge at Heaven Hill, and I would have loved to see if we could have picked up a rare bottle or two.
The Heaven Hill tour was fascinating and I appreciated our guide Holly’s sense of humor while discussing the history of bourbon and Heaven Hill’s distilling process. Heaven Hill has a large operation running but keeps the tour to a minimum area of the distillery. Which was fine by us, because we were becoming bourbon experts.
Tickets are $10 – Duration is 1 hour
3:30 Willett, Bardstown 1869 Loretto Road
Willett is about 5 minutes away from the Bourbon Heritage Center and we made it in time before the tour began. Willett is also one of the smaller distilleries and we got an in-depth tour of the distillery by a knowledgeable guide. I’m looking forward to visiting Willett again soon because they have a lot of expansion being built on the property and there is a lot of excitement concerning Willett’s future.
Tickets are $15 – Duration is 1 hour
6:00 Galt House Hotel, Louisville
The Galt House Hotel is the only hotel we stayed for two nights in a row. The main reason is the location. The hotel is within walking distance to downtown and near restaurants and the Evan Williams Experience. After dinner, we settled in for a night of editing and writing in our comfy hotel room.
9:30 Jim Beam, Clermont 526 Happy Hollow Rd.
Jim Beam is the most famous bourbon brand in Kentucky. Almost every tour you go on, someone discusses a Beam family member. The tour was one of my favorite tours because you get a detailed history of the Jim Beam distillery, a detailed look at the distillery process and the new technology that has come along. The tasting also provides the most variety of all the tastings. (You still only get to choose 3 though).
The Jim Beam distillery also provides a look into the cooper making process. One of our regrets on the trip is that we did not watch a bourbon barrel’s creation. The Jim Beam distillery provides a short lesson on how the barrels become bourbon barrels. It’s quite an interesting process including charring and banding together.
Before we left, I had to pick up a bottle of Knob Creek and get my name inscribed on the bottle. A must-have souvenir after visiting Jim Beam.
Tickets are $14 – Duration is 1.5 hours
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Some people have a name plate on their desk. My new desk ornament will be a Knob Creek bottle with my name on it. Thank you @jimbeamofficial . . . #knobcreek #jimbeam #jimbeamdistillery #2BrosTrippin @knobcreek #spirits #bourbontrail #bourbon #roadtrip #TravelBlogger #travels #traveler #liquor
12:00 Bulleit, Louisville 3860 Fitzgerald Rd.
As we drove up to the Bulleit distillery, the clouds opened on us once again and poured. Which was an ongoing occurrence during the week. We rushed into the building, drenched from head to toe, but ready for another great tour. And we got one. Our tour guide was a former cruise employee, and she showcased her story-telling skills throughout our tour. One aspect of this tour different from others was you got to learn how a barrel gets fixed. They discuss it at other distilleries, but you get to go into the workshop and see how they are taken apart and put back together.
Tickets are $12 – Duration is 1 hour
2:00 Angel’s Envy Louisville 500 E. Main St.
Angel’s Envy Distillery is the cleanest of all the distilleries. You get the sense you’re walking into a fake distillery put on for a show because it is so pristine. Because of the size of the distillery, you get a look across and see all the work that goes into the distilling process right in front of you. There is no need to move from one building to another. For those that have a hard time getting around and want to visit a distillery, this would be a perfect one to visit.
Tickets are $20 – Duration is 1 hour
4:30 Evan Williams Experience, Louisville
Our last stop on the Bourbon Trail was at the Evan Williams Experience. As we met people along the trail, we noticed that people either loved the tour or hated it. I think because it was our last tour, we were indifferent. I enjoyed that it was a different tour. The Experience starts out with a video about who Evan Williams was and how his importance leads to how we get our bourbon today. They actually make only a small amount of bourbon at the Evan Williams Experience, so the distillery tour is short and focusses on Evan Williams and how Louisville has changed over the years.
Tickets are $14 – Duration is 1 hour
After 5 days of driving around Kentucky and touring distilleries, we were exhausted and headed back to the hotel for rest and room service. And we may have opened a bottle of bourbon or two.
We drove the long ride back to NYC with dreams of opening up a distillery in New York City.