Gateway to Bourbon Country.
By Hope S. Philbrick
Louisville, Kentucky is a must-stop for any bourbon lover. The city is packed with delicious bourbon experiences from distilleries to speakeasies, museums to bars, legendary traditions to innovations yet to be discovered.
The Kentucky Bourbon Trail Welcome Center & Spirit of Kentucky Exhibition is set to open at the Frazier Kentucky History Museum in Downtown Louisville this month and will serve as the Official Starting Point of the Kentucky Bourbon Trail.
This is all very exciting and somewhat misleading. Having looped around the Kentucky Bourbon Trail and Kentucky Bourbon Trail Craft Tour multiple times, I can assure you that there are multiple ways to tap that proverbial barrel of fun and no one route is better, more official, more proper, or more authentic than another. (Still, every venue and community is eager to make the case as to why it’s the best starting point. Smile and nod politely, knowing you really need to see them all.) How you get around to the various stops and in what order is up to you, and ultimately depends on whether you’re attempting to see every distillery on one trip, focusing on one segment of the journey with plans to return to dip into other areas later, and other issues including from where you’re driving or flying into Kentucky. The important thing, assuming you’re a 21 plus adult who enjoys “America’s Native Spirit,” is to get yourself to Kentucky and explore Bourbon Country.
Of course no exploration of Kentucky bourbon would be complete without a stop in Louisville. And while you’re in the spirited city, yes, make a point to stop at the Frazier to check out the new exhibition. It’s sure to feature interesting artifacts and facts about Kentucky, bourbon and the spirit that seeps throughout Louisville’s culture.
After visiting regularly for many years, I made the mistake of failing to get to Louisville for a few years—and, wow, has it changed! There’s so much new to see and do in Louisville, I couldn’t see it all during my brief visit and definitely need to get back ASAP.
Downtown Louisville is very walkable, so you can park your car and stroll around from place to place—which comes in especially handy if you’re imbibing in bourbon tastings, flights and cocktails. (Safety first!)
Three “New” Distilleries…
Kentucky Peerless Distilling Co. has roots dating back to 1889, but last May brought a brown liquor to market for the first time in 100 years. So, I’m calling it new. An official stop on the Louisville Main Ticket as well as the Kentucky Bourbon Trail Craft Tour, Peerless Distillery is, quite honestly, without peer as winner of a triple crown of packaging: It’s the first distillery in the U.S. to win “Best Cap,” “Best Bottle,” and “Best Label” design. The distillery itself—a bit off the beaten path yet still within the walking zone of Downtown Louisville—is fantastic, with glistening equipment and stunning offices. The tour is equally impressive, revealing the complex history of the structure and of founding family members that even encompass the invention of the brownie—yes! Peerless uses a sweet mash (a less common approach than sour mash), which starts with fresh yeast, grain and water every single batch. Described by my tour guide Gary Bajdek as the “most high tech distillery,” there’s much to admire during the facility tour including a “patented delivery system and six-head roller mill.” The liquid inside each bottle impresses, and tours end with a tasting that lets you compare different expressions with creative names. The gift shop is stocked with uncommon treasures. During your visit you may even get to meet the coolest distillery cat, Princess Rye.
Angel’s Envy is the only independent project of Master Distiller Lincoln Henderson, who during his tenure at Brown-Forman helmed many notable brands including Woodford Reserve and Gentleman Jack. He came out of retirement to create Angel’s Envy with his son, Wes; Angel’s Envy Kentucky Straight Bourbon Finished in Port Barrels is the realization of an idea that Lincoln had carried around for years and finally found the chance to pursue. Angel’s Envy Distillery is located in Louisville’s Whiskey Row, a historic area with roots dating before the Civil War. Located close to the Ohio River and train lines, Whiskey Row was home to whiskey headquarters, brokerages, barrel warehouses, blending houses and served as the epicenter of Louisville’s whiskey production until Prohibition. Angel’s Envy is just one of the companies helping Whiskey Row thrive again. Production started on September 3, 2016; public tours began November 19, 2016. Tours delve into production details (the mashbill is 10% malted barley, 18% rye, 72% corn; Angel’s Envy is made using Louisville tap water), facility features (the 35-foot tall Vendome Column Still can run 25 gallons of fermented mash per minute), and history. Tours end in a tasting room that opens to a “secret” bar if you’re interested in sipping more than a smidgen of the good stuff. Angel’s Envy is a stop on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail.
Old Forester Distillery opened on Whiskey Row on June 14, 2018. The $45 million state-of-the-art facility is impressive—and is currently the only place in Downtown Louisville where you can watch a barrel get built and charred. This new distillery makes it possible to see every step of Old Forester’s bourbon-making process, a first in the company’s 148-year history. Tours include tastings. You’ll exit through a well-stocked gift shop packed with temptations. Old Forester Distilling Co. joins 10 other distilleries as the newest official member of the Kentucky Bourbon Trail tour.
Hell or High Water isn’t quite a secret: in fact, reservations are recommended since it is so popular it can be difficult to snag a seat. But it’s worth the extra effort of planning ahead to get inside this space. There’s a swanky, old-school, underground-bar vibe and the bartenders have top-notch skills. Take the leap and try some new cocktail that you’ve never heard of before, or a classic you’ve not yet sipped and expect to murmur Mmmmmm.
More Bourbon Experiences in Louisville…
Urban Bourbon Trail is the world’s only, city-wide route filled with award-winning micro-distilleries, exhibits and craft cocktail destinations.
@21plusTravel Tip: While in Louisville you can collect stamps in three bourbon-related passports: the Kentucky Bourbon Trail, the Kentucky Bourbon Trail Craft Tour, and the Urban Bourbon Trail. Fill a free passport, get a freebie (like a T-shirt or glass; giveaways vary by trail and year).
Bourbon & Beyond…
Museum Row features six attractions within a four-block area of Downtown Louisville: Frazier History Museum, Louisville Slugger Museum & Factory, Kentucky Science Center, Muhammad Ali Center, Kentucky Peerless Distilling, and Evan Williams Bourbon Experience. Buy a Main Ticket for discounted admission to all of them. Spend a day or take a year: The ticket is good for 12 months from date of purchase.
Where To Stay…
Courtyard by Marriott Downtown Louisville is conveniently located a short distance from Whiskey Row, the KFC Yum! Center, Kentucky International Convention Center, the waterfront, and 4th Street Live entertainment district. Staff members are friendly and helpful, rooms clean and comfortable.
- Newly renovated
- Free Wi-Fi
- Attached parking garage (fairly priced)
- Fitness Center
- Complimentary airport shuttle
- Banquet space can accommodate up to 75 guests
– Photo Credits: Old Forester interior credit Andrew Hyslop; Old Forester barrel credit Kertis Creative; remainder © HSP Media LLC
Featured products, services and/or travel arrangements may have been complimentary in part or in full; this affords the research opportunity but does not sway opinion. Thanks to Go To Louisville for hosting my visit.