Bourbon Trail and Then Some

My husband, Rich, brought up the Bourbon Trail as a weekend getaway. After doing a little research, I discovered that someone was using a marketing scheme to work up business for the string of distilleries through the center of the state of Kentucky. It sounded like a great idea and another opportunity to learn more about distilled spirits.

Our first visit into Bourbon country was for an extended weekend visit. We made our headquarters in Louisville at the esteemed Galt House hotel. On Saturday, I drove Rich down to Bardstown to the Heaven Hill distillery, which is just outside of town. The property at Heaven Hill has the typical views that you get in Kentucky with forest and open meadows.

We signed up for a tour and walked around the gift shop until it was time to line up.  The tour had ten people on it. The group was small by today’s standards, but not so crowded that you could talk to the guide and move around the sights of the distillery.

The tour took you through the distillery showing each task it took to make bourbon. It gave history on the distillery, the family, and the components that went into bourbon made in Kentucky. It was interesting to see their process and get their perspective on distilling.

After the tour, we decided to have lunch at Talbott’s Tavern in downtown Bardstown. The stone building that houses the tavern was built in 1779 and sits on the square. It is one of the oldest western stagecoach stop in the U.S. You can feel the history when you enter the front door. It has aged nicely and carries all the warmth of time and care. Lunch was excellent and we were ready for our next few stops.

Rich picked out smaller customers who are signed up with Whisky Systems, the company where he works. This gave us a downsized version of the larger operation we had seen in the morning. Limestone Branch Distillery is in Lebanon, Kentucky. We traveled the back roads to reach the distillery. The field stone building looks new on the site, but with an aged appearance.

The tour led us through their distilling tasks. With only a small tour group, we had opportunities to see things in the distillery that might not have been possible with a large group.  Rich was able to talk to the guide, who also worked in the distillery, about specific tasks, requirements, and how Limestone handled some issues. This is not something you get to do everywhere.

The other nice thing about this tour was that Limestone makes Yellowstone Bourbon.  My maternal grandfather drank this brand.  I remember seeing a bottle of Yellowstone sitting high up on a shelf in his kitchen over the years.  I do not believe that he drank it very fast.  The level in the bottle seemed to go down slowly from one month to the next between our visits.  Then a new bottle would appear a couple of times a year. 

Over the years, we have been able to do the Bourbon Tour and go to different distilleries for each visit. You can only do two or three distilleries on one tour. The tours are usually an hour or so. You must allow hour and half for each distillery visit. Then you need to allow time to spend in the tasting room. If you have questions you want to ask, this can take some time with a group that might have ten or more people and they all want to ask a question. This accounts for thirty to forty more minutes.

Most of the distilleries have beautifully kept grounds that you can wonder around and see how the families used the properties in their everyday lives. I always enjoy the various gardens that are available. These might be a vegetable garden, but most include flower gardens highlighting the Kentucky flowers. This can be another fifteen to thirty minutes, if your husband allows you to look.

You can spend up to two full hours or more on site at a distillery to appreciate all they have to offer. Then you have the drive to and from your hotel and even between the distilleries.

Best stories from Bourbon Tours

  • At Wild Turkey, the tour guide asked Rich to stay afterwards to talk about homebrewing. I sat at the front desk with the ladies who worked for the distillery. A gentleman came in asking how to get to Louieville. The ladies corrected his pronunciation several times to “Luvahl.” After the fifth time, the entire group at the desk yelled out “Luvahl” every time the gentleman said “Louieville.”

I signed the guest book before leaving to see that my boss had been on a tour earlier the same day. I just had to text him to let him know I saw his name in the book.

  • Four Roses: We went on a tour with a group of people who were part of a combined bachelor and bachelorette party. The lady managing their experience was having trouble getting everyone onto the party bus after the tour. I believe they had already been to two distilleries and trying to get to the fourth. A few members were not holding up well and others just wanted to stay and drink more. Unfortunately, we left before I could determine how successful she was going to be with getting them on the bus.
  • Party buses loaded with men is a popular tour at the distilleries. We have been to a few tours where men poured off the bus. Quite literally. I am not sure how they stood up. They would make it through the tour and then sit down at the tasting with relief. Their friends had a job of getting back up and on the bus again after another four glasses of bourbon.
  • We toured Maker’s Mark with my brother-in-law, Alex, and his wife, Kelli, a fellow outlaw.  The grounds were so beautiful, but I got very little time to enjoy them.  This visit was for my brother-in-law to enjoy the distillery atmosphere for his favorite bourbon.  You can buy a bottle of Maker’s Mark and put your own touch to the dripping red wax.  Alex was definitely a kid in the candy store for this activity.  He made sure that we got several good pictures of him dipping his personal bottle of Maker’s into the wax vat.
  • I rented a house in downtown Bardstown for a stay rather than a hotel anywhere else.  It turned out that the house was built around an original cabin from the early 1700s.  It was so small, but had so much detail to it that it beyond cute.  We could walk to Talbott’s Tavern, the square uptown, and pretty much anywhere in the downtown area. 
  • The Kentucky Dinner Train was another attraction that we did with my brother-in-law and sister outlaw.  The train leaves out of Bardstown and travels a 20-mile branch of the old Louisville and Bardstown Railroad line.  It is a two-and-a-half-hour trip out and then back with dinner and drinks served onboard.  The gentlemen enjoyed their bourbon with dinner as we watched the scenery go by, including the Jim Beam Distillery.