Skip to site content
Group Travel Leader Group Travel Leader Group Travel Leader

Kentucky Aged Attractions

Bourbon has become a major component of the Kentucky tourism experience, with distilleries large and small offering tours and tastings of their products. However, the state’s “spirited” offerings have expanded beyond its signature drink, with microbreweries and wineries rapidly joining the mix to give groups a wide range of options.



With roughly 95 percent of all bourbon coming from Kentucky distilleries, the Bluegrass State has been an obvious beneficiary of the exploding popularity of bourbon over the past decade.

“Bourbon is enjoying a huge resurgence,” said Jimmy Karey, a guide at Buffalo Trace Distillery in Frankfort.

With the renewed popularity in sipping this famous Kentucky product has come a corresponding increased interest from travelers in learning about its heritage and the art and science of how it is made. And this presents several experiential opportunities for groups.

A convenient avenue for exploring Kentucky’s bourbon tradition is the Kentucky Bourbon Trail. Initiated in 1999 by the Kentucky Distillers Association, the trail now encompasses nine distilleries that give tours and tastings.

“Kentucky is the only place in the world where visitors can enjoy the one true, authentic bourbon experience,” said Bourbon Trail director Adam Johnson.

Because of the popularity of the Bourbon Trail, which draws more than a half-million visitors annually, the distilleries have invested millions of dollars in new and expanded state-of-the-art visitors centers and experiences.

Although the basic process of making bourbon is the same — many of the requirements, such as bourbon’s consisting of at least 51 percent corn and being aged for a minimum of two years in new charred oak barrels, are set by law — each distillery offers a different experience.

“Sure, there is repetition in what makes bourbon, but you see how everyone has a little different approach,” said Johnson.

Visitors can see mash cooking in large cypress wood tubs at Maker’s Mark near Loretto and dip a bottle in the brand’s famous red wax; tour rick houses storing thousands of barrels of bourbon at Heaven Hill Bourbon Heritage Center in Bardstown; and pour grain into a cooker and help fill a bourbon barrel at the two-story Jim Beam American Stillhouse near Clermont.

The distilleries are located in a range of settings, such as bluegrass horse country around Woodford Reserve near Versailles. Wild Turkey’s barnlike visitors center has a glass wall overlooking the scenic cliffs of the Kentucky River palisades near Lawrenceburg. Bulleit Frontier Whiskey Experience and Evans Williams Bourbon Experience are  both in downtown Louisville.

Other distilleries on the trail are Four Roses with its Spanish-theme architecture near Lawrenceburg, and Town Branch, the first distillery built in Lexington in more than 100 years.

All the distilleries have guided tours.

And more may be added, as several new distilleries are under construction and scheduled to come online in the next couple of years.

Also, the Frazier History Museum in downtown Louisville has partnered with the distillers association on an exhibit that traces the history of bourbon and gives an overview of how it is produced. Long-range plans call for a major expansion of the exhibit to make it the official starting point for the Bourbon Trail.

An adjunct to the Bourbon Trail is Louisville’s Urban Bourbon Trail.

“We wanted to establish a Louisville touchstone with bourbon,” said Stacey Yates, vice president of marketing communications for the Louisville Convention and Visitors Bureau. “We have great bourbon bars in the city. We are a gateway to bourbon country.”

To be on the Urban Bourbon Trail, an establishment must have at least 50 bourbons, mix at least one significant bourbon cocktail and offer bourbon flights. If it serves food, it has to incorporate bourbon in at least three items.

Another option is Buffalo Trace, which is not on the Bourbon Trail.

“We are the oldest continuously operating distillery in the United States. We have been distilling on this site since 1787,” said Karey. “Our history goes way, way back.”