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Apr 19, 2009 10:34 AM

Bourbon Trail Tours

Traveling through Kentucky in May and have time to visit 1 or 2 bourbon distilleries. Does anyone have a recommendation on which are the best tours. I've been told the Beam tour is the best. Thanks for any help .

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  1. I've never been, but Heaven Hill, in Bardstown, is supposed to have a fantastic tour and visitor's center.

    1. Hey McFly - Jim Beam doesn't technically have a tour. They do have a visitor's outpost with a nice movie and the opportunity for tasting. (Disclosure - I work with them on social media stuff.) Maker's Mark (also a client) has an outstanding tour, but several other distilleries do as well. In fact, if you drive from Louisville to Loretto to visit Maker's Mark, you can visit Beam, Four Roses and Heaven Hill (which has an outstanding visitor's center) on the way.

      If you're going to be closer to Lexington, Woodford Reserve, Wild Turkey and Buffalo Trace are good places to stop as well.

      Good luck on your trip. If I can help further, let me know!

      1. We've been to Maker's Mark, Beam and Heaven Hill. Each is different. If you have to choose one, it depends on what you want to see.

        The only one of the three where you can get a full overview of the entire process is Maker's Mark. They take you into the fermentation room (and you can actually stick your finger in and taste the fermenting mash), the still room and the bottling/dipping center. In the gift shop you can dip your own bottle ( which of course you must buy) if you wish. They take you into the warehouses as well and explain the storage process. It is a beautiful, beautiful place but well off the beaten track so it eats up a lot of time. At the time we went they also did not have any bourbon tasting at all, which was kind of a bummer, but that may have changed.

        Beam has a movie and a visitor's center. They take you into a warehouse and they have a tasting of some of their small batch bourbons. Heaven Hill has a very informative visitor's center and the tasting room was also very informative. I think in some ways Beam and Heaven Hill cover much the same ground and you could probably do one or the other.

        We're hoping to visit Buffalo Trace on our next trip to Kentucky this summer.

        1 Reply
        1. re: ravchaz

          To follow up on my own post, we were in Kentucky last week. Re-visited both Maker's Mark and Heaven Hill and also visited Buffalo Trace.

          Maker's Mark now does have tasting -- you get a pour of their white dog (bourbon right off the still before it goes into the barrel) and their regular bourbon. Makes sense since they only do one bourbon. Their gift shop/tasting area/ dip your own bottle place is now in a re-done part of a warehouse instead of the old house, which is now a visitor's center and exhibit.

          Buffalo Trace was awesome. Very different from Maker's Mark because it is in the city, the buildings are brick, and it's a much larger and busier place. We took their standard tour because we didn't have time for the "hard hat" tour so we did not see the actual mashing and distillation. But the standard tour does enter the Blanton bottling hall where they bottle their single barrel products. Interestingly, we were able to mingle with and talk to the line employees there in a way which was not possible at Maker's Mark, where you observe the bottling operation through glass. When we visited the bottling hall they were doing Pappy Van Winkle 20 yr. and Blanton's for export to France (different label and proof than the US version.) Our guide was outstanding, probably the best of any we have had.

          Tasting was white dog, Eagle Rare 10 yr. single barrel and Buffalo Trace. In the gift shop they were selling 1.75 ml bottles of Eagle Rare and BT for less than I have seen them elsewhere (often bourbon is more expensive at the distillery than in a liquor store). They also had bottles of the white dog and of a Buffalo Trace Cream Liqueur which is supposedly like a bourbon based Bailey's. Both of these are for now only sold at the distillery. We bought a bottle of the liqueur and one each of BT and Eagle Rare. The white dog would have been an interesting purchase to share with some of my afficionado friends but not at $16 for 375ml.

        2. Just did part of the trail 3 weeks ago. We did 4 Rose's, Buffalo Trace and Woodford. Would like to have done Maker's, but that was too far to include in a one day event. Woodford was okay, but small and they only have 1 bourbon available. We got to Buffalo Trace after their tours were done. It might be interesting because the facility is huge and they make a variety of liquors there. On the downside, they make (in my opinion) the worst tasting bourbon and vodka that I've had (see my post about Rain vodka). They don't sell the premium liquors on site. Four Roses was the best. You get a nice tour of the facility and they provide a generous tasting. Also, since their bourbon is not readily available (unless you live in Japan), you'll definitely want to pick up some single barrels.

          If you go to the Frankfurt area, on the main business street there's a wine/liquor shop called Central (I think). You can get a 5 bourbon tasting for $10 (for 5 half ounce shots). There's a British expat named Tony who's a wealth of info. I'm not sure if he needs advance notice to set up a tasting, but I would highly recommend a visit to his shop.

          7 Replies
          1. re: JohnE O

            Was able to find the info on the wine/liquor store. It's:

            Capital Cellars (I knew it started with a "C")
            (502) 352-2600
            227 W Broadway St
            Frankfort, KY 40601

            Their website is:


            1. re: JohnE O

              Are you saying I won't be able to buy Pappy van Winkle 20yr old when we go to Buffalo Trace the end of June? I agree about Buffalo Trace bourbon but Pappy 20 is a little bit of heaven. We are staying in Frankfort and planned on doing two distilleries and two wineries (otherwise the bourbon trail would have no appeal for a 10 hour drive for my wife)

              1. re: folprivate

                There are certain gift shop liquor licenses that apply such that a distillery can only sell 4 (I think) types of liquor. When I was there we were able to purchase Buffalo Trace, Rain Vodka, Eagle and their White Lightning which is the clear liquor before it goes into the charred barrel. They were even out of Pappy at the liquor store in Frankfurt.

                1. re: JohnE O

                  That sounds about right. We were at Buffalo Trace about 2 weeks ago and I don't recall seeing the 20yr old there.

                2. re: folprivate

                  The buffalo trace tour is one of the best. They have had some of the premium stuff for sale when I have done that tour in the past. Last time they had 20 year old Pappy Van Winkle in signed bottles.It probably varies with the season. I really enjoy Eagle Rare. They even sample the premiums.
                  Woodford is boring.

                3. re: JohnE O

                  Wow, BT some of the worst bourbon you've had? To each his own, but that is definitely not a commonly held sentiment. I love even the basic BT Boubon and they make some of the greatest Bourbons (and ryes) I've tasted.

                  And Four Roses is now available in the US, though only in 20 states. They will be increasing their distribution this year though.

                  1. re: sku

                    Let me rephrase: In the category of above well-grade bourbons, BT is my least favorite. As I referenced above, they sell the White Lightning which is the clear liquor before it gets put into the charred barrels. They gave us a taste of that and it was disgusting, unless you're a big fan of buttered popcorn. I think what I don't like about BT and Rain Vodka is that the flavor of (pop)corn is VERY noticeable. While every bourbon is >51% corn, BT is the only one I've had that has the popcorn flavor front and center and for me it's not something I prefer. As for there other bourbons, I've only had Eagle which I thought was good.

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