5 distilleries with more than just tastings
The Kentucky Bourbon Trail has grown to over 40 stops between its Craft Tour and Heritage Tours.
And each of them can tell you how bourbon is made and teach you how to make a “Kentucky chew” to numb your palate.
So rather than hearing about Kentucky’s fine hard water again or how much corn it takes for whiskey to be considered bourbon, we’ve rounded up some of the more unique things you can do. on the trail. Some of these experiences come from big names you see on liquor store shelves and some come from smaller distilleries you may not have heard of yet.
3350 Burks Spring Road, Loretto, Kentucky, makersmark.com
Manufacturer’s mark goes through 4,000 pounds of bright red wax every day dipping bottles with his iconic and extremely recognizable seal, and if you head over to Loretto and buy a bottle from the gift shop, you can dip just one at no extra cost.
While on the property, be sure to stop by its restaurant, Star Layouts, and check out Maker’s Mark’s recently expanded cocktail program, which uses seasonal produce grown in the distillery’s Innovation Garden. There, bartenders offer alternatives to Old Fashions and traditional Manhattans and create bourbon cocktails for those less familiar with the spirit. The new cocktail program still uses bourbon, but its appeals to palates who might prefer white spirits such as vodka or gin.
301 Elm Street Ludlow, Kentucky, secondsightspirits.com
The first thing you will notice about this craft distillery is that it is unlike any other distillery on the Kentucky map. There is no deep-rooted history of bourbon in Second Sight Spirits — and the team doesn’t claim to have one.
This divination-themed distillery is run by two childhood friends from Northern Kentucky. They spent a few years working in construction in Las Vegas — Circus of the sun and Viva Elvis — and somewhere in between, they found the time to build a homemade still in their one-bedroom apartment.
“What brings us the most joy is when we have a new idea and work with each other to bring it to life,” one of the co-owners previously told the Courier Journal. “That’s where we really get our joy, it’s just doing and creating.”
Make no mistake, their distillery is just as creative and available as the set of a Sin City show. Second Sight’s cocktail menu also features a delicious old fashioned as well as drinks made from their rum.
4360 Route 1130, Sparta, Kentucky, neeleyfamilydistillery.com
The Neeley family distillery is one of the youngest distilleries on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail, and at this Sparta-based gem, you can take some bourbon straight from the cask it comes from. For $29.99, the team will let you fill your own single-barrel bourbon bottle and hand-label any stickers that go on the bottle as well. If you’re feeling creative, name it whatever your life is. If not, no worries, they’ll tell you what the distillery called it.
While you’re there, be sure to try its moonshine and take a look at the family history the Neeleys have displayed on its walls. Bourbon is new to this generation of distillers, but the Neeleys have been making moonshine in eastern Kentucky for 11 generations, but only the two most recent are legal.
For its first 275 years in this country, Neeley distillers fought the law with guns and paid taxes…ever.
The Neeleys’ legacy is preserved through oral histories, but also in a stash of yellowed newspaper clippings that detail the family business and its run-ins with the law of the early 19th century.
“For a lot of families, these things were burned in the fires, or they didn’t keep them, or they were ashamed of them,” Royce Neeley previously told the Courier Journal. “But mine kept each of those items.”
119 Main Street West, Louisville, oldforester.com/distillery
Standing outside the Old Forester Distillery on Historic Whiskey Row in downtown Louisville, you’d never know there’s so much more than bourbon coming out of the distillery.
When this distillery opened in 2018, it did so with the intention of making 14 casks a day in its own cooperage and just enough bourbon per day to fill all those casks.
If you’re lucky and your visit hits the right time, they might let you press a big comic button and shoot inside the barrel yourself.
Campbell Brown, chairman of the board of Brown-Forman Corporation, told the Courier Journal at the distillery’s opening that the creation of the cooperage was an important feature for former Brown-Forman CEO Paul Varga. , who retired in 2018.
“He wanted it to work and he wanted a cooperage,” Brown said. “…We hope this really is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for people to see what goes into making a barrel of whisky.”
528 Main Street West, Louisville, evanwilliams.com/plan-your-trip
The Perfect Bartending Experience at Evan Williams Downtown lets you sip bourbon while being served by an actor, which takes visitors back to the last days of Prohibition when Louisville native Tom Bullock mixed drinks. Bullock was the first black bartender to publish a cocktail book, and he worked at the prestigious St. Louis Country Club.
During this unique experience, you are served by an actor, who remains in character the entire time.
The Evan Williams Bourbon Experience was one of the first distilleries to open in downtown Louisville, and there’s a reason “experience” is part of its name. The traditional tour and tasting is incredibly innovative from a technological standpoint, as it practically takes you back to the 1800s, when Evan Williams himself lived along the Ohio River.
The distillery also offers a “Speakeasy Tour,” where you’re served by a prohibition-era bartender, who also stays in character the entire time.
Columnist Maggie Menderski writes about what makes Louisville, southern Indiana, and Kentucky unique, wonderful, and sometimes a little weird. If you have something in your family, your city, or even your closet that fits this description, she wants to hear from you. Say hello to [email protected] or 502-582-4053. Follow us on Instagram and Twitter @MaggieMenderski.