Like scotch to Scotland, bourbon is America’s spirit. And the heart and soul of that spirit lives in Kentucky. This Labor Day Weekend we ventured back to the bluegrass with friends visiting from Manhattan and San Francisco and had a wonderful day of Kentucky bourbon tastings and tours!

Makers Mark, 2008

Ken and I are no stranger to the Kentucky distilleries… He joined the Maker’s Mark Ambassador program in 2002 and “graduated” in 2008 when “his batch” was bottled. (If you enjoy bourbon and haven’t enrolled in the program, you’re missing a delightful experience!)

During that period we made a road trip to Wild Turkey and Buffalo Trace distilleries in Lawrenceburg, KY and Woodford Reserve in Versailles, KY, and I enjoyed the tours and tastings much more than anticipated. I got on the bourbon band wagon, too, and continue to enjoy it. In 2008 we toured Maker’s Mark in Bardstown, KY and returned in 2015, stopping at Barton 1792 along the way. When our friend Hilary and Joe asked if we were interested in spending a day experiencing the Kentucky Bourbon Trail, we were all in!

Cindy, our driver/guide

Hilary and Joe made all of our trip arrangements, including engaging Louisville’s Mint Julep Experiences for door-to-door transportation from Madison, Indiana. BRILLIANT! Our guide, Cindy Anderson, was great – personable, informative, and a good driver to boot!

Our first two distilleries were both located in Lawrenceburg, Kentucky and official stops on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail. As we entered these distilleries, our passports were stamped before our tours and/or tastings began. The international demand for Kentucky bourbon, and the popularity of the Bourbon Trail touring experience, can be seen in new visitors centers and rickhouses at each distillery we visited.

The first stop was Wild Turkey Distillery, and their new Visitors Center is fabulous. Spacious and beautifully designed. The tour was very good and our guide, Bransyn, did a terrific job for only being at the distillery for two months. The tasting experience was well organized, and we each had our own flight board filled for the tasting. Our selections included Matthew McConaughey’s signature Longbranch Bourbon, Wild Turkey 101, Rare Breed, Russell’s Reserve 6 Year Old Rye, and Wild TurkeyAmerican Honey.

Ken & I favored Rare Breed (and brought home a bottle), and Hilary was a fan of Longbranch. We all thought Lemonade with American Honey was a very good idea! Highlight of the experience for all was having Jimmy Russell on hand at the Visitors Center Gift Shop signing bottles and books for all. Here’s the virtual tour!

Joe, Hilary, Ken, Sally, Suzanne & Paul at Wild Turkey Distillery

Our second stop was Four Roses Distillery, also in Lawrenceburg, Kentucky. We only scheduled a tasting here, and it was very enjoyable in the outdoor gazebo. We sampled Four Roses Small Batch Select, Four Roses Single Barrel, Four Roses Small Batch, and Four Roses Bourbon. Our favorite was Small Batch Select, and Suzanne and Paul claim the Single Barrel Reserve as their house bourbon! The Gift Shop was very nice. We purchased a muddler and Hilary scored some delicious bourbon balls.

Paul, Suzanne, Ken, Sally, Hilary & Joe at Four Roses Distillery

Leaving Lawrenceburg, we traveled to Versailles, Kentucky for lunch at Ricardo’s Grill & Pub. Everyone loved the fish and the shrimp & grits, and we “had” to have the bourbon lemonade and share the bread pudding with bourbon glaze!

Heading north, we traveled on to Frankfort, Kentucky to Buffalo Trace Distillery, a National Historic Landmark. The expansion they are undergoing is astounding, doubling production and storage. The campus is attractive and its buildings and history date back to the late 1700s. Although not an official stop on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail, they are not to be missed if you plan a distillery tour. They were the busiest of the three we visited, and their tasting experience was a bit harried. We sampled their Wheatley Vodka, White Dog Mash 1, Eagle Rare 10 Year Old, Buffalo Trace, and Buffalo Trace Bourbon Cream. Joe loved Eagle Rare, and Hilary & I loved the Bourbon Cream (as does our friend Michele!) They gave us a little rootbeer to go along with our Bourbon Cream, and I must say, I wouldn’t mind having that on a regular basis! We were all disappointed that Blanton’s Single Barrel wasn’t available in the gift shop that day. If only we could come back Tuesday when a shipment comes in! Enjoy the photos!

Our weekend distillery tour was terrific. It also reminded Ken & I of our two favorite distillery experiences. One was the Maker’s Mark Ambassabor Graduation with the wax dipping of “Ken’s bottles.” Here are a few throw back pics from that day.

The other favorite experience was the “Bourbon & Ballet” event we attended at Maker’s Mark in 2015 that featured an al fresco farm-to-table dinner and Kentucky Ballet Theatre performance. I hope I can have this experience again!

There are many online tools for planning your Kentucky distillery tour, but don’t overlook the The Kentucky Bourbon Trail (Images of America) book filled with vintage images of “the people, places and events that signify the bourbon industry.” You may think of the experience as a new phenomenon, but you’ll be surrounded by the history of it all at every turn. #wherethespiritleadsyou

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One thing that makes my journey unique is that all of my interests are driven by a joyful and genuine curiosity. I delight in finding less expensive ways to make something or creative ways to enjoy something longer. Finding and creating joy - and sharing it - is core to who I am.