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10 Must-Visit Kentucky Distilleries for National Bourbon Day

Every year on June 14th, bourbon enthusiasts (and many others) across the United States raise their glasses to celebrate National Bourbon Day – in a toast to America’s only native spirit

Whether you’re a seasoned bourbon connoisseur or just a curious newcomer who wants to broaden their experiences, National Bourbon Day is the perfect occasion to explore the intricate flavors and craftsmanship that go into every bottle of this beloved whiskey.

What’s the Difference Between Bourbon and Whiskey, Anyway?

All bourbons are whiskey, but not all whiskeys are bourbons. 

Whiskey is a broad category of distilled alcohol made from various fermented grains, including barley, corn, rye and wheat. Whiskey is also produced around the world, with some famous varieties coming from Scotland, Ireland, Canada and even Japan. 

Bourbon, however, is uniquely American – and it cannot be labeled as such unless it meets strict criteria under United States laws. Among other things, the grain used in the mash for bourbon must contain at least 51% corn, which is what gives bourbon its distinctive sweet flavor. It must also be aged in charred oak barrels, contain no more than 80% alcohol by volume and be made within this country. In addition, to be called “straight bourbon,” the spirits must be aged for a minimum of two years. 

The spirit actually draws its name from Bourbon County, Kentucky, where production of the liquor goes back to the 18th century. Arguably, Kentucky is where the heart and soul of bourbon-making resided – which is why no trip to Kentucky is complete unless you make a few rounds of the best distilleries.

The Best Kentucky Distilleries to Visit for National Bourbon Day (Or Any Other Day)

Here are some must-visit distilleries that should be on every bourbon aficionado’s list:

1. Maker’s Mark Distillery

Located in Loretto, Maker’s Mark Distillery is renowned for its handcrafted bourbon and iconic bottles with red wax seals. Visitors can tour the picturesque grounds, explore the historic distillery and even dip a take-home bottle of their own in the signature red wax. The distillery offers tours with an intimate look at the meticulous process that goes into creating Maker’s Mark, from the selection of the grains to the aging in charred oak barrels.

2. Buffalo Trace Distillery

As one of the oldest continuously operating distilleries in the United States, Buffalo Trace in Frankfort County boasts a rich heritage that dates all the way back to 1773. This National Historic Landmark offers a variety of tours, each offering a unique perspective on the distillery’s history and production methods. Buffalo Trace is known for its award-winning bourbons, including the highly sought-after Pappy Van Winkle, which uses wheat instead of rye in the mash for a smoother flavor.

3. Woodford Reserve Distillery

Nestled in Versailles, Woodford Reserve Distillery is synonymous with class, elegance and craftsmanship. The distillery’s copper pot stills and triple distillation process set it apart, resulting in a smooth and complex bourbon. Enjoy the scenic drive on the way but come for the reserved tasting – but remember to book your experience in advance.

4. Four Roses Distillery

Located in Lawrenceburg, Four Roses Distillery combines Spanish mission-style architecture with bourbon-making traditions that date back to 1888 for a blast from the past. Known for its unique approach of using ten distinct bourbon recipes, Four Roses produces a range of spirits, each with a unique flavor profile. Visitors can enjoy a guided tour that highlights the distillery’s history, production process and the art of blending these fine spirits.

5. Jim Beam American Stillhouse

No bourbon tour would be complete without a visit to the Jim Beam American Stillhouse in Clermont. As one of the largest and most recognizable names in bourbon, Jim Beam offers an immersive experience that showcases its extensive portfolio of whiskeys. Their tours include a look at the mashing, fermenting, distilling and aging processes, culminating in a tasting of the brand’s flagship offerings.

6. Heaven Hill Distillery

Located in Bardstown, Heaven Hill Distillery has been “lifting spirits since 1935,” and is the largest independent, family-owned and operated producer of distilled spirits in the United States. Home to iconic brands like Elijah Craig, Evan Williams and Larceny, Heaven Hill offers visitors an amazing experience with an engaging overview of the history of bourbon and its production, plus a peek into the distillation and aging process.

7. Wild Turkey Distillery

Situated in Lawrenceburg, Wild Turkey Distillery is known for its bold, straight bourbons, small-batch rye collections, and hand-selected rare bourbons made from the finest ingredients. The visitor center offers panoramic views of the Kentucky River and an informative tour that covers the distillation process, barrel aging and the unique characteristics that make Wild Turkey bourbon stand out from the crowd.

8. Bardstown Bourbon Company

While it may be the “new kid on the block” amid Kentucky’s bourbon landscape, Bardstown Bourbon Company has already created quite a stir. Combining innovative techniques with traditional methods and craftsmanship, this state-of-the-art distillery offers a modern twist on the bourbon experience and believes in pushing boundaries. Take their 360 Distillery Tour, explore the vintage library or schedule an educational tasting opportunity for an experience that is like no other.

9. Michter’s Distillery

Michter’s Distillery, located in the heart of Louisville, is steeped in history dating back to 1753. Walk-ins are welcome, but you’re wiser to make reservations online if you want to launch your bourbon experience from the official starting point of the famous Kentucky Bourbon Trail®. The distillery prides itself on producing some of the finest single-barrel and small-batch whiskeys, “Cost Be Damned.” Visitors can also enjoy a cocktail at The Bar at Fort Nelson, known for its expertly crafted drinks and tours operate every day of the week except Mondays.

10. Angel’s Envy Distillery

Located in the heart of downtown Louisville, Angel’s Envy Distillery is known for its unique finishing process, where the bourbon is aged in port wine barrels. This gives Angel’s Envy a distinctive flavor profile that’s worth tapping your glass a few times on the bar! The distillery tour provides an up-close look at the distillery’s innovative finishing technique and the craftsmanship involved in their small-batch production – and the tastings are beyond compare.

Each distillery has its own unique story and approach, contributing to the rich tapestry of Kentucky’s bourbon heritage. You’re sure to find your quintessential American spirit somewhere among these wonderful distilleries.