Skip to main content

Bourbon and the Kentucky Bourbon Trail

  • Author:
  • Updated date:
Heaven Hill on the Bourbon Trail

Heaven Hill on the Bourbon Trail



Barrels aging in a rickhouse.

Barrels aging in a rickhouse.

It's not Bull, it's Bourbon

It's not Bull, it's Bourbon

Unique Bourbon

Loved around the world, Kentucky Bourbon is unique. The history of bourbon in Kentucky goes back to the beginnings of the westward expansion. Many settlers moved west when promised a parcel of land if they would build a cabin and grow corn. Kentucky was then part of Virginia and the dream of land ownership was all that was needed to begin the migration to the West.

The Kentucky Bourbon Trail which now draws visitors from around the world explores some of the most famous breweries in Kentucky. When Jim Beam brought his distilling knowledge with him as he crossed into what is now known as Kentucky the history of whiskey and bourbon was changed forever.

  • Bourbon has to be 51% corn.
  • It is aged and manufactured differently than whiskey.

What's on the Trail?

The tours of Jim Beam Distillery, Wild Turkey Distiller, Marker’s Mark Distillery, Four Roses Distillery, Town Branch Distillery, Woodford Reserve Distillery, and Heaven Hill Bourbon Heritage Center includes enjoying the beautiful Kentucky farmland. Tourists will learn more about the distilling industry as the interesting tour guides explain the nuances of each distillery. Even bourbon connoisseurs can take away interesting trivia

  • Jim Bean is a 7th generation distillery. Kentucky supplies 95% of the world's bourbon, and of that 95%, 50% is supplied by Jim Beam.
  • Jim Beam has produced 14 millions barrels of whiskey since prohibition.

Heaven Hill Distillery

Heaven Hill’s Distillery has an award-winning visitor center on the trail. Set in picturesque Bardstown, visitors have the option to ride a trolley which tours the town of Bardstown, while a knowledgeable guide excites the riders with colorful stories and even a song based on the history of the town, distillers, and My Old Kentucky Home.

Visitors come from all over the world to tour the BourbonTrail and the average visitor stays 3 nights in Historic Bardstown. Bardstown is known as the Bourbon Capitol of the world. That title can only be used with permission of those who registered the name.

In 1976, Heaven Hill had a monstrous fire that burned a number of warehouses, some local city buildings and consumed 95,000 barrels of bourbon. The day after the fire the distillery opened with help from the other distilleries in the area.

Scroll to Continue
  • Bourbon has to be distilled in barrels at least four years and many are aged nine years.
  • Bourbon has to be cured in tarred barrels. Part of the flavor of bourbon comes from the char of the barrels produced when the barrels are fired.
  • 51% of the bourbon has to be corn.

Upon returning to the visitor center, the tour of the excellent museum begins including a background video and a walking tour to one of the rickhouses (warehouses) on the property.

Guests will complete the tour and learn first-hand some of the distinctions of bourbon during a bourbon tasting lead by an expert on how to best enjoy bourbon, and answers all questions about bourbon.

The tour wouldn’t be complete without a visit to the gift shop to peruse bourbon laced products. Especially good are the bourbon balls, the sauces, salsas, and chocolate syrups that may be purchased for future cooking projects, not to mention a variety of bourbons.

Each visitor receives a small gift bag with a tour ticket purchase. Pick up a passport that can be stamped at each distillery along the Bourbon Trail and receive a T-Shirt when all seven stamps are received.

Facts of Note

As you tour, you will learn fascinating facts:

  • Dr. James Crow is credited for bringing the science of distilling to Kentucky, and did you know that the master distiller goes along with a distillery when sold?
  • Many of the master distillers have passed their knowledge and their position on to their own children.
  • The black mold seen on rickhouses is a by-product of the distilling process. The rickhouses are cooled and heated by nature and there is a 30-degree difference from the first floor to the seventh, so be sure to dress cool in the heat of the summer and warm in the wintertime.
  • The water in this area of the country, due to the limestone found in Kentucky is believed to be the best water for distilling. The water contains no calcium.
  • On average 20 gallons of whiskey evaporates through the barrel during the distilling process and is called the "Angles Share."
  • Approximately 15,000 people work in the bourbon industry in Kentucky.
  • The Silver Dollar in Louisville on historic Frankfort Avenue has been name in the top ten Bourbon bars in the Country.
  • All bourbons are whiskeys, but not all whiskeys are bourbon.
  • Bourbons must be aged in new oak charred barrels.
  • Markers Mark is the only bourbon that was named by a woman.
  • Brown-Foreman Distillery in Louisville is the only distillery with its own cooperage.
  • Bourbons must not contain any colorings or additives.

The color of the bourbon depends on how many years the bourbon has been in the barrow. The longer it ages, the darker the color is due to evaporation. What is the difference in whiskey and bourbon? Bourbon has no other flavorings, spices, or additives added in any manner. Some of the bourbons are bottled only for a particular foreign market. The Bourbon Trail features bourbons, but many of the breweries make a variety of alcoholic beverages bottled in other areas.

If you are planning to visit Kentucky, why not visit the Bourbon Trail? It will surprise and delight you.

Whiskey Roll in Nearby Louisville

At the visitors center in downtown Louisville, you can proceed to several starting points for your tour including the Frazier Museum. Be sure to pick up a "Passport" to be validated at each stop along the Whiskey Trail which crosses the state. Distilleries include

  • Evan Williams which begins its tour on Main Street in Louisville, KY with their tour and tasting.
  • James Bean
  • Markers Mark Rabbit Hole
  • Woodford Reserve
  • Wild Turkey Town Branch Stitzel-Weller

Other Kentucky Get-Aways

Related Articles