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Exploring Kentucky's Famed Distilleries
This is the kind of tour you can start and finish any which way you want! You can base yourself out of Louisville, Shelbyville, Lexington, Lawrenceburg, Frankfort, or even the Bourbon Capital of the World, Bardstown. All have Best Western hotels ready to serve you.
However, we’ve crafted one from Lexington to Louisville, that hits all the key distilleries in between. Begin – AFTER seeing all the beautiful city and area Lexington has to offer – by hitting the Town Branch Distillery, part of the Lexington Brewing & Distilling Company. It’s right in Lexington, close to the University of Kentucky campus, Rupp Arena, and downtown, right off U.S. 60 on Cross Street.
From the Town Branch Distillery, follow U.S. 60 west (Versailles Road) out of Lexington toward Versailles. You’ll pass Keeneland, a major thoroughbred horseracing track. Approaching Versailles, follow the U.S. 60 and Business U.S. 60 into town. Check out the Nostalgia Station Toy & Train Museum, or do a quick detour to the west side along U.S. 62 to the Bluegrass Scenic Railroad Museum. Either way, eventually follow U.S. 62 (Main Street) a few blocks north of the main downtown intersection and turn onto KY 1659, which begins as Elm Street but becomes McCracken Pike as you continue.
Kentucky Highway 1659 winds through the heart of Kentucky horse country and leads you to the Labrot & Graham Distillery, home to Woodford Reserve, which dates back to 1797. After a tour and exploring their visitor center, with its snack bar, elegant tasting room, deck, and beautiful grounds, double back on KY 1659 to Steele Road.
Head south on Steele Road/KY 1685, and you’ll eventually find yourself at U.S. 62. Turn west, and just across the bridge over a beautiful valley holding the Kentucky River, you’ll find the Wild Turkey Distillery. The tour and the areas surrounding it offer great views, and the tour itself includes not only tastings and checking out the grounds, but a great history of distilling in Kentucky you can enjoy right at the visitor center.
After proper tastings, follow U.S. 62 west again into Lawrenceburg. Check out the town and then head south on U.S. 127 to KY 749, Bonds Mill Road. A very short jaunt west brings you to the Four Roses Distillery which is fairly unique on the Tour in the sense that a) it was established in the early 1900s and b) much of the architecture is more Spanish mission style, similar to what one would see in the American southwest. Roses and other features of its garden punctuate the buildings and landscape here as you enjoy your free tour.
Ready to hit some open road for a bit? From Four Roses duck south briefly on U.S. 127 and jump on the westbound Blue Grass Parkway for a 26-mile high-speed ride over the hills and through the woods of the Bluegrass State. Jump off at Exit 42, which KY Highway 555 and go south towards Springfield. After Springfield KY 555 becomes KY 55; follow that to Lebanon.
In Lebanon, you’ll find the Limestone Branch Distillery, an artisan distillery making moonshine – including a Moon Pie-branded moonshine, along with rye whiskey and bourbon. Everything is pretty much in one warehouse and owners Steve and Paul Beam (does that last name sound familiar?) often conduct the tours, which are free and include samples of moonshine and other current products.
From Lebanon, connect with KY 52 and head back west. Stay on KY 52, which twists and turns through the valleys that lead you to Maker's Mark Distillery. One of the more remote distilleries on the Tour, Maker’s Mark has a large series of buildings you find after what amounts to a pretty long driveway. They have a café, gift shop, walkways, and visitor center where the tours begin.
From Maker’s Mark, follow KY 52 west to Loretto, and then follow KY 49 north for a zig-zag drive through Holy Cross and past a series of hill tops that in Kentucky are popularly referred to as “knobs.” Hills like Rohan Knob and Pine Lick Knob tower several hundred feet above the rolling hill landscape. On this curvy and hilly drive, you’ll leap frog back over the Blue Grass Parkway and head into Bardstown, the “Bourbon Capital of the World.”
As you sneak into Bardstown on KY 49 you’ll reach Heaven Hill Distilleries and the Bourbon Heritage Center. Heaven Hill is easy to spot, with stills lined up for what seems like miles. Follow their tour and check out the Bourbon Heritage Center; then it’s a very brief drive up KY 49 to the Willett Distilling Company, where tours are available of this small craft distillery.
Also along KY 49 is My Old Kentucky State Park before you reach U.S. 150 (Springfield Road), which you can take west into historic downtown Bardstown. Built around the beautiful Nelson County Courthouse, the traffic circle surrounding it also abuts Old Talbott Tavern, which dates back to 1799 and is filled with paranormal stories and history. Head west via U.S. 62/Stephen Foster Avenue and at Fifth Street you’ll find Spalding Hall, a beautiful 1826 structure that holds not only the Bardstown Historical Museum but also the Oscar Getz Museum of Whiskey History – a reminder that while not all whiskey is bourbon, all bourbon is whiskey. Further west along U.S. 62/Stephen Foster Avenue, you’ll reach the Best Western General Nelson Inn, which is a good place to stay for the night if you truly want to have time to check out everything bourbon-related – or otherwise – in Bardstown.
Between the Best Western and Spaulding Hall, a quick drive south on U.S. 31E/Cathedral Manor brings you to the Barton 1792 Distillery. Their tour covers a lot of ground over their 192-acre campus.
To continue the Tour past Bardstown, head back to downtown and take a ¾ spin around the traffic circle; that will put you north on U.S. 31E/150, also known as Third Street. A little north of downtown via Broadway, you can check out the beautiful grounds of the Women’s Civil War Museum, which connects an original 18th century cobblestone path used by early settlers.
Just north of Bardstown, connect with KY 245 and head northwest towards Clermont, where you’ll find the Jim Beam Distillery, which dates back to 1795. The Beam family (originally “Boehm”) certainly has been influential in the Kentucky distilling business over the centuries, and family members have both remained here and have branched out to start or work with others in the region, including a few we’ve already toured.
After the Jim Beam Tour, let’s head for the big city – Louisville. Hop on I-65, barely a mile west of the distillery, and head north. A little over 20 miles brings you downtown where, like the rest of the city, there is plenty to see and do. We’ll make one more stop on this Bourbon Tour: the Evan Williams Bourbon Experience. Located in the heart of Louisville – a rare larger city location only shared on the Bourbon Tour by Town Branch in Lexington – the Evan Williams Bourbon Experience sits across from where Evan Williams’ first distillery was located in the late 1700s. It’s in Louisville’s famous “Whiskey Row” and is an artisanal distillery with tours and tastings, including Evan Williams Bourbon, one of the top-selling Kentucky Bourbons in the world.
From here – provided you’re in condition to do so – you’re mere blocks away from major Louisville attractions, including the big bat at the Louisville Slugger Museum, a boat ride on the Ohio River via the Belle of Louisville or Star of Louisville, a Louisville Bats game at Louisville Slugger Field, or a Louisville Cardinals college basketball game or other major event at the KFC Yum! Center. Of course, from Churchill Downs to the Colonel Harland Sanders Museum and more, there’s plenty to see and do in Louisville, and several Best Western hotels in the city and surrounding suburbs to take care of you.