Kentucky Adventures: Experiencing The Bourbon Trail

Jul 10, 2014

Our series of reports highlighting great tourism spots continues this week as Alan Lytle makes a few stops along the Kentucky Bourbon Trail.

Map of the Kentucky Bourbon Trail
Map of the Kentucky Bourbon Trail
Credit photo provided

For many a traveler, just getting to one of Kentucky’s iconic bourbon distilleries can be half the fun.

“The experience really starts when you turn off U-S 60 onto Grassy Springs,” said Dee Ford the home-place manager for Woodford Reserve in Versailles. “You drive along and there’s the horse track on the side.  You see cows, it’s a winding road, and then you turn right and go up the hill and there’s the distillery.”

Woodford Reserve is just one of the many liquor producing operations along the ever-growing Kentucky Bourbon Trail, a tourism brainchild of the Kentucky Distillers Association

Bourbon Trail Director Adam Johnson says in less than ten years, the popularity of one of Kentucky’s signature industries has really taken off.

“People want to learn more about the products that they’re seeing on their shelves at their home state, and we’re getting people from all across the country.  In fact about 86% of the people coming to the Kentucky Bourbon Trail are from outside the state of Kentucky ,” Johnson told WUKY.

And the distilleries have poured millions of dollars into creating state of the art welcome centers, gift shops and tasting rooms to create the ultimate bourbon experience.  Jonathan Haddix was my tasting guide at Wild Turkey Distillery.  Haddix arranged a series of shot glasses containing the products and shared with me the unique benefits of each blend.

“This is going to be six, seven, and eight year old bourbon, predominantly eight, and that’s going to have a spicier, caramel tone to it with some vanilla in there as well.  So if you’ve never had Wild Turkey, that’s a great place to start.” 

But no tour would be complete without a behind the scenes look at how all that bourbon gets made.  Jim Rutledge, the Master Distiller at Four Roses, was more than happy to show me around his operation.

Crouching above one of the giant vats of sour mash, Rutledge advised “now when you smell this don’t stick your head in here and take a big whiff.  Adam and I don’t want to have to carry you out.”

The great thing about doing the Bourbon Trail is the variety of atmospheres and experiences.  You can spend a whole day exploring larger operations like Woodford Reserve, Wild Turkey, or Four Roses, or if you have just an hour or two you might pop in to Alltech’s Town Branch craft distillery in downtown Lexington.

“We’re a stop right in the metropolitan area,” said Master Distiller Mark Coffman.   “You can either start here, or finish here.  Last year we saw about 30,000 people.  This year we expect to see about 60,000 people coming to Lexington.  Out of those numbers it’s amazing, the percentage that are outside of the state, and even outside of the country,” Coffman said.

I can certainly vouch for that international appeal.  I had a couple from Eastern Europe on my tour of Woodford Reserve.

Whether you’re a dabbler, a connoisseur, or somewhere in between, a trip along the Bourbon Trail is sure to hold your interest and it’s definitely something every Kentuckian should not miss.  Tour schedules and prices vary.  To make it easy for you, we’ve posted a link to the KDA Bourbon Trail here.