When you think of bourbon tourism, you likely think of distilleries and bourbon bars. While there are plenty of people who just breeze through Kentucky, making a stop here or there, more often these days people are actually planning trips just to visit Bourbon Country. “That’s the biggest change we’ve seen,” says Mint Julep Tours co-founder Lisa Higgins. “People are now coming for 3 or 4 days, calling and planning ahead. There’s just so much now for them to do.”
Lisa and her husband Sean founded Mint Julep Tours in 2008, starting off with just one bus and doing business around the ping pong table in their basement. Now, they have 10 vehicles, 22 drivers and guides, and 10 full-time staff members. Their tour business has evolved into a “Destination Management Company.” In other words, these are the folks you call to plan your event or your entire Bourbon Country vacation.
“Louisville had limited resources for touring,” explains co-founder Sean Higgins. “We took the initiative to develop safe, knowledgeable tours for Louisville, Kentucky, the Bourbon Trail, and Kentucky Thoroughbred horse tours.” Mint Julep Tours partnered with government and private organizations to get off the ground, and now they partner with the distilleries and other businesses to provide the best possible tourism experience for guests. “Once the bourbon started flowing, our business really took off,” says Higgins.
Tour Guides at Mint Julep Tours have their own “bourbon celebrity” standings. Bob White has been with Mint Julep Tours for 2.5 years. Before that he was a newspaper reporter covering “crime, hard news, government, everything un-fun.” Now he works as a tour guide for a company whose slogan is “The Purpose of Fun is to Have Some!” His favorite thing about working here is “getting to showcase Kentucky. I love Kentucky and I love cheering it on. It’s my home state.”
While you can certainly designate a driver and go it alone, the experience you will have on a tour bus full of bourbon lovers is unparalleled. After all, according to Mint Julep Tours guide Bob White, “We know all the side doors to all these distilleries. We know where to go off trail.”
One night during Derby week, I was working in the liquor store while Four Roses Master Distiller Jim Rutledge was doing a tasting. I kept trying to make my way over to talk to him, but we were super busy (did I mention it was Derby week?) and I didn't...