September is, of course, National Bourbon Heritage Month, and the best way we can think of observing the occasion is by touring the Kentucky Bourbon Trail. And since we last wrote about the area several years ago, sales of American whiskey have only gotten bigger and bigger. As a result, the distilleries are investing in building new visitor centers and adding other attractions. (Plus, the nightlife scene in Louisville has been heating up—check out our guide to the city’s top bars.) Here are a five things to see if you make the pilgrimage.
Jim Beam American Stillhouse & Fred’s Smokehouse, 526 Happy Hollow Road, Clermont, 502 543 9877:
Last fall, for the first time ever, Jim Beam started offering a comprehensive tour of its distillery to the public and opened the American Stillhouse shop and visitor center (pictured above). There’s a $10 basic guided tour and a $199 VIP experience, which lasts all day and includes a bourbon-themed lunch. And just a few weeks ago, the brand added the Fred’s Smokehouse restaurant, which serves a selection of whiskey-infused barbecue and is named for seventh-generation master distiller Fred Noe, a great-grandson of Jim Beam himself.
Town Branch Bourbon’s $9.2 million, 20,000-square-foot distillery opened in 2012 and is downtown Lexington’s first new distillery in more than 100 years. The state-of-the-art facility with giant, impressive glass walls, sits next door to its sister company, Lexington Brewing. The hour-long tour ($7 per person) is split between the brewery and distillery. And after you taste some whiskey, you can also try the house beers, like the cask-aged Kentucky Bourbon Barrel Ale and Kentucky Bourbon Barrel Stout.
Four Roses Distillery, 1224 Bonds Mill Road, Lawrenceburg, 502 839 3436:
Help Four Roses Bourbon celebrate its 125 years in business by visiting its 5,000-square-foot visitor center, which capped off a $2.4 million expansion project when it opened last September. In addition to the historic exhibits and a complimentary one-hour tour, travelers can slake their thirst at two different bars pouring samples of the brand’s delicious bourbons. If you’re a super-fan, you can stop by the Four Roses warehouse and bottling plant near Bardstown by appointment.
One of the newest additions to the trail is the Evan Williams Bourbon Experience, which is located in downtown Louisville on the city’s old Whiskey Row. It’s slated to launch on November 15 and will boast two stills, a fermenter and a mash cooker, as well as exhibits, two tasting rooms and a shop.
Buffalo Trace Distillery, 113 Great Buffalo Trace, Frankfort, 800 654 8471:
It may not technically be an official part of the Kentucky Bourbon Trail, but Buffalo Trace’s gorgeous grounds are worth a visit. This summer, the distillery was declared a National Historic Landmark, and there’s a new tour focusing on buildings, architecture and history. The facility also added a new Bourbon Barrel Tour, which follows casks from their arrival and filling until they’re dumped. That brings the total number of tours available to five—all are free, but anything beyond the basic tour requires advance reservations.