Take a JOY RIDE to Three Iconic Kentucky Bourbon Distilleries

Starting surrounded by horse farms in Woodford County and culminating at Lexington’s Distillery District, it’s easy to see why the Federal Highway Administration named Old Frankfort Pike a National Scenic Byway

Remember when the term Joy Ride had a negative connotation? When it was thought that taking a Joy Ride meant you were frivolously enjoying yourself rather than getting to the task?

Kentucky Tourism is all about forgetting the task at hand and enjoying yourself with their new Joy Ride campaign. On outings across the 16-county Bluegrass Region, weekend road warriors are encouraged to become less warrior-like and slow down to enjoy all the region has to offer: Horses, bourbon, historic homes, nature preserves, wineries, and world-class views down every winding byway.

“The Joy Ride campaign encourages people to travel like they did in the ’50s and ’60s,” says VisitLEX president Mary Quinn Ramer. “When they took time to stop at scenic sites along the way and enjoy the experience of getting to their destination.”

Woodford Reserve © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

How to get to Kentucky distilleries: Three Joy Rides from Lexington

November and even parts of December have plenty of brisk, sunny days left to experience the beauty of the Bluegrass adorned in its wardrobe of gold, orange, and scarlet. And what better way to enjoy a road trip on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail with brisk, sunny days and fall colors than the commonwealth’s signature spirit?

So, when you ask for directions don’t ask for the fastest way to get to the distillery. Instead, enjoy the journey just as much as you’re going to enjoy the bourbon at the end of the road trip. Here are three Joy Rides to take from Lexington around Central Kentucky, each with a bourbon-themed destination in mind. These road trips will navigate you on the back roads to three iconic Kentucky bourbon distilleries.

Woodford Reserve © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lexington to Woodford Reserve Distillery, Woodbridge County

Sure, we all know that Woodford County offers some of the best scenery in the state but when was the last time you took time to stop and take a long look? Crossing the county line the Kentucky Castle looms on a hill beckoning you to a 21st century Camelot. You may not be planning to overnight at this luxury hotel but you can detour for a peek at the lovely gardens at the back of the Castle. From the Castle, eschew US 60 in favor of Old Frankfort Pike which in 2021 was designated a National Scenic Byway. It’s easy to see why.

The scenery on both sides of the road is eye-popping—a lush tapestry of Thoroughbred horse farms framed by the region’s iconic rock fences (a horse farm tour always makes for a good stop.)

A brief detour—and on a Joy Ride you are free to take as many detours as you want—will get you to the Instagram-worthy Weisenberger Mill with its cascading waterfall. A stop at the red brick Romanesque Mt. Vernon Baptist Church will introduce you to an architectural style not usually found in the Bluegrass and a plaque in the churchyard will tell you that it dates back to 1822 and is still welcoming congregations.

You may have come to the intersection of the Pike and US 62 and wondered what the story was behind the white Colonial-style Offutt-Cole Tavern. Well, the story is a good one as it dates back nearly 250 years and at various times has been a tavern, a stagecoach stop, and the home of Zerelda Cole, mother of outlaws Frank and Jesse James.

Midway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

From here you can either stop in Midway for a leisurely lunch or perhaps take an even more winding road to Nonesuch for lunch at The Glitz at Irish Acres Antiques but be sure you have a reservation. History buffs will want to stop at Huntertown Community Interpretive Park, the former site of an African-American freetown settled after the Civil War. No structures remain but the setting honors Huntertown’s history.

By now, you’re ready for a tour and tasting at Woodford Reserve Distillery on picturesque Glenn’s Creek (if you booked in advance, that is.) Should you want to extend your stay, book a room at the Woodford Hotel, a new property in downtown Versailles. The hotel’s eight suites are named for some aspect of the bourbon industry—from the Wild Turkey Suite to the EH Taylor Suite.

Four Roses © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lexington to Four Roses Distillery, Lawrencburg

Lawrenceburg offers Joy Riders multiple opportunities to appreciate all the Burg offers. If you’re into historical preservation there’s no better example of it than the Ripy Mansion completed in 1888 by bourbon baron T.B. Ripy. The 11,000-square foot, 24-room mansion, a mix of Queen Anne/Victorian/Romanesque Revival styles is available for tours (with a reservation) and as a bonus you can wander through the gardens lush at peak season with roses, tiger lilies, hydrangeas, phlox, irises, and viburnum.

If one of you is into historic preservation and the other is an adrenaline junkie you can both be happy on a Joy Ride to Lawrenceburg. Nothing gets the juices flowing like a plunge from the 240-foot Young’s High Bridge spanning the Kentucky River in the shadows of Wild Turkey Distillery. You will have to do a little planning as bungee jumping through Vertigo Bungee is only offered one weekend a month (May through October.)

Four Roses © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

However, tours and tastings are offered year-round at Four Roses Distillery whose unique Spanish-style architecture is more reminiscent of southern California than Central Kentucky. You will love the romantic story about how the distillery got its name almost as much as you will love the silky taste of its single-barrel bourbon. Settle in for a bourbon flight and if you don’t feel like driving back afterward you can overnight in a bourbon barrel. Well, at least the only accommodations in the U.S. are shaped like bourbon barrels. Bourbon Barrel Retreats is a collection of seven barrel-shaped cottages 16 feet in diameter that can sleep two people (plus a furry companion should you wish to bring one.)

Each cottage has a kitchenette equipped with a refrigerator, coffee pot, and hot plate for cooking, a full bath, and a small sitting area (three cottages also have an outdoor hot tub). The most impressive feature, however, is the large circular window mimicking a barrel top that is the focal point of the bedroom. The Bourbon Barrel Retreats’ common area allows guests to sit around the fire pit and swap bourbon stories.

Buffalo Trace © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lexington to Buffalo Trace, Frankfort

By now, you’re aware that a tour of Buffalo Trace distillery on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail requires some planning (well in advance.) But once you’ve got that treasured ticket don’t be in a hurry to get there. Before your assigned time check out Franklin County’s non-bourbon offerings.

Rebecca Ruth Chocolates © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

US 60 with its stunning horse country scenery is the perfect location for a joy ride. Once you cross the county line stop at Rebecca Ruth Candy for a bourbon ball (just to whet your appetite for what’s to come.) If you want to enjoy a spirit other than bourbon detour to Prodigy Vineyards and Winery and belly up to the onyx bar for a sampling of this family-owned winery’s vintages from semi-sweet to dry reds. If your sweet tooth extends beyond wine, B’s Bakery in downtown Frankfort is a must. “B” aka Beth Carter who once catered for Taylor Swift and Ree Drummond, the Pioneer Woman has a selection of scones, cookies, and cupcakes that will leave your mouth watering for days.

If you need a refresher course in Commonwealth history, check out the burial site of Daniel Boone. The jury is still out as to whether Dan’l is buried here but the grave is impressive and the view from the overlook even more impressive. Or you could take a tour of Liberty Hall, an oft-overlooked slice of history that encompasses not only that of Frankfort but of Kentucky and Colonial-era America.

To paraphrase Ralph Waldo Emerson, “it’s about the journey as much as the destination.” Take a Joy Ride and find out for yourself.

Worth Pondering…

I take with me Kentucky

embedded in my brain and heart,

in my flesh and bone and blood

Since I am Kentucky

and Kentucky is part of me.

—Jesse Stuart