Six Tips for Visiting the Bourbon Trail in Kentucky

The Bourbon Trail in Kentucky is a bucket list trip for whiskey lovers around the world

Kentucky is home to some of the most famous whiskey distilleries on the planet and touring them is a treat. But there are some things to know before visiting the Bourbon Trail that will make your trip hiccup-free.

Before we set out on our trip I did a ton of research and even still learned many things once we arrived. Here are the best tips for visiting the Bourbon Trail.

Woodford Reserve © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

1. The Bourbon Trail is not a singular trail so plan accordingly

The Bourbon Trail may sound like a singular, simple road connecting all of Kentucky’s distilleries but the distilleries are actually quite spread out. They are loosely categorized into four regions: Central (Louisville and Bardstown), Bluegrass (Lexington), Western (near Tennessee), and Northern (near Cincinnati). It’s best to organize your itinerary into those regions as well focusing on one region (or partial region) a day.

The Central and Bluegrass regions are the most popular consisting of the best-known whiskey brands. We used two bases for our touring: Grandma’s RV Park in Elizabethville (20 miles northwest of Bardstown) and Whispering Hills RV Park in Georgetown (22 miles north of Lexington).

Which leads me to my next point…

Willett Distillery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

2. The best way to get around the Bourbon Trail is a car—or a tour

Because the Bourbon Trail in Kentucky is so spread out the only way to get from region to region—and even distillery to distillery—is a car. Ubers and carshares are unreliable or nonexistent in the small towns and many distilleries are an hour’s drive or more from main areas like Louisville and Lexington.

3. Plan your distillery tours early and carefully

Distillery tours must be booked in advance. And a word of warning: they fill up fast, so book early! Organize the distilleries based on the area you’ll be in and keep an eye on the travel times between each one. Some are farther away than you think! Also, most require visitors to check in 15-20 minutes before the tour starts so make sure to plan extra time into your day.

If you’re planning to cover a lot of ground, divide your distilleries into different areas on different days.

Wild Turkey Distillery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

4. Don’t forget to eat

When planning your distillery tours, don’t forget to schedule time for lunch. You don’t want to spend an entire distillery tour with your stomach growling and it’s always best not to drink on an empty stomach.

Some distilleries have on-site cafés or restaurants. Check distillery websites beforehand. One place that comes highly recommend is The Bar at Willett. It’s a beautiful place for a great cocktail and some food. But it’s no secret, so make reservations in advance. Open Wednesday through Saturday from 11:00 am.-5:30 pm.

Buffalo Trace Distillery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

5. Don’t overbook yourself

Obviously you want to see all your favorite distilleries while you’re in Kentucky but don’t overbook yourself. It’s tough to visit more than two distilleries a day because of the tour times and the distance between them.

Plus distillery fatigue is real! While distillery tours are definitely fun they require paying careful attention and some even require a lot of walking. Plus you’ll be drinking at each one. All that adds up to an exhausting day, so give yourself some down time to reflect on your adventures.

And know that it will probably take more than one trip to see all the distilleries you want.

Burton 1792 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

6. The whiskey distilleries aren’t all the same

Even though there are distinct differences between bourbons, I half expected the whiskey distilleries in Kentucky to be similar to each other.

So I was surprised to learn that the whiskey distilleries in Kentucky are quite different from one another. Most distilleries make whiskey using a column still (typical of bourbon and rye production). And even those using column stills varied in size from Barton 1792’s 55-foot high still to Angel’s Envy’s 35 foot still. Then there are those using pot stills instead of column stills like Michter’s, Woodford Reserve, and Willett.

There were old, historic distilleries on huge campuses like Woodford Reserve and Buffalo Trace compared with Angel’s Envy’s modern, petite downtown distillery that looks like a cathedral. There were really good tours (like Barton 1792) and not-so-good tours (Four Roses). So every day—and every distillery—was a different experience.

Makers Mark © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

7. When is the best time of year to do the Bourbon Trail? 

The Kentucky Bourbon Trail is open year-round except for a few weeks in the late summer (usually August) when the distilleries close for routine maintenance. Plan your trip to the Kentucky Bourbon Trail around this routine closure. 

Here’s a breakdown of visiting the Kentucky Bourbon Trail during each season: 

  • Winter: Winter is a great time to visit the distilleries if you’d like to dodge the crowds and don’t mind the cooler weather. However, if you’re planning on doing a self-guided driving tour, be prepared to potentially drive in rain, ice, and snow. 
  • Spring: Spring is a beautiful time to visit the Kentucky Bourbon Trail because the crowds are still slim and the weather is pleasant. However, remember that the Kentucky Derby takes place in May and hotels and RV parks will book up quickly. Early spring is the ideal time to visit! 
  • Summer: Summer is one of the busiest (and least pleasant) times to embark on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail. If you can handle the heat and humidity, it may be tolerable. However, keep in mind the distilleries close in late August so plan your trip accordingly. 
  • Fall: Thanks to the beautiful weather, fall is the most popular season to visit the Kentucky Bourbon Trail. If you’re planning an autumn distillery trip, tours will book out quickly, so book the tours you want to go on a month or so in advance. 
Jim Beam © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

8. There’s more to Kentucky than just whiskey

For whiskey nerds, it’s easy to forget that Kentucky contains more than just whiskey distilleries! Louisville is also home to Churchill Downs, the home of the famous Kentucky Derby horse race. If there’s not a race while you’re in town, you can also tour the racetrack. Or check out the Kentucky Derby museum.

Speaking of museums, there are dozens in Louisville including the Louisville Slugger Museum & Factory and the Muhammad Ali Center. There’s plenty of history in Kentucky, so seek out some historical spots in between distillery tours.

As for food, Kentucky is home to more than just fried chicken (although don’t miss that while you’re there!). It’s famous for the Hot Brown, an open-faced turkey and bacon sandwich topped with Mornay sauce. And, the Derby Pie, a chocolate and walnut tart.

Heaven Hill © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

What to know before you hit the Bourbon Trail

  • Book your tour reservations in advance—at least a week, if not more.
  • Leave plenty of time between tours to assure you arrive 15 minutes before your tour starts.
  • Children can attend tours as long as they’re accompanied by an adult. You must be 21 to participate in tastings.
  • Some distilleries offer samples of other products during tastings such as moonshine or vodka.
  • Some distilleries sell cocktails before and/or after tours.
  • Most distilleries sell bottles and other merchandise at their Visitor’s Centers.
  • Plan on spending at least 90 minutes at each distillery for the tour and tasting although some specialty tours may take longer.

Here are a few links to related articles I’ve previously posted on the Bourbon Trail:

Not only are there hundreds of distilleries in Kentucky, there’s plenty to do and to eat. So take your time, enjoy your trip, and keep a running list of what to do on your next visit—because your first trip likely won’t be your last!

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

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

Horses Are the Heart of Kentucky’s Unbridled Spirit

A ride through the Bluegrass State reveals a legacy of thoroughbred horses and horse racing, bourbon, intriguing history, natural attractions and beauty, and much more

Kentucky bills itself as a place of Unbridled Spirit. After numerous RV trips around this diverse state, I have to agree.

Kentucky scenic byway past horse farms © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lexington and Georgetown

Horses, the royalty of Lexington, live in barns of beauty surrounded by velvety green fields of Kentucky bluegrass. Miles of fences and traditional hand-laid limestone dividers partition the farms where they reside. A few horse farms even open their doors to visitors—truly a worthwhile stop.

The Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington showcases thoroughbred equines with live horses in numerous venues and informative exhibits in the American Saddlebred Museum. Retired racehorses reside in the park and they and their histories are introduced to visitors. Costumed equestrians ride various breeds around an outdoor ring during the Parade of Breeds show, accompanied by commentary.

Horse Farm © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Visitors have an opportunity to take photos, pet the horses, and chat with the riders at the end. Guests can board a horse-drawn wagon for a tour and catch a glimpse of the sculptures that dot this 1,200-acre working farm.

The Kentucky Horse Park Campground offers 260 campsites with electric (50, 30, 20 amps) and water hookups. All sites are 55-foot paved back-in spots. In addition, some electric-only and primitive sites are available on a first-come, first-served basis. Two dump stations are provided.

The campground makes a great base for exploring the Lexington area which boasts one of the largest concentrations of horse farms in the world. Driving along the Bluegrass Country tour route takes you past many of them. Intricate iron entrance gates and impressive homes stand on many farms in the rolling green countryside.

Keeneland © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

On a morning visit to the Keeneland racecourse, you can rub elbows with equestrians during breakfast in the Track Kitchen and observe the athletes’ workouts on the track. This famous and historic horseracing arena attracts visitors year-round. Even when races are not in session, Keeneland’s significance and extensive history make it a popular Lexington destination. Horses began racing at Keeneland, one of the top Lexington attractions in 1936 and since then, annual races have become a traditional event.

Keeneland is also host to practice meets for jockeys and horses preparing for the Kentucky Derby as well as a series of horse auctions throughout the year. Visitors to Keeneland can view the racecourse, visit the indoor facility, and tour the sales complex. Keeneland’s website offers a calendar of upcoming events and ticket-purchasing options.

Horse farm © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Kentucky Horse Park Campground’s proximity to nearby cities and towns also proved to be very convenient. Interested in seeing how cars are manufactured? Explore the visitor’s center at the Toyota assembly plant in Georgetown, the largest Toyota manufacturing facility in the world which offers free 45-minute tram tours on weekdays (reservations required).

Historic Georgetown © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Georgetown boasts more than 200 buildings on the National Register of Historic Places making it an interesting and visually appealing place to stroll. Download the walking tour map or pick one up at the visitor’s center.

Yuko-En on the Elkhorn © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

On the northern edge of Georgetown the Yuko-En on the Elkhorn is a symbol of friendship between the nation of Japan and Kentucky State. As a four-season garden, travelers and locals alike are welcome to visit the Yuko-En on the Elkhorn all year round. Access to the park is via the Tokugawa Gate along Cincinnati Pike which will lead visitors into the lush 5.5-acre garden.

Old Friends at Dream Chase Farm © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Old Friends at Dream Chase Farm is a farm for retired Thoroughbred horses that encompasses nearly 140 acres. The unique home for horses offers an opportunity for guests to get up close to several Thoroughbreds including winners of the Kentucky Derby like War Emblem and Silver Charm and Breeders’ Cup Champions Amazombie and Alphabet Soup as well as stakes winners Ide and Game On Dude. The Old Friends at Dream Chase Farm offers daily public tours for a fee, private tours by appointment, and a visitor center.

Kentucky State Capitol © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Frankfort and Harrodsburg

A flower-lined boulevard in Frankfort leads to the Kentucky State Capitol building. Its murals, sculptures, and columns artfully combine to make it one of the most beautiful capitals in the United States. Broad steps ascend to the entrance which leads into a grand rotunda under a seven-story dome where a large Abraham Lincoln statue greets you.

Marble staircases lead to the judicial floor and the Supreme Court chambers which are adorned in rich mahogany and burnished with gold leaf. The Senate and House of Representatives chambers occupy opposite ends of the third floor.

Near the capitol rotunda is a doll display depicting each of Kentucky’s first ladies in her inaugural ball gown. It is incredible how fashion has changed through the centuries.

Floral Clock © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

On the grounds of the state capitol stands the beautiful Floral Clock. Its face stretches 34 feet across and is covered by flowers exclusively grown in the state of Kentucky. Beneath the clock is a pool of water that is often used as a wishing well and the coins thrown into the well are used to fund scholarships. The Floral Clock is one of the most-visited attractions in Frankfort and is open to the public every day from dawn until dusk.

Old State Capitol Building © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Visitors also can tour the Old Capitol Building in Frankfort which served the state legislature from 1830 until 1910 when the larger capitol was built in south Frankfort. The old and new capitol buildings have striking differences. The old capitol was constructed in 1830 in the Greek revival style. Of architectural interest is the curved, self-supporting stone staircase. The first-floor library houses old books, implements, and furnishings from the 1800s.

Rebecca Ruth Chocolates © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Rebecca Ruth’s is home to the famous bourbon balls, a treat that mixes chocolate with Kentucky’s best-known liquor. The candy factory and museum is open for tours Monday-Saturday for a $5.00 admission fee. Children 5 and under get in free. After the tour, guests can purchase these sweet treats to take home with them at the company store.

Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill founded in Harrodsburg in 1805 by members of a celibate religious sect allows visitors to immerse themselves in Shaker culture.

About 45 minutes south of Frankfort in Harrodsburg, visitors can enjoy a glimpse into the lives of the Shaker people. In 1805, members of this celibate religious sect established Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill which grew to 500-plus members.

Today, there are 34 surviving buildings of the 260 that were constructed during 105 years. In the Shaker faith, men and women had equal status—but everyone still had gendered roles, even eating on different sides of the dining rooms. Self-guided and staff-led tours of the village are available.

Horse farm © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

State and national parks

Feeling energetic? Hike up the trail at Natural Bridge State Resort Park in Slade. To get to the top of the bridge, you squeeze through a narrow fracture and climb some steps. For an easy ascent, you can take the skylift. Once at the top, you will be within walking distance of the 30-foot-wide sandstone structure known as Natural Bridge. If you want to extend your adventure, follow the 1,200-foot flat trail to Lookout Point for an incredible view of the bridge and the valley. Choose from among a dozen hiking trails that range from one-half mile to 7.5 miles.

Plenty of other fun activities beckon in and near the park. Lively music fills the air at outdoor hoedowns that take place at Hoedown Island within the park as dancers perform line dancing, Appalachian square dancing, two-stepping, and other lively dances. Throw in a fishing line or go canoeing on nearby Mill Creek Lake—maybe you will catch a largemouth bass.

Two campgrounds in the state park offer a total of 52 sites with electric hookups plus several primitive sites for tents. While here, drive to the adjacent Red River Gorge geological area for an immersion into nature. The Red River is Kentucky’s only National Wild and Scenic River. The erosive forces of wind and water have sculpted 100 arches in this area. Some of these natural phenomena will show themselves to you on the 70 miles of hiking trails.

One of the most popular attractions in Kentucky is Mammoth Cave National Park. Kentucky lays claim to the longest known cave system in the world—Mammoth Cave National Park. Before tourists started coming to the cave, mining saltpeter to make black gunpowder was conducted in the 18th century. Park rangers give cave tours that range from 30 minutes to six hours long. Some are strenuous, requiring many steps and steep grades.

Horse farm © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Visitors can negotiate tight tunnels and view huge domed spaces, slot canyons, and historic structures in the park. Enjoy the waters of the Green and Nolin rivers by going fishing, canoeing, or kayaking. Or ride a bike along the 9-mile Railroad Bike and Hike Trail to visit scenic overlooks and historic sites. Other hiking trails ranging from 0.1 to 1.3 miles lead to a variety of sights.

Backcountry trails beckon adventurers to miles of forested hikes and horse trails. Everyone can find an outdoor trek that suits them. Two campgrounds here offer sites that accommodate RVs up to 40 feet with limited electric and no water hookups.

Cumberland Gap offers stunning scenery. Nestled on the border of Kentucky, Tennessee, and Virginia is Cumberland Gap National Historical Park which offers an attractive campground. Pioneers heading west traveled through this natural pass in the mountains.

Volunteers leave the visitors center at 9:00 a.m. to lead a four-hour tour of Hensley Settlement, a remote mountain enclave founded in 1903 and occupied until 1951. After riding a shuttle up a steep gravel road through the woods, visitors embark on a stroll around the historic Appalachian farm community. Split-rail fences outline plots Hensley family members called home. The reconstructed one-room schoolhouse and log homes will transport you to simpler times.

The Old Talbott Tavern, Bardstown © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bourbon in Bardstown

Kentucky’s second-oldest city, Bardstown was first settled in 1780. Nearly 200 buildings in the historic downtown district are listed on the National Register of Historic Places including a 1779 stagecoach stop that today is the Old Talbott Tavern, the oldest bourbon bar in the world.

Bourbon distilleries are synonymous with Kentucky. Some offer tours and others offer only tastings.

My Old Kentucky Home © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Bourbon Capital of the World is home to six notable distilleries. Kentucky’s “Official Outdoor Drama,” one of the country’s most highly regarded Civil War museums and one of the most recognized structures in the world is here at Federal Hill, better known as My Old Kentucky Home.

While staying at My Old Kentucky Home Campground in Bardstown we stopped at Heaven Hill Distillery and toured its small museum which tells the story of the only original U.S. spirit.

Maker’s Mark Distillery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Maker’s Mark Distillery in Loredo. After deciding on Maker’s Mark Distillery for a tour, we sipped coffee mixed with bourbon while gazing over the lush landscape. We then bought a gift bottle and hand-dipped it in the company’s traditional red wax.

Heaven Hill and Maker’s Mark are among the distilleries on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail. Kentuckians add this spirit to many dishes. On Route 49, to and from Bardstown, large buildings house hundreds of thousands of barrels of aging bourbon—barrels that are used only once by the distilleries.

Horse farm © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Kentucky Derby in Louisville

Churchill Downs, home of the Kentucky Derby, in Louisville. Choose from several behind-the-scenes tours for an up-close look at this legendary track and the equine athletes who thrill spectators here. On the 30-minute Historic Walking Tour included with admission you visit the paddock and grandstand to learn about the history of the track and horses.

A second tour visits such non-public areas as the workers village, Millionaires Row, and the Turf Club. Stable operations begin as early as 5:00 a.m. and these beautiful animals are treated like royalty.

Watching The Greatest Race on a 360-degree screen gives you the feeling that the horses in the Kentucky Derby are galloping straight at you. Colorful exhibits regarding jockeys, Derby attendees, and horses fill the Kentucky Derby Museum.

Quilt Barn Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Something for Everyone

Kentucky is fortunate to have so many attractions worth visiting. It seems as though there is an attraction for everyone. Quilters can visit the National Quilt Museum in Paducah, sports-car enthusiasts can tour the Corvette factory and museum in Bowling Green, bluegrass music fans can visit Owensboro, history buffs will appreciate Abraham Lincoln’s birthplace in Hodgenville, and there are plenty of national parks such as Mammoth Cave and Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area.

Visitors to this beautiful southern state will be rewarded with happy memories of the unbridled spirit of Kentucky.

Worth Pondering…

Heaven must be a Kentucky kind of place.

―Daniel Boone

The Complete Guide to the Kentucky Bourbon Trail

There’s a big world out there to explore in your RV. In this article I’ll teleport you to an interesting location—and hopefully give you travel ideas in the process.

The whiskey industry has had a time rough time of late with reports of whiskey fungus that feeds on alcohol vapors and mucks up outdoor surfaces. Ethanol vapor released through porous whiskey barrels during the aging of bourbon might bring a smile in the heavens—the fumes are known as the angel’s share—but it can mean misery for local mortals. A strain of black whiskey fungus feeds on the alcoholic gases coating neighborhoods around distilleries with a stubborn mouldy crust.

Buffalo Trace Distillery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The spread of the fungus has become such a problem in southern Tennessee that a local court has halted construction of a new barrel warehouse for the world’s biggest-selling brand of American whiskey: Jack Daniels.

The fungus, Baudoinia compniacensis, is a familiar pest in the vicinity of barrelhouses which rely on wooden casks. Up to 2 percent of the volume of the alcohol can evaporate through the barrels each year as the drink matures sending vapor into the air and encouraging the fungus.

A French scientist named Antonin Baudoin first studied this plague of soot in 1872 after noticing it on distilleries in Cognac, France. It was misidentified until 2007 when Canadian mycologist Dr. James Scott re-classified the new fungi through DNA analysis and named it Baudonia, honoring the scientist who first took notice of the mold. In 2011, a lengthy article in Wired magazine detailed the discovery, unmasking the mystery soot as whiskey fungus.

Woodford Reserve Distillery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Many people who live near Kentucky’s distilleries say the problem has worsened as bourbon’s popularity has soared. According to the Kentucky Distillers Association, 68 distilleries dot Kentucky, a 250 percent increase in one decade. While many of those are small-batch distilleries, large operations such as Jim Beam and Buffalo Trace have also grown. Last year, Kentucky distillers filled 1.7 million bourbon barrels. Not all those barrels age in Kentucky but hundreds of thousands do.

But a little whiskey fungus probably won’t slow down the surge of tourists flocking to the Kentucky Bourbon Trail. Bourbon tourism reached new heights last year in Kentucky where visitors flocked to distilleries as the whiskey-making attractions shook off any pandemic-era hangover.

Heaven Hill Bourbon Heritage © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Attendance at distilleries along the Kentucky Bourbon Trail exceeded 2.1 million last year easily beating the pre-pandemic record of 1.7 million in 2019, according to the Kentucky Distillers’ Association.

The Kentucky Bourbon Trail is a genius bit of marketing from the Kentucky Distillers’ Association which in 1999 predicted (correctly) that people would want a behind-the-scenes look at how their favorite amber beverage was made. Now, tours of distilleries such as Bulleit, Woodford Reserve, and Maker’s Mark have become a popular activity for bachelor parties and young people more broadly.

Wild Turkey Distillery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

What is bourbon?

I know you’re wondering: How is bourbon different than whiskey?

Bourbon is an American whiskey distilled mostly from corn. The distilling of bourbon began in Kentucky in the 1700s in Bourbon County. Bourbon can be brewed anywhere in the United States although 95 percent of bourbon is currently distilled in Kentucky.

All bourbons are whiskey but not all whiskeys are bourbon. There are five rules that distinguish bourbon from all other whiskeys:

  • It must be made in the United States
  • Aging must take place in new, charred oak barrels
  • It must be distilled from at least 51 percent corn
  • The whiskey cannot be distilled higher than 160 proof, enter the barrel higher than 125 proof, and it must not enter the bottle less than 80 proof
  • Nothing can be added to the whiskey other than water
Willet Distillery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bourbon contains at least 51 percent corn with different proportions of wheat, malted barley, or rye. This grain mixture is referred to as the mash bill. What distinguishes one bourbon from another is the mash bill, the strain of yeast used by each distillery (some strains dating back decades), and how long the whiskey ages in the oak barrels.

The Kentucky Bourbon Trail Craft Tour launched in 2012 to showcase smaller distilleries also had its best year. Now featuring 24 distilleries, its total attendance last year was 738,287.

Spirit companies have invested huge sums into new or expanded visitor centers to play up the industry’s heritage and allow guests to soak in the sights and smells of bourbon-making.

Barton 1792 Distillery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

During the height of the pandemic, distilleries in the region were closed temporarily to visitors.

Some producers eased back into tourism by allowing a limited number of visitors. Once virus restrictions were lifted, bourbon tourism bounced back with a full resurgence.

Research shows that bourbon tourists tend to be younger, spend between $400 and $1,200 on their trip, travel in large groups, and stay longer than the average visitor to Kentucky, reports the distillers’ association. More than 70 percent of visitors are from outside Kentucky.

Jim Beam American Stillhouse © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

To help visitors plan trips, the organization is promoting a new Bourbon Trail Passport and Field Guide, a 150-page guide to participating distilleries with cocktail recipes and suggested itineraries.

To encourage responsible drinking on the tour, distilleries offer water and nonalcoholic beverages and many have food or snacks available. The association said it promotes the use of designated drivers and transportation companies to stem impaired driving. Also, state law restricts free sample sizes at distilleries and many voluntarily limit cocktail sales at their in-house bar or restaurant.

The growth in bourbon tourism has created some challenges. Most distilleries now require reservations, so booking stops in advance is crucial, said Mandy Ryan, director of the association’s Kentucky Bourbon Trail experiences.

Maker’s Mark Distillery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Kentucky now boasts more than 11.4 million barrels of bourbon aging in warehouses across the state, the most in its storied distilling history, the association said. Distillers filled more than 2.6 million barrels last year, marking the fourth straight year production topped the 2 million mark.

>> DIG DEEPER

Worth Pondering…

Let dreamers whine

Of the pleasures of wine

For lovers of soft delight

But this is the song

Of a tipple that’s strong

For men who must toil and fight.

Now the drink of luck

For the man full of pluck

Is easy to nominate

It’s the good old whiskey of old Kentuck

And you always drink it straight… 

―The Ballad of Whiskey Straight, a 19th-century Kentucky poem

10 Amazing Places to RV in February 2023

If you’re dreaming of where to travel to experience it all, here are my picks for the best places to RV in February

The mind is like a car battery—it recharges by running.

—Bill Watterson

Every day, for 10 years, cartoonist Bill Watterson delighted readers with a new story in his beloved syndicated comic strip Calvin and Hobbes. But that kind of round-the-clock ingenuity is no easy feat. His secret? Recharging the mind by letting it play. “I’ve had to cultivate a kind of mental playfulness,” Watterson said in the same 1990 commencement speech at Kenyon College where he gave the quote above. “A playful mind is inquisitive and learning is fun.”

In other words, creative ideas come when the mind is encouraged to wander into new areas, exploring wherever your natural curiosity may lead. Instead of shutting off your brain at the end of a long day, reinvigorate it by indulging your innate sense of wonder. If you follow what makes learning fun, it’s bound to lead you to new ideas.

With a chill in the air we head into February literally and figuratively cold with no idea what those rodents we trust as meteorologists will predict. Will it be six more weeks of a holed-up winter? Or will it be an early, forgiving spring? Like pretty much every single day of the last three years, the answer is: Who knows! Certainly not our friend Punxsutawney Phil whose accuracy rate is a whopping 39 percent! You’d be better off flipping a coin.

We do know, however, that we’re gonna embrace the here and now. This month we do have ostrich races at the Indio Date Festival and another reason to visit Charleston. We also have desert warmth and wildflowers along the Pinal Parkway and places to celebrate President’s Day.

Planning an RV trip for a different time of year? Check out my monthly travel recommendations for the best places to travel in January. Also, check out my recommendations from February 2022 and March 2022.

Mexican poppies along Pinal Parkway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

1. The Pinal Pioneer Parkway

The Pinal Pioneer Parkway connected Tucson and Phoenix in the years before Interstate 10 was built. Now a little-traveled back road, it’s a much more picturesque route than the main highway especially in wildflower season. The parkway itself is a 42 mile-long stretch of Arizona State Highway 79, beginning in the desert uplands on the north slope of the Santa Catalina Mountains at about 3,500 feet and wending northward to just above 1,500 feet outside the little town of Florence.

Mexican poppies along Pinal Parkway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In spring, the parkway is lined with desert verbena, lupine, Mexican poppies, globemallow, chuparosa, penstemon, and daisies. Even in dry years when other parts of the desert aren’t flowering, the Pinal Pioneer Parkway always seems to manage a good show.

The parkway is marked with signs pointing out some of the characteristic desert vegetation such as saguaro and mesquite. Pack a picnic lunch and stop at one of the many roadside tables. Stop at the Tom Mix Memorial, 23.5 miles north of Oracle Junction at milepost 116, to pay your respects to the late movie cowboy.

Mount Rushmore National Memorial

2. Visit the Presidents (and other things) in South Dakota

As always, Presidents’ Day lands in February. So maybe it’s time to get extra presidential by firing up the RV for a jaunt to South Dakota. After your patriotic tour of Mount Rushmore, you’ll have free reign of one of the least-visited states at its emptiest time. Hike a frozen waterfall, hang out on a frozen lake, or get to know the land’s first people.

Badlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Or dig deep into the western part of the state: Not far from Rushmore, you can pretend you’re on an alien planet in the Badlands, kick up your spurs with some ghosts in Deadwood, hop on a jackalope while stuffed with homemade donuts at Wall Drug, and gaze upon the wonders of the Corn Palace. Visit the stunning lakes and spires of Custer State Park and see where the thrilling buffalo roundup happens in September. Just give your new fuzzy friends lots of room.

>> Get more tips for visiting South Dakota

Bay St. Lewis © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

3. A place apart

Considered a place apart, this quaint seaside town has been named one of the Coolest Small Towns in America by Budget Travel and was also recognized as a top 10 small beach town by Coastal Living Magazine. From friendly folks to historic buildings, this unique city embraces the heritage of the Coastal Mississippi region.

The town’s prime spot on the Mississippi Sound, an embayment of the Gulf of Mexico, provides a glorious stretch of white-sanded beach with virtually no crowds.

Bay St. Lewis © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Just off of Beach Boulevard, you’ll find Old Town Bay St. Louis, a walkable area full of local shops and eateries. Spend an afternoon strolling through Old Town, browsing the beach boutiques and art galleries. Don’t miss the French Potager, an antique store and flower shop.

>> Get more tips for visiting Bay St. Louis

Crowley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

4. Where Life is Rice & Easy

At the crossroads of LA 13 and U.S. Highway 90 lies the city of Crowley.

Rice is the bedrock of the region’s celebrated Cajun cuisine and no other Louisiana community is as intimately tied to the crop as Crowley. The swallow ponds and level prairies surrounding the city produce lots of crawfish too, but it was the turn-of-the-century rice mills that gave Crowley its identity and made possible today’s impressive collection of historic structures.

Crowley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Many historic buildings still play prominent roles in the city’s life. One such example is Miller Stadium, a 1940s-era ballpark and the Grand Opera House of the South that first opened in 1901 and was recently revived as an elegant space for world-class performers. Visitors can relive regional music history at the J.D. Miller Recording Studio Museum downtown or get a taste of prairie life at the Crystal Rice Heritage Farm.

>> Get more tips for visiting Crowley

Sculptures of Borrego © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

5. Beyond the Sculptures of Borrego

Nestled between the historic gold mining town of Julian and The Salton Sea, Borrego Springs and the surrounding Anza-Borrego Desert State Park offer several exceptional experiences. Located two hours from San Diego, there are activities and natural attractions suited for many types of RVers. With 500 miles of dirt roads, a dozen wilderness areas, and miles of hiking trails you would expect some great adventures, and you won’t be disappointed.

Christmas Circles in Borrego Springs © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Walking downtown Borrego Springs is a fun experience. Start at Christmas Circle—the main attraction—and poke your head into some exciting shops or visit The Borrego Art Institute. This is where you can observe potters and en plein air artists complete their current artworks.

Hiking is popular in the Anza-Borrego Desert and enjoyed by locals and visitors alike. The desert trails are not for the faint of heart but rather ideal for those with a sense of adventure. Remember, hydration is vital in this arid region and be sure to bring along plenty of water. The routes are not always well marked and cell service is almost non-existent.

Anza-Borrego Desert State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Borrego Springs isn’t known for its nightlife or at least not the club kind.  However, it is an area that should be explored well after the sun sets. Borrego is an International Dark Sky Community that was designated by the International Dark-Sky Association (IDA). Stargazing is encouraged.

There is no need for a telescope and the brilliantly lit skies will awe anyone who hasn’t been out of the dome of a city glow. Billions of stars make themselves known and form many prominent constellations.

>> Get more tips for visiting Borrego Springs

Cumberland Island National Seashore © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

6. Beauty and History Combine

There’s no experience quite like the untamed beauty of Cumberland Island National Seashore, a barrier island only accessible by boat from the small town of St. Marys. Home to a handful of residents and a whole lot of wildlife, it’s an incredible place to go off-grid. Visitors can hike the miles of trails sharing the space with wild horses, alligators, and birds.

Ruins of Dungeness, Cumberland Island National Seashore © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Tours are available of historic Carnegie mansions like Plum Orchard and the ruins of Dungeness. On the northern side of the island, you can see the First African Baptist Church, a historic African-American church where John F. Kennedy Jr. was famously married. To spend the night, choose from the multiple tenting campsites or the luxurious Greyfield Inn set in another Carnegie home with chef-prepared meals and naturalist tours.

>> Get more tips for visiting Cumberland Island National Seashore

Lyndon Baines Johnson National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

7. The Texas Whitehouse

Those who have ascended to the presidency of the United States are products of the environments in which they were born, raised, and educated. Their early experiences usually have a significant effect on how they manage their presidency and the subsequent policy and programs developed under their watch. 

Lyndon Baines Johnson National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lyndon Baines Johnson is a fitting example of that.  His presidency was guided in full measure by his upbringing, his personal experiences with poverty and shame, and his observation of racism and hate. 

Lyndon Baines Johnson had a staggering impact on the United States during his time as president. Much of his approach to government was instilled during his early life in Texas. The LBJ Ranch was where he was born, lived, died, and was buried.

>> Get more tips for visiting Lyndon B Johnson National Historical Park

Charleston © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

8. Wild now. Wild forever.

Since 1983, the Southeastern Wildlife Exposition (SEWE) has celebrated the finest in wildlife art and the sporting lifestyle. SEWE is a celebration of the great outdoors through fine art, live entertainment, and special events. It’s where artists, craftsmen, collectors, and sporting enthusiasts come together to enjoy the outdoor lifestyle.

Whether you’re browsing for your next piece of fine art, searching for distinctive hand-made creations, looking for family-friendly entertainment, or you just need an excuse for visiting Charleston and the Lowcountry, there’s something for everyone at SEWE, February 17-19, 2023. 

>> Get more tips for visiting Charleston

Riverside County Fairgrounds © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

9. It’s a Date!

Originating as a festival to celebrate the end of the annual date harvest, the annual Riverside County Fair & National Date Festival welcomes over 250,000 guests each February. The 75th Annual Date Festival will be held February 17-26, 2023 featuring 10 days of family fun and world-class entertainment. 

Dates © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Indio Date Festival and Riverside County Fair celebrate the desert’s favorite crop, dates. You’ll also see llamas, dairy goats, poultry, camel and ostrich races, WGAS Motorsports Monster Trucks, concerts, contests, games, food, and a carnival with midway action. It’s one of the best fairs in California because of its location and date.

The Riverside County Fairgrounds hosts a variety of community-focused events all year long, ranging from multi-day festivals to private events. The Fairgrounds are located on Highway 111 in Indio.

Buffalo Trace © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

10. Bourbon bonanza

Buffalo Trace is ringing in the New Year in record-breaking good spirits. The whiskey distillery officially filled its eight millionth barrel of bourbon since Prohibition. The major milestone occurred only four years after the seven millionth barrel was filled due to the distillery’s recent $1.2 billion expansion. 

To celebrate the major achievement, Buffalo Trace announced its Bourbon Experience of a Lifetime contest offering a $10,000 trip for two. After running (or walking) one mile, entrants have the chance to win a fully paid, two-night trip to the Buffalo Trace Distillery in Frankfort, Kentucky.

Buffalo Trace © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

This includes first-class, roundtrip airfare, car service, and a one-night stay at Buffalo Trace’s exclusive Stagg Lodge. The invite-only lodge has never been open to the public before. Built adjacent to the distillery in 2020, the 4,000-square-foot log cabin overlooks the Kentucky River and the city of Frankfort. The house has five bedrooms, four bathrooms, gorgeous great room with floor-to-ceiling windows, a double-sided fireplace, and a wrap-around deck. The experience includes a dinner for two prepared by a private chef at the lodge as well as private tours of the grounds and distillery.

Buffalo Trace © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The second-night stay will be in Louisville, Kentucky.

Winners will also be awarded an $800 Buffalo Trace Distillery gift card, plus Buffalo Trace will donate bourbon to a mutually agreed upon charity of the winner’s choice.

Interested participants in the Bourbon Experience of a Lifetime contest can enter at willrunforbuffalotracebourbon.com.

>> Get more tips for visiting Frankfort

Worth Pondering…

All you need is love. But a little chocolate now and then doesn’t hurt.

―Charles M. Schulz

23 of the Best Places to Visit in Kentucky

Cool, hidden, and unusual things to do in the Bluegrass State

I know what you’re thinking: Kentucky is all about bourbon and horses, right? There’s no denying that many memorable days do start with these storied activities but there are so many more reasons to visit Kentucky.

There are plenty of reasons to visit Kentucky. It isn’t all horse racing, bourbon distilleries, and bluegrass music—although it’s got all three in abundance. Kentucky’s incredibly diverse array of geological features and ecosystems means it offers opportunities for all your favorite outdoor activities, too.

Here are the best places to visit in Kentucky.

Horse farm near Lexington © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lexington

Lexington is known as the “Horse Capital of the World.” Situated deep in Kentucky’s Bluegrass Country, Lexington has several main attractions including the Kentucky Horse Park, The Red Mile, and Keeneland race courses. Outside of the equestrian scene, the city is known for Rupp Arena, Transylvania University, and the University of Kentucky.

Lexington has imposed a unique urban growth boundary to protect the miles of pastures where horses are kept. This means that large swaths of green fields can be found throughout Lexington. In the heart of the city, visitors will find plenty of intriguing places to explore, including the Aviation Museum of Kentucky, Kentucky Theatre, the Mary-Todd Lincoln House, and Martin Castle.

Keeneland © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Keeneland

This famous and historic horseracing arena attracts visitors year round. Even when races are not in session, Keeneland’s significance and extensive history make it a popular Lexington destination. Horses began racing at Keeneland, one of the top Lexington attractions in 1936 and since then, annual races have become a traditional event.

Keeneland © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Keeneland is also host to practice meets for jockeys and horses preparing for the Kentucky Derby as well as a series of horse auctions throughout the year. Visitors to Keeneland are able to view the racecourse, visit the indoor facility, and tour the sales complex. Keeneland’s website offers a calendar of upcoming events and ticket purchasing options.

Keeneland is located at 4201 Versailles Road, Lexington.

More on Kentucky: Escapes in Kentucky for Bourbon, Horses & History

Frankfort © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Frankfort

If Kentucky can be described as the state of horses and bourbon its capital Frankfort is at the heart of it all. Located on the banks of the Kentucky River, it is a quintessential river community with small-town charm, rich history, and typical Southern hospitality. Stroll through the city to admire its fabulous architecture, especially the new and old capitol buildings as well as the new and old governor mansions which are open to the public. Get a sense of 200 years of city history at the Thomas D. Clark Center for Kentucky History and learn about the way of life in old Kentucky at the Liberty Hall Historic Site.

Thomas D. Clark Center for Kentucky History © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Thomas D. Clark Center for Kentucky History

The Thomas D. Clark Center for Kentucky History is a 167,000-square-foot modern research facility and a museum. It also serves as the headquarters of the Kentucky Historical Society. The center has a range of permanent and temporary exhibitions and an extensive research library. The main permanent exhibit is called “A Kentucky Journey” and it provides insight into Kentucky and its inhabitants from prehistoric times to today. The Martin F. Schmidt Research Library is a history and genealogy research library.

Thomas D. Clark Center for Kentucky History © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Center offers resources such as manuscripts, books, oral histories, and graphic collections about the places and people that made Kentucky what it is today. The library is popular among family historians who are trying to trace their genealogy. The center also has the Keeneland Changing Exhibits Gallery which hosts various temporary exhibitions and a collection of Lincoln memorabilia.

The Thomas D. Clark Center for Kentucky History is located at 100 W Broadway Street, Frankfort.

Kentucky State Capitol © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Kentucky Capitol Building

Completed in 1910 in the Beaux-Arts style the beautiful, stately building of today’s Kentucky Capitol is the fourth building to be the home of the Kentucky government since 1792. Its predecessor still stands in downtown Frankfort. The building, designed by architect Frank Mills Andrews has an elegant façade covered with Vermont granite and Indiana limestone.

The interior is decorated with brilliant white Georgia marble, dark green Italian marble, and gray Tennessee marble. The Capitol’s State Reception Room is used as a place for ceremonies and has hand-painted walls with murals and scagliola created to look like Gobelin tapestries. There is a huge amount of art displayed throughout the building. One of the most popular pieces is the Lincoln statue in the rotunda. There is also an interesting collection of dolls that belonged to various First Ladies.

The Kentucky Capitol Building is located at 700 Capital Avenue, Frankfort.

Floral Clock © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Floral Clock

On the grounds of the state capitol in Frankfort stands the beautiful Floral Clock. Its face stretches 34 feet across and is covered by flowers exclusively grown in the state of Kentucky. Beneath the clock is a pool of water that is often used as a wishing well and the coins thrown into the well are used to fund scholarships. The Floral Clock is one of the most-visited attractions in Frankfort and is open to the public every day from dawn until dusk.

The Floral Clock is located at 700 Capital Avenue, Frankfort.

Buffalo Trace © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Buffalo Trace Distillery

A national historic landmark and home of the world’s most award-winning bourbon, Buffalo Trace Distillery is a true Kentucky Landmark. The state’s native spirit has been distilled and aged at Buffalo Trace for over 150 years. The distillery offers five different tours from behind the scenes of the whiskey making process to a tour of the barrels used to store and age the product.

More on Kentucky: Discovering the Joys of Kentucky Bourbon

Buffalo Trace © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

All tours are free and include a sample of Buffalo Trace’s award-winning bourbon at the end. The distillery is open every day except for major holidays. Groups of over 25 people are required to reserve the tour in advance.

Buffalo Trace Distillery is located at 113 Great Buffalo Trace, Frankfort.

Rebecca Ruth © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Rebecca Ruth Candy Tours and Museum

Two former schoolteachers, Ruth Booe and Rebecca Gooch, started Rebecca Ruth Candies in 1919. Their business has survived fires, family tragedies, two world wars, and the Great Depression and it is now a Kentucky institution.

Rebecca Ruth © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Rebecca Ruth’s is home of the famous “bourbon balls,” a treat that mixes chocolate with Kentucky’s best-known liquor. The candy factory and museum is open for tours Monday-Saturday for a $5.00 admission fee. Children 5 and under get in free. After the tour, guests can purchase these sweet treats to take home with them at the company store.

Rebecca Ruth is located at 116 East Second Street, Frankfort.

Grandmas RV Camping, Elizabethtown © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Elizabethtown

Home to 30,000 people, Elizabethtown is the 10th largest city in the state of Kentucky. The town was once home to the log cabin where Abraham Lincoln’s daughter Sarah was born in 1807.

Elizabethtown was also the site of a dramatic Civil War battle in 1862. Modern Elizabethtown boasts a variety of cultural and natural attractions. There is a cluster of museums and event centers in the downtown area and for outdoor adventures, visitors can check out the Bourbon Trail and the Bernheim Arboretum and Research Forest. Another popular attraction in town is Abraham Lincoln’s boyhood home.

Bernheim Forest © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bernheim Arboretum and Research Forest

At 15,625 acres, Bernheim boasts the largest protected natural area in Kentucky. Bernheim contains a 600-acre arboretum with over 8,000 unique varieties of trees. Take a scenic drive through the forest on paved roads or bicycle around the Arboretum, a living library of trees.

Bernheim Forest © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Over 40 miles of trails with varying degrees of ease and difficulty weave their way through the forest at Bernheim; no matter what level you are looking for, there’s a trail for you. Some are handicap accessible. Hang out on the tree tops in the Canopy Tree Walk. This short boardwalk extends into the forest canopy, suspending visitors an astonishing 75 feet above the forest floor.

Bernheim Arboretum is located 20 miles northeast of Elizabethtown off Clermont Road.

Jim Beam © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Jim Beam American Stillhouse

Leaving Shepherdsville and heading southeast to Bardstown your first stop is in Clermont at the home of one of the world’s most noted whiskeys—the Jim Beam American Stillhouse. Although it’s now owned by Japanese mega-conglomerate Suntory, the seven-generation family-owned company’s rich history is still evident. The Jim Beam name dates back to before Kentucky was even a state. Their German immigrant ancestors settled on the land to grow corn that would soon after be used to make their original-recipe whiskey. You would be remiss to pass up one of its most influential brands.

Jim Beam is located 22 miles northeast of Elizabethtown off Clermont Road.

More on Kentucky: Historic Frankfort: Kentucky Distilled

Bardstown © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bardstown

Kentucky’s second-oldest city, Bardstown was first settled in 1780. Nearly 200 buildings in the historic downtown district are listed on the National Register of Historic Places including a 1779 stagecoach stop that today is the Old Talbott Tavern, the oldest bourbon bar in the world.

Old Talbott Tavern © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bardstown was described by Rand McNally and USA Today as the Most Beautiful Small Town in America and it is hard to argue with that description. The county seat of Nelson County, Bardstown is famous around the world for its bourbon while its eclectic shops are well worth exploring too.

The Bourbon Capital of the World is home to six notable distilleries. Kentucky’s “Official Outdoor Drama,” one of the country’s most highly regarded Civil War museums and one of the most recognized structures in the world is here at Federal Hill, better known as My Old Kentucky Home.

Heaven Hill Bourbon Heritage Center © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Distillery tours are a good way to get up close and personal with the beloved oak-aged liquor. By staying in Bardstown you’re roughly a half-hour drive from Jim Beam, Maker’s Mark, and Four Roses. You’re practically spoiled for choice right in Bardstown, as well: The Barton 1792 distillery is a stone’s throw from downtown while Lux Row (which produces Rebel Yell, Ezra Brooks, and more), Willett, and the Heaven Hill Bourbon Heritage Center aren’t much farther.

Wild Turkey Distillery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Kentucky Bourbon Trail

For whiskey lovers, the Kentucky Bourbon Trail is a bucket-list trip, full of opportunities to visit distilleries and learn about bourbon—plus, of course, plenty of sampling along the way. Kentucky is the spiritual home of bourbon, an American whiskey made with at least 51 percent corn and aged in charred new American oak barrels. Kentucky’s bourbon distilleries are sprawled across the state with most of them between Louisville and Lexington.

Barton 1799 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The official Kentucky Bourbon Trail exists under the auspices of the Kentucky Distillers’ Association and it includes 18 distilleries as well as 23 smaller distilleries designated as the Kentucky Bourbon Trail Craft Tour. This official trial doesn’t include every bourbon producer in the state. But it’s still a pretty comprehensive overview and provides a useful way to organize a visit—including a website with plenty of maps and links. 

With 11 unique distilleries within 16 miles of Bardstown’s court square, the Bourbon Capital of the World is a logical starting point for the journey.

My Old Kentucky Home State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

My Old Kentucky Home State Park

My Old Kentucky Home State Park consists of many elements including a 39-site campground, an amphitheater, an 18-hole golf course (the Kenny Rapier Golf Course), and wedding and conference space. But what it is most famed for is Federal Hill more lovingly known as My Old Kentucky Home. Visitors can explore the historic mansion that was once owned by US Senator John Rowan.

My Old Kentucky Home State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

It was an important site in US politics but was most famously known for its association with Stephen Foster’s ballad which the home inspired. Visitors can explore the mostly-brick structure and its amazing architecture which includes hand-carved windowsills and mantels, a stable, and a garden house. Guides dressed in period costumes who are full of fun facts lead the tours to take visitors back to another time.

My Old Kentucky Home State Park is located at 501 East Stephen Foster Avenue, Bardstown.

Maker’s Mark © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Maker’s Mark

Visit the campus-like setting of the Maker’s Mark Distillery in Loretto on the banks of Hardin’s Creek. Established in 1805 as a gristmill distillery, Maker’s Mark is the oldest working distillery on its original site—and a National Historic Landmark. The historic charm is not the only reason to visit the Maker’s Mark distillery; the beautifully manicured grounds are a functioning arboretum; hosting more than 275 species of trees and shrubs and making for an ideal picnic spot.

More on Kentucky: The Ultimate Guide to Kentucky Bourbon Trail

Maker’s Mark © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Tours allow guests to experience the entire bourbon-making process first-hand from the processing of the grains to the rotating of the barrels to the purposely inefficient process of hand-dipping every bottle in signature red wax (visitors even get the chance to dip their very own!). Maker’s Mark promises a truly unique, intimate experience that sheds light on the specialness and tradition of making Kentucky bourbon.

Maker’ss Mark is located 20 miles south of Bardstown in Loretto.

Historic Georgetown © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Georgetown

The picturesque town of Georgetown is often noted for providing “pure small town charm” within Scott County’s country setting of rolling hills. This charming area offers a diverse assortment of things to do for both visitors and locals alike, both indoors and outdoors. From taking in history and art to getting up close and personal with Thoroughbred horses to sampling some of the best bourbon around, Georgetown and the surrounding Scott County is home to a variety of interesting things to do in the Kentucky horse country.

Old Friends at Dream Chase Farm © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Old Friends at Dream Chase Farm

The Old Friends at Dream Chase Farm is a farm for retired Thoroughbred horses that encompasses nearly 140 acres. The unique home for horses offers an opportunity for guests to get up close to several Thoroughbreds including winners of the Kentucky Derby like War Emblem and Silver Charm and Breeders’ Cup Champions Amazombie and Alphabet Soup as well as stakes winners Ide and Game On Dude. The Old Friends at Dream Chase Farm offers daily public tours for a fee, private tours by appointment, and a visitor center.

Old Friends at Dream Chase Farm is located at 1841 Paynes Depot Road, Georgetown.

Yuko-En on the Elkhorn © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Yuko-En on the Elkhorn

The Yuko-En on the Elkhorn is a symbol of friendship between the nation of Japan and Kentucky State. As a four-season garden, travelers and locals alike are welcome to visit the Yuko-En on the Elkhorn all year round. Access to the park is via the Tokugawa Gate along Cincinnati Pike which will lead visitors into the lush 5.5-acre garden.

Yuko-En on the Elkhorn © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Yuko-En features gorgeous Bluegrass landscaping that is presented in the style of a Japanese stroll garden. Stroll along the garden’s many pathways to explore Japanese-style bridges, a serene pond, and several other elements that make the Yuko-En a unique and enjoyable recreational destination.

Yuko-En on the Elkhorn is located at 700 Cincinnati Pike, Georgetown.

Versailles © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Versailles

Located just off the Martha Layne Collins Blue Grass Parkway, the charming town of Versailles in Kentucky is the beating heart of Woodford County. Surrounded by magnificent rolling farmlands and world-renowned bluegrass horse farms, Versailles offers a range of attractions and activities from the impressive Stonewall Farm to the Woodford Reserve which produces one of Kentucky’s finest bourbon whiskeys. Versailles’ beautiful landscapes also offer excellent hiking, horseback riding, and fishing.

Bluegrass Railroad and Museum © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bluegrass Railroad and Museum

The Bluegrass Railroad and Museum is a traveling museum dedicated to the history of the Bluegrass Railroad and the rail transport industry in the region. Based in Woodford County Park, the mobile museum was founded in 1976 by members of the Bluegrass Railroad Club and offers visitors a unique experience that delves into the history of the railroad on an 11-mile round trip excursion. The train journey travels through the beautiful horse farms of Kentucky to Young’s High Bridge in the town of Tyrone where passengers can disembark and soak up spectacular views of the Kentucky River valley area.

Bluegrass Railroad and Museum is located at 175 Beasley Road, Versailles.

Woodford Reserve © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Woodford Reserve Distillery

Woodford Reserve Distillery is an award-winning distillery that produces a range of whiskeys including limited-edition releases like the Kentucky-only Distillery Series. Established by Elijah Pepper in 1812 the distillery is one of the oldest distilleries in Kentucky and is listed as a National Historic Landmark and on the National Register of Historic Places.

Woodford Reserve © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Formerly known as the Old Oscar Pepper Distillery and later the Labrot & Graham Distillery, the distillery produces several whiskeys including Woodford Reserve Bourbon, Woodford Reserve Straight Rye Whiskey, Woodford Reserve Double Oaked, and Woodford Reserve Wheat Whiskey. Visitors can enjoy guided tours and tastings at the facility which is eight miles from Versailles.

Woodford Reserve Distillery is located at 7785 McCracken Pike, Versailles

Midway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Midway

Historic Midway was the first town in Kentucky founded by a railroad. Electricity was introduced in 1911. During the railroad’s heyday, the 1930s, and 40s, up to 30 trains, a day rumbled through the middle of town. Revitalization and rebirth began in the mid-1970s when several antique shops and galleries were established. In 1978, 176 buildings in Midway were placed on the National Register of Historic Places. Now, Historic Midway once again thrives and enjoys its present reputation as one of Kentucky’s favorite spots for antiques, crafts, gifts, restaurants, and clothing.

Berea © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Berea

The Folk Arts and Crafts Capital of Kentucky, Berea is ranked among the top art communities in the U. S. Nestled between the Bluegrass region and the foothills of the Cumberland Mountains, Berea offers visitors over 40 arts and crafts shops featuring everything from handmade dulcimers and homemade chocolate to jewelry stores, art galleries, quilt-makers, and glassblowing studios.

Boone Tavern Hotel, Berea © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Sculptures of mythical beasts, vibrantly painted open hands, and historic architecture are a few of the delights as one wanders the town and college. Berea offers a public art experience on multiple levels. You can enjoy the sculptures, architecture, galleries, and shops, or you can enter the studios of working artists and watch art being created.

Worth Pondering…

Heaven must be a Kentucky kind of place.

―Daniel Boone

Bardstown Sets the Stage for Spirited Memories

The self-ascribed “Bourbon Capital of the World” offers fine spirits and a welcome change of pace

Rand McNally and USA Today called it the “Most Beautiful Small Town in America.” But Bardstown, Kentucky, is much more than just a pretty face.

This “Bourbon Capital of the World” is home to six notable distilleries. Kentucky’s “Official Outdoor Drama,” one of the country’s most highly regarded Civil War museums, and one of the most recognized structures in the world is here at Federal Hill, better known as My Old Kentucky Home.

The Old Courthouse © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Whiskey connoisseurs and history buffs probably already know Bardstown, a small town about 45 minutes south of Louisville. Europeans crossed the Appalachians and settled in the area in the 1770s. The town’s charming and walkable downtown area incorporates significant historic features of the time. Bardstown is also home to or within a short drive of a ton of distilleries including some of the biggest names in bourbon. The self-ascribed moniker, “The Bourbon Capital of the World” is pretty accurate. Like a lot of small towns, Bardstown is a rewarding destination. If you’re looking to get away and take it easy for a couple of days or longer or for a home base for your pilgrimage along the Kentucky Bourbon Trail, this is the ideal location.

The Old Talbott Tavern © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Your options for lodgings in Bardstown run the gamut from chain hotels to centuries-old establishments and nearby RV parks and campgrounds. Some portions of the original 1779 structure housing The Talbott Inn on Court Square in the heart of downtown are still in use; a larger section dates to 1913. Among other historic figures, the inn and its tavern (now a restaurant and bar called Old Talbott Tavern) hosted Daniel Boone, Abraham Lincoln, and Jesse James.

Heaven Hill Bourbon Heritage Center © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Of course, you’re bound to get hungry on any road trip. The best road trips are the ones that involve delicious food, am I right? America is full of so many amazing bakeries that it’s impossible to try all of them in a lifetime. Always on the lookout for fresh doughnuts, delicious regional specialties, and amazing cookies and cakes, brings us to Hadorn’s Bakery, a Bardstown institution that comes highly recommended.

Barton 1792 Distillery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Hadorn’s is a third-generation family bakery founded in Louisville in 1935 and has been Bardstown’s family bakery since 1977. From yum yums, one of the local favorites, to fresh doughnuts, seasonal cookies and cakes, and a whole host of others, everything at Hadorn’s is mouthwateringly delicious. If you’re going to have just one, make it a Yum Yum—a sort of cinnamon bun that’s braided instead of rolled, then glazed and topped with streaks of gooey icing.

As you might expect, most bars around town have walls lined with shelf upon shelf of bourbon and most barkeeps are adept at showcasing the local spirit.

Makers Mark © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bourbon, as you might know, has developed a cult following that can be kind of intimidating for the uninitiated. Distillery tours are a good way to get up close and personal with the beloved oak-aged liquor. By staying in Bardstown you’re roughly a half-hour drive from Jim Beam, Maker’s Mark, and Four Roses. You’re practically spoiled for choice right in Bardstown, as well: The Barton 1792 distillery is a stone’s throw from downtown, while Lux Row (which produces Rebel Yell, Ezra Brooks, and more), Willett, and the Heaven Hill Bourbon Heritage Center aren’t much farther.

Four Roses Bourbon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Many of these firms have been distilling for decades or longer. The massive operation at Bardstown Bourbon Company, 10 minutes from downtown, was launched in 2016. They offer a one-hour From Distillate to Barrel Tour in which a knowledgeable guide leads you through a tasting that included fresh distillate (aka moonshine) as well as aged whiskeys.

Willett Distillery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The tour also takes you through the distilling plant and then out to one of the company’s rickhouses where your guide may thieve (that’s a technical term for dipping with a giant copper straw-like device) some samples from a barrel of BBC’s own bourbon. It’s been aging since 2016 and won’t go to market until next year. (Bardstown Bourbon Company has sold very little whiskey under its own label so far but through its custom distilling program you may have tasted some of their handiwork in what Belle Meade Bourbon and other newer distillers offer while their own whiskey ages.)

Distillery tour © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In addition to being fun and delivering the mildest hint of a buzz, a distillery tour will leave you with some more tools in your kit for deciding what you truly enjoy in a bourbon rather than going on name reputation.

You can easily fill a week with distillery tours in and around Bardstown. But you could also pay a visit to the Old Bardstown Colonial Village featuring a collection of frontier cabins spread over a verdant park. It’s very close to Museum Row which includes the Women’s Museum of the Civil War.

My Old Kentucky Home © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Located less than a mile from the Old Historic Courthouse, My Old Kentucky Home State Park embodies the antebellum South and was the inspiration for Stephen Foster’s world-famous composition, “My Old Kentucky Home,” Kentucky’s official state song. Guides in period costume tell the story of the esteemed Rowan family who called the plantation home from the late 18th to 19th centuries. During the summer visitors can enjoy America’s favorite outdoor drama, “The Stephen Foster Story,” which features Stephen Foster’s best-known works brought to life by performers in period costumes among beautiful sets.

Bernheim Forest © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

There’s no trip to Bardstown that’s complete without a visit to the Bernheim Arboretum and Research Forest, and there’s no better time to visit than the morning! Comprised of more than 15,600 acres of protected wildlife, forest, and natural landscapes, the Bernheim property is a virtual must-see. Since its founding in 1929, this sustainable woodland ecosystem has existed as a proven habitat for diversified flora and fauna providing refuge for so many local species. It’s also one of the area’s premier recreational venues, ideal for those individuals who enjoy strolling through nature while taking life at a pace conducive to easy enjoyment.

Jim Beam © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

If you’ve got the time on the way back to the downtown district, stop by the Jim Beam Distillery, unique in its own right as a location that can effectively rival any distillery in the area.

Worth Pondering…

The sun shines bright in the old Kentucky home,

Weep no more, my lady,

Oh! Weep no more today!

We will sing one song for the old Kentucky Home,

For the old Kentucky Home far away.

—Words and music by Stephen Collins Foster, 1853

The Ultimate Guide to Kentucky Bourbon Trail

The craftsmanship and history behind America’s bourbon distilleries that reside along the bourbon trail

Good morning and Happy National Bourbon Day. Might as well use the occasion to clear up a few things about America’s classic spirit.

  • All bourbon is whiskey, but not all whiskey is bourbon. For example, whiskey that’s made in Scotland is called scotch
  • Among other requirements, bourbon must be distilled from a mash that’s at least 51 percent corn along with malt and rye
  • Kentucky produces 95% of all bourbon

Got it?

The fact that bourbon distilleries give away free samples of their product on their distillery tours isn’t the only reason I visit these landmarks—it’s the history!

Kentucky is an often overlooked and beautiful tourist destination that offers way more than just bourbon. There are also thoroughbred horses, a ton of civil war historical landmarks, and renowned hiking and rock climbing destinations. But you’ve come here for one thing, to learn about the bourbon trail, so the bourbon trail we will cover.

Wild Turkey Distillery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Kentucky’s Bourbon Trail now consists of 18 whiskey distilleries. Some of them are new kids on the block and others have been around since bourbon’s inception. In fact, if you visit every distillery on the trail, you’ll probably hear more than one say it’s the oldest. This is because there are no definite records of how generic “whiskey” became bourbon. So distilleries are known to take liberties to be seen as the oldest and sell more bottles of bourbon at the end of their tours.

The bottom line is, if you’re a fan of bourbon, it doesn’t matter which distillery is the oldest. Each distillery on the bourbon trail (new or old) makes a fantastic product. Each one brings its own unique aspect to the buttery-brown spirit.

Whispering Hills RV Park at Georgetown © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Very few people visit every distillery on the trail since it encompasses nine different cities/towns—some 70 miles apart. I’ve mapped out a bourbon trail itinerary that includes the distilleries we’ve visited during our several visits to the Bluegrass State. This guide will help you choose the ones you want to visit the most. There are some important logistics to note before we get into our guide.

Grandma’s RV Camping in Shepherdsville © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Home Base

It’s up to you where you stay during your trip but I suggest you set up camp near Louisville and Lexington. Being the two largest cities in Kentucky they provide the most options when it comes to campgrounds, food, outdoor recreation, and other non-bourbon-related offerings. Two excellent options for RV camping are Grandma’s RV Camping in Shepherdsville (20 miles south of Louisville) and Whistling Hills RV Park at Georgetown (20 miles north of Lexington). We’ve also stayed at My Old Kentucky Home State Park Campground in Bardstown.

My Old Kentucky Home State Park campground © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Transportation

If you’re planning on trying the samples at the end of the distillery tours (and why would you not?), you’ll want to make sure you have a designated driver. Kentucky doesn’t mess around with driving drunk and the last thing you want is a DUI. Alternately, check out local tour companies with different bourbon trail tour packages.

Woodford Reserve © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Tours

When planning your trip, keep in mind that you don’t have to go on every tour that each distillery offers. In fact, to be able to get in as many distilleries as possible, I’d suggest you don’t. Each distillery tour takes about an hour. In peak season (spring/summer), they can take even longer due to the high volume of visitors and COVID protocol.

Buffalo Trace Distillery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

You can get a good idea of any distillery’s history by strolling the grounds open to visitors and visiting the gift shop. If you decide to use a tour company for transportation, they can tell you everything you need to know about each distillery. We suggest saving the tours (and saving money) for your favorite distilleries. Now, break out your favorite whiskey glass, pour your favorite bourbon, and you’re ready to learn about Kentucky’s Bourbon Trail.

Note: Many of the distilleries on the Bourbon Trail have limited tour schedules or have canceled tours altogether, due to the pandemic. Check each distillery’s website for tour availability and safety guidelines.

Jim Beam © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Home Base: Louisville (Shepherdsville)

Jim Beam

Leaving Shepherdsville and heading southeast to Bardstown your first stop is in Clermont at the home of one of the world’s most noted whiskeys—the Jim Beam American Stillhouse. Although it’s now owned by Japanese mega-conglomerate Suntory, the seven-generation family-owned company’s rich history is still evident. The Jim Beam name dates back to before Kentucky was even a state. Their German immigrant ancestors settled on the land to grow corn that would soon after be used to make their original-recipe whiskey. You would be remiss to pass up on one of its most influential brands.

Heaven Hill © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Heaven Hill

Continue your journey to historic Bardstown—the Bourbon Capital of the World and an Official Gateway to the Kentucky Bourbon Trail. Heaven Hill is the world’s largest family-owned spirits producer making brands such as Elijah Craig, Larceny, Henry McKenna, Fighting Cock, and Evan Williams. The Heaven Hill distillery has been family-owned and operated since 1935 making it fairly young for a distillery of its size. With some help from a notable Kentucky distilling family member, Earl Beam (Master-Distiller from 1946-1975), Heaven Hill got its operations off the ground. Heaven Hill produces more than 400,000 barrels annually and has won multiple world spirit awards. At the Heaven Hill Bourbon Heritage Center you can choose from their tour options and enjoy your samples in their barrel-shaped tasting room.

Old Talbot Tavern © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Wind down in Bardstown as you peruse the shops and start planning your nightcap destination. Take a stroll through the past at the newly renovated Oscar Getz Museum of Whiskey History. Don’t miss an opportunity to dine on classic Kentucky fare in the Old Talbott Tavern (fried green tomatoes is recommended), have a nightcap in the “world’s oldest Bourbon bar”, and even spend the night if you feel so inclined.

Barton 1792 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Barton 1792

The sprawling Barton 1792 is an old-school distillery with an old-school charm. The tour is informal, the buildings unadorned. The distillery’s flagship brand pays tribute to the year Kentucky gained statehood. Rye recipe bourbon, 1792 is handcrafted in small batches, aged 8 years, and bottled at 93.7 Proof. It is very high in rye, so it’s going to give you a lot of spicy flavor upfront. Buttery on your tongue and oh so smooth as it goes down the back of your throat. It has a long finish. Our glasses seemed to empty themselves. Can you tell it’s one of my favorite bourbons?

Willett Distillery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Willett

We moved on to Willett Distillery, where Johnny Drum, Willett, Noah’s Mill, and other small-batch bourbons are made. Production here is 20 barrels a day, compared to Beam’s 5,000 or so. Entering the fermenting room, we noted seven uncovered 10,400-gallon tanks of bubbling brew—beer before liquor, literally.

Maker’s Mark © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Maker’s Mark

From Bardstown we headed 25 miles southeast to Lebanon and Maker’s Mark. Maker’s Mark is quite possibly one of the most recognizable whiskey brands in the world thanks to the six-generation Samuels family recipe and its distinctive wax seal on every bottle. On the tour, you’ll have the option of sealing your very own bottle in wax which is a unique experience you can’t find anywhere else. Trust me, it is great fun!

Four Roses © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Home Base: Lexington (Georgetown)

Four Roses

The beautiful Four Roses Lawrenceburg distillery reflects the story of the brand. The bourbon was named after founder Paul Jones Jr.’s romantic gesture of giving a four-rose corsage to his sweetheart before a ball in 1884. Now the distillery boasts gorgeous Spanish architecture and a mellow vibe.

Wild Turkey Distillery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Wild Turkey

After visiting the Four Roses facility, we headed to their neighbor, the ever-intriguing Wild Turkey, another distillery on the trail with a ton of heritage and family influence. Their main claim to fame is Jimmy Russell, the world’s most tenured master distiller. He’s been crafting bourbon for over 60 years. He now makes bourbon next to his son Eddie who has more than three decades of experience.

Academy Award-winning actor Matthew McConaughey joined Jimmy and Eddie Russell as Creative Director in 2016. The relationship very quickly turned into an opportunity to collaborate on both marketing campaigns and product development. This is most evident in Longbranch bourbon which carries McConaughey’s name and is refined with mesquite from the actor’s home state of Texas to form a unique flavor profile.

Buffalo Trace © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Buffalo Trace

It’s not clear why Buffalo Trace and Barton 1792 were pulled from the Kentucky Distillers Association (KDA) and thereby out of the bourbon trail in 2010. It’s likely because at the time they were Kentucky’s largest bourbon producer and didn’t want to pay the dues (more about that at the end). A part of the bourbon trail or no, the Buffalo Trace distillery is considered a Mecca for bourbon lovers around the globe. The facilities are enormous and house a total of 19 brands of bourbon. If you can’t make their highly informative and still free tour simply strolling around the grounds and picking up a rare bottle of whiskey in the gift shop is worth it.

Woodford Reserve © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Woodford

If you’re looking for Kentucky majesty, you’ll be hard-pressed to find grounds more beautiful than those of the Woodford Reserve Distillery in Versailles. Woodford can claim that it is the “oldest” distillery in Kentucky because it’s been located in the same place since 1812. Other distilleries have moved their operations over the years. Because of this, Woodford Reserve is a national historic landmark.

Woodford holds special significance for me as being the first bourbon distillery visited and one of only two distilleries we have visited on two separate occasions, the other being Maker’s Mark.

Woodlord Reserve © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

How Does a Distillery Get Featured on the “Official” Bourbon Trail?

It’s not entirely clear how distilleries are selected to be featured on the bourbon trail. You probably already know that there are more than 18 distilleries in Kentucky. Currently, there are close to 100. For a distillery to be considered a part of the bourbon trail, they have to be recognized as a Kentucky Distillers Association (KDA) member. The KDA is a non-profit association established in 1953 to ensure that its members followed the best distilling practices.

Woodford Reserve Distillery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Overall, 37 members of the Kentucky Distillers Association operate one or more distilleries in Kentucky. However, when it comes to who gets picked for the trail, it is probably left to closed-door KDA dealings.

Worth Pondering…

I love coffee in a cup, little fuzzy pups, bourbon in a glass, and grass.

―Tom T. Hall