Bourbon Trail offers proof of Kentucky's spirited industry

Bluegrass music, thoroughbred horses and the longest cave system in the world are not Kentucky’s only claims to fame. Chances are, if you have ever had a sip of bourbon, it was made at one of the state's many distilleries. More than just an amber-colored spirit with a distinctive, smooth flavor, bourbon may be what the Bluegrass State takes pride in the most.

Every September, thousands of whiskey lovers make their way to the Kentucky Bourbon Festival in Bardstown, the state's very own Bourbon Capital of the World. The 2010 event, held Sept. 14-19, will give guests the opportunity to sample a wide array of Kentucky bourbons from the various distilleries. Musical entertainment, bourbon-related culinary workshops, a town historical tour and child-friendly hands-on activities round out the activities. Many events are free; some have an admission fee. For details visit www.kybourbonfestival.com.

Can’t make the festival? Visitors interested in learning about the bourbon-making process are invited year-round to follow the Kentucky Bourbon Trail, a self-guided journey through the state that stops at six distilleries. From Bardstown to Lexington to Loretto, each distillery gives visitors a firsthand look at their own unique style and creation process.

Bardstown

Bardstown is home to the Jim Beam Distillery and the Heaven Hill Distillery, two of Kentucky's most popular bourbon-making locations. While they may only be about five miles from one another, their bourbon-making style is a world apart.

Jim Beam Distillery

When Jacob Beam concocted his brand of bourbon in 1795, he most likely didn’t imagine that it would become a household name. The Jim Beam Distillery, located in Clermont, just minutes from Bardstown and only a few miles from Louisville, creates bourbon that's not only full of all-natural ingredients, but one that is preserved for four years before being bottled. Visitors can expect some taste testing and a stop by the store where whiskey purchases can be made. Distillery tours are free. 526 Happy Hollow Road, Clermont. 502-543-9877, www.jimbeam.com.

Heaven Hill Distillery

At the distillery's Bourbon Heritage Center, visitors have the opportunity to sample fine bourbons and take a tour of the historic warehouse. Heaven Hill has been creating bourbon, including Evan Williams, since 1934 and was ranked as “U.S. Whisky Distiller of the Year” in 2009 by Whisky Magazine. While visiting the distillery, take a trolley ride and see the sights of historic downtown Bardstown. Admission is free. 1311 Gilkey Run Road, Bardstown. 502-337-1000, www.boubonheritagecenter.com.

Getting to Bardstown:

Bardstown is about 400 miles north of Atlanta. From Atlanta, take I-75 for about 100 miles, then I-24 W for 142 miles. Next, take I-65 for about 126 miles to Bardstown.

Eat:

Kurtz Restaurant. Serving Southern-style fare, Kurtz Restaurant has a casual atmosphere and serves fried chicken, country-fried ham and blackberry cobbler. $15-$25. 418 E. Stephen Foster Ave., Bardstown. 502-348-8964, www.bardstownparkview.com/dining.htm.

Stay:

The Bourbon Cottage. Romance and relaxation are two things this 1830s cottage-style bed-and-breakfast has to offer. Located along the Bourbon Trail, the inn is close to the Jim Beam and Heaven Hill distilleries. $99-$151. 114 W. Muir Ave. Bardstown. 502-460-0876, www.bourboncottage.com.

Tourism info:

Bardstown-Nelson County Chamber of Commerce. 502-348-9545, www.bardstownchamber.com.

Lexington

Three Kentucky distilleries are in the vicinity of Lexington, a city that's commonly known as the Horse Capital of the World. With its acres of rolling countryside and numerous farms, visitors to Lexington will take in more than bourbon knowledge; they'll also take in fresh air and beautiful scenery.

Wild Turkey Distillery

Wild Turkey offers one of the best-selling bourbons in the world, and the working distillery welcomes guests to take a tour to see how Kentucky Straight Bourbon is created, dating to the late 1700s. Admission is free. 1525 Tyrone Road, Lawrenceburg. 502-839-4544, www.wildturkeybourbon.com.

Woodford Reserve Distillery

Woodford Reserve is not only the smallest distillery in Kentucky, but it's also the oldest continuously operating distillery. A National Historic Landmark, the distillery has been making bourbon since the late 1800s. Woodford Reserve offers guests three tours: a National Landmark tour, a distillery tour and Corn-to-Cork tour. Each tour gives tourists a different perspective about the nearby area and the bourbon-making, bottling and aging processes. $5. 7855 McCracken Pike, Versailles. 859-879-1812, www.woodfordreserve.com.

Four Roses Distillery

Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, Four Roses Distillery’s Spanish-style architecture sets it apart from buildings typically found in Kentucky. Four Roses is the only bourbon distillery that uses 10 recipes to create the distinct taste of its whiskey. Tours are offered April-September by appointment. Admission is free. 1224 Bonds Mill Road, Lawrenceburg. 502-839-3436, www.fourroses.us.

Getting to Lexington:

Lexington is about 380 miles from Atlanta. From Atlanta, take I-75 North to Lexington.

Eat:

Picnic on the Porch. Located on the Woodford Reserve property, this casual eatery serves sandwiches and salads for lunch through October. $7-$10. 7855 McCracken Pike, Versailles. 859-879-1812, www.woodfordreserve.com.

Stay:

Gratz Park Inn. Located in the Gratz Park Historic District of downtown Lexington, this 41-room boutique-style hotel is in close proximity to restaurants, shops and nightlife. It's also on the National Register of Historic Places. $179-$425. 120 W. Second St., Lexington. 859-231-1777, www.gratzparkinn.com

Tourism info:

Greater Lexington Chamber of Commerce. 859-254-4447, www.lexchamber.com.

Loretto

The tiny city in Kentucky is best known as the home of the Maker's Mark bourbon distillery.

Maker's Mark Distillery

Maker's Mark Distillery is far from the bustle of big-city life, but meandering along the country roads to get to the distillery is one of the reasons to go there. Established in the mid-1950s, this family-owned distillery expanded in 2002 by replicating its still-operational 19th-century equipment and creating two distilleries. In addition to bourbon samples, tours include visits to the still house, the fermenting room and the barrel house. Admission is free. 3350 Burk Spring Road, Loretto. 270-865-2881, www.makersmark.com.

Getting to Loretto:

Loretto is about a 7 hour drive from Atlanta. Take I-75 North and follow the signs.

Eat:

Cozy Corner. Serving everything from rib-eyes to sandwiches, this all-American eatery gives visitors a casual and relaxing experience. $6.99-$10.99. 4950 Ky. 52, Loretto. 270-865-4488.

Stay:

The Hill House. Just three miles from the Maker's Mark Distillery, the Hill House offers relaxation in the newly renovated bed-and-breakfast. $110-$130. 110 Holy Cross Road, Loretto. 270-865-2300, www.thehillhouseky.com.

Tourism info:

ExploreKentucky Department of Travel

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