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In 2007, Congress declared September to be National Bourbon Month. So what better time than autumn to whet your whistle on a drive along the famous Kentucky Bourbon Trail?

Connoisseurs and aficionados should be sure to set aside a good three days to properly enjoy and take in the rich history of the trail, which was founded in 1999 by the Kentucky Distillers’ Association with two purposes: educate people about the fine art of crafting bourbon through distillery visits and entertain them along the way.

In the last five years alone, touring the Bluegrass State’s nine bourbon distilleries has given 2.5 million visitors an up front seat to how whiskeyis crafted. Pull up a chair, sit back and enjoy the pour—this guide will get you on your way:

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Drive or (more safely) arrange transportation through Mint Julep Tours, R&R Limousine or Central KY Tours. The trail meanders along two main interstates, I-64 (in the eastern part of the state, which includes Woodford Reserve, Four Roses, Wild Turkey and Town Branch) and I-65 (Evan Williams Bourbon Experience, Bulleit at Stitzel-Weller, Jim Beam, Heaven Hill and Maker’s Mark).

Four Roses Distillery

Four Roses Distillery | Flickr CC: Kevin Kestler

Four Roses Distillery is housed in a 1910 Spanish Mission-style building on the Salt River just 30 minutes outside of downtown Lexington. Master Distiller Brent Elliott and his Four Roses team have produced 10 straight bourbon recipes in different combinations and percentages. Elliott describes the taste as mellow and smooth with the crisp rich flavors present in the high levels of rye he utilizes in the mash bills. Elliott cites the Kentucky Bourbon Trail as one of the best options to explore the area: “It is the best way to immerse yourself in the Bourbon culture and to experience the unique and exciting experiences that each distillery offers,” he says.

Tours of Four Roses Distillery start at $5 per visitor, Monday through Saturday, 9am to 3pm (on the hour), and Sunday, noon to 3pm. Play it smart and present your distillery ticket within 60 days at Four Roses’ Warehouse & Bottling Facility to tour at no extra charge. An over 21 ID is required to participate in a bourbon tasting.

Jim Beam Distillery

Jim Beam Distillery | Flickr CC: Anthony

While the Kentucky Bourbon Trail is made up of nine distilleries, there is also the Kentucky Bourbon Trail Craft Tour that takes visitors to smaller distilleries. Its list is currently 11 and growing and features famous makers like Jim Beam, which offers visitors the chance to do some hands-on corn mashing, distilling, barreling and bottling—not to mention tasting. The distillery recently announced it would offer bourbon cocktails as a part of its “tasting” menu. Its 90-minute tours run Mondays through Saturdays 9:30am through 3:30pm and Sundays 12:30pm through 3pm. Admission is $12 adults and free under 21.

Not to be outdone, Andy Nelson of Nelson’s Green Brier Distillery in Nashville and great grandson of famed whiskey maker Charles Nelson, utilizes as many of the same processes as his predecessor such as a 96-hour fermentation period. Nelson, who distills the 100-year-old Belle Meade Bourbon, offers a high-rye content (about 30%) bourbon similar to the one made over a century ago.

“The history of our company and brands is what separates what we do from the rest,” says Nelson, who runs Green Brier with his brother Charlie. According to Nelson, the brothers use four barrels between six and eight years old in the production of each batch—with multiple mash bills and yeast strains combined to create a unique flavor profile that doesn’t come from any individual barrel by itself. “The nose gives off some citrus anda bit of caramel sweetness from the barrel,” he says. “The palate will reveal the rye spice followed by the vanilla, oak and more caramel.” But the finish is his favorite: “It is full of stone fruit like plum, peach and cherry. It lingers on the tongue for a good long while and makes it a great neat sipping whiskey.”

Nelson’s is open to the public for tours and tastings seven days a week including Sunday and Monday tours from 11am to 5pm Tuesday through Saturday tours from 11am to 6pm. Tours are $10 per person for adults over 21. Valid ID is required for tastings. Visitors aged 12-21 are $5, 0-12 free, and $5 with a Military ID. Private Tours are also available for $15 per person.

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Christine M. Gordon

Christine M. Gordon

Christine covers travel, food, indigenous languages and cultures and wildlife conservation.

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