Make the most of a brief visit to “The Heart of Kentucky.”
A quick stop here is like taking a single shot of the Kentucky Bourbon Trail.
By Hope S. Philbrick
Whether it’s to explore the Kentucky Bourbon Trail, Urban Bourbon Trail or Kentucky Bourbon Trail Craft Tour, my husband and I make an annual trek to Bourbon Country. If you love America’s native spirit and want to learn more about it, but don’t have several days to spend, head to Lebanon, Kentucky.
Even if you have less than 24 hours to spend in Lebanon, heed our advice to make most of a bourbon-focused visit.
Tour Maker’s Mark Distillery (3350 Burks Spring Rd., Loretto; 270-865-2099).
There are many distillery tour options throughout Bourbon Country, but the tour at Maker’s Mark has several things going for it: You’ll get a peek at all the steps that go into making bourbon, the guides here have deep knowledge, you can taste the sour mash straight from the fermenter, there’s a compelling history to the brand—and it stars a woman, rare in this industry—you’ll pass several cool behind-the-scenes photo ops including the busy bottling line in action with its signature wax dip, and you’ll be able to taste several different types of bourbon.
Tours take about an hour long and are available on a first-come, first-served basis from 9:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 11:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. on Sunday (March through December). Tastings are included, so tours are $9 for adults age 21 and older. Anyone under age 21 is permitted to tour for free, but cannot taste. We’ve taken the tour several times and have never seen a child, which of course we think is ideal. Be prepared to walk outdoors and climb stairs during the tour.
Take a behind-the-scenes tour at Independent Stave Company / Kentucky Cooperage (712 East Main; 270-692-4518) for a glimpse at the barrel manufacturing process.
Barrels are a key ingredient of bourbon, contributing 100 percent of its color and about 70 percent of its aroma and flavor. This family-owned operation has been tailoring barrels to each distiller’s request for more than 100 years. It’s fascinating to see what goes into making these crucial vessels.
The 45-minute factory tour walks through each step of how bourbon barrels are made, from aging the American white oak to shaping and arranging the staves, charring the inside, placing the final hoops, and testing each barrel to make sure it’s liquid-tight. You’ll also get a glimpse at how any gaps are repaired without manmade sealers.
Each guided tour requires that you wear safety glasses (which are provided) while in the manufacturing area. You’ll watch narrated videos for some explanations plus get to see the action from key points in the factory while standing a safe distance from the line. Expect to breathe in hefty sniffs of wood, fire, and char (plus, occasionally, the musk of a sweaty worker). You’ll never look at barrels or oak trees the same way again.
Free tours are available Monday through Friday at 9:30 a.m. and 1 p.m.
Tour Limestone Branch Distillery (1280 Veterans Memorial Hwy.; 270-699-9004)
While Maker’s Mark isn’t the biggest bourbon producer, it’s by no means the smallest. Limestone Branch, which is part of the Kentucky Bourbon Trail Craft Tour, is smaller. Touring both distilleries offers a nice compare/contrast opportunity within a short seven mile distance.
Brothers Steve and Paul Beam designed their micro-distillery to mimic those more common in the past. With a focus on authenticity, they use a 150-gallon hand-hammered copper pot still to produce small, one-barrel batches of their products.
Bourbon needs time in the barrel and so this newer distillery offers several products beyond whiskey, including moonshine. It’s some mighty tasty moonshine (read some of our reviews).
Folks working here have genuine enthusiasm for what they do and it shines through the tour and across the tasting bar. Tours are offered daily on the hour until 5 p.m., starting at 10 a.m. Monday through Saturday and 1 p.m. on Sunday.
If Time Permits…
Stop by Lebanon’s Bourbon Water Tower to snap a selfie.
Take a swing at the Bourbon Golf Trail.
Where To Eat…
157 W. Main St.
A community mainstay where the portions are generous, servers bustling yet attentive, and the vibe is casual.
Rosewood Bar & Grill
520 Fairview Dr.
From country-fried steak to frog legs, spaghetti to southwestern chicken, scallop stir-fry to spinach salad, there’s sure to be something on the menu at this casual restaurant to satisfy cravings.
Where To Stay…
Hampton Inn Lebanon
1125 Loretto Rd.
Lebanon KY 40033
Myrtledene Bed & Breakfast
370 N. Spalding Ave.
Lebanon KY 40033
This family-owned and -operated bed and breakfast boasts historic style, keen attention to detail, kind service, and spacious accommodations. The Odds of Encountering Children are high, the owners have two sons. But they can help tote your luggage upstairs and otherwise keep to themselves.
– Photos © 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.