It had been 3 years since our last trip to Louisville, Kentucky. Only this time, the trip was planned to indulge in the Bourbon Trail and other bourbon distilleries scattered throughout the area. In 2013, the trip had centered on performing in a theatre competition, leaving little time for bourbon tasting while staying at The Brown Hotel.
Even in that short time, however, Louisville left a favorable impression. Maybe it was the Goldenrod martinis served in the impossibly tall martini glasses in the lounge at The Brown or maybe it was just the fun time spent with friends. In any event, it was that trip that paved the way for this one.
ROADTRIP: MAMMOTH CAVE
We arrived at the Grand Victorian Inn by the 12:30 check-in time. The Inn was nestled on a quiet lane near the railroad tracks, with misty fields spreading out in all directions. A light rain was falling as we unloaded the car and walked across the wrap-around porch to the front doors.
A large staircase rose up from the center of the foyer with the check-in office to the right. We actually met one of the owners, a friendly lady who upgraded us to a suite. Key in hand, we walked across the foyer to the first room on the left with front-facing windows. Large, yet warm and cozy in its red tones, we placed our bag on the antique sitting room sofa and then left for our 1:30 tour of Mammoth Cave.
DOMES AND DRIPSTONES TOUR
We spent the next hour and a half walking through the extensive Mammoth Cave history exhibit in the Visitor Center. Our Domes and Dripstones Tour began by boarding an old bus that took us to the cave entrance that was situated at the bottom of a sinkhole depression. Once you recognized what the circular depressions were, you started to spot them everywhere.
Descending into the cave was a careful, damp process filled with narrow metal steps that curved one way then the next. Several times even I had to duck my head to avoid hitting it on a low overhanging rock. Being 5’3’’ low overhangs aren’t usually a problem. At one point we passed a trickling waterfall before spilling out into a yawning cavern with wooden benches. There the guide paused to answer questions and talked in detail about what we had passed along the way.
On and on we went, pausing from time to time at other seating areas. At one point, the guide turned off her flashlight and the cave path lights to let our eyes adjust to the utter pitch darkness that engulfed us. You could see–nothing. It was horrifying to imagine being alone and lost in such a place. “A grand, gloomy, and peculiar place” it assuredly was, as an early cave guide described it. With still more than 400 miles unexplored, the cave system is the largest in the world. So, not too hard to figure out why they settled on the name “Mammoth.”
After a quiet night’s sleep back at the Inn, accented with the haunting sound of trains in the distance, we had breakfast with the other guests staying at the Inn. We were seated with a couple from California who were exploring the caves that day. Over Belgian waffles, eggs, bacon, and coffee, we found out that they were trying to visit all of the National Parks. And, they found out we were going to try and visit all of the bourbon distilleries.
ABRAHAM LINCOLN BIRTHPLACE
With the car packed and loaded, we left Cave City with the address of Maker’s Mark Distillery punched into the GPS. Since it was only a 1 ½ hour drive to get there, when we saw the signs for the birthplace of Abraham Lincoln, we both agreed we should make the detour.
His birthplace cabin isn’t actually there anymore, but there were several representative cabins of what it probably was like. On the spot of his birthplace, they had erected a white monument on a hill overlooking the area with the American Flag waving in the distance. Hard to imagine being born into such a humble life in a one-room cabin, and yet one day becoming President of the United States.
MAKER’S MARK DISTILLERY
The road to Maker’s Mark turned out to be longer than we thought. The route guidance told us that we had arrived at one point, so we slowed to a halt to look around—nothing but fields, barns, and a small house or two scattered about. Meanwhile, the low fuel warning had flickered on so we turned off the air conditioner and coasted down the road, sincerely hoping we didn’t run out of gas.
Finally, the sign for Maker’s Mark Distillery came into view, and we parked in the first space we came to, almost breaking into a run to the visitor center in order to make the next tour.
Looking like two people desperate for some whiskey (which we were by that point), we quickly got reservations for the next tour.
Since it was our very first bourbon tour, we weren’t sure what to expect. The experience turned out to be both informative and fun. The grounds are beautifully manicured and the buildings charming in design, while the smallness and detail of the production is fascinating.
At the end of the tour, they took us to the tasting room through a hallway haloed by a Chihuly glass ceiling. If you look hard enough, you can spy a few angels that Chihuly placed in there to represent the Angel’s Share of whiskey that evaporates out of the barrels.
We were given 4 types of whiskey to taste:
The first being Maker’s White (which is basically moonshine or “white dog”)
The second was regular Maker’s Mark (the kind you can buy anywhere)
The third was Maker’s 46 (which is made by inserting seasoned French Oak staves into the whiskey barrels to add additional rich flavor)
The final was Maker’s Cask Strength (which is whiskey derived from a single barrel and my favorite of the 4).
After the tasting, we browsed the extensive gift shop where you can dip your own bottle in red wax for a souvenir.
Touring Maker’s Mark Distillery
The distillery address is technically 3350 Burks Spring Road, Loretto, KY 40037. GPS will try to take you to the Business Office or the Bourbon Lounge instead, but the Historic Distillery is more directly accessed using Bill Samuels Jr Road.
HOURS OF OPERATION
Distillery tours are available Mon – Saturday: 9:30am – 3:30pm. Sundays: 11:30am – 3:30pm. All times are Eastern Time.
There are no tours on the following dates: Easter, Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, and New Year’s Day.
COST: Adults 21+ $12. Retired Military and Veterans $9 (must present ID upon arrival), Active Duty Military (must present ID upon arrival) and those Under 21 are free.
There are 4 Specialty Tours which you can reserve online for a more in-depth tour experience. For more information on those tours click here.Tour Duration Approx. 1 Hour: BOOK ONLINE
It was only 26 minutes to the Willett Distillery, and while we’ve never been major fans of their bourbon, their pot still bottle design is our favorite. Our gas tank now filled, we located the distillery on a hill and waited for the next tour inside the rustic, photo-filled waiting area. It was there we met Rowan, a vital member of the staff.
*Note: 2015 Willett Family Estate Bottled Rye Whiskey, Aged Two Years, is released. This is the first Whiskey to be released that came off the Willett copper pot still.
2016 March 17 – Willett Family Estate Bottled Bourbon Whiskey, Aged Four Years, is released. This is the first Bourbon to be released that came off the Willett copper pot still.
As a distillery, Willett is still in its early stages, but they have plans to continue to expand their whiskey and brand.
We tasted 4 whiskeys at the tiny upstairs tasting bar, but none lived up to the level of the Maker’s Mark varieties. But, the tour was fun, informative, and it was interesting to hear about their plans for the distillery in the future.
Touring Willet Distillery
ADDRESS: 1869 Loretto Road, Bardstown, KY 40004.
HOURS OF OPERATION
Distillery tours are available year round. Tours last between 45 minutes and an hour. There are no tours on the following dates: Easter, Memorial Day, Labor Day, July 4th, Thanksgiving and the day after, December 24, 25, 31 and January 1.
TOUR AND TASTING WITH A SOUVENIR WILLETT DISTILLERY GLASS: $15
This is a walking tour and includes the Distillery and Grounds with a tasting of our whiskies. Each guest on this tour will receive a signature glass to take home.
Monday thru Saturday – 10:00am – 4:00pm, on the hour
Sunday – 12:30; 1:30; 2:30; 3:30 (April – October): BOOK ONLINE
Full of bourbon and now hungry, we drove to the nearby historic village of Bardstown where we opted for late/lunch/early dinner at Talbott’s Tavern, a site steeped in history having been built in 1779.
“The Talbott Tavern is a uniquely well-crafted early American stone building and an extremely rare example of Flemish bond stonework.” Supposedly, “as a young boy Abraham Lincoln and his family stayed here, Gen. George Rogers Clark, Daniel Boone, and exiled French King Louis Phillipe and his entourage stayed here, even painting murals on the upstairs walls. There are noticeable bullet holes in the now faded paintings where it is legend Jesse James shot them” –Dry Stone Masonry Institute of America.
The food was good (and in keeping with the theme of the day) we ordered a bourbon flight made up of whiskeys we had never tasted, the favorite of the bunch being the Eagle Rare from Buffalo Trace.
We eventually made it to our final destination—the Hyatt Regency of downtown Louisville where we checked in, got an upgrade, and collapsed for a nap in our river-facing room.
Around 8:00pm, we stepped out for a stroll through the nearby 4th Street Live entertainment district where we heard some wailing from the aptly named karaoke bar, “Howl at the Moon”. We kept dinner simple by having a snack at the wrap-around hotel bar.
EVAN WILLIAMS EXPERIENCE
We stayed in town this day rather than traveling to the outlying distilleries. We weren’t sure how great the tour and tasting experience would be at the Evan Williams Experience downtown location, but we wanted to give it a shot, and we were so glad that we did.
Imagine if Disney put together a bourbon tour and you can understand the high attention to detail and state-of-the-art films and interactive elements. The tour was seamless in its design. We concluded our visit on the recreated street of “Whiskey Row” where we entered a replica “tavern” that had stood on that site. The tables were actual Prohibition era replicas where the whiskey was able to be hidden inside. An easy lift on the tabletop in front of you revealed the inner compartment that contained tumblers already pre-filled with bourbon. Although it’s one of the lower priced bourbons, Evan Williams is remarkably good in its flavor profile, smoothness, and complexity.
The Evan Williams Bourbon Experience
LOCATION: 528 West Main St, Louisville, KY 40202; Phone: (502) 584-2114
HOURS OF OPERATION
Mon – Thurs, 11 am – 5:30 pm
Fri – Sat, 10 am – 6 pm
Sun, 1 pm – 5:30 pm
*Last tour each day is one hour prior to close.
Adult Admission (21+) $12.00
Kids (11 – 20) $9.00
Kids (10 and under) FREE
Active Military Discount Price $9.00
Groups of 20 or more, please call ahead for availability: BOOK ONLINE
After lunch, we strolled over to the riverwalk to examine the statues commemorating the achievements of Lewis and Clark. We also found out about York, the African-American slave of Clark who also went on the expedition and yet receives little to no mention in the history books even though he accomplished the same feats. At least the statue erected in his honor and the surrounding plaques tell his story in some attempt to make amends.
JIM BEAM URBAN STILLHOUSE
Feeling chilly, we stepped into the sprawling Galt House Hotel for a warmer walk back towards the city and our next stop: The Jim Beam Urban Stillhouse. We bought our tasting tickets and waited at the bar that spans the back wall of the store. Two of the whiskeys were pre-determined by that day’s offerings, but the final choice was ours. We tried the smoky, woodsy Devil’s Cut and a Knob Creek variety which were much more to our liking than the syrupy flavored whiskeys.
DINNER AT THE BROWN
We had made dinner reservations at The English Grill at The Brown Hotel for 8:00 pm, but we were both so hungry that we moved the reservation up and went as soon as they opened. We had eaten there on our previous trip and the experience was so delicious, we couldn’t resist repeating it.
BUFFALO TRACE DISTILLERY
Unless you want to take a special tour, you can typically get into the regular tours without a reservation. The one special tour we had actually taken the time to reserve, unfortunately, turned out to be our least favorite: The Buffalo Trace Hard Hat Tour.
The grounds are beautiful, but the tour itself is so….industrial. Gone was the quaint vibe we had experienced and loved at Maker’s Mark and the other distilleries. In its place was a loudly clanking, smelly conglomerate of steel grates and massive vats. Those elements could have been forgiven had it not been for the rushed tasting. Our group of 15 or so had to hover around a small wooden bar. The Eagle Rare was still our favorite of the Buffalo Trace varieties, but with little time to sip and savor, we didn’t rank the bourbon as highly as before.
The Buffalo Trace Distillery
LOCATION: 113 Great Buffalo Trace, Franklin County, Frankfort, KY 40601
Phone Number: 800-654-8471
HOURS OF OPERATION
Regular Tours: Mon-Sat: 9 a.m. – 4 p.m.
Sun: 12 p.m. – 3 p.m.
The Trace Tour leaves every hour, on the hour or more frequently as needed.
For Specialty Tour Information and Reservations, Visit this link.
All of Buffalo Trace tours are complimentary including tours for large groups or tours that require reservations: REQUEST RESERVATIONS
WALLACE STATION DELI
Happy to leave the buffalos behind, we decided to try a popular lunch spot on the Bourbon Trail called Wallace Station Deli. To get there, we drove a narrow road that took us past large green expanses of fields and trees where horses milled about enjoying the grass.
As it turned out, we weren’t the only visitors who wanted to eat lunch at Wallace Station. There was already a line snaking its way inside the white house with the green sign. Surprisingly, a booth opened up along the far wall, and we pounced on it. The sandwiches were large and served on homemade bread–YUM. I guess with all of the bourbon flowing through everyone’s bloodstream, a hefty sandwich is just the thing to maintain the sobriety balance.
Now full and sleepy, we continued on our way through the heart of horse country, passing stone walls and gates protecting the barns and houses in the distance. And then, on the left, was a stone fence with Woodford Reserve clearly emblazoned across it. A tour had just left, giving us the opportunity to lounge about on the leather sofas in front of the glassed-in, see-through fireplace. It was so restful that I felt a twinge of regret when they announced the next tour was ready to go. K helped to pry me off of the butter-soft leather and into the group assembling on the front porch and then to the waiting bus.
Our tour guide was the absolute best. He clearly loved his job and loved bourbon. The more he talked about how they made the bourbon and the history of Woodford, the more energized he became. He talked about bourbon in the same way people talk about art or poetry. The tour was picturesque and charming in every aspect—from the old barrel railway used to move the freshly filled barrels to the rickhouse, to the on-site bottling facility.
The tour ended, as all do, with the bourbon tasting. This time, however, we weren’t forced to crowd around a bar and toss back the bourbon. The tasting room was located on the other side of the fireplace wall with a rectangular bar facing the fire and our guide in the middle offering tasting note tips. We were able to taste the regular Woodford Reserve as well as the Cask Strength (or dessert bourbon as they call it) combined with a chocolate bourbon truffle. Although Woodford Reserve has never been (and still isn’t) our favorite tasting bourbon, we both voted their tour the best of our experience.
The Woodford Reserve Distillery
LOCATION: 7855 McCracken Pike, Versailles, KY 40383
Phone Number: (859) 879.1812
HOURS OF OPERATION
Mon – Sat 10 AM – 3 PM EST
Sunday 1 PM – 3 PM EST
Closed Sundays (January – February Only)
The regular distillery tour is offered 7 days a week.
Monday – Saturday: 10 AM to 3 PM on the hour.
Sunday (March-December): 1 PM to 3 PM on the hour.
Closed on Easter, Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve, Christmas, New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day.
Learn to craft your own Woodford Reserve cocktail with our Mixology Tasting Presentation. Visit our Events Pageto add this option to your tour experience.
*For groups of 15 or more, please make a reservation by calling our representative at (859) 879.1812. Group booking requests must be made at least 2 weeks in advance.
Regular Distillery Tour: $15-20 per person (1 hour tour)
Corn to Cork Tour: $30 per person (2 hour tour) (Offered Tuesdays and Thursdays at 2:30 PM; Maximum of 6 guests per tour; Reservations Required.)
National Landmark Tour: $30 per person (2 hour tour) (Offered Wednesdays at 2:30 PM; Reservations Required.): BOOK ONLINE
Hours later and hungry again, we did some searching for interesting restaurants and ultimately decided on the most interesting of them all—a charming spot called Le Moo. While we didn’t reserve their Louis Vuitton booth, we enjoyed our seats in the middle of the restaurant where we could see the various chandeliers and soak in the vibrant yet soothing colors. The food and cocktails were decadent and creative, and (given the chance), we would definitely go back.
FOUR ROSES DISTILLERY
At this point in the week, the days were becoming a routine drill of morning coffee and distillery tour planning. One hour later, we were driving along a narrow lane that ended on top of a breezy hill at Four Roses. While we waited for the tour to begin, we browsed the large gift shop fittingly accented throughout with roses. Our tour group was small, consisting of us and one other couple, and our guide was outgoing and happy to be sharing the story of their bourbon and its history while we toured the Spanish style buildings.
We were allowed to taste 3 of their bourbons, and for once, loved all three: The Standard Yellow Label, The Small Batch, and The Cask Strength.
The Four Roses Distillery
LOCATION: 1224 Bonds Mill Road, Lawrenceburg, KY 40342
Phone: (502) 839-3436
HOURS OF OPERATION
Monday – Saturday 9:00 a.m. – 3:00 p.m., on the hour
Sunday 12:00 p.m. – 3:00 p.m., on the hour
The last tour of the day departs our Visitor Center at 3:00 p.m.`
Four Roses is closed Easter, July 4, Thanksgiving Day, December 19, and during the Christmas and New Year’s holidays, which are as follows: Dec. 24, 25, 31 and Jan. 1.
Please contact the Visitor Center directly at (502) 839-2655 to make reservations for your group, for more information, or for updates to tour routes. Please note, advance reservations are not required, but are recommended, especially for parties of 10 or more, and for those visiting on weekends, which are our busiest time.
$5.00 per visitor. Present your Distillery ticket within 60 days at our Warehouse & Bottling Facility to tour at no extra charge.
Bourbon Under Construction!
Four Roses Distillery is currently offering modified tours to accommodate our growth. During this time, tours will not have full access to the Distillery. Of course, our tours offer you the unique chance to visit during our historic expansion project and provide a rare glance into our progress. An overview of our processes, walking exploration of the property, expanded discussion about our history, the future of the Distillery and Bourbon tastings are still available. We look forward to your visit and the chance to share this exciting moment in our company’s history with you. A complimentary tasting glass is provided for each guest over the age of 21.
You may also enjoy “A Taste of History” as an alternative to the full tour. This experience provides you with a discussion on the unique aspects of Four Roses, our history and a guided tasting of our Bourbons, as well as a complimentary tasting glass: FOR MORE INFORMATION
WILD TURKEY DISTILLERY
The Wild Turkey Tour was as industrial as it gets–even more so than Buffalo Trace. Not that it made the tour less interesting, but we both preferred the smaller, quaint distilleries as opposed to the mass conglomerate operations. The tour lasted one hour and we saw not only where they made the bourbon but also where they bottled various vodka brands that they also own. The entire experience was similar to the Buffalo Trace tour, even down to the tasting at the end where you had to sidle up to the bar, ask for what you wanted to taste (limit 2), and take it back to a high top table to enjoy.
The Wild Turkey Distillery
LOCATION: 1417 Versailles Rd, Lawrenceburg, KY 40342
HOURS OF OPERATION
Wild Turkey Visitor Center open Monday through Saturday 9 AM- 5 PM
Tours leave on the hour from 9AM – 4PM
Open Sundays from March through December from 11AM – 4PM
Tours run on the hour from 11AM – 3PM
Closed all Major Holidays
Tours start at $10. Free tours for Military with valid ID. For groups of 15 or more please email WT-TourReservations@campari.com.
BULLEIT FRONTIER DISTILLERY
Our final stop of the day was Bulleit Frontier Whiskey which was located just on the outskirts of Louisville. The skies had darkened and were threatening rain as we pulled into the gate, passed the gatekeeper who had worked there for ages, well before Bulleit moved in. The building that housed the gift shop and waiting area was rustic and spacious, and we signed up for the final tour of the day.
At this point, the bourbon making process lingo was becoming so familiar we felt like we could have given the tour. Even though they don’t make the bourbon on site there, the tour was entertaining and well done, and we made it back to the tasting room before the rain began to drizzle. The tasting consisted of 3 whiskeys, all of which we own and love: Bulleit Rye, Bulleit Bourbon, and Bulleit Bourbon 10 Year. So, while there were no surprises, the tasting was highly enjoyable.
The Bulleit Bourbon Distillery
LOCATION: 3860 Fitzgerald Road, Louisville, KY 40216
Phone: (502) 475-3325
HOURS OF OPERATION
10am until 4pm Monday and Wednesday through Saturday.
1pm until 4pm Sundays.
Last tour is always at 3pm.
Wednesday and Thursday tours leave on each hour.
Friday, Saturday, and Sunday tours leave on the half-hour.
Scheduling a Group of 10 or More?
Please get in touch with the front office to schedule your tour and tasting session. You can reach our reception at (502) 475-3325.
Tours and whiskey tastings are $10 for adults over 21. Tours are free for those under 21: ADDITIONAL INFORMATION
“Originally opened on Derby Day in 1935 and reopened to the public in 2014, the Stitzel-Weller Distillery is one of the true cathedrals of the American whiskey industry. Located only five miles from downtown Louisville, the Bulleit Frontier Whiskey Experience is one of the most convenient and impressive stops along the Kentucky Bourbon Trail.”
Our 3 distilleries tour in 1 day complete, we were eager to get back to the hotel for a much-needed nap before dinner at Eddie Merlot’s which was within walking distance from the hotel. We had passed it several times, and after looking at the menu, we thought it was worth a try—and it was. Great table, great waiter, great food. As a matter of course, we ordered bourbon to go along with our dinner.
JIM BEAM DISTILLERY
You think we would be sick to death of bourbon and distilleries, but we both found ourselves wanting to scratch off one more on the way home. After breakfast in the room, we packed and drove in the direction of the Jim Beam American Stillhouse. Since we were running short on time, we skipped the tour and signed up for just the tasting. Since it was Friday, Fred Noe (the 3rd generation master distiller) was there with his son signing autographs.
The tasting room and experience was unlike any other that we had tried. The guide walked you through the various types of bourbons they offered, and then distributed cards that could be swiped at dispensing stations, allowing you two samples per card. We tasted four different varieties, and while they were good, they weren’t exactly memorable.
The Jim Beam Urban Stillhouse
LOCATION: 526 Happy Hollow Road – Clermont KY – 40110
HOURS OF OPERATION
Tours are Monday-Saturday every half hour from 9:30 a.m. until 3:30 p.m. EST, except 11:30 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. EST; Sunday 12:30 p.m.-3:00 p.m. EST.
Please check in at least 15 minutes prior to your tour to guarantee your place.
Reservations must be made at least two days prior to the desired date of visit. Refunds are issued up to 48 hours prior to your scheduled tour time.
COST: $14 adults (21+) | $7 ages 10-20 | Duration: 90 minutes: BOOK ONLINE
Our final stop of the trip was Mammy’s Kitchen in Bardstown for a late lunch before we tackled the long drive back home.