Kentucky’s bourbon scene is booming. In the past few years, many Kentucky distilleries have added new or expanded visitor experiences and innovative tour options, allowing guests to enjoy the state’s signature spirit in all-new ways.
Whether you’ve enjoyed a bourbon tasting before or you’re planning your group’s first trip, there’s never been a better time to experience the warm, Southern hospitality of Kentucky’s world-famous distilleries.
Heaven Hill Distillery
Heaven Hill Distillery in Bardstown is set to unveil a completely redesigned visitor experience early this summer. The new $18 million visitor center expansion will include three new tasting rooms, an educational space and theater, a new You Do Bourbon experience, a rooftop bar and a new restaurant: The Five Brothers Bar and Kitchen.
Though much of the new visitor experience at Heaven Hill’s Bourbon Heritage Center will be self-guided, allowing guests to tailor the length of their visit to best fit their schedules, the You Do Bourbon experience features a guided tour by reservation that takes visitors on a deep dive into the distillation and bottling process.
“Guests will learn about four products that are not on the market — which are truly only available here,” said Jeff Crowe, director of Heaven Hill visitor experiences. “They’ll get to taste and learn about these products, and at the end of the experience, visitors have the option of purchasing and bottling one of those products themselves. We’re pretty excited about the concept.”
Heaven Hill also offers a Louisville-based visitor option, The Evan Williams Bourbon Experience, downtown on West Main Street. It, too, has expanded its visitor tour offerings. The new Ideal Bartender Experience, for example, includes a 45-minute presentation led by a costumed reenactor who portrays renowned pre-Prohibition bartender Tom Bullock. The Louisvillian is famed as the first Black American to publish a cocktail book. “You learn about Bullock and his life and taste the cocktail that he made famous,” Crowe said.
Bardstown Bourbon Company
Launched in the fall of 2019, the Visitors Center Experience at the Bardstown Bourbon Company goes beyond just an ordinary tour and tasting.
“We call it the modern bourbon experience,” said Dan Callaway, vice president of hospitality and product development for the Bardstown Bourbon Company. “We have developed multiple opportunities that are different from a traditional tour. We try to make everything immersive and hands-on.”
On the distillery’s popular From Distillate to Barrel Tour, guests can watch as their guides “thieve” bourbon straight from the barrel for a one-of-a kind sampling experience.
Tour-adjacent opportunities include the brand-new Bourbon and Bites experience, where guests can enjoy special bourbon and food pairings at the Bardstown Bourbon Company’s on-site restaurant, Kitchen and Bar.
For groups that love do-it-yourself, the Shaken and Stirred craft cocktail class lets guests try their hand at crafting two signature Kentucky cocktails: the Old Fashioned and the Kentucky Mule.
Aimed at true bourbon aficionados, the Taste of Bourbon History experience allows guests to taste a flight of rare vintage bourbons from among the distillery’s vintage whiskey library.
“We want guests to enjoy multiple experiences and really celebrate bourbon with us,” Callaway said.
Wilderness Trail Distillery
As a longtime member of the Kentucky Bourbon Trail Craft Tour, which is made up of smaller-production, artisan distillers, the Wilderness Trail Distillery “graduated” in 2020 to become the newest member of the Kentucky Bourbon Trail.
Located in Danville and launched in 2012, Wilderness Trail prioritizes the science behind bourbon-making. Its co-owners, Shane Baker and Pat Heist, have rich distilling knowledge thanks to their first joint venture, Ferm Solutions, which has grown into one of the country’s leading providers of high-quality yeast strains for the distilled spirits industry.
Production is booming at the distillery following a $10 million facilities expansion in 2018. “We are now the 14th-largest bourbon distillery in the country,” said Emily Toadvine, a brand marketer for Wilderness Trail.
Though most Kentucky distilleries use a sour mash distilling process, Wilderness Trail uses a sweet mash formula sourced from local grains, which, the company believes, allows for more control over their bourbon’s flavor and finish.
Wilderness Trail’s hourlong tour, offered Tuesday through Saturday six times daily, includes “a good up-close look at fermentation and distillation [and] a stop at the barrel house, and concludes with tasting,” Toadvine said.
Bulleit Distilling Co.
First opened to tours in 2019, the Bulleit Distilling Co. in Shelbyville lets visitors experience its family of high-rye bourbons and whiskeys in immersive, innovative ways.
Its Unlocking the Senses: A Tasting Experience encourages guests to tap into their own unique bourbon-tasting powers. This 30-minute guided experience explores the various flavors, scents, colors and finishes that make up the Bulleit family of spirits.
The Frontier Whiskey Experience tour, offered on Saturday and Sunday, features an in-depth, 40-minute guided tour of the grounds, plus a 15-minute tasting.
Guests to the distillery will notice its commitment to sustainability, which includes the use of solar arrays on the grounds and propane-powered shuttled vans, and its embrace of technology, including interactive touch-screen panels that allow visitors to create their own, customized Bulleit bottle label.
Lux Row Distillers
Located in Bardstown, Lux Row Distillers produces five distinct brands: Rebel Bourbon, Ezra Brooks, David Nicholson, Daviess County and Blood Oath. Opened on its current site in 2018, Lux Row represents one of the newest members of the Kentucky Bourbon Trail.
The opportunity to sample a wide range of bourbons in one location — from the wheat-based Rebel Bourbon, with its notes of caramel and vanilla to the spicier, rye-heavy Blood Oath — sets Lux Row apart from many other sites on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail.
The Lux Row Distillers Production Tour includes a 45-minute walking tour of the distillery, including the photo-worthy barrel warehouse, and ends with a 15-minute bourbon-tasting experience. For bourbon enthusiasts, the 90-minute Premium Experience tour offers a more in-depth look at the distillation process. Before departing, visitors can duck into the on-site retail shop to purchase bourbon products and branded merchandise.