Bourbon’s growth doesn’t just affect whiskey producers. Business is up at cooperages, bottle makers, label printers, shippers, grain silos, still manufacturers, warehouse builders, and every other related business. But no ancillary industry has benefited more from the bourbon boom than tourism. It began simply, with official highway signs pointing to distillery ‘attractions.’ Then the Kentucky Distillers Association (KDA) packaged its member distilleries up as the Kentucky Bourbon Trail Tour. Now there is a companion Craft Distillery Trail Tour too. Tennessee, with Daniel and Dickel and a host of new craft distilleries, has its own fledgling association and trail. Today, whiskey is one of the main drivers for tourism in the region.
Speaking of drivers, one of your first questions might be, “Do I need a car?” The region’s tourism infrastructure doesn’t really support the carless, and distilleries tend to be out of the way. Your best option if you don’t drive is a tour company such as Mint Julep Tours. You can fly into Louisville or Lexington, where tours typically begin and end, and take a cab or shuttle to a downtown hotel. Both downtowns are compact, walkable, and safe. The tour company will do the rest.
However you go, now is a good time to take a bourbon tour, because despite the growing popularity, prices remain very reasonable for everything from lodging to dining to the inevitable bottle purchases.
Some travelers don’t like to plan, but if you want to visit America’s whiskey heartland you should plan at least a little. It’s about 70 miles from Buffalo Trace in Frankfort to Maker’s Mark in Loretto. Distances stretch out even more if you want to visit some craft distilleries too. About 300 miles separate Pogue in Maysville from M. B. Roland in Pembroke. Want to see Tennessee sights? Louisville to Lynchburg is 250 miles. If you don’t want to spend most of your trip driving, consider geography as you decide what to do.
As for where to sleep, eat, and drink, you can pick one base of operations or move around. The distilleries are probably at the top of your list of things to do, so consider where they are. About half are relatively close to Louisville or, if you want to get closer, Bardstown. The rest are just west of Lexington.
Is a bourbon tour appropriate for children? Children are permitted on all of the distillery tours and you will see plenty of families with children when you go. It’s up to each family to decide if it is a good idea or not. Children are not allowed to taste, of course.
We’ve broken up this guide city-by-city with the distilleries highlighted and with recommendations for what to do and where to stay, eat, and—of course—drink.