The official Kentucky Bourbon Trail consists of the eight Kentucky whiskey distilleries that are open to the public. Those are highlights for any whiskey enthusiast, to be sure, but there is plenty more to see. Here are 25 suggestions.
Many of the places on this list are not open to the public. You can see a lot from the public highway but, please, no trespassing.
The Brown-Forman corporate headquarters complex is just west of downtown on Dixie Highway, south of Broadway. Brown-Forman owns Jack Daniel’s, Woodford Reserve, Old Forester and Early Times. The complex consists of offices, meeting rooms, labs, bottling and distribution. The company has been at this location for most of its 140 years.
The distillery just east of Brown-Forman is Heaven Hill’s Bernheim. Those silo-looking structures are their 128,000 gallon fermenters, the largest in the industry. The brick aging warehouses and other nearby buildings are from the 1930s. Diageo built the distillery in 1992 on the site of the 19th century Belmont and Astor distilleries. Heaven Hill bought it all in 1999.
The Brown Forman Distillery is a few miles south, also on Dixie Highway in the suburb of Shively. It is hard to see anything there because it is at the end of a private drive. In addition to the distillery there are several masonry warehouses.
From Dixie Highway take Ralph Avenue over to Fitzgerald Road to see the old Stitzel-Weller (aka Old Fitzgerald) Distillery. The distillery has been silent since 1992 but the warehouses are being used by Diageo, which owns the place, and also by Maker’s Mark.
Dixie Highway and Seventh Street Road in Shively form a triangle where there were once many major distilleries. Except for Brown-Forman they’re all silent, but you can still sense what it was once like.
Distillery Commons, on the east side of Louisville between Payne Street and Lexington Road, is an old distillery site last operated by National Distillers. No distilling was done there after Prohibition but it was an aging and bottling operation, primarily for Old Grand-Dad Bourbon, until the late 1970s. Many of the buildings are still standing, adapted for other uses.
Cave Hill Cemetery, adjacent to Distillery Commons, with its main entrance on Baxter Avenue, is the final resting place for many Louisville whiskey barons, including Stitzel-Weller’s Pappy Van Winkle and William Weller, and Brown-Forman’s George Garvin Brown. Also buried there is the man after whom Brown named Old Forester Bourbon, Dr. William Forrester.
In downtown Louisville, Main Street’s ‘Distillers Row’ can still be glimpsed in the several blocks west of the Kentucky Center for the Arts. It is the greatest concentration of cast iron facades outside of New York City and was home to many whiskey companies because of its proximity to the Ohio River wharves.
When Louisville was full of whiskey barons, the Pendennis Club, on Muhammad Ali Blvd., was their hang out. Reputedly the Old Fashioned Cocktail was invented there.
The old Chapeze Distillery is behind the Jim Beam plant at Clermont. To get there, drive past Jim Beam, you stay on on the main road and turn right on the road after the JB entrance, named Chapeze Lane. Beam owns it and uses the aging warehouses. This was Czechoslovakia in Bill Murray’s movie, Stripes.
Bernheim Forest is a spectacular 10,000 acre public nature park on the other side of Route 245 from Clermont. Issac Wolfe Bernheim was a successful whiskey broker and distillery owner who created I. W. Harper bourbon. Bernheim Forest was one of his many philanthropic gifts.
Between Clermont and Bardstown on Route 245 is Deatsville, site of the old T. W. Samuels distillery. It has been silent since the 1950s but all of the 10 warehouses are still in use.
The site of Jim Beam’s first distillery is north of Bardstown on Old Nazareth Road. Nothing is there from when he owned it in 1882 with his brother-in-law, Albert Hart. The warehouses, built after Prohibition, are now owned and used by Heaven Hill.
Beam Global’s largest whiskey distillery is Booker Noe near Boston. It is just east of the Lebanon Junction exit off I-65 on Route 61. You can drive most of the way around it on public roads.
Athertonville is on US 31-E about 15 miles south of Bardstown. There are some old distillery buildings there, last used for whiskey-making in 1987. Today it is a small cooperage. This is the site of the original Knob Creek distillery, the one where Abraham Lincoln’s father worked. Knob Creek finishes its run to the Rolling Fork River nearby.
The Oscar Getz Museum of Whiskey History is in Spalding Hall on 5th St. in Bardstown. Getz owned the nearby Tom Moore Distillery and the museum is based on artifacts he collected. Many of the volunteer docents are from local families.
Beam Global’s Frankfort facility is the former Old Grand-Dad Distillery at Forks of the Elkhorn, where several historic distilleries have stood. No distilling is done there now, just aging and bottling. It’s off US 460 east of Frankfort. The site is beautiful but a little hard to take in from the public way.
The ruins of the Old Taylor and Old Crow Distilleries are conveniently next to each other on Glenn’s Creek Road, aka McCracken Pike, south of Frankfort, just across the border in Woodford County. Both complexes are being slowly demolished by salvagers for their vintage bricks and heart-of-pine lumber.
Rebecca Ruth Candies was founded in 1919 and introduced its first bourbon candies in 1938. The two founders were women; Ruth Hanly and Rebecca Gooch. Ruth’s grandson runs the company today. The factory in downtown Frankfort offers tours. The store on US 60 has the giant “Bourbon Candy” sign.
Daniel Boone showed the first distillers where Kentucky was. Heading out of downtown on East Main St. you’ll go up a steep hill. Boone’s grave is on the right. Watch for the signs. The site offers a spectacular view of the city below.
Berry Hill Mansion was built in 1900 by one of the owners and executives of the Old Crow Distillery. It is owned by the Commonwealth of Kentucky and open to the public. Here you can see how Kentucky’s whiskey barons lived in their heyday. The gothic revival music room features a full-size cathedral pipe organ.
When you visit the Four Roses Distillery, continue west on Bonds Mill Road and take in what is left of the Old Joe Distillery. There have been distilleries here since the early 19th century and for most of that time, two of them. The aging warehouses you see were part of Old Joe, not Four Roses, and are now owned by Wild Turkey.
After you visit Wild Turkey, continue past it, across the Kentucky River; then turn around and come back. The view of the river from the bridge and of the distillery from the other side are well worth the short detour.
James Crow’s grave is in Versailles Cemetery. Before the Civil War, Crow made the first 'name brand’ American whiskey, Old Crow. He also is credited with introducing the sour mash process at the nearby Woodford Reserve Distillery. Oscar Pepper, who built that distillery, put his first stills up right behind what is now the Woodford County courthouse.
The Jack Daniel’s and George Dickel Distilleries are right next door to Kentucky in Tennessee. You’ve come this far, why not see everything?