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Spring Into Kentucky Bourbon Tourism

Spring is in the air, and while there’s no bad time to visit The Kentucky Bourbon Trail, spring is an especially good time. Most distilleries go all out on landscaping in the spring, making the landscape extraordinarily beautiful. Many distilleries start to have special events during the spring, so there’s always plenty to do. But there are a few bourbon tourism things you need to know in order to plan your trip to make it the best it can be.

bourbon tourism
Wild Turkey Visitor’s Center (image via Maggie Kimberl)

Where to stay

Louisville is, without a doubt, the best place to stay for a bourbon country vacation. Most distilleries are either on the I-65 South corridor or the I-64 West corridor from Louisville, so it’s a great central location. There’s also the Urban Bourbon Trail, which is a group of restaurants with excellent bourbon selections as well as many bourbon-soaked menu options. Even many of the hotels are bourbon-themed.

  • Louisville Marriott Downtown is a Four Diamond hotel located within walking distance to several urban distilleries. Its Blu Italian Grill is a stop on the UBT.
  • 21c Museum Hotel is unlike any other hotel you’ve ever experienced. Also within walking distance to many museums and urban distilleries, its Proof on Main has an award-winning staff, including a win from the 2016 Bourbon Classic Cocktail Competition.
  • The Brown Hotel is not only the home of the famous Hot Brown, The Brown Hotel Bar is a classic stop on the UBT.
  • The Seelbach Hilton was a favorite hangout for F. Scott Fitzgerald and George Remus. The Old Seelbach Bar, The Rathskeller Room, and the Oak Room are all historic bourbon and culinary destinations.
  • The Galt House Hotel is not only a prominent feature on Louisville’s skyline, it also boasts Jockey Silks and Down One Bourbon Bar.
  • Chateau Bourbon is the first ever bourbon-themed bed and breakfast, located in the quiet Louisville suburb of Prospect.
  • The Louisville Marriott East is a Four Diamond bourbon-themed hotel, home to Charr’d Bourbon Kitchen.

Distilleries and Attractions in Louisville

  • The Evan Williams Bourbon Experience was the first of the “urban distillery” experiences to open in Louisville. It’s often billed as the “Disneyland Bourbon Experience” because of the use of video narration.  The tour is a great way to learn about Louisville’s historic impact on the bourbon industry.
  • Kentucky Peerless Distilling Company is on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail Craft Tour, though the original Kentucky Peerless was once the second largest distillery in Kentucky.
  • Copper and Kings American Brandy Distillery makes brandy for bourbon lovers.
  • The Jim Beam Urban Stillhouse is the Willy Wonka bourbon experience, complete with a chain-driven system for delivering your specially-batched bottle of bourbon to the cash register for you to purchase.
  • The Bulleit Experience at Stitzel-Weller is in the Southwest part of the city and is the former home of Julian Van Winkle, Alex Farnsley, and Arthur P. Stitzel.
  • The Frazier History Museum has a number of bourbon-related exhibits, including the newly-opened Prohibition and Kentucky.
  • Cave Hill Cemetery is the final resting place of Julian P. Van Winkle, J.T.S. Brown, George Garvin Brown, William LaRue Weller, Paul Jones, T. Jeremiah Beam, and many other founders of the Kentucky bourbon industry.
  • Check the Urban Bourbon Trail website for information about restaurants and bars with massive bourbon lists and award-winning bartenders.
Bourbon Tourism
Bourbon tourism scenes (image via Maggie Kimberl)

The Kentucky Bourbon Trail, Craft Trail, And Other Distilleries

It’s important to call ahead no matter where you go in bourbon country. Weather and special events can shut down a distillery. And while the Google directions on my phone haven’t failed me lately, I don’t recommend relying on an auxiliary GPS device. Check the directions before you leave town, and fill your gas tank before you leave!

Don’t plan to visit the entire bourbon trail in one day or even in one weekend. A three-day weekend is possible if you can operate with military precision. The stops are fairly far apart from each other- Maker’s Mark is about two hours from Louisville, while Town Branch is about an hour and 20 minutes from Louisville in the opposite direction. Distillery tours take anywhere from one to three hours depending on the tour, so plan to take your time and enjoy it.

In addition to three of the stops in Louisville which are listed above (EWBE, JBUS, and BE/SW), there are many stops along the Kentucky Bourbon Trail, including some unofficial stops.  I like to break them up into the I-65 South and the I-64 East corridors (from Louisville):

I-65 South

I-64 East

Kentucky Bourbon Trail Craft Tour (In no particular geographical order since they are even more scattered than the larger places)

Special Events In The Spring

Buffalo Trace hosts a yearly Easter Egg Hunt on the grounds, as well as many other special events throughout the year. The Kentucky Derby Festival is a weeks-long party celebrating a two-minute horse race with lots of bourbon. And the end of Spring is celebrated with The Kentucky Bourbon Affair, a week-long festival with multiple daily events in multiple locations. See TWW’s coverage of last year’s Kentucky Bourbon Affair.

Whether you come for a special event or to tour the distilleries any time, there’s plenty of bourbon fun to be had in Kentucky.

Maggie Kimberl

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 make it in time. Dejected, I went back to the break room and started eating my lunch. The next thing I knew, Rutledge came through the door, saying, "You didn't get to do my tasting!" He sat down and explained how to taste bourbon, the ten recipes of Four Roses, and how it was different than other distilleries. I had liked bourbon before that point, but Jim Rutledge made me care about it. That's the beautiful thing about the bourbon industry- the people love what they do, and their enthusiasm is infectious. Now here we are. :)

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