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Kentucky's Bourbon Buzz

Updated on November 29, 2014

Bourbon Expansion

Most Kentuckians will tell you that even though bourbon can be produced anywhere in America where it’s legal to do so, the best bourbons are made in the Bluegrass State. Kentucky’s distilleries have come a long way from the 1990s when bourbon sales were stagnant and vodka was king. They now find themselves in a very nice sweet spot of global popularity and growing sales. There’s definitely a bourbon buzz in Kentucky these days that goes beyond the actual drinking of the product.

Craft Distilleries

The recent official opening of Wilderness Trace distillery in Danville, KY is just the latest indication that Kentucky’s bourbon buzz is still accelerating. There are no fewer than ten small craft distilleries in the planning stage and they each hope to join the eight established distilleries on the Kentucky Bourbon Craft Tour. The planned distilleries are; New Riff in the northern Kentucky city of Newport, Whiskey Thief Distilling Co. in Frankfort, Kentucky Artisan Distillery in Crestwood just northeast of Louisville, Bluegrass Distillers in Lexington, Old Towne Distillery in Harrodsburg, Boundary Oak in Elizabethtown, Jefferson Creek Whiskey Co. in Paducah and Angels Envy, Copper and Kings and Peerless in Louisville.

Some of the seven established craft distilleries; Old Pogue in Maysville, Barrel House in Lexington, Limestone Branch in Lebanon, Willett in Bardstown, Michter’s in Louisville, Silver Trail in Hardin and M. B. Roland in Pembroke that have been in operation for a relatively short time, are already expanding to meet higher demand of their products. Right now, small is pretty big as far as Kentucky bourbon is concerned.

So, what is a craft distillery exactly? Though there is no regulatory definition for the word craft there is currently a movement working toward some uniform clarity on what constitutes a craft bourbon and a craft bourbon distillery.

The recently formed American Craft Distilling Association defines a craft distillery as those who produce less than 50,000 cases of bourbon per calendar year. That limitation would be far below what Kentucky’s larger distilleries produce on a yearly basis. But, for most in the bourbon business, craft is more about the art of making bourbon and a more hands on experience all the way through the production process.

The Old Guard

Even the Kentucky Bourbon Trail, originally made up of many of Kentucky’s long established larger distilleries, has been going through its own changes. The recent additions of Town Branch, a newer distillery in Lexington and the Evan Williams Bourbon Experience in downtown Louisville has swelled the number of distilleries on the trail to nine with both ends of the trail in Kentucky’s two largest cities.

The Evan Williams Bourbon Experience, an offshoot of the large Heaven Hill Distillery in Bardstown, features its own micro distillery that allows visitors to experience the full process of bourbon making.

The Van Winkle Family of Bourbons


Town and Country

Urban Bourbon

The Urban Bourbon Trail is made up of over 25 bars and restaurants in Louisville that all serve at least 50 different brands of bourbon, and some of them serve over 150. In downtown Louisville, the Maker's Mark Bourbon Lounge and the Old Seelbach Bar are two very popular destinations for bourbon enthusiasts.

A Destination

Bourbon's rising popularity continues to fuel Kentucky's bourbon buzz with many distilleries increasing production and expanding warehouse space. They're also becoming even more visitor friendly by offering new tours that delve more deeply into how bourbon actually gets made. Combine all that with Kentucky's natural beauty and anyone interested in bourbon has a can't miss destination.




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    • TimArends profile image

      Timothy Arends 3 years ago from Chicago Region

      It's funny to learn the Kentucky is known for its bourbon, since I went to Berea College in Kentucky, which is located in a dry town!