Visit 18 Different Distilleries On This Popular Southern US Road Trip Route

There's no better place in the world to sip on an exquisite glass of bourbon than along the iconic Kentucky Bourbon Trail. The state of Kentucky is bourbon's birthplace, and although other regions have begun to create their own bourbon, 95% of the world's bourbon is still produced within this Southern U.S. state. Authentic Kentucky Bourbon still reigns supreme regarding quality, flavor, and craft distilling.

Bourbon is a type of traditional whiskey from the United States that originated in Bourbon County, Kentucky, sometime in the late 1700s. It's mainly made through a process of distilling a mixture of grains and corn, which was cultivated in abundance throughout the United States, and remains one of Kentucky's biggest crops. Corn is one of the significant ingredients that differentiates bourbon from other whiskeys. To be considered a bourbon, at least 51% of the mixture must be corn — it's often credited with giving bourbon its sweet flavor.

The other factor that contributes to bourbon's smooth taste is the way it is aged in charred oak barrels. A Congressional Resolution in 1964 ensured that bourbon was recognized as indigenous to the United States, so no other country could produce whiskey and call it bourbon. You can experience the fascinating history and culture surrounding this uniquely American whiskey on a visit to the famous Kentucky Bourbon Trail, which includes 18 major distilleries with a total of 46 distilleries scattered along the route.

The Kentucky Bourbon Trail road trip

The tradition of brewing bourbon runs deep throughout the Bluegrass State. Bourbon became one of the most popular alcoholic beverages in the United States soon after its invention — it was even traded in place of money during the Civil War! The Kentucky Bourbon Trail was established in 1999 in order to celebrate bourbon culture and history and to encourage tourists to enjoy "America's Official Native Spirit" at its source. The route's popularity has exploded recently, with more than 2.5 million people having visited in the last five years.

The trail is best experienced as a multi-day road trip throughout the state, with plenty of stops. Some distilleries are up to 70 miles apart, so consider taking a long weekend or up to a week to enjoy yourself fully. Along the way, you'll pass through exciting cities like Lexington and Louisville, quaint small towns, and picturesque rural scenery.

You can purchase an official Bourbon Trail Passport and Field Guide book online or in person at many distilleries. It offers excellent information about each stop along the route and has places where you can receive stamps at each distillery, so you'll be left with a unique souvenir to remember your trip.

Planning your itinerary

Whether you plan to visit all 46 stops on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail or visit a few distilleries as you pass through the Bluegrass State, you'll want to make sure to do a little planning ahead of time. The official Bourbon Trail Website offers some excellent sample itineraries and tips for making the most of your time.

The stops along the route are mostly consolidated around four main areas — Louisville, Bardstown, Lexington, and Northern Kentucky — just across the river from Ohio's increasingly popular city of Cincinnati. For small-town Southern charm and history, Bardstown is the spot. Otherwise, base yourself in one of the larger cities and enjoy day trips to distilleries in the region.

If you plan on visiting multiple distilleries in a day with your own transportation, it's essential that you start early and have a designated driver throughout your trip. For a more stress-free experience, consider booking transportation with a tour company for safety and convenience. Private and group tours are available, with plenty of options for every type of traveler. You can experience bourbon country from a comfortable van, a boat, and even a helicopter. Ambitious bourbon lovers looking to offset the indulgence with some exercise can opt to bike between distilleries through Kentucky's rolling hills.