When you think about Louisville, Kentucky, what’s the first thing that springs to mind? Churchill Downs, the home of the Kentucky Derby, also known as the most famous horse race in the world. Or perhaps the Louisville Slugger Museum, an iconic location home to the famous “Louisville Slugger” baseball bat which is made here. Either of these answers is certainly accurate but we want to share another iconic reason for spending a weekend in Louisville…the Kentucky Bourbon Trail!
Louisville is home to a myriad of distilleries that are part of the Kentucky Bourbon Trail and what better place to start your experience learning about bourbon whiskey than in the heart of the city itself.
We were fortunate to spend a recent weekend in Louisville experiencing several of these historic distilleries and although we are anything but bourbon connoisseurs, we can well and truly attest that this was a valuable experience that we hope will inspire you to visit after reading our post.
Whether you are a Jack Daniels whiskey fan and have experienced the Jack Daniels Distillery Tour in Lynchburg, Tennessee (shhh…we shouldn’t be mentioning that name around these parts of Kentucky) or you love a sip of the finest Johnnie Walker Scotch from across the pond, experiencing the Kentucky Bourbon Trail dedicated to learning all about the history of bourbon is definitely something you will enjoy.
Weekend in Louisville
A visit to Louisville doesn’t necessarily have to focus solely on sampling the finest bourbons in the world. But if you have the slightest interest in allowing your taste buds to experience a variety of flavors in the bourbon line, you are certainly in the right place!
Our visit to Louisville saw us experience a couple of different iconic distilleries, some of which are within walking distance of our downtown accommodation while others are just a short drive away.
Be prepared to allocate some time to experience the bourbon trail but also don’t forget to experience some other awesome attractions, including the aforementioned Slugger Museum and Churchill Downs and a couple of other entertaining options that we enjoyed on our recent visit.
Here is a brief overview of some of the attractions we sampled during our action-packed 48 hours in Louisville!
- Jim Beam American Stillhouse
- Jim Beam Urban Stillhouse
- Evan Williams Bourbon Experience
- Bulleit Frontier Whiskey Experience
- Muhammad Ali Center
- Belle of Louisville and Spirit of Jefferson River Cruise
It’s a long list of things to do but Louisville is one of those cities that you cannot help but fall in love with, especially when you can sample a few glasses of bourbon at each location! This post will cover our bourbon tour (those highlighted in red) but this is just a small selection of places you can visit along the Urban Trail.
Before exploring why this was such an entertaining weekend, let’s take a look at our recommended hotel option if you are planning on staying in downtown Louisville.
Where to Stay in Louisville?
Ready to head on your very own “urban bourbon trail?” If you are planning your route around Louisville’s downtown distilleries, it’s likely that you will want somewhere to stay where you won’t have to worry about driving!
Don’t worry, we have the perfect accommodation option that is affordable, trendy, modern and is in the optimal location to take advantage of many of Louisville’s bourbon scene. Welcome to the Aloft Louisville Downtown!
Located directly on Louisville’s infamous “Whiskey Row”, the Aloft Louisville Downtown is everything you could possibly need in a hotel.
Relax in the gorgeous lobby area on the ultra-modern sofas or enjoy your favorite beverage (in addition to 60+ bourbon selections!) at the Corner Restaurant and Bar.
Our room continued the theme of modern luxury with a hint of local flavor as we enjoyed a gorgeous Louisville montage above our bed. We had all the amenities we needed to ensure our stay was ultimate perfection.
I have to admit the hardest part was getting up in the morning because the bed was incredibly comfortable. But with the thought of bourbon on our mind, we headed on our adventure around the Kentucky Bourbon Trail!
We will be sharing a more in-depth review of what we consider to be the best downtown hotel in Louisville!
If you are already convinced that this is the perfect place to stay, check out the latest rates and availability here.
Jim Beam American Stillhouse
When you think about iconic bourbon whiskeys, what’s the first brand on the tip of your tongue? If you are novice like we were, it’s plausible that the only brand you can name is Jim Beam! Please forgive our ignorance but that’s the idea behind experiencing the Kentucky Bourbon Trail as it will certainly broaden your horizons and quickly make you more knowledgeable about this iconic drink.
Our adventure around Louisville started in nearby Clermont, Kentucky, home of the original Jim Beam American Stillhouse. Located about 20 minutes south of downtown Louisville, this is a great option to experience if you are heading to the city from the south (experiencing a weekend in Nashville is a viable option if you want to visit both Tennessee and Kentucky on your trip!).
A word of warning before heading to this attraction, be prepared to go early in the morning to book tickets if you are looking to experience the full guided tour. We unfortunately arrived early afternoon and missed the full tours but the “Bourbon 101” tour is definitely a great alternative.
After experiencing a great tour of the distillery (apparently a shortened version), we headed to the tasting room to sample three of our favorite Jim Beam flavors. Whether you are a traditionalist and want to enjoy the Jim Beam Single Barrel or perhaps one of the modern flavors (peach, black cherry, honey et al.), there are 18 different options to choose from.
As our tour guide eloquently informed us, if you are visiting the Jim Beam American Stillhouse on your own, be sure to quickly make some friends and you can enjoy multiple samples!
Jim Beam Urban Stillhouse
After experiencing the original Jim Beam American Stillhouse, it’s no surprise that we were ready to enjoy the modern version of the Urban Stillhouse on 4th Street Live! in downtown Louisville. We checked in to the Aloft Louisville Downtown hotel and took the short walk over to enjoy our epic experience….and EPIC doesn’t begin to explain how amazing it was!
Are you ready to be a bartender for the evening? This is exactly what you can experience at the Jim Beam Urban Stillhouse when you take the mixology class. We had our very own private bartender, Daniel, who gave us step by step directions on how to make the perfect whiskey sour.
An interactive experience allows you to show all of your hidden bartending skills and create the perfect concoction. I have to admit that Heather was a real natural (I’m sure she has done this before and never told me!) and although I struggled a little to grasp the fine intricacies of creating a whiskey cocktail, it was a memorable and enjoyable experience!
Evan Williams Bourbon Experience
When Evan Williams emigrated to the States from his homeland of Wales, he set about creating a precedent in the state of Kentucky with his iconic bourbon flavor. In 1782, Williams opened Kentucky’s first commercial distillery and to this day, the brand has honored his name and created an interactive experience for visitors heading to Whiskey Row.
Entering the distillery located along Main Street, you are greeted by a huge whiskey glass in the window that has been transformed into a water feature, providing a representation of bourbon pouring over the glass. Be sure to grab a selfie here before organizing a guided tour of the distillery.
Although this location is downtown and you don’t get the same experience (i.e. the smell of bourbon isn’t apparent here) as a distillery in a rural spot, this is definitely a well organized experience where you can learn all about the history of bourbon.
Our tour guide told us that the Evan Williams distillery is probably the best distillery to start at if you are planning a tour of the Kentucky Bourbon Trail, primarily because of the history and how you gain a better understanding as to the process and timeline of bourbon production over the last 200+ years.
Visitors can enjoy an artisanal journey through history before heading to The Phil Hollenbach Co. bar to enjoy another sampling of bourbons in addition to a special surprise that provides the perfect accompaniment to your final tasting.
Bulleit Frontier Whiskey Experience
Although we headed to the Bulleit Frontier Whiskey Experience knowing that this was going to be our final stop on this bourbon trail, we were excited to learn about how this brand has developed and transformed the original Stitzel-Weller distillery into today’s Bulleit brand that I am sure many of you are familiar with.
Originally opened on Derby Day in 1935 and reopened to the public in 2014, the Stitzel-Weller Distillery is one of the true cathedrals of the American whiskey
When you approach Bulleit, it’s noticeable that the gated entrance still advertises as the Stitzel-Weller Distillery in honor of the original founders of this location. The dilapidated appearance of the rickhouses made it appear that this was an abandoned property and until recently, this was a reality.
However, the transformation and re-opening of this distillery helped the Buleit brand expand their growth and today, visitors can experience everything that has taken place at this historic distillery.
A traditional tour experience is led by a knowledgeable guide who shares the history, development and present day practices of the Bulleit whiskey company. The finale saw us enter Tom Bulleit’s office and sample three of his iconic whiskey flavors.
You would think that after sampling these four awesome and distinctive distilleries that we would be getting tired of the smell, sight and taste of bourbon. It actually had the opposite effect and we are already planning a return trip to Kentucky to sample more of the distilleries on the Bourbon Trail.
Whether you are contemplating a weekend in Louisville to experience something similar or simply passing through this gorgeous city, be sure to add at least one of these bourbon distilleries to your itinerary. You won’t regret the decision! The difficult aspect is picking which one to visit…in our case, we recommend all four of them.
You may be wondering why we haven’t indicated our favorite bourbon? Well, that’s purely because it’s incredibly difficult to choose between all of them as each one has a unique flavor. Personally if I had to pick one, I would go with Evan Williams as there was a much sweeter taste to the bourbon. But I think it’s fair to say you can’t go wrong with any of these iconic bourbon brands!
Disclaimer – We would like to thank Go To Louisville for hosting us on this trip. These are solely our personal opinions/experiences and we were not financially compensated for this post.