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Kentucky Bourbon Trail…Ask For a Bourbon, Not a Whiskey!

All Bourbon is Whiskey, Not All Whiskey is Bourbon on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail

Quality control on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail®

Quality control on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail®

Visiting the Bourbon state? Get ready for some amazingly beautiful countryside where American history comes alive, the people are nice and the beverage of choice is ALWAYS Bourbon.  Perhaps not “always” as there is a bit of beer drinking in Kentucky and a plethora of wineries emerging but the bread and butter of this state comes in glass jars and bottles with the name Bourbon Whiskey upon them.

Kentucky believes they own the term “Bourbon” and most people would agree, but, technically, they don’t.  With all the craft distilleries popping up around the country, Bourbon will be a much more common label, however, none will dethrone the Bourbon boys of Kentucky where true Bourbon has been produced since the 1800’s.  To be called Bourbon, the contents must have a minimum of 51 percent corn, aged in new oak barrels that have been charred, distilled to no more than 160 proof and put into barrel at 125.

All Bourbon is Whiskey, however, not all Whiskey is Bourbon.  Whisk(e)y can be from Scotland, Ireland, Canada, Japan, America, et.al, and  can be distilled from most any grain mash (rye, barley, corn, wheat) and aged in wooden barrels but whiskey barrels are not required to be oak and may or may not be charred.

Kentucky Bourbon Trail

There are several must-see producers in Kentucky — wisely choose just a few to visit per day and keep in mind that the alcohol content of a spirit is much higher than what is in a taste of wine.  Check out the Kentucky Bourbon Trail website for locations and times and for no other reason than to read the website’s tagline…

Kentucky Bourbon Trail, Where the Spirit Leads You!

If you are adventurous enough, you can enjoy the Bourbon Trail on a bike…yes a bike.

If you pick up a passport through their website AND you visit all of the distilleries, you will have earned a free tee-shirt which can be picked up at several easy-to-find locations. However, I suggest that rather than hitting all the distilleries in one trip, that you pick and choose then add some civil war sites into your tour, a visit to a horse farm, some good BBQ and bluegrass music and just buy your own tee-shirt.  There are also some fun tours to purchase by limo, bike and mini-bus so keep your options open.  With that said, I do suggest you make an effort to visit the following:

Buffalo Trace

If you only have time to visit one distillery, this is the one BECAUSE it offers information on so many different brands (as it is a rather large company) including the prestigious Pappy Van Winkle (not going to get a taste though.)  My favorites are Pappy Van Winkle, Blanton’s Single Barrel, Buffalo Trace, and Sazerac Rye (specifically for Sazerac cocktails).  The only one I don’t care for is Eagle Rare but make your decision.

Only 30 minutes from Buffalo Trace is the famous Churchill Downs in Lexington, Kentucky – so buy yourself a hat and get on over to the Kentucky Derby Museum Tour of Churchill Downs – it’s an easy drive and really a not-to-be-missed adventure!

Maker’s Mark

Not right on the main trail but worth the drive out – not only for great Bourbon but also for the scenery!  If you’re making the trek, you might as well take the “Beyond the Mark” tour which does cost $35 pp (21 only) but provides a much more in-depth look at how this distillery makes their Bourbon — and, you get a set of wax dipped rock glasses to bring back as a memento.  Reservations are required.

Woodford Reserve

One of my favorites for sipping as I love the integrated barrel flavors.  Several interesting tours in addition to the basic distillery tour are offered at Woodford so if you have a history buff in the group and happen to be touring on a Wednesday, take the two-hour “National Landmark Tour” ($30, reservations required).  If you are there on a Tuesday or Thursday, take the in-depth “Corn-to-Cork” tour (also $30, reservations required) which gets into the chemical, technical and sensory aspects of Woodford Bourbon.

If after you visit Woodford you would like to take a break from Bourbon tasting then hitch a ride on the Blue Grass Railroad which you can pick up in Versailles near the distillery.  Relax and let the scenic farm and horse country go by (www.BluegrassRailroad.com).


My go to Bourbon for my nightly Manhattan – this distillery is located in Louisville proper and offers daily tours Wednesday through Saturdays. If you’re already going to Louisville (to check out some bats, perhaps?) then include Bulliet in your itinerary, otherwise it’s too far from the major Bourbon country to be worth the trip.

There are plenty of other Bourbon distilleries in Kentucky, but these are my favorite that can be toured.  One Bourbon that you should definitely taste is Angel’s Envy which you will have to either order a glass of or purchase a bottle as the tasting room isn’t scheduled to open until 2016.  If you are both a Bourbon and Single Malt Scotch lover, this one’s for you as my tasting notes scream “the most Scotch-like Bourbon I’ve ever tasted!

All images generously provided by: KENTUCKY BOURBON TRAIL® and BOURBON TRAIL TM are trademarks of the Kentucky Distillers’ Association.”





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About The Author
Roxanne Langer
Sommelier, international wine judge, marketing director of various wineries and wine writer/author, Roxasnne has over 20 years experience in the international wine industry.Currently, Roxanne owns and operates WineFUNdamentals, a wine edutainment and experience company which provides wine programs to corporations, associations and universities. These programs include key note addresses, breakouts, wine incentive travel, wine seminars, food and wine pairing programs, wine receptions and dinners and wine team building. She is also also an adjunct wine professor for a culinary college and a university.

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