Kentucky Bourbon Trail anyone?

Planning a visit there this fall and wanted to know if anyone here had any suggestions: definitely visit this place, don’t bother with that one, eat or stay at these places…

The one place that looks pretty awesome so far is Buffalo Trace - they give a ghost tour and also a tour of their experimental warehouse. Plus maybe I can purchase a taste of Pappy Van Winkle there?

So folks - suggest away!

If you’re interested in the process behind it all (your reference to Buffalo Trace’s warehouse makes me think you are), you might want to check out Four Roses in Lawrenceburg. I toured it last year, and they are the only distillery to only use single-story rack warehouses. I can’t remember all the particulars, but apparently the traditional multi-story warehouses result in either a lot of variation based on the where the barrel is in the building, or the need to rotate the barrels often to keep the product consistent. Single-story produces a consistent bourbon that isn’t disturbed by being moved around.

It’s only twenty or twenty-five minutes from Buffalo Trace, as well.

I know that Woodford’s Reserve, Wild Turkey, Four Roses and Old Grand Dad (love that name) are all made in the Frankfort area.

My apologies to anyone from there, or who likes the place, but the best word I have for Frankfort is dismal. There’s not much going on there, although for a night or two it might be entertaining (in an odd way). The biggest hotel is the Capital Plaza, which is an okay place, but past its prime. Bar wise there’s Brick Alley, Dragon Pub, or if you’re adventurous, Cooter Brown’s! Some of these places had amazingly cheap whiskey, especially during happy hour.

I recommend staying in Lexington (unless you’re heading in the Louisville direction), which is a nice city with good restaurants, nice bars, and it’s less than 30 miles away.

L4L - Who spent last summer working in Frankfort, but living in Lexington.

C’mon, now, it’s not really fair to compare a city of 25,000, many of whom are buttoned-down government workers, to one of 300,000 in terms of night life and the bar scene. Frankfort’s not dismal, it’s just a small, seat of government.

See, that’s why I apologized in advance. Okay, how about we compromise with “sleepy” :slight_smile:

I am also planning a trip to the bourbon trail one day soon, so I’ll be checking in to see the replies. Dr. Righteous, I have tasted the 23-year old Pappy. Sublime.


I second your suggestion to stay in Lexington, since it is close and it does have many more options for lodging, dining, and entertainment.

Dr. Righteous, if you’re visiting during basketball season and care a lick about sports, try to take in a University of Kentucky Wildcats home basketball game. It is a sublime experience, at one of the cathedrals of college sports, Rupp Arena. Plus, you can buy bourbon at the convention center attached to the arena. Plus, you’ll get to see what many are calling the greatest recruiting class in basketball history.

I don’t remember relative distances, but we stayed at the Inn at Shaker Village the same day we saw Woodford’s Reserve, so it can’t be too far. It was more expensive than a cheap hotel, but cheaper than a bed and breakfast, and far more interesting. Beautiful drive.

Not bourbon related. But I visited Mammoth Cave National Park when I was in that area last year and I enjoyed it.

You could stay in Lexington, Bardstown, or even Louisville and not be too far away from the action.

There are seven stops on the actual Bourbon Trail. Buffalo Trace isn’t one of them. There are also a few smaller distilleries (Willett and 1792 in particular) near Bardstown. You could easily make three days out of it.

The best one by far is Woodford Reserve (aka Labrot and Graham). If you had one day to spend in Kentucky, that’s where I’d tell you to go. They have really cool events all the time (cooking/bourbon/cocktail classes, etc.), so what I would do is find something going on there and plan the rest of the trip around that. The actual tours have gotten pretty crowded, though it’s still very cool.

The only one on the official trail I’d call skippable is Town Branch. It’s cool that it’s in downtown Lexington, but it’s the most expensive tour of the bunch ($8, I think)and it’s kind of half-assed. Their beer (Kentucky Bourbon Barrel Ale, among others) is a way bigger deal than their bourbon, but you don’t even get to sample it (thanks to Kentucky’s weird alcohol laws). And their bourbon kind of blows, IMO. If you want to do the whole Bourbon Trail and get the T-shirt and all you can do it, but I wouldn’t go out of my way.

Buffalo Trace is awesome and definitely worth a visit. You don’t get to try the Pappy there, though–just BT and Eagle Rare, IIRC. (When I was there they had a pack of Pappy labels sitting on a desk next to the bottling line. I thought about taking one but they could tell I was thinking about it and eyeballed me like crazy.) There are plenty of places in Lexington and Louisville that serve Pappy, though.

A lot of the distilleries have more “corporate polish” than I’d like (for lack of a better word). Makers, for instance, used to have a little gift shack with a crock-pot full of wax that you could dip a bottle in, but they moved to a huge shop that wouldn’t be out of place in a touristy mall. It’s still a gorgeous place, though. In fact, the biggest draw of the distilleries to me is that they’re mostly in beautiful places.

October would be a great time to do this, especially if you made plans to slip in a day at Keeneland. You could easily spend three days doing the distilleries. Keep in mind that they don’t all do tours on Sundays, and even if they do they might not be able to give samples.

I’ll second the suggestion of visiting Mammoth Cave, and will also toss in the Kentucky Horse Park as another worthy non-bourbon sight if you decide to stay in the Lexington area.

My wife and I visited Bardstown during the Kentucky Bourbon Festival (planned it that way) four or five years ago; of the member distilleries, the only three we actually visited were Maker’s Mark, Jim Beam and Heaven Hill. Most of the others were busy at the festival and couldn’t spare people to provide tours.

Maker’s Mark was a pretty good tour; as noted above, the gift shop is huge. It’s where the tasting takes place, and they gave us samples of white dog.

I was really impressed with Heaven Hill; some of their brands are pretty low-grade bourbon, sure, but the tour was really impressive and informative (for a huge company, the employees seemed genuinely happy to have us there), and the end-of-tour tasting was pretty generous (in terms of pours and range of bourbon). It turned me on to Evan Williams Single Barrel, the latter of which I think is a fantastic value.

Jim Beam was undergoing a pretty extensive renovation of its tour facilities at the time and we weren’t able to see much of the place; my guess is that they’ve got a pretty impressive tour as well now that it’s complete. I did manage to shake Fred Noe’s hand for the second time in my life, though. The rickhouses for both Heaven Hill and Jim Beam are just massive and numerous as well.

All three tours had lots of resources invested in them, and, as DoctorJ notes, are a little too spiffy for my tastes. I really wanted to tour some of the smaller distilleries, but I can understand why they didn’t have people available to provide them.

Will also put another recommendation for Mammoth Cave National Park – very, very impressive and well worth a stop.

The only one I’ve been to is Woodford Reserve. Stayed in Lexington. Not knowing much of anything about bourbon I learned more that day than I did in a term of college. Highly recommended!

The Keeneland races are a fun way to spend an afternoon if you go there at that time.