Updated: Mar 27, 2020
Did you know that 95 percent of all Bourbon is made within a 70 mile radius in the heart of central Kentucky? And did you further know that there are approximately 9 million barrels of bourbon currently being aged in this little piece of liquid paradise? Holy Bourbon Barrels!
Having become self-proclaimed whiskey experts by visiting all 27 distilleries on the Tennessee Whiskey Trail over the past year and a half, my husband and I were left to wonder, “What next?”. Expanding our palates (and liquor collection) to include bourbon seemed the obvious choice. So when we began looking for a weekend getaway that wasn’t too far away from our home in Memphis, we set our sights on Kentucky.
The official Kentucky Bourbon Trail is divided into two groups. There are 18 distilleries on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail Tour and another 19 on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail Craft Tour. We decided to start with the “big trail”…the distilleries large enough to be on the main Kentucky Bourbon Trail Tour. I did some research, and decided we could accomplish this in three weekend road trips. We just had our first bourbon tasting weekend and I’m already a fan!
For this trip, I recommend making your home base in Frankfort. Frankfort is perfect because it’s centrally located, has other sightseeing attractions, and is big enough that you’ll have drinking and dining options. We rented the most adorable tiny house just outside the city. There are plenty of Airbnb properties to choose from, but we definitely hit the jackpot with this one!
Here’s our recommended itinerary for a bourbon tasting weekend based in Frankfort. Arrive in Frankfort on Friday. Depending on what time you get into town, try to arrive in Frankfort early enough on Friday to visit Buffalo Trace. If you’re feeling particularly brave, take their Ghost Tour, which is offered on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays at 7:00 p.m. They have several tours to choose from, offered at different times of the day. The good news is that all the tours here are free! However, it is highly recommended that you reserve a spot online to guarantee the tour and time you want.
Buffalo Trace has chosen NOT to be on the “official” Kentucky Bourbon Trail, so don’t ask them to stamp your passport. That being said, if you go to Kentucky to taste bourbon and don’t go to Buffalo Trace, you might as well stop reading this because you’re not a real bourbon fan.
I mean, just to get a glimpse of the ever elusive Pappy Van Winkle should be reason enough! But more than that, this distillery has an awesome story with 200 years of history, fun tours, and pretty damn good bourbon. If you’re lucky, you may get to visit the newly uncovered archeological dig site that was found during a recent renovation.
Looking for a fun and casual place for dinner? We recommend Goodwood Brewing. The beers are yummy, the food is good, and the atmosphere is fun. They have bar games and an outdoor deck that overlooks the Kentucky River. This is a great way to relax and end your first day in Frankfort!
Saturday morning, grab some breakfast at the Kentucky Coffeetree Cafe, an eclectic little coffee shop with breakfast sandwiches, biscuits, and mini cinnamon rolls that are like tiny little bites of heaven. They also serve up some delicious coffee, or breakfast cocktails to prime your palate, if you’re so inclined. No judgement here.
While you're here, check out their live music schedule for the week. They have events several times a week, where they feature local artists, jam sessions, and even poetry readings. This place is locally owned, serves organic coffee drinks, homemade food, and just has a really cool vibe.
Now it's time to get down to the business of bourbon tasting! On your agenda for today is Woodford Reserve, Four Roses, and Wild Turkey. There are a few different ways you can work this. But no matter how you plan it, reservations are essential to make sure you can visit all three distilleries in one day. Tours at these three distilleries typically last one hour. However, you should schedule your tours 2 hours apart to allow travel time, and to give yourself time to explore the gift shops or buy products.
I'm going to be honest here and admit that we didn't make it here on this trip. I didn't do my research carefully enough, and missed that they aren't open on Sundays in January and February. Hence, why it needs to be on YOUR itinerary for Saturday, and
why you need to be sure to make reservations in advance. So learn from my mistake, and follow this itinerary.
Wild Turkey, with an award winning father/son master distilling team that's been kicking ass and taking names long enough that they are BOTH in the Bourbon Hall of Fame. The Buddha of Bourbon. The Master Distiller's Master Distiller. I've never been a fan of Rye Whiskey, but Mr. Russell's Reserve Rye that I tasted there was enough to convert me.
This will leave you with enough time to schedule a tour at Four Roses Distillery for 3:00. Four Roses is one of the few distilleries that survived prohibition by selling alcohol for "medicinal purposes". With bourbon as smooth as butter, even a girl like me can drink it neat. We don't need no stinking water droppers here!
If you want to get an earlier start you can also reverse this route, touring Four Roses at 9:00 and Wild Turkey at 11:00, lunch in Versailles, then ending with Woodford Reserve at 2:00.
What to do with the rest of your day? Head back to Frankfort and do some sightseeing! Options include the old and new State Capitol buildings, Daniel Boone’s grave, the governor’s mansion, Liberty Hall, Kentucky History Center, Kentucky Military History Museum, Frankfort Cemetery, the Floral Clock on Capital Avenue, the Switzer Covered Bridge, Capitol View Park, or the Josephine Sculpture Park. Sweet tooth? Visit Rebecca Ruth Candy Museum for some of the best bourbon balls around!
Now that you’re an expert on all the best bourbons in the area, it’s time to go try them out in some cocktails! Our recommendation for dinner is Bourbon on Main. This small but impressive restaurant and bourbon bar is downtown, right next door to Goodwood Brewing. The food is delicious and the cocktails are, how do I say this? WOW. I have just one last thing to say about this place. Chocolate chip bread pudding with a bourbon caramel cream sauce.
If you're looking for a quick and tasty breakfast on Sunday morning, grab some donuts at Poppy’s Bakery. Then, for your final distillery visit, head over to Lexington for a tour at Town Branch Bourbon and Brewstillery. You can take a combined tour of their bourbon distillery and state of the art brewery for a cool and unique experience. Their name may not be as well known as some of the others in the area, but don’t skip this one! If you’ve never had beer that’s been aged in bourbon barrels, you’re in for a real treat! And that’s not the only treat in store for you here…but you’ll have to go there yourself to find out for yourself. This place will leave you with a smile on your face and a warm Kentucky hug.
If you’re headed west to get back home and want to end your weekend with something truly special, take a detour and stop at the Maker’s Mark Distillery in Loretto. General distillery tours start every 30 minutes. You can buy tickets in advance online, but don’t need to reserve a specific time. A more in-depth tour, as well as Cocktail and Mixology classes, are available by reservation as well! This property and surrounding area are beautiful, as is the story of the couple who brought this distillery to life and made it known worldwide. Take the tour, taste the bourbon, then buy a bottle and hand dip it yourself in the Maker’s Mark signature red wax! It will be the highlight of your weekend!
I’m already planning the second leg on our Kentucky Bourbon Trail tour. Next stop, Louisville. Until then…happy Bourbon drinking!