Trip Report: The Kentucky Bourbon Trail

Most of you know I’m from Kentucky, but outside of Oaks/Derby (which I’ve also never been to) the Bourbon Trail may be the Commonwealth’s most famous tourist attraction. The trail consists of seven distilleries, all within thirty or so minutes of each other. While there are some notable exceptions, all the big ones are there: Woodford Reserve, Jim Beam, Maker’s Mark, Heaven Hill, Wild Turkey, Four Roses and Town Branch.

I’d previously mentioned British Airway’s insanely great redemption offers of 9000 Avios roundtrip from Reagan National (DCA) to Nashville (BNA). I was able to fly Julie, her sister, her sister’s boyfriend and myself roundtrip to Nashville for 36,000 Avios. In comparison, most award flights cost around 25,000 miles roundtrip.

We knew from the beginning that our goal was to make it through the entire trail. You can complete it in any order, but visiting all seven distilleries netted you a pretty nice Bourbon Trail t-shirt. In order to prove your meddle, you’re given a Bourbon Trail Passport, in which you’re required to get a stamp from every distillery. While we had three days to do the trip over Columbus Day weekend, the goal was to compress the seven distilleries into Saturday and Sunday, so that we could spend Sunday evening and Monday in Nashville.

Because of the shortened weekend schedules of some of the distilleries, we knew it’d be impossible to do a tour at every location. The plan was to tour Four Roses and Wild Turkey on Saturday morning and then Woodford Reserve in the afternoon. We would then drive to Town Branch to see if we could do a tasting and get the stamp (but not the tour). The first tour on Sunday was of Jim Beam, followed by a quick stop at the gift shop at Heaven Hill (and, of course, a passport stamp) and then onto Maker’s Mark for the last tour.

If you’re trying to do the trail in two days, I can tell you that this schedule is completely doable and it doesn’t feel like you’re rushing from place to place, but you also must resign to the fact that you can’t see and do everything. The goal of this trip was to visit all seven distilleries, but also have some time to spend in Louisville and Nashville (where we spent Saturday and Sunday nights, respectively). This schedule allowed for that, but didn’t allow us to do the tours at Town Branch and Heaven Hill.

Perhaps most amazingly, each distillery felt uniquely different; the method for creating the bourbons were all similar, but the processes for doing so varied greatly. Four Roses had the feel of a small-scale operation. Woodford Reserve was on an amazingly beautiful campus where the bourbon was made, aged, bottled and shipped all from the same location. Jim Beam had the look and feel of one of the largest whiskey producers in the world. Maker’s Mark had an amazing history and let you participate in the process of dipping a bottle in its iconic red wax.

Final Thoughts

Even for the non-bourbon drinker, I’m happy to report that the Kentucky Bourbon Trail is well worth your time. The biggest worry before the trip was that as the trail wore on, the distilleries would start feeling repetitive. I’m happy to say that’s not the case as that each had its own character and backstory. Perhaps my favorite part of the trip was lunch on Saturday at Woodford Reserve: a classic southern meal on the porch in rocking chairs, filled with lots of bourbon-themed menu items.

If you’re looking for an out-of-the-way trip to one of the most beautiful areas of the country, I can’t recommend the Bourbon Trail enough.

Favorite Bourbon: Russel’s Reserve Small Batch Single Barrel
Favorite Distillery: Woodford Reserve
Favorite Tour: Jim Beam American Stillhouse

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