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5 Of The Best Distilleries To Visit This Year

The US’s burgeoning whiskey industry has come on in leaps and bounds during recent decades. With distilleries stepping up their visitor experiences, there has never been a better time to take a trip around the must-visit whiskey distilleries in the United States. In fact, in 2022, visitors to distilleries in Kentucky exceeded 2 million, whilst Tennessee welcomed over 6 million whiskey tourists. 

In the interest of helping you plan your whiskey expedition, we have made a list of 5 must-visit distilleries in the USA, both inside and outside of Kentucky and Bourbon County. 

Whether you are a whiskey drinker, a history lover, or both, there is something on this list for everyone. 

1. Buffalo Trace Distillery, Frankfort, Kentucky

The Buffalo Trace Distillery is a must-visit distillery in Kentucky.
Buffalo Trace Distillery is a bustling hub of bourbon activity. Credit: Buffalo Trace.

Buffalo Trace is one of the most famous whiskey distilleries in the USA, producing beloved brands such as Van Winkle, George T. Stagg, W.L. Weller, Sazerac Rye, and the eponymous Buffalo Trace Bourbon

The distillery is located on a vast estate next to the Kentucky River and is home to numerous warehouses, a still room, a mash house, a bottling facility, and (of course) Buffalo Trace’s famous water tower. 

There are five different tours on offer: 

  • The Trace Tour – an introduction to the history and science behind bourbon production at the distillery. This tour will take you inside Buffalo Trace’s famous warehouses. 
  • The Old Taylor Tour – This tour takes guests through the history of Buffalo Trace through the eyes of Colonel E.H. Taylor. Taylor christened the site of the O.F.C Distillery and went on to revolutionize the bourbon industry during his premiership. 
  • The Hard Hat Tour – As the name suggests, hard hats will be provided for this tour. You will be taken deep into the heart of whiskey production. From mashing to fermentation and distillation, you will explore the entire process from start to finish. 
  • The Arboretum and Botanical Gardens Tour – The arboretum and botanical gardens at Buffalo Trace are named after Albert B. Blanton, who is considered one of the pioneers of single-cask bourbon. The sprawling and beautiful gardens contain original structures from the distillery that have since been repurposed for this serene experience. 
  • The National Historic Landmark Tour – Buffalo Trace Distillery was designated a National Historic Landmark in 2013. Having operated through two world wars, prohibition, and the Great Depression, Buffalo Trace is a rare example of a facility that has continuously operated for almost 200 years. This tour explores the historic buildings and architecture that make up the old distillery.
Buffalo Trace Distillery produces some of the best-known bourbon brands in the world.

There are also numerous events hosted at Buffalo Trace throughout the year. In 2024, the distillery is celebrating the 143rd birthday of Albert Blanton with a “birthday bash” including a three-course meal and a complimentary bottle of Blanton’s Single Barrel.

If you are traveling with children, Easter may be a great time to visit and participate in “Easter at the Trace”. Your kids will be entered into an Easter egg hunt and the Easter Bunny has even promised to make an appearance. 

Buffalo Trace Distillery offers a range of experiences for the whole family and gives whiskey lovers a chance to gaze upon the stills that produce some of the best bourbons in the world. 

Interested in learning more about the distillery? Check out 5 Things You Didn’t Know About Buffalo Trace

2. Stranahan’s Colorado Whiskey Distillery, Denver, Colorado 

Stranahan’s Colorado Whiskey is one of the pioneers of the American Single Malt category.

Stranahan’s Colorado Whiskey Distillery is located in Denver, Colorado. It was founded by Jess Graber and George Stranahan in 2004. The two had struck up a friendship after Graber, then a volunteer firefighter, had responded to a fire at Stranahan’s barn. Before long, their shared passion for whiskey had brought them into business together, making 100% malted barley, small batch whiskey near the mountains of Colorado. 

Despite being a much smaller distillery than the aforementioned Buffalo Trace, Stranahan’s has a wide range of experiences available at the distillery. All of which are set against the beautiful Rocky Mountains. 

Such experiences include, but are not limited to: 

  • A Cask Finish Guided Whiskey Tasting – sample some of Stranahan’s cask-finished whiskey and learn about how finishing affects the characteristics of American single malt whiskey. 
  • A Cocktail Class – Stranahan’s mixologist will guide you through making some classic whiskey cocktails, as well as seasonal specials of Stranahan’s own making. 
  • The Top Shelf Tour – A full and guided tour of the distillery and its history with a sampling of up to five Stranahan’s expressions. 
Stranahan’s Whiskey Lodge is now welcoming customers. Credit: Stranahan’s Colorado Whiskey & PR News Wire

In addition to the experiences offered at the distillery, Stranahan’s has recently announced the opening of its brand-new whiskey lodge, located in Aspen, Colorado. The lodge is located in the heart of the picturesque town, which has become a seasonal skiing destination attracting visitors from around the globe. 

As such, this distillery/lodge visit would be great to combine with a skiing holiday or a trip to the Rockies. 

Stranahan’s is one of the pioneers of the American single malt category, and the distillery offers experiences not to be missed. 

3. Bardstown Bourbon Company, Bardstown, Kentucky 

Bardstown Bourbon Company is a modern, state-of-the-art facility. Credit: Bardstown Bourbon Company.

Bardstown Bourbon Company, founded in 2014, is one of the most technologically advanced distilleries in the US. Founders Peter Loftin, David Mandell, Daniel Linde, and Garnett Black envisioned a state-of-the-art whiskey distillery and tourist destination for those on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail. 

The 37,000-square-foot distillery is surrounded by active farmland for growing the grains used to make the bourbon. The capacity of the distillery exceeds 100,000 barrels annually. Following several collaborations with big-name brands such as Plantation Rum and The Prisoner Wine Co., Bardstown Bourbon Company released its first self-produced expressions – the Origins Series – in 2023. 

Besides offering high-quality spirits made using cutting-edge technology, the must-visit Bardstown Bourbon Company also offers several exciting experiences for the bourbon tourist. 

Experiences include, but are not limited to: 

  • From Distillate To Barrel – A guided tour of Bardstown Bourbon Company’s whiskey-making process. 
  • A Taste of Whiskey History – A chance to sample three historic whiskies in Bardstown Bourbon Company’s whiskey library, with expressions dating back to 1892. 
  • Tour With The Master – A personal guided tour with the distillery’s Master Distiller, Steve Nally. 
  • The Art of Blending – A chance to create your own whiskey blend following a lesson in exploring the characteristics of bourbon from aroma to finish. 
The private tasting lounge at Bardstown Bourbon Company. Credit: Bardstown Bourbon Company.

The distillery is also home to the Bardstown Bourbon Company Kitchen & Bar, which offers a variety of meals inspired by both Kentucky classics and global cuisine. Round off your day of distillery exploration with a hearty dinner. Reservations for all experiences are encouraged

In addition to the truly mind-blowing distillery, Bardstown Bourbon Company also runs the Louisville Tasting Room, a tasting facility located on the historic Whiskey Row in Louisville. 

At this venue, whiskey lovers can enjoy interactive education experiences using augmented reality, once-in-a-lifetime whiskey tastings, and sipping craft cocktails. 

Bardstown, Kentucky, is considered the historic home of bourbon and offers some fantastic experiences learning about and tasting the US’s national drink. As such, the Bardstown Bourbon Company Distillery is not to be missed. 

The Bardstown Bourbon Company Origin Series Bottled-In-Bond was named Best American Bourbon Bottled-in-Bond at the TAG Global Spirits Awards 2023

4. Jack Daniel’s Distillery, Lynchburg, Tennessee 

Everybody knows the name Jack Daniel’s, and for good reason.

Jack Daniel’s is one of the most famous whiskey brands in the world. The distillery’s Tennessee Sour Mash Whiskey is revered all over the world, and the tourist facilities at the Jack Daniel’s Distillery in Lynchburg are no different. This is a must-visit distillery in the US. 

The distillery is located on a sprawling estate that includes a still house, a barrel house, Jack Daniel’s office, the historic Motlow House, and a visitors’ center. 

Also located just off-site is the Jack Daniel’s Lynchburg Hardware & General Store. The store offers a wide range of Jack Daniel’s memorabilia not available at the distillery, nor anywhere else. As such, this is a must-visit store for any Jack Daniel’s fan. 

The distillery itself offers several different tours and experiences, including: 

  • The Flight of Jack Daniel’s Tour – A tour of Jack Daniel’s Distillery and an inside look into the whiskey-making process, including a five-dram flight of Jack Daniel’s whiskey. 
  • The Dry County Tour – A tour for history lovers, guiding you through the story of Jack Daniel’s. 
  • The Angel’s Share – Following a distillery tour, you will be guided to the barrelhouse to draw whiskey straight from the barrel to sample. 
  • The Taste of Lynchburg – A two-course dinner experience and whiskey tasting at Miss Mary Bobo’s restaurant, on-site at the distillery. 
Miss Mary Bobo’s Restaurant at the Jack Daniel’s Distillery.

As mentioned above, Jack Daniel’s Distillery is also home to Miss Mary Bobo’s Restaurant. The restaurant is a southern institution, serving up classic southern cuisine since Mary Bobo and her husband acquired the premises in 1908. Jack Daniel himself was a frequent visitor to Miss Mary Bobo’s. So, after a long day touring the distillery, enjoy some Tennessee hospitality at this must-visit restaurant to round off your visit. 

We often get asked if Jack Daniel’s is bourbon or whiskey. Find out the answer here

5. Castle & Key Distillery, Frankfort, Kentucky 

This must-visit distillery, Castle & Key, boasts a castle of European style architecture.
The castle at Castle & Key Distillery has been standing since 1887.

As well as being a classic destination for bourbon and whiskey tourists, Castle & Key Distillery must rank amongst the most beautiful distilleries in the US. Boasting a castle, a springhouse, and a sunken garden, Castle & Key is the culmination of Colonel Edmund Haynes Taylor’s love for whiskey and architecture. Once built, the then-Old Taylor Distillery became the epitome of bourbon hospitality. 

Castle & Key was forced to close upon the ratification of the Volstead Act (or Prohibition Act) in 1920, and the distillery fell into ruin over the proceeding decades However, in 2018, the distillery was reborn through the passion and dedication of a team headed by Will Arvin, who wished to save the historic building. 

The first small batch of Kentucky straight bourbon from Castle & Key was released in 2022. 

There is so much to explore at Castle & Key, that it would be difficult to fit it all into one article. So, here are a few selected visitor experiences at the distillery: 

  • The Castle – The eponymous castle at the distillery has been standing since 1887 and has a distilling history dating back to 1819. Today, the castle is home to the large mash tuns used in whiskey production. 
  • The Springhouse – A beautiful structure constructed over a spring, the springhouse has been keeping guard over Castle & Key’s water source since 1887. The springhouse is also used for on-site events and private events such as weddings. 
  • The Botanical Trail & Sunken Gardens – These stunning gardens are inviting in all weather. E.H. Taylor, fascinated by the gardens of Europe, mimicked their style in the heart of Kentucky.  
  • The Walk The Ruins Tour – A private group tour of the distillery with a history dating back to 1887, a walk through the production techniques, a tasting, and a charcuterie board. 
  • The Distillery Experience – A tour of the distillery and the updated whiskey production process followed by a walk through the Sunken Garden and a whiskey tasting. 
Colonel E.H. Taylor built Castle & Key Distillery. Credit: Buffalo Trace.

The distillery is also home to the Taylorton Station, a train depot built by E.H. Taylor for guests arriving by rail. Today, the building houses the Castle & Key bar, offering curated cocktails, craft beers, and charcuterie boards. 

With so much history surrounding Colonel E.H. Taylor, the “Father of Modern Bourbon”, Castle & Key is a must-visit destination for bourbon and whiskey lovers and historians. 

Let’s Get Packing!

So, there you have it! A (by no means exhaustive) list of some of the must-visit distilleries in the United States. From the mountains of Colorado to the rolling hills of Kentucky, whiskey lovers will find no shortage of exciting experiences on the whiskey trail. 

I am packing my bags already. How about you?

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