We were determined people – no snow storm would keep us from finishing the Kentucky Bourbon Trail this year. Because we were in the area in the spring (again – this time for the Nashville full/half marathon), we headed back to Kentucky to pick up what we’d missed in January.
Stop One: Corsair Distillery
We were able to fit in a quick visit to Corsair while on the big Bourbon Trail. Corsair is part of the Craft Bourbon Trail.
Call me crazy, but I would expect that a stop on a bourbon trail (of any type) would have bourbon. Not so here. We tried alternative grain whiskeys, gin, absinthe – dozens of varietals, in fact, to select from for our four tastes. So all of that was weird, even though some of the product was good.
It’s a small operation, as you’d think a craft producer would be. You’ll find them tucked inside an office building on the square in Bowling Green.
There are multiple reasons why this stop was odd, starting of course, with the fact that they didn’t have bourbon. So I wouldn’t prioritize a stop here if you’re trying to decide what to fit in. But if you do have time to spare, it’s worth a visit. Make sure you taste the gin – it’s the best product. I’d recommend a bourbon to try, but again – they didn’t have any on offer at this Craft Bourbon Trail stop.
Stop Two: Heaven Hill Distillery
This was a fun stop. There’s no distillery to tour but you can choose from a 40 min tour/tasting with 4 samples ($20/person) or an hour tour with 3 samples and a visit to the warehouse (slightly less expensive but I don’t know the exact cost since we didn’t do this one). Heaven Hill is the largest independently owned distillery and, in a nod to the world is small, the master distillers are members of the famed Beam family.
This was the most expensive tour we did but it was super fun. Our guide was Kathleen and she wins all the awards for being awesome, fun and informative. We had a mini lecture about the history of whiskey and the distillery, then went to a private room for the tasting.
Take some time to look through the displays before your tour. There’s a lot of good history, well presented in an interesting interactive design – including this quote which we adopted as our official motto. (Or I did, anyway.)
The tasting included the four samples, palate cleansing crackers and a bourbon cream. We really enjoyed the product and bought a bottle of McKenna afterwards. It’s a nice low rye. And by the way, I love the people in this photo very very much.
Stop Three: Bulleit Distillery
Bulleit is a nice tour. The facility is super historic and I always love to see the old buildings. Our tour guide was peppy and kept our time together fun. I also liked ending the tour in the owner’s office. A nice touch to see the executive suite.
Bulleit actually has its own cooperage on site – that means they can repair their barrels on site. Very cool!
Tastings were good. I’m not a huge Bulleit fan – it’s an approachable entry level bourbon from my perspective. So no bourbon purchase here though the gift shop had some really great merchandise in general.
Stop Four: Evan Williams Bourbon Experience
I was prepared to hate this stop. I intended to make the stop just to get a stamp in my passport.
You see, a few months earlier they closed (early) 5 min before we arrived. While we were on the phone with them. Yes, the weather meant people hadn’t visited in significant numbers but still. We were just a few minutes away. Anyway, I was bitter and held a grudge.
Then we chatted with a guest at the Heaven Hill Distillery and learned we should do the speakeasy tour. So we did. And it ended up being one of the best experiences we had.
Why? 1- Great info. 2- You felt you’d gone back in time without it being hokey. 3- Best value for money paid. For $18, we had 4 tastings. One was a $150 retail red label and another was a $280 retail blue label.
You have to know to ask for a speakeasy tour when you stop in (figures, right?). It’s worth it.
Evan Williams’ claim to fame? It was the first bourbon distilled in Kentucky. We learned that cocktails should be made with rye whiskey, as the spice helps to blanace the sweet.
This is a copy of an original prescription for whiskey during Prohibition. Apparently there were many sick people during those times! Weird fact: The largest distributor of alcohol in the US during Prohibition was Charlie Walgreen (of Walgreen’s Pharmacy fame).
Stop Five: Maker’s Mark Distillery
For all of the bourbon I’ve enjoyed, before this tour we’d never tried Makers Mark.
MM has probably some of the most scenic facilities we’ve been to – brand colors throughout, nestled amidst the mountains, a creek running through the center. Add to that the effort you put in to find MM, driving narrow curvy roads through the back country, and you definitely feel like you’ve arrived at a special place.
The MM tour is great. Lots of history. Comprehensive overview of the entire process, including a chance to watch them dip the bottle in the iconic red wax.
Hand printing bottle labels. (!!)
Dipping in the red wax.
If you are prioritizing/planning a trip, I’d recommend MM as one of the Bourbon Trail must-stops. Plus you walk under this amazing Chihuly glass ceiling in the final rickhouse as you leave. Beautiful!!
Stop Six: Woodford Reserve Distillery (a repeat!)
We returned to Woodford and this time got to do a tour. It was so worth it! The facility is beautiful and historic, and you get a great overview from grain to bottling.
Filling the barrel (very cool!)
They still offer the nicest and most comprehensive tasting.
We made sure to get our passport stamped along the way and this time after we got home, we dropped our passports in the mail. About 3 weeks later we got a rocking shirt (and our passport) in the mail from Louisville. Fun times!