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Kentucky's Bourbon Frenzy

Updated on November 8, 2014

Kentucky's Bourbon Frenzy Continues

As Kentucky's distillers can tell you, there's never been a better time to be a bourbon maker in Kentucky. Bourbon's steady climb in global popularity has created a whole new level of excitement in the Bluegrass State. That means there's also never been a better time to check out Kentucky's distilleries for yourself. There are plenty of established and brand new distilleries around the state that are very visitor friendly. You can get an up close and personal look at how bourbon gets made, and have a sip or two while you're at it.

Bourbon's New Golden Age

Bourbon is Big in the Bluegrass State

Bourbon’s wave of global popularity has yet to crest and Kentucky is riding that wave as it continues to rise. Producers big and small are clamoring to build new distilleries and resurrect some old ones that have fallen into dilapidated condition after being off-line for decades. It seems Kentucky is entering a new golden age of bourbon.

There's also a new breed of younger master distillers emerging on the landscape. These newer bourbon makers bring new attitudes about experimentation in bourbon mash bills and aging processes, all in the hopes of finding that unique flavor profile that whiskey aficionados are always on the lookout for. Even though there are strict rules governing the production of bourbon, there's plenty of room for new ideas.

On the other side of the coin, the traditional bourbons crafted from time honored recipes and uncompromising methods, will always form the solid foundation of Kentucky Bourbon, no matter how much innovation comes down the pike. After all, what really matters is what ends up in the bottle, and that's something all of Kentucky's master distillers will never forget or compromise.

The Bourbon Buzz

New Distilleries

Spirits giant Diageo recently announced plans to build a huge new distillery in Shelby County. The proposed site is a 300 acre expanse on Benson Pike close to Bagdad which is about 15 miles northeast of Frankfort and 45 miles west of Louisville. The estimated cost of construction is $115 million and it will have a 100-acre buffer around the distillery to keep the scenic surrounding landscape intact. The company hopes to have the distillery up and running by the latter part of 2016.

In February 2014, Diageo announced it would open a visitors center in the old Stitzel-Weller Distillery in Louisville. Many bourbon aficionados find that Stitzel-Weller produced bourbons are among the finest ever made.

Peristyle, a Kentucky based investment partnership, purchased the shuttered Old Taylor Distillery grounds in the spring of 2014. The company plans to invest millions of dollars to restore the once flourishing distillery to its former glory. The distillery is in Millville in Woodford County about 25 miles northwest of Lexington. The distillery will feature elaborate sunken gardens and a visitors center but won’t be called Old Taylor because the name is owned by another distillery.

Nicholasville based Alltech will open a new distillery and brewery in Pikeville in the extreme eastern part of the state. The new distillery and brewery complex will be a regional addition to the company’s distillery and brewery located in Lexington. There will also be a visitors center to accommodate those who wish to learn about the distillation and brewing processes.

Lexington is also home to Barrel House Distilling located on the old James E. Pepper Distillery campus. The old Pepper distillery property is being turned into an entertainment complex. Part of the 55,000 square foot property is currently taken up by Middle Fork restaurant and Ethereal Brewing. The renovated distillery property is part of Lexington's once thriving Distillery District.

Buffalo Trace in Frankfort, KY

Buffalo Trace Distillery in Frankfort, KY
Buffalo Trace Distillery in Frankfort, KY

New Twists

The new Warehouse X at Buffalo Trace is now being stocked with barrels of bourbon and rye. The concept behind the warehouse is the experimental aspect of climate control as it relates to aging barrels of whiskey. Master distiller Harlen Wheatley’s ultimate goal is to come up with a distinctive premium whiskey with enhanced flavors.

The new visitor center at Wild Turkey is now open to the public. The Lawrenceburg distillery built the state of the art building high on the western bluff overlooking the twisting and turning Kentucky River on part of the company’s sprawling property.

Woodford Reserve recently released its first ever bourbon that was finished in a used pinot noir wine barrel. The Woodford Reserve Master's Collection Sonoma-Cutrer Pinot Noir Finish is a partnership project with parent company Brown-Foreman brand Sonoma-Cutrer.

Brown-Forman is planning to open a distillery and visitor center in Louisville's Whiskey Row neighborhood. The distillery, to be opened in 2016, will produce the company's popular Old Forester line of bourbons.

Four Roses recently opened a second visitor center at its Cox'x Creek aging warehouses in Bullitt County. The center includes a premium bourbon tasting bar.

Jim Beam's American Stillhouse Visitor Center

The Jim Beam Stillhouse in Clermont, KY
The Jim Beam Stillhouse in Clermont, KY

Jim Beam Distillery

Jim Beam Distillery Clermont, KY:
Clermont, KY 40165, USA

get directions

New Releases

Bardstown's Willett Distillery recently released its first in a series of Exploratory Cask Finish whiskeys. The unique release is a seven year old rye that spent about 90 days "finishing" in French Curacao casks. The rye was bottled at a hefty 103.4 proof.

Wild Turkey has released a bourbon/rye blend named Forgiven. The name refers to the accidental mixture of the two whiskeys by a distillery employee. Upon sampling, master distiller Jimmy Russell found the blend to have a distinctively good taste; Forgiven was born and forgiven was the employee..

Wild Turkey's Forgiven Blended Whiskey

Wild Turkey in Lawrenceburg, KY
Wild Turkey in Lawrenceburg, KY

Urban and Small Town Bourbon

Along with being a great place to produce bourbon, Kentucky's also a special place to enjoy it. There are a range of great options when it comes to imbibing the amber elixer close to where it's made.

If the sound of a quiet out of the way place that serves some of Kentucky's best premium bourbons appeals to you, Beaumont Inn in Harrodsburg is the place for you. In addition to their award winning southern cuisine, the inn has two bars, the Old Owl Tavern and the Owl's Nest, that stock super-premium bourbons like Pappy Van Winkle, George T. Stagg Jr. and E.H. Taylor Small Batch along with many others. You can also chooses from a menu of bourbon flights or create your own from their expansive stockpile of premium bourbons that includes their own Kentucky Owl release.

In Lexington, head bourbon enthusiasts head downtown to the Cheapside neighborhood and belly up at the no frills Bluegrass Tavern and the speak easy vibe of Parlay Social just across Main Street. In between the two, the longtime local favorite Cheapside Bar and Grille is a great place to enjoy a good whiskey in a laid back atmosphere.

In Louisville, the Urban Bourbon Trail is maid up of over twenty bars that are required to stock at least 50 different bourbons to be part of the trail. If you only have time to visit one, choose from Bourbons Bistro, The Old Seelbach Bar or the Brown Hotel Lobby Bar to soak in that vintage Louisville vibe while enjoying a vintage Kentucky bourbon.

The Old Owl Tavern at Beaumont Inn, Harrodsburg

Special Fall Releases

Each fall, distilleries around the state release special premium bourbons that have unique flavor and aging characteristics. In 2014, Buffalo Trace's annual Antique Collection releases included an uncut and unfiltered George T. Stagg that was distilled in the spring of 1998 and has a 138.1 barrel proof and a seventeen year old version of Eagle Rare.

Four Roses releases a special single barrel bourbon in the spring and a small batch in September.

Jim Beam released two 90 proof whiskeys, a Soft Red Wheat Bourbon and a Brown Rice Bourbon; both released were aged for eleven years.

Maker's Mark released its straight from the barrel Maker's Mark Cask Strength that's uncut and unfiltered. Proofs will range in the neighborhood of 108 to 114 depending on the batch that ends up in the bottle.

The Jim Beam Distillery in Clermont, KY

The Jim Beam Distillery in Clermont, KY
The Jim Beam Distillery in Clermont, KY

Jim Beam - Clermont, KY

Jim Beam Distillery in Clermont, KY
Jim Beam Distillery in Clermont, KY

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