Bourbon was officially declared “America’s Native Spirit” in 1964, but its popularity started much earlier—even before prohibition. Some people might still consider this their dad’s drink, but craft cocktails and gourmet cuisine are making sure people know that anyone can enjoy bourbon. Plus, drinking it makes us feel a little like Don Draper. If you want the ultimate bourbon experience, head to Kentucky for the famed Bourbon Trail. Winding through small towns and big cities, this road trip is a great way to experience the Bluegrass State while enjoying some delicious booze. There are nine stops on the trail, but you’ll need to plan ahead to get your Kentucky Bourbon Trail passport stamped since some of the distilleries have limited touring hours. Sound like your idea of a vacation? You can do the Bourbon Trail in just 5 days and still have plenty of time to explore.
Day 1: Louisville
Arrive at the Evan Williams Bourbon Experience by 2 pm for a tour. This is one of the more modern stops on the trail—it is an experience, after all—and the feel of a bourbon theme park. The tour lasts for about an hour, so take the rest of the time to enjoy Louisville. Some places to check out are the Louisville Waterfront, the Louisville Slugger Museum and the Muhammad Ali Center. By the time you’re ready for dinner, head to the historic Bourbons Bistro. This restaurant is home to over 130 bourbons. If that feels overwhelming, the bartenders can make you a custom bourbon flight. Finish off the night with a live bluegrass show at the Monkey Wrench and get some sleep before the next stop on your trail.
Day 2: Clermont
Make sure you leave enough time in the morning to make the 11 am Bulleit Frotier Whiskey Experience tour at Stitzel-Weller. After a tour of the grounds and a tasting, hit the road for the Jim Beam Distillery in Clermont. The Jim Beam tour is one of the longest on the trail at an hour and a half, so plan accordingly. You’ll see every step of the distilling process and even help out. You can buy the exact bottle you made that proudly displays your fingerprint in the wax seal at the end of the tour. The distillery restaurant, Fred’s Smokehouse, is the perfect way to follow up your tour. Don’t leave without trying the bourbon ice cream. If you’re feeling the need to stretch your legs, hit the trails at the Bernheim Arboretum and Research Forest down the road.
Day 3: Loretto & Bardstown
Loretto is home to the Maker’s Mark distillery—designated a National historic Landmark in 1980—the oldest operating bourbon distillery in the world. At the bottling floor, you can watch employees hand-dip the trademark red wax bottles. After Maker’s Mark, head off to Bardstown AKA the “Bourbon Capital of the World.” Bardstown is home to three of the distilleries on the bourbon trail and host of the annual Kentucky Bourbon Festival in September. The next stop will take you to the Willett distillery where you can tour between 10am and 4 pm. Willett is a craft distillery, so its production is on a smaller scale. After sampling the wares at Willett, make your way to Heaven Hill Bourbon Heritage Experience. We suggest the Whiskey Connoisseur Experience—after a quick tour about the history of Heaven Hill, you’ll head straight to the tasting room. If you head back to Bardstown for the night, visit the Kentucky Bourbon Marketplace and enjoy the historic downtown scene.
Day 4: Lexington
The tour at Woodford Reserve starts bright and early at 10am so make sure you leave enough tie to enjoy the drive past some of Kentucky’s famed Thoroughbred horse farms. After Woodford, your next stops are all in the same area. The James E. Pepper Distillery—which also has an entertainment campus and new restaurant serving up more bourbon ice cream. After lunch, the Barrel House Distilling Company—a small operation that produces moonshine, rum, and vodka in addition to bourbon—offers a tour and tasting. If you need a pick-me-up, Bourbon Barrel Aged Coffee is right next door. Leave enough time for the late afternoon tour at Town Branch Distillery down the street where you can find Kentucky Bourbon Barrel Ale or Stout beers as well as bourbon. Spend the night in the Lexington area and check out Short Street for bars and restaurants.
Day 5: Keeneland
Sadly, your whiskey trail draws to an end on day five. But you can’t leave the state without checking out at least one racetrack. Keeneland is one of the world’s most beautiful racetracks. You can watch the morning workouts fro free from 6 to 10 am. Wild Turkey is a quick 16 mile scenic drive from Keeneland, giving you plenty of time to catch an early tour. The last stamp on your passport is at the Four Roses Distillery. Built in 1910, the Spanish Mission-style architecture has a different look than others on the trail. To claim your free t-shirt, be sure to stop by the Louisville Visitors Center and show them your completed passport. Haven’t had enough? Grab an Urban Bourbon Trail map and start your next adventure.
While you need a car for the Bourbon Trail, we’re not suggesting anyone drink before getting behind the wheel. The distilleries are legally required to limit how much you sample to keep you safe. However, you can always designate a driver or use a ride sharing app to be extra safe.