a shelf filled with lots of wooden barrels

3 Amazing Urban Bourbon Trail Distillery Tours: A Local’s Guide to Kentucky

Join me in as we travel Louisville’s “Urban” and Craft Bourbon Trail, a journey through the heart of a city synonymous with fine Kentucky Bourbon.

Louisville’s “Urban” + Craft Bourbon Trail

Whiskey Row Bourbon
Photo Credit: Mike Lynch

Louisville’s Bourbon Trail is home to the intersection of the sophisticated city, remarkable culinary delights, and some of the finest Whiskey in the world…Kentucky Bourbon. As a Louisville native, I’ve watched as Bourbonism has transformed our fine city into “The Place to Be” if you want to experience America’s Native Spirit, Bourbon Whiskey.

I am going to share with you the insider’s guide to exploring the Urban Bourbon Trail. First, a quick history of the forces that collided and gave us Bourbon.

Quick History of Bourbon

This transformative journey, part of what we now celebrate as the Louisville Urban Bourbon Trail, started with farmers turning corn into bourbon. In the 1700’s before modern equipment provided long-term storage of crops like corn farmers had a few choices: use the corn, let it go bad, or make whiskey.

Take a guess what they did.

Right! They started making whiskey.

Whiskey was shipped down the Ohio River to New Orleans where the patrons in the French Quarter enjoyed the fine spirits that aged on the barge trip down the mighty Mississippi. When the whiskey arrived it was a hit! As patrons asked about the whiskey, it was known as the whiskey from Bourbon County (Kentucky).

Kentucky’s Bourbon Trail

Besides really fast race horses, southern hospitality, the twin spires, and baseball bats, Kentucky is home to America’s only native spirit…Bourbon Whiskey. The Bourbon Trail serves as the showcase to the large and small companies that produce upwards of 95% of all bourbon whiskey production in the county!

First, let’s define the Kentucky Bourbon trail.

I refer to the Bourbon Trail as the trail throughout the Commonwealth of Kentucky that leads visitors through our rolling bluegrass hills to some world-class distilleries. Some of my favorites include Maker’s Mark, Woodford Reserve, and Wild Turkey.

While the Urban Bourbon Trail includes all the distilleries located inside the greater Louisville metro area. Over time, the urban trail expanded to include some fine dining establishments and bars mixing up fantastic bourbon cocktails. When you visit Louisville don’t miss out on trying The Seelbach at the signature Seelbach hotel.

As you embark on this journey, don’t forget to grab your FREE Ubran Bourbon Passport, an essential companion for anyone exploring the Louisville Urban Bourbon Trail.

The Passport is a downloadable App that is perfect to grab on your Uber ride from the airport to your hotel. The Passport helps visitors navigate the 40+ bars and distilleries on the Urban Bourbon Trail.

Pro Tip: Visit 6 participating locations on the trail and earn a free Urban Bourbon Trailblazer t-shirt!

The Craft Bourbon Trail in Kentucky is a unique journey through the state’s smaller, artisanal bourbon distilleries, offering a more intimate and detailed look into the bourbon-making process. Travelers can explore these lesser-known distilleries, each with its unique style and approach to bourbon production, set in picturesque rural countryside and urban settings. This trail is perfect for bourbon enthusiasts looking to experience a diverse range of flavors and learn about the craft behind one of America’s most beloved spirits.

Finally, the Bourbon District represents about 15 blocks along Louisville’s Main Street that include many awesome distilleries, bourbon bars, and fantastic southern cookin’ restaurants.

The 3 Amazing Distillery Tours in Greater Louisville

Bourbon Distillery
Photo Credit: Mike Lynch

Dive into the rich heritage and nuanced flavors of Louisville’s bourbon culture. Starting with the Evan Williams Bourbon Experience, journey through storied distilleries, each offering a unique glimpse into the world of bourbon. From interactive tours to exclusive tastings, these distilleries are not just stops on a trail; they’re gateways to a deeper appreciation of America’s native spirit.

Visit the Urban Bourbon Pioneer: Evan Williams

Our first stop on the Louisville Urban Bourbon Trail is the Evan Williams Bourbon Experience, a cornerstone of this spirited journey.

Interactive Journey: Discover the transformation of corn to whiskey and its journey from the Ohio River to New Orleans. This isn’t just a tour; it’s a journey through Evan Williams’ influential past.

Exclusive Insights: Witness the magic in their small distillation room, producing one exquisite barrel per day. This immersive experience offers a refreshing change from typical tours.

Tasting Adventure: Conclude your tour in a Louisville-themed tasting room, complete with a secret trap door for the whiskey samples. Relish four distinct styles of Evan Williams bourbon and whiskey.

Tour Options Include:

  • Trailblazing Experience: Kick off your urban bourbon adventure at Evan Williams, the original pioneer on the trail. Immerse yourself in the history that shaped the bourbon we know and love today.
  • Variety of Tours: Choose from several unique tours. Our favorite, the Traditional Tour + Tasting at $18 per person, is a must-try. We’ve enjoyed it three times!
  • Unique Perspectives: For $35, The Ideal Bartender Experience offers a riveting look at Prohibition through Tom Bullock’s eyes, the first African American to author a cocktail book.
  • Step into the Past: The Speakeasy Tasting Experience, at $25 per person, transports you to a classic Evan Williams speakeasy. It’s on our must-do list!

Convenient Location: Easy parking options are available in lots, garages, and street parking.

Join us at Evan Williams for an unforgettable start to your urban bourbon journey. Let’s raise a glass to history and taste!

Discover the Essence of Stitzel-Weller Distillery

Just a short drive from the bustling Bourbon District, Stitzel-Weller Distillery offers a serene contrast to the urban and industrial neighborhood that now houses this distillery.

Hidden Gem in Shively: Nestled 5 miles south of Louisville, Stitzel-Weller Distillery, home to Blade & Bow Bourbon, stands as a green haven amidst the urban sprawl. It’s a delightful contrast to the industrial surroundings.

Timeless Retreat: Entering Stitzel-Weller is like stepping into a bygone era, a refreshing change from the city’s rush. It’s a preserved piece of history amidst modernity.

Legacy of Excellence: This distillery, once the home of Pappy Van Winkle, showcases a beautifully restored venue, echoing a rich bourbon legacy.

A Contrast to Technology: While Evan Williams dazzles with its tech-driven tours, Stitzel-Weller offers a more traditional, hands-on exploration of bourbon making.

A Springtime Marvel: Visiting in March, we witnessed the rebirth of nature, adding a special charm to the distillery’s picturesque setting.

Tour Choices:

  • The Stitzel-Weller Experience: At $25, this tour offers an engaging insight into the distillery’s past and present – our personal favorite.
  • A Taste of History: For $30, embark on a 30-minute journey tasting renowned bourbons including Blade & Bow, I W Harper, and Bulleit.
  • Progressive Walking Tour: Priced at $65, this tour is a bourbon aficionado’s dream, featuring a walk through the distillery’s special spots and a chance to taste bourbon directly from the barrel.

Stitzel-Weller Distillery is not just a place, but an experience that intertwines history with the art of bourbon. Ready for a journey through time?

Kentucky Artisan Distillery: Where Dreams Turn Into Bourbon

Kentucky Artisan Distillery
Photo Credit: Mike Lynch

A little further from the main hustle of the Bourbon District, Kentucky Artisan Distillery offers a unique stop on our Louisville Urban Bourbon Trail exploration. Founder Steve Thompson built his career in the bourbon industry and KAD was the cumulation of his life’s work…a distillery that could turn visitors’ dreams into their barrel of bourbon whiskey.

Unique Location: Just 15 miles east of downtown Louisville, the Kentucky Artisan Distillery stands out in the old Crestwood Ice Cream building. It’s a place where visitors can “bottle their dreams.” 

Intimate Touring Experience: Enjoy the distillery’s laid-back atmosphere on a tour that feels almost private, perfect for small groups like ours of 4 or 5 people.

Major Producer of Jefferson’s Bourbon: KAD proudly serves as one of the primary contract distillers of Jefferson’s Bourbon. This fine bourbon ages in Oldham County before setting off on a cruise around the world.

Locally Sourced Excellence: Kentucky Artisans prides itself on sourcing fresh corn and rye from local farms within a few miles, ensuring the freshest ingredients for their bourbon.

Historical Equipment Display: Explore an impressive collection of traditional bourbon-making equipment, a true homage to the spirit’s storied past. Cool Fact: KAD fills barrels from the top to give the whiskey more surface area to spread across! I cannot recall other distilleries taking this approach.

Tour Options:

  • Distillery Tour with Tasting: Step into the shoes of a master distiller. Go behind the scenes to uncover the craft of fine bourbon making.
  • KAD Experience: Ideal for those short on time. Enjoy a tasting session paired with captivating stories about the distillery. Steve offered me the white glove treatment on my recent KAD Experience!

Kentucky Artisan Distillery isn’t just a visit; it’s an exploration of bourbon’s heart and soul. Experience this hidden gem and savor the spirit of Kentucky.

Where to Stay on the Bourbon Trail

Louisville is home to some amazing hotels including many flagship brands like Marriott, Omni, Hilton, and more. We also have a growing number of luxurious niche concepts like Hotel Genevieve, 21c Hotel + Museum, The Belleweather Hotel, and more.

Here are several I recommend based on staying there.

Hotel Distil: A Toast to Luxury

Hotel Distil is really when you want to treat yourself with some luxury style and comfort. It’s right in the heart of Louisville so you will have easy access everywhere. The service is exceptional, so you will be able to fully relax. It’s the right combination of modern luxury and rich history in the Louisville area.

Omni: Elegance in Every Stay

Omni Louisville Hotel outdoes itself with its elegance and top-notch hospitality. The hotel has a central location and pretty stylish if you want that sort of presentation in your stay. It has plenty of fine dining and the amenities will try to keep you staying there instead of heading out.

Marriott: Comfort Meets Convenience

You have your standard Marriott in Louisville that is both affordable and convenience, best choice if you are here for work or pleasure. It always has reliable service and comfortable accommodations. Best place to set up on a travel budget and if you rather spend more time outside of the hotel exploring all that Louisville has to offer.

Where to Eat on the Bourbon Trail

While enjoying the culinary delights of Louisville, especially in the Bourbon District, make sure to check out these local favorites.

Repeal Oak Fired Steakhouse

The aroma of the oak fire wafting down the sidewalk will lure you to the vibrant dining room. This relative newcomer is always jam-packed and prepares a delicious steak or pretty much anything else on the menu.

Definitely a great place to feel the vibe of the Bourbon District while you are touring. Enjoy a drink in the bar if you’re unable to score a dinner reservation.

Pat’s Steakhouse

Pat’s is my favorite steakhouse in town. Stepping into the restaurant is literally like stepping back 50 or more years. With the dark, rich wood and Irish keepsakes adorning the walls, this is a real deal steakhouse. You know like the kind that only takes cash! They relaxed that policy a few years ago.

Enjoy the time of your life and tell Mr. Francis we said hello!

Merle’s Whiskey Kitchen

Merle’s is a laid-back whiskey bar with darn good barbeque! Their whiskey list is long and with a front door on Main Street they are a short walk from all the Urban stops!

Doc Crows

Docs used to be my dinner-time cafeteria. I had a co-worker who loved this place. I always enjoyed a wonderful ribeye or short rib. The brisket is delicious as well. We enjoy the laid-back atmosphere and nearly endless list of bourbon!

Want to Check Out More Authentic Louisville and Kentucky?

Visit Louisville Slugger

Discover a piece of baseball history at the Louisville Slugger Museum in Louisville. This iconic museum invites you to explore the world of America’s favorite pastime, complete with a giant baseball bat that welcomes you at the entrance. Step inside for an unforgettable journey through the history of baseball and the making of the legendary Louisville Slugger bats.

Churchill Downs

Experience the thrill and elegance of horse racing at Churchill Downs, the legendary home of the Kentucky Derby. We recommend the Special Access tours at Churchill to really understand the heart and soul of this iconic venue!

Don’t miss the chance to walk the same grounds as some of the greatest racehorses in history!

Cumberland Falls: Niagra Falls of the South!

Cumberland Falls is one of two places in the world to see a nighttime rainbow called a moonbow. The other one is in South Africa. Swing down to Corbin, Kentucky for some original Kentucky Fried Chicken and a moonbow!

Toasting to the End of Our Bourbon Trail Journey

As we raise our glasses to the end of our memorable journey along the Urban Bourbon Trail, we hope you’re filled with inspiration to delve into Louisville’s deep-rooted bourbon culture.

Each distillery visit, aging process, spirits competition, bourbon festival, and sip showcases the heritage and craftsmanship of America’s finest spirit. Ready to explore more that Kentucky has to offer? Don’t miss our guide to the 27 Best Day Trips from Louisville to help plan your next adventure.

Here’s to many more discoveries in the heart of Kentucky’s bourbon country!

This article originally appeared on The World Overload. Featured Photo Credit: Unsplash

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