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Heaven Hill Distillery / The Kentucky Bourbon Trail is a guided tour that ushers curious parties around the beautiful hills of Kentucky to numerous well-known distilleries to learn about and taste authentic Kentucky bourbon. / Image courtesy of Heaven Hill / Published: 10.25.16

The Best Part Of The Bourbon Trail Is... You Guessed It, The Bourbon

If the Kentucky Bourbon Trail is one of those things that you’ve always wanted to do but haven’t actually done, I’ve got a word of advice: plan your trip now.

This was one of the most enjoyable weekends I’ve ever had. The history, the passion, the craftsmanship – it all comes together in that first tasting.

Should you like bourbon before you go? Probably. But even if you don’t, you should go anyway. You might find you like it by the time you’re finished.

THE KENTUCKY BOURBON TRAIL

The real star of the Kentucky Bourbon Trail is Kentucky itself – or, more accurately, Kentucky’s mountainous terrain.

You see, way back in the 18th century, Kentucky’s farmers were still trying to grow and sell corn. But those pesky Kentucky hills made it difficult to transport that corn to the market. So what did the industrious people of Kentucky do?

God bless them, they made bourbon.

While touring the Kentucky Bourbon Trail, not only is this rich history unfurled before you... Not only are you immersed in the science and art of bourbon making... But you’re also treated to some of the most breathtaking views of a sloping landscape this side of the Atlantic.

Oh, and you get to taste the bourbon. A lot of it.

But do be careful. This isn’t apple juice, after all. And while you’re busy tasting the aromatic notes of vanilla and citrus, you’re likely to get a little toasted. But hey, that’s all part of the fun.

ODDS AND ENDS

  • There are nine primary designations on the Bourbon Trail. Mix and match as you please (or do all of them!) but make sure to check out Bulleit. It was my favorite distillery and remains my favorite bourbon.
  • In 2012, the Bourbon Trail announced a new “Craft Tour” of seven artisan distilleries. Do yourself a favor and mix a few of these in with the larger ones as the tours are more intimate. My favorite of these was Willet.
  • You can knock off about four distilleries in a day, five if you’re feeling bold. In my experience the tours took 30-40 minutes each, with about 10 minutes afterward for tastings.
  • During the tastings, don’t just sling ‘em back while cavorting around the grounds. This is really your opportunity to pick the minds of the guides, who are often just standing there watching everyone get increasingly lit.
  • I went in peak season and the largest tour we had was a manageable 30 people (Maker’s Mark). The smallest we had around 15 (Willet). At no point was the amount of people a problem, so don’t be concerned about it.
  • Hire. A. Driver. Seriously. Not only is it safer and more convenient, but you’ll also get to gaze out upon that wonderful Kentucky countryside we were talking about above. Safety first, folks.

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For more information on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail, check out the website.

Note: If you've ever wondered what makes something "bourbon" vs. "whiskey," here's a Thrillist article with your answer. SparkNotes version: Bourbon is made from 51% corn is produced in Kentucky and must be stored in charred oak barrels.



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