*Disclaimer: Some of my bourbon visits were comped.*
Let me first preface this with the fact that I didn’t get to visit ALL of the distilleries near Louisville, Kentucky. I’d basically be dead if I did that. But on a recent trip to Louisville, I did rent a car and headed out of the big city in search of bourbon, and, boy, did the state not disappoint.
There are plenty of ways to visit distilleries in Kentucky. You can go the traditional Kentucky Bourbon Trail route, or you can kinda make your own day of it. Because it was January, everything was pretty uncrowded, so Greg and I just forged our own paths by picking the bourbons we knew we liked, the ones where I knew someone, or the oldest ones in the state. It did not steer us wrong!
Because of this blog, I knew a couple of people in the bourbon world, so I was EXTREMELY fortunate to get the hookup on two private tours, and they were both so fantastic that I feel like it’s downright unfair to judge the distilleries we visit as total plebeians, but such is life, no?
Also, it’s not unheard of to go on a bourbon tour at 10 a.m. We did this two days in a row and were already drinking bourbon by 11. I mean, when in Kentucky.
Bulleit may not be my favorite bourbon—although, it’s definitely what I order when I want something cheap but palatable at a dingy bar—but the The Bulleit Frontier Whiskey Experience at the Stitzel-Weller Distillery is a downright delight. First of all, there’s a Girl Scout cookie factory nearby, and the smell of sweets wafting is intoxicating. Also, the distillery has such a storied past. It originally opened on Derby Day in 1935 and was only reopened to the public five years ago. Throughout its history it has produced several different whiskey brands, including W.L. Weller, Old Fitzgerald, Pappy Van Winkle, Old Weller, Rebel Yell, and Weller's Cabin Still. So, needless to say, the distillery is a big deal. When the company that owns Bulleit bought it, they found a bunch of leftover barrels with bourbon that only had the dates on them—they knew nothing of what was inside until they tasted them. So, the company has a bunch of different orphan barrel series based off of their finds. Our tour guide Greg was spectacular and he walked us through a fun tasting afterward, where he even unearthed a rare bottle of 25-year-old Rhetoric to give us small sips of. It was truly a fun way to start the day!
Again, I’m not the biggest fan of Four Roses bourbon, but when you go on such a fun and educational tour, you can’t help but feel so much love and respect for these brands. This Lawrenceburg distillery was built in 1910 and is on the National Register of Historic Places. It was one of the few bourbon producers who still operated during Prohibition with a medical license—think medical marijuana today! We were SO honored to have historian Al Young give us a private tour. Seriously, this guy is a fucking legend. He’s in the Whiskey Hall of Fame, has written several books, and has been with Four Roses for more than 50 years. When he toured us around, everyone kept whispering about him as we went along. He’s basically a rock star in Kentucky. And, he’s also a total delight. He may not be a spring chicken anymore, but he’s so funny and sharp, that you just smile being around him. He also would let us dip our hands into pretty much every step of the process to taste the mash and clear moonshine straight from the bubbler. It was an experience I will never forget. But, regardless, even if you don’t have Al Young escorting you around and daring you to put your fingers in things, Four Roses is GORGEOUS. It’s such a lovely stop on your tour.
When I read about the tastings you get after the Buffalo Trace tour, I was pretty underwhelmed, but, like Stizel-Weller distillery, this place has produced so many incredible bourbons and is so historic that I just had to go. They also offer a bunch of different tours (all free!), but we just went on the regular one. The National Historic Landmark tour sounds incredible. This place, just like Four Roses, is also on the National Register of Historic Places and also operated during the Prohibition. It claims to be the oldest continuously operating bourbon distillery in the United States, and it’s rumored distilling began on that site in 1775. So, yeah, it’s old. It’s also massive. When you pull into the parking lot, you’re taken aback by its size. And, all these old brick buildings are just simply stunning. My favorite part was going into a barrel storage room, where you just inhale all the weird but delicious smells. I was instructed to wipe my finger on a barrel and taste the sap that had condensed on the side. Again, weird but delicious. Have I mentioned I like touching things?
So, basically I just love super old places, and the best distilleries in my mind are all the historic ones where you can just feel the stories. We took the really scenic drive to Versailles, Kentucky, to check out Woodford Reserve for another breathtaking distillery. Distilling began on this site in 1812 and it’s also a historic landmark. You can see the old tracks where they transported bourbon barrels all over the site, and the buildings are SUPER old. But the most impressive thing here are the three copper stills, which are simply stunning.
This distillery is the new kid on the block—quite literally. It’s housed in a super cool industrial building in the heart of NuLu off Market Street. There’s simply no way you can miss it—there’s a giant rabbit mural that definitely catches the eye. We had never heard of this bourbon before tasting it on our first night in Louisville, and it was cool that it was right by our AirBnb. Rabbit Hole is basically the complete opposite of all the other distillery tours you’ll go on—it’s all about the building and their philosophy.
Honorable Mention: Michter’s
Sadly, Michter’s new Fort Nelson gorgeous new Fort Nelson location wasn’t open yet during our visit, but it will be an incredible addition to the city of Louisville.