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Here at GreatDrams we’ll be focusing on Bourbon over the next two weeks. What better way to get started than with a whiskey holiday!

Now, I don’t know about you but I’ve wanted to visit Kentucky for years. To make the pilgrimage, to visit the distilleries, to meet the people and to enjoy fantastic bourbon… and finally this happened in September 2018. Here is The GreatDrams Bourbon Lover’s Guide to Whiskey Tourism in Kentucky.

GETTING THERE

If you’re travelling from the UK, I found flying from Manchester to Heathrow to Chicago and on to Lexington the easiest way, although choosing to fly with British Airways was definitely not the best as they failed in pretty much every way both ways, across all five flights but the rant about that will stay to Facebook and their complaints email address.

There are other travel options when visiting Kentucky from the UK;

London Heathrow to Atlanta and on to Lexington
London Heathrow to Chicago and on to Cincinnati and getting a $110 cab to Lexington
London Heathrow to New York JFK and on to Lexington
And many more.
It will take time to get there, but like all good pilgrimages, you get out what effort you put in and I was truly rewarded with brilliance during my time whilst visiting Kentucky.

WHERE TO STAY

I stayed at the 21c Hotel in Downtown Lexington, a museum hotel that was somewhere between inspiring and mightily random – for example there were big, 4ft blue plastic penguins everywhere and in all the corridors, and the maid (I assume) even put one in my room one morning – but incredibly comfortable and with a great local beer and whiskey menu… and the food was fantastic, so well worth a stay if you’re in the area.

GETTING AROUND

Distilleries in Kentucky are, like Scotland and Ireland, relatively well spread out so you will need a car to get around and I would highly recommend hiring a driver or asking who you are with REALLY nicely to be the designated driver as, whilst not all distilleries let you sample their whiskeys, you might pick up a sample or pass a bar along the way you want to try some wonderful Bourbon, Rye, Wheated Bourbon or concept whiskeys in.
Two of the days I was in Kentucky I had meetings so was very fortunate that one of the people I was seeing, Brian, was awesome enough to drive me around to various distilleries, he then arranged a private tour for my final day with a company called Bottled in Bond Tours.
Bottled in Bond Tours is owned by a well-travelled chap named Nate who is one of the most fantastically enthusiastic people about all things Kentucky, Bourbon and whiskey that I’ve met. A really nice guy who tailors your time with him to exactly what you want to do, see and experience. Nate also has connections in most of the distilleries so can get you to access things you probably would not otherwise be able to on your own.

THE BARS

I did not have a lot of time to explore the bar scene due to my schedule but did enjoy a couple of fantastic bars in Lexington, Kentucky.

The Bluegrass Tavern

Address: 1303, 115 Cheapside, Lexington, KY 40507, United States
Opening Time: 5:00 pm
What a bar! Owned by a great guy named Sean who, along with the previous owners of the bar, have amassed an 800+ bottle strong collection of Bourbon ranging from the classics to the rarest and the obscure.
Make sure you go to this bar, it is affectionately described by their bartenders as a ‘bourbon-centric dive bar’ and man did it deliver not only the American bar experience I love, with good local beers and superb Bourbon, but the guys there are awesome. Bartender Austin in particular was great at showing me superb whiskeys they have in that I would not be able to try anywhere else and it was great just to spend hours chatting about Bourbon and Kentucky with him. Whilst there I tried some belters including:
Chicken Cock Bourbon (chosen for the name, chosen again for how great it tasted)
Weller 12 Year Old
Wild Turkey Decades
Wilderness Trail Single Barrel
Wilderness Trail 4 Year Old Rye
Russell’s Reserve Bluegrass Tavern Barrel Select ‘Gobble Gobble Gulp’ exclusive to the bar

Kentucky

Cathop

Not a Bourbon bar at all, in fact I’m not sure I saw a Bourbon on the bar whilst there, but they had around a hundred, maybe more craft beers on tap ranging from all different styles and flavours.
The food here was great too, I had the Vladimir Poutine – essentially chips, gravy and cheese curd with a bit of brisket on top… a Canadian delicacy that I had not had in a couple of years so fancied tucking in again.

Bourbon on Rye

Address: 115 W Main St, Lexington, KY 40507, USA
Opening Time: 4:00 pm
Simply put; this is where great Bourbon lives. A must visit.
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THE DISTILLERIES

In the three days I was in Kentucky I managed to visit nine distilleries in total, each and every one I would recommend that you all visit too. One thing that did annoy me about a bunch of them was how little you are able to sample and to try at the distilleries, apparently a few of them pulled back on samples as people turned up and drank loads then went away again – personally I think that is a bit of a smokescreen as you should want people to try your stuff as they are more than likely to then buy something from the store. Here they are, in the order I visited them as it would be rude to rank them:

Castle & Key

Address: 4445 McCracken Pike, Frankfort, KY 40601, USA
When I visited this distillery was not open to the public, fortunately I was able to walk around it for an hour and a half or so with one of their top dogs, Brett, who took me through the whole story, the history and the vision for the place. When open this will be one of the nicest distilleries on the planet. Make sure you also try, and buy, their gin – phenomenal.
Kentucky

Maker’s Mark

Address: 3350 Burks Spring Rd, Loretto, KY 40037, USA
Opening Time: 9:30 am
An icon of the Bourbon world, this distillery was great to see in person and I loved the small design touches around the place including the bottle outline being built into the window shutters, the red accent detail from the wax being included tastefully throughout the site and ability to wax dip your own bottle… which I dutifully did.
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Heaven Hill

Address: 528 West Main St. Louisville, KY 40202
Opening Time: 9:00 am
I only popped into the ship at this one as my time was pressed, but managed to pick up a single barrel Old Fitzgerald 14 Year Old and a McKenna (won best American single barrel whiskey this year).

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Willett

Address: 1869 Loretto Road Bardstown, Kentucky 40004
Opening Time: 9:30 am
Did the full tour here and it was great, a really small distillery given the amount of brands and product they churn out but the tasting here was lovely as was the walk around the site… their distillery cat was cute too, and enjoyed a little tickle between stops on the tour.
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Wilderness Trail

Address: 4095 Lebanon Rd, Danville, KY 40422, USA
Opening Time: 10:00 am
These guys are incredible, distillers Pat and Shane have created something special here – their background in yeast cultivation and process efficiency for others has set them and their distillery up to be über successful as they have done from filling just one barrel of spirit a day in 2013 using a single pot still to 220 barrels being filled a day in 2018 to become the 14th biggest Bourbon producer in the United States. Incredible how these guys have done it and what they are on the cusp of achieving. Definitely check them out – they sell a single barrel exclusive in the distillery shop too which is fantastic.
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Buffalo Trace

Address:  113 Great Buffalo Trace, Frankfort, KY 40601, USA
Opening Time: 9:00 am
Like Maker’s, an icon of the Bourbon industry and one you just have to visit even if it is just for the photo in front of the iconic water tower. One of the best and most historic distilleries I visited, and the tour guide Lee had great stories and fascinating tales. A good guy too. The tasting at the end of the tour was basic but good. One let down here was that there were no distillery exclusive whiskies to buy – a HUGE missed opportunity in my opinion, as always – and no premium whiskies either. There was a bottle of Blanton’s, but I had seen it elsewhere too.
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Wild Turkey

Address: 1417 Versailles Rd, Lawrenceburg, KY 40342, USA
Opening Time: 9:00 am
Great distillery, a nice – and reasonably priced – tasting bar downstairs and lots of random things to buy in the store including a gobbler – see my instagram. Their main corridor includes a nice way of explaining their history too.
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Woodford Reserve

Address: 7855 McCracken Pike, Versailles, KY 40383-9781
Opening Time: 9:00 am
Like Buffalo Trace and Maker’s, an icon of the Bourbon industry and one of the quaintest and truly American-designed distilleries I’ve visited. A great tour too, albeit quite stage-managed and overly scripted, that finishes with a basic tasting.
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Bluegrass Distillers

Address: 501 W 6th St #165, Lexington, KY 40508, USA
Opening Time: 10:00 am
An unexpected one this, and one that is within walking distance from the hotel I stayed in (roughly 25 minutes each way). This was the smallest distillery of all I visited, but one of the coolest as you get to bottle your own Bourbon (or rye) right there in the distillery shop – something none of the others offered at all, and was an instant sale. Well worth checking them out. They produce Wheated Bourbon too, which you can bottle, and is akin to Pappy and Weller in base flavour profile and character.

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