My love for whiskey/bourbon didn’t start developing until three or four years ago when I started visiting Louisville more often. It took some time for me to graduate from whiskey with a mixer to appreciating it neat or with one ice cube. It’s since become one of my staple drink orders, and like wine or craft beer, I’ve really enjoyed figuring out which styles I like and pushing my palate.
This past weekend, I got to experience bourbon heaven when my friend and I hosted a joint birthday trip to the bourbon trail. Overall it was an awesome experience but I’ll share some tips at the end based on our experience.
The bourbon trail is pretty spread out so figuring out where to stay can be tough. We ended up finding a B&B somewhat in the middle (Danville) and rented out the entire place for our large group. The Farm was perfect and Jacob and his staff took care of everything for us. They cooked all our meals (including a bomb ass breakfast buffet), had vans to drive us everywhere, and coordinated the tours and tastings. The property is really relaxing too with beautiful country sunsets and stargazing.
Heading into this trip, I was picturing the distillery visits to be like wineries where you’d get to taste from 4 or 5 bottles, including a mix of flagship pours and some more rare or special ones. It was a bit of a let down that some places didn’t even offer tastings at all, just a cocktail bar. Most of them did offer tours but, like wineries, those get repetitive fast so we planned for just one or two a day. Here’s a run down of our itinerary:
- Four Roses: We were going to do a tour but they had some construction going on so we just did a tasting. We got to try three varieties and kept the glass as a souvenir.
- Wild Turkey: They had a beautiful patio view where we ate lunch with drinks from the cocktail bar. I learned that Matthew McConaughey is the creative director and took home a bottle of Longbranch.
- Buffalo Trace: Their property had the look and feel of a European town. We just did a tasting here that included four pours and a bourbon ball.
- Woodford Reserve: We arrived a little late for our tour but they helped us catch up to the group. They did the tasting inside the barrelhouse, which was unique, but it was only two pours and a bourbon ball. I bought a bottle of a newly released straight malt whiskey.
- Beer Engine Brewery: Quick pit stop here rounded out a great first day.
- Jim Beam: I am not a fan of Jim Beam at all but was keeping an open mind heading here. (Side note: I discovered they produce Basil Hayden, which I like a lot and the cognitive dissonance was almost too much for me). Unfortunately we found out upon arrival they don’t do tastings and their cocktail bar wasn’t open at 10:30 a.m. Our next stop was going to be Heaven Hill but our driver called ahead and found out their cocktail bar wouldn’t open until 2 p.m. Disappointing start to the day but we trekked onward.
- Willett: This wasn’t in our original plan but our driver called and they said they could fit us in right away for a tasting. By the time we showed up, the slots were somehow filled so the hits kept coming. The property was beautiful though so we ended up eating lunch here. And I was pleasantly surprised to find out they produce my current absolutely favorite Noah’s Mill. I got a bottle of that and a bottle of Willett’s standard bourbon since the bottle shape is so unique.
- Bardstown Bourbon Company: At this point, the only booze we had was the bottle of Jim Beam Honey we passed around their parking lot and the beers we packed for the van. We were itching to get some actual drinks and luckily we found this oasis. It ended up being one of our favorite stops of the weekend! The space is absolutely gorgeous and I believe has only been open two weeks. They collaborated with Louisville-based Coppers & Kings to produce two variations of the same bourbon whiskey. I ordered a glass of the Mistelle finish and later bought a bottle to bring back.
- Maker’s Mark: This was the tasting experience I had been waiting for! We did the full tour, which was blazing hot but I really appreciated that they weaved in more of their unique story instead of just focusing on the same tidbits you’d hear at any distillery. Learning about Margie Samuels’ role of creating the name, label, and signature dip was so cool. The tasting at the end had five pours, including a private selection that you can’t get anywhere else. They even had a custom Chihuly installation you walked under before exiting through the gift shop. I bought a bottle of one of the private selections as well as a book documenting the stories of women in whiskey. I’d be very interested in a similar book about the untold stories of slaves, like Nearest Green.
- Jesters Winery: We popped in here for a bit of palate change up and were able to catch a small bit of the Nigeria-Crotia World Cup match. The AC and cool wine was a welcome break!
- Limestone Branch: Our final stop was a craft distillery. Their tasting leaned on the smokier side, which I’m not as into. But I did like the cocktail from the bar and the patio outside was a chill spot.
Bourbon trail tips
Long post is getting long so I’ll keep this brief and you can comment if you have any other questions:
- Leave plenty of time to get between distilleries. Even the ones that are close can have a long travel time due to the winding country roads.
- It got close to 100 degrees Saturday, which made parts of the tour very miserable. Fall is probably a more manageable time of year to come down, plus the grounds might be even more beautiful.
- Smaller groups will be much easier and more flexible to fit into tastings and tours.
- Focus your purchases on bottles you can’t easily get back home. Here’s my haul: