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  • Sampling spirits at Haymarket Whiskey Bar in Louisville
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    Starting Point: Bourbon in Louisville, Kentucky

  • Tasting glasses at Woodford Reserve in Versailles, Kentucky
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    Sip Spirits and Savor the Flavors of Lexington, Kentucky

  • Assembling a barrel at the Bourbon Festival in Bardstown, Kentucky
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    Historic Bardstown, Kentucky, the Bourbon Capital of the World

  • Aging barrels at Corsair Distillery in Bowling Green, Kentucky
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    Owensboro, Kentucky: A Place for Whiskey, Sports Cars, Bourbon and Blues

  • Learning about the murals on the floodwall in Paducah overlooking the Ohio River
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    An Artsy Scene, a Bit of History and a Sip of Whiskey in Paducah, Kentucky

  • The historic Jack Daniel’s Distillery in Lynchburg, Tennessee
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    A Nod to the Past, and Noshing in the Present in Nashville, Tennessee

Famous-brand bourbons and whiskeys on a bar
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America’s Spirits: Tour the Homes of Bourbon and Whiskey

By Samantha Crespo

  • Route distance:
    837km
  • Suggested Time:
    5 days

Propelling an old craft into a new age

There’s a spirit that flows from Kentucky into Tennessee. Until the early 20th century, abundant corn and pristine water fueled family-owned distilleries, but temperance and Prohibition forced operations out of business. In recent decades, U.S. distilling dynasties are resurging, complemented by a prolific craft movement. Explore the spirits of both past and present in these six towns. Along the way, stop at restaurants and boutique businesses that incorporate spirits into menus and artisan food items.

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Sampling spirits at Haymarket Whiskey Bar in Louisville
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Starting Point: Bourbon in Louisville, Kentucky

Fly in to Louisville International Airport to explore the welcoming and friendly home of the Kentucky Derby and Muhammad Ali. Make vibrant downtown Louisville’s Whiskey Row your headquarters for exploring bourbon, America’s premier spirit. Prior to Prohibition, this area was home to as many as 50 distilleries. Now, the city’s known for a thriving farm-to-table dining scene and numerous bourbon-focused bars. Start at the Evan Williams Bourbon Experience, Kentucky’s first commercial distillery, at the row’s historic end around West Main and South Sixth streets. The modern facility gleams with copper and polished woods, but the bourbon-making process is virtually unchanged. Pick up the Urban Bourbon Trail and follow it to a variety of bourbon-centric bars, ranging from stately hotel cocktail lounges to historic haunts with ties to gangster Al Capone and author F. Scott Fitzgerald. If you’re in town the first Friday of the month, plan to enjoy the monthly Trolley Hop, when galleries, shops and restaurants stay open late and offer specials, discounts and refreshments. Pick up some hand-crafted bourbon truffles to enjoy on the way to your next destination.

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124 km
2 hours by car
02
Tasting glasses at Woodford Reserve in Versailles, Kentucky
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Sip Spirits and Savor the Flavors of Lexington, Kentucky

Take in Kentucky’s rolling hills, white picket fences and horse farms on the short drive east to Lexington. Seven distilleries operate within 40 miles of Lexington, and the Bluegrass Parkway (U.S. 60) carves a bucolic path to many of them. Start downtown at Alltech Lexington Brewing and Distilling Co., where you’ll take a tour of the brewery and distillery and taste both micro-beers and bourbons. Refuel with traditional dishes like ham biscuits and the Kentucky Hot Brown. Leaving Lexington, take a side trip to Versailles, Lawrenceburg, Danville or Loretto. In Versailles, admire the architecture of beautiful Woodford Reserve Distillery and enjoy lunch on the porch. In Lawrenceburg, chat with Jimmy Russell, a third-generation distiller, on a tour of Wild Turkey. In Danville’s Cultural District, take a tour of craft distillery Wilderness Trace. Loretto claims Maker’s Mark; stop in the gift shop, buy a bottle and dip it in the distillery’s signature red wax.

97 km
1 hour by car
03
Assembling a barrel at the Bourbon Festival in Bardstown, Kentucky
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Historic Bardstown, Kentucky, the Bourbon Capital of the World

From Lexington, continue your bourbon education with a scenic drive one hour west to quaint Bardstown. The central historic district of Kentucky’s second-oldest city has bourbon in its bones. The town’s storefronts look like they’re out of a movie set, but the free-flowing bourbon is most definitely real. Sample live music and spirits at the Bourbon Bar in Old Talbott Tavern, dating to 1779. Spalding Hall, circa 1826, hosts the Oscar Getz Museum of Whiskey History. In the Kentucky Bourbon Marketplace, you can shop for anything from bourbon to baseball hats and request a tasting flight in the bar. The town’s annual Kentucky Bourbon Festival in September is a nice time to soak it all in; events range from coopers’  barrel-making demonstrations  to historical tours and cocktail challenges. Heaven Hill Distilleries’ Bourbon Heritage Center varies its tours from a history-infused trolley ride to an extensive look behind the scenes. Just northwest of Bardstown in Clermont, the Jim Beam American Stillhouse, home of the world’s top-selling bourbon, offers the chance to interact with Fred Noe, master distiller and seventh-generation member of the Beam family, and enjoy a bourbon-themed meal.

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190 km
2 hours by car
04
Aging barrels at Corsair Distillery in Bowling Green, Kentucky
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Owensboro, Kentucky: A Place for Whiskey, Sports Cars, Bourbon and Blues

About 90 minutes into the drive from Bardstown to Owensboro is Bowling Green, a can’t-miss stop on the spirits trail. Head to Corsair Distillery, a craft distiller that has racked up awards with admittedly unconventional brews, including the complex Triple Smoke Whiskey. Love fast cars? Bowling Green is home to the Corvette Assembly Plant, the only place in the world where "America's Sports Car" is manufactured. Hop back in your car and head another hour north to Owensboro on the Ohio River, where you’ll be richly rewarded in bourbon. Select from 200-plus bourbons in the basement bar of the The Miller House, a 1905 restaurant. In October, the town’s Bourbon and Blues Festival serves more of the spirit, accompanied by barbecue sandwiches and live music. Any time of year, Owensboro’s preserved mansions present a sense of the town’s history. Next, you're headed to a artsy city at the junction of the Ohio and Tennessee Rivers for a taste of Kentucky moonshine and more.

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206 km
2 hours by car
05
Learning about the murals on the floodwall in Paducah overlooking the Ohio River
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An Artsy Scene, a Bit of History and a Sip of Whiskey in Paducah, Kentucky

Between Owensboro and Nashville, visit the historic city of Paducah. A UNESCO Creative City, Paducah is also crafting traditional Kentucky moonshine. The Moonshine Company, housed in a century-old building in downtown Paducah, uses a fine-tuned family recipe passed down from generation to generation. Learn about the history of Kentucky moonshine through antiques on display as you sample the Loaded Lemonade, Cousin Billy’s or Uncle Mosey’s Moonshine. A bottle of this stiff spirit is a great take-home gift. Just a few minutes away, pop in to Silent Brigade Distillery, where bartenders mix cocktails featuring their signature whiskeys. Try the peach and apple or blackberry moonshine, then take your good mood for a walk along the Paducah Riverfront. Murals on the floodwall depict images from Kentucky’s past, and historic markers along the path tell of Paducah’s role in the Civil War. Stop for a picnic by the water and watch the riverboats paddle by. Pick up some local produce and crafts at the Paducah Farmers’ Market (April - October), browse the local artists’ galleries in the Lower Town Arts District and don’t miss a visit to the National Quilt Museum.

220 km
2 hours by car
06
The historic Jack Daniel’s Distillery in Lynchburg, Tennessee
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A Nod to the Past, and Noshing in the Present in Nashville, Tennessee

Savor the bluegrass scenery on the two-hour drive south to Nashville, America’s “music city.” Here, the party never stops, with live music at dozens of honky-tonk bars and larger concert venues. Getting hungry? Try spicy, flavor-packed Nashville hot chicken. Wash it down with a good shot of Tennessee whiskey or a whiskey cocktail at stops like Whiskey Kitchen or Corsair’s location in Marathon Village also a must-stop for craft beer fans. Andy and Charlie Nelson are reviving their great-great-great-grandfather’s distillery, Nelson’s Green Brier, with tours and tastings in the same neighborhood as the Corsair distillery. Their Belle Meade Bourbon nods to the equestrian heritage of Nashville’s Belle Meade Plantation. About 15 miles north of Nashville at Fontanel Mansion is an outpost of the Kelso-based Prichard’s Distillery. The fifth-generation family business goes beyond Tennessee whiskey and includes bourbons, rums with their distinctive crooked-neck bottles, cream liqueur and the moonshine-inspired White Lightning. Also outside Nashville are some of Tennessee’s biggest-name distilleries: George Dickel Tennessee Whisky in Tullahoma, and the Jack Daniel’s Distillery in Lynchburg. Take time to refresh with a Lynchburg Lemonade while relaxing in the historic town before returning home on a flight out of Nashville International Airport.

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