For my husband’s 30th birthday I decided to surprise him with a trip to the Kentucky Bourbon trail. As an avid Bourbon drinker, he was extremely pleased. Louisville is an easy 6 hour drive from Atlanta. There were basically three recommended hotels in downtown Louisville: The Brown, Seelbach and 21c Museum Hotel. We stayed at the Seelbach which is a beautiful historic hotel. The original bar in the basement would attract famous bootleggers like Al Capone and author F.Scott Fitzgerald (the Seelbach was where Daisy Buchanan had her wedding in the Great Gatsby).
The bourbon trail definitely requires a car. You can go on Mint Julep tours, but we wanted more freedom so we decided to drive on our own. This was our itinerary:
Thursday: Buffalo Trace on the way into Louisville (we drove through Lexington)
Friday: Woodford, Four Roses and Wild Turkey
Saturday: Jim Beam, Makers Mark, Willet and Heaven Hill
Each distillery has its own personality, traditions and heritage. Our favorite distillery was Buffalo Trace (take the Hardhat Tour). Woodford Reserve is absolutely beautiful, Maker’s Mark is very pretty too. At Wild Turkey we happened to meet Jimmy Russell (who apparently hangs out often in the gift shop). He is one of the most famous master distillers who has been making bourbon at Wild Turkey for over 60 years.
There are strict regulations on how much alcohol the distilleries can serve (two, ½ ounce samples per person) so really just a tasting. You might get a little tipsy on the bourbon trail, but nothing like visiting a winery or beer distillery. Each tour takes about 1-1.5 hours through the distillery and shows you how the corn, rye, wheat mixture is transformed into bourbon and then aged in oak barrels. After a while it does become a little repetitive but if you love bourbon, you probably won’t get bored. The distilleries are geographically clustered but very spread out. Our itinerary had us leave Louisville at about 9:00am and get back in time to change and go to dinner. You can probably visit more distilleries in a day, but you wouldn’t be able to take the tours. The distillery gift shops don’t really sell a lot of bourbon – nothing that you can’t find at a nice liquor store in Atlanta. If you can’t get good Bourbon in your area, Liquor Barn in Louisville was recommended, they do have pretty great selection of bourbon.
After our trip I have a new found respect for Bourbon (and Mint Juleps). My husband had the time of his life and highly recommends the trip to his Bourbon-loving friends. I really enjoyed our time in Louisville and definitely want to go back for the Derby. You can find more information and trip ideas on the Bourbon Trail website.