Unquestionably, Kentucky is the bourbon capital of the world.
There are countless bourbon distilleries scattered across the gentle grounds of the Bluegrass State, and each one honors tradition through years of dedication, care and craftsmanship. While we would love to hit them all in one trip, it would be impossible to visit every great bourbon distillery in one shot. While it’s difficult to go wrong anywhere on the Bourbon Trail, we suggest savoring the unique spirits while exploring the rich heritage of America’s native spirit at these six must-see Kentucky bourbon distilleries.
Four Roses Distillery, Lawrenceburg
Just off the Bluegrass Parkway along the scenic Salt River in Lawrenceburg sits the historic Four Roses Distillery. The award-winning brand stemmed from a romantic story between Four Roses founder, Paul Jones Jr., and his southern belle. His devout passion for the lovely lady transferred to making his beloved bourbon in the remarkable Spanish Mission-style distillery, which was built in 1910.
Today, the “man behind the mash,” Master Distiller Brent Elliott is able to merge 10 distinct bourbon recipes by mingling two mash bills with five proprietary yeast strains to create Four Roses Bourbon. One recipe has been hand-selected to become Four Roses Single Barrel; four are blended to handcraft Four Roses Small Batch; six have been combined to produce the perfectly-balanced, non-chill filtered Four Roses Small Batch Select, the newest permanent product-line release and “fourth rose.” Doubtlessly, visitors should stop and smell the roses—literally, as there is an abundance across the grounds—before hanging out on the barrel swing out back.
Rabbit Hole Distillery, Louisville
Back in 2012, whiskey fanatic Kaveh Zamanian took a plunge down the “rabbit hole” by leaving his 20-year-old psych practice to produce Kentucky straight bourbon. Nestled in the hip Nulu district of Louisville stands the contemporary Rabbit Hole Distillery. The distillery pays homage to the art and science of distillation, boasting a 24-inch-diameter Vendome column still that is a major contributor to the 20,000 barrels produced per year.
After touring, visitors will walk away with a deeper understanding of bourbon’s charm and complexity from grain to glass. The cocktail and tasting bar, Overlook, offers custom drinks designed by New York City’s famed Death & Co team, plus unparalleled views of Louisville.
Woodford Reserve Distillery, Versailles
As Kentucky’s oldest and smallest bourbon distillery, Woodford Reserve lies quietly on the same hallowed grounds where Elijah Pepper began crafting whiskey in 1812. The distillery is home to the iconic copper pot stills for triple distilling, 100-year-old cypress wood fermenters and the 500-foot-long, gravity-fed barrel run. It features one of the only heat-cycled barrel houses in the world to ensure every drop soaks up the charred and toasted white oak, giving the bourbon its brilliant honey color and delectable flavor.
Visitors must grab a ginger gem cookie at Glenn’s Creek Café, located inside the new welcome center, for the tasting at the end of the tour. It pairs nicely with the Woodford Reserve Double Oaked, an innovative take on twice-barreled bourbon.
Bardstown Bourbon Company, Bardstown
Stretched across 100 acres of active farmland, Bardstown Bourbon Company drives innovation while honoring the traditional art of bourbon making. They produce high-quality, authentic Kentucky bourbon and offer custom whiskey production through their Collaborative Distilling Program, a first-of-its-kind service providing craft distillers and brand owners (like revived Kentucky Owl Bourbon) the ability to create and continue their own Kentucky whiskey.
Visitors are invited on a full-service culinary experience at Bottle & Bond Kitchen and Bar where elevated comfort fare accentuates the flavors and character of bourbon. The on-site restaurant presents a first-class craft cocktail program, vast whiskey selection, vintage spirits library, curated wine collection and local draft beer list. Pay them a visit to kick off a noteworthy afternoon or evening in Bardstown.
Maker’s Mark Distillery, Loretto
Listed as a National Historic Landmark, Maker’s Mark Distillery continues some of the same practices they’ve had in place since 1953—from finger-punching the old letterpress to hand-rotating barrels. Every drop of bourbon is still made on-site, making Maker’s Mark the world’s oldest operating bourbon distillery on its original lot. The distillery showcases special art throughout the pristine grounds, such as Dale Chihuly’s staggering glass-cut ceiling in the barrel house.
The so-called “classiest cave in Kentucky,” or limestone cellar, is where Maker’s Mark 46 and Maker’s Mark Private Select are finished to give them a remarkably smooth, yet distinguishably bolder profile. Both premium bourbons make up the wood-finishing series, in which 10 wood staves are inserted into the barrel for nine extra weeks of maturation. Visitors can pick up a limited-edition expression or try their hand at dipping a one-of-a-kind bottle into Maker’s signature red wax for a unique experience.
Kentucky Peerless Distilling Company, Louisville
There’s a saying around Kentucky Peerless Distilling Company: “patience builds character.” After 102 years, the deep-rooted Peerless legacy was revived by great-grandson, Corky Taylor and his son, Carson. Together, they are preserving their family’s 130-year distilling tradition in the storied and restored facility in Downtown Louisville. The urban distillery is equipped with cutting-edge technology, making it one of the most automated distilleries in the Bluegrass State. Under one roof, certain Peerless grains are milled, cooked, fermented, double-distilled, barreled, and bottled as Kentucky Straight Bourbon.
Visitors are able to taste the new Peerless Bourbon, which follows a rare order: strictly sweet mash (instead of sour), non-chill filtration and a barrel proof of 107. It is available in select states and very worthy of the historic name.