Bourbon and Bluegrass

Kentucky's 70-mile tasting trail makes its mark
These bottles are all produced by Jim Beam Distillery.

Bourbon: it’s more than a drink in a glass. By law, all of the ingredients to make this rich, amber whiskey must be made in the United States. Kentucky is uniquely positioned to produce 95 percent of it because of one key ingredient: limestone-rich water.

Today, the Bluegrass State is the home of the world’s most notable distilleries, including Four Roses, Heaven Hill, Jim Beam, Maker’s Mark, Wild Turkey Bourbon, Woodford Reserve, and Town Branch Bourbon.

These distilleries are part of the Kentucky Bourbon Trail, a seven-stop route that takes visitors through some of the state’s most historic and picturesque towns. And now, National Geographic has named the Bourbon Trail to its “Best Spring Trips 2013” list.

Here is a glimpse inside each distillery:

Jim Beam

At first, Jim Beam — now the world’s No. 1-selling bourbon — was an experiment for founder Jacob Beam, who sold his first barrel of the family heirloom in 1795. He couldn’t have known it would become a family livelihood. Two hundred years and seven Beam generations later, Jim Beam bourbon is as old and new as the first glass ever poured.

The distillery recently welcomed a new 9,300-square-foot visitor’s center and now offers tours inside its craft distillery, where visitors throw grains into the mash tub and rinse a bottle before placing it on the bottling line. Tours are $8 and run from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Mon.-Sat.; noon to 4:30 p.m. Sunday.

526 Happy Hollow Road, Clermont, Ky. • 502-543-9877,

Maker's Mark

With its signature red wax seal, Maker’s Mark didn’t leave its mark until 1958, when the first bottle was poured and stored. Today, the structures on its grounds tell a story. The facilities are sleek and modern, dressed in black paint with red shutters, yet each holds the historical charm of their 1800s heritage.

Visitors tour the Quart House, the oldest liquor sales building in the country, and dip their very own bottle in red wax. Tours are $7 and begin hourly from 10:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Mon.-Sat.; 1:30, 2:30, and 3:30 p.m. on Sunday.

3350 Burk Spring Road, Loretto, Ky. • 270-865-2099,

Four Roses

Legend has it that when Four Roses’ founder Paul Jones Jr. proposed marriage to the girl he loved, she had to mull it over. She told him that if she was wearing a corsage of roses the next time he saw her, she’d be his bride. Indeed, at their next encounter the lady was wearing four red roses, and the rest is history.

Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, Four Roses Distillery is a 103-year-old, Spanish Mission-style facility located in Lawrenceburg, Ky., where it produces 10 unique bourbon recipes. Enjoy free private tours, which run from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Mon.-Sat.; noon to 3 p.m. Sunday.

1224 Bonds Mill Road, Lawrenceburg, Ky. • 502-839-3436,

Heaven Hill

The largest family-owned producer of distilled spirits in the U.S., Heaven Hill Distilleries has filled more than 6 million barrels between its three labels of bourbon — Evan Williams, Elijah Craig, and Larceny Bourbon — and it’s the only stop on the trail located in Bardstown, Ky., the Bourbon Capitol of the World.

Tour highlights include a visit to the Bourbon Heritage Center, which features a barrel-shaped tasting room and a film on bourbon history. There are three different levels of tours ranging in price from $3 to $25. Hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mon.-Sat.; noon to 4 p.m. Sunday.

1064 Loretto Road, Bardstown, Ky. • 502-348-3921,

Wild Turkey Bourbon

Currently, Wild Turkey is one of the best-selling premium bourbons in the world for the rich, smooth flavors infused in each of its labels, including American Honey, Kentucky Spirit, and Rare Breed.

From milling to mashing to malting, the distillery is proud to show off its bourbon-making process to the public and claims it is the “benchmark bourbon for uncompromising drinkers of Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey.” Free tours are from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Mon.-Sat.; noon to 3 p.m. Sunday.

1525 Tyrone Road, Lawrenceburg, Ky. • 502-839-4544,

Transportation between distilleries is not provided. To visit all seven distilleries, it is recommended you allow a total of three days. For those planning to imbibe along the way, Louisville-based Mint Julep Tours provides several professional transporting options. For more information, call 502-348-3623 or visit


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