Getting in the Spirit The Kentucky Bourbon Trail

BY AMANDA WELLS | PHOTOS COURTESY OF THE KENTUCKY BOURBON TRAIL®

Bourbon is more than a robust brown liquor. It’s a meticulously crafted art form. When one thinks of bourbon at its best, Kentucky is synonymous and home to this signature spirit. Way back when, in the 1700s to be exact, the first settlers of the Bluegrass State quickly discovered that getting crops to market over slight trails and tall mountains wasn’t easy. Soon, they began converting corn and other grains to whiskey in order to transport them more easily and prevent the crops from simply rotting.

One of Kentucky’s original counties was Bourbon County. Kentucky whiskey was shipped to New Orleans down the Mississippi and Ohio rivers in oak barrels that were stamped from Bourbon County. The oak gave the liquor a distinct mellow flavor and amber color while the long boat ride aged the whiskey just perfectly. As a result, whiskey from Bourbon County became popular and was referred to as “Bourbon whiskey.”

Since its practical beginnings, Kentuckians have stayed true to the craft used by their ancestors. Today, the Bourbon industry provides 9,000 jobs, generates more than $125 million in tax revenue each year and is an ever-growing international symbol of the craftsmanship and tradition found in Kentucky.

Known as “America’s Native Spirit,” Bourbon is a craft that Kentucky takes seriously, with 95 percent of the country’s smooth-sipping icon distilled, aged and bottled right in Kentucky Bourbon country. Distilleries are required to follow very specific guidelines before being allowed to put “bourbon” on their label. While Bourbon is big business for Kentucky, it’s much more than that—it’s an ingrained part of the state’s culture, history and heritage.

The Kentucky Distiller’s Association’s Kentucky Bourbon Trail® tour offers visitors a chance to dive into that heritage and really get into the spirit. “The trail was formed to better showcase Kentucky as the authentic place for America’s Native Spirit, Bourbon,” says Adam Johnson, Senior Director of Kentucky Bourbon Trail® Experiences. “With so many great locations and facilities and some beautiful Kentucky countryside in between, the distillers through it would be a great tourist destination.”

If you have three days, you can learn (and taste) what’s so special about Bourbon at the ten historic distilleries on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail®, in- cluding Angel’s Envy®, Bulleit Frontier Whiskey Experience®, Evan Williams Bourbon Experience®, Four Roses®, Heaven Hill Distilleries®, Jim Beam®, Maker’s Mark®, Town Branch®, Wild Turkey Bourbon® and Woodford Reserve®. At any of the distilleries, pick up a Kentucky Bourbon Trail® Passport and collect stamps at each stop. When you complete the passport, you can turn it in for a free Kentucky Bourbon Trail® t-shirt.

The Kentucky Bourbon Trail® tour opens your eyes to the meticulous process of making bourbon, the beautiful landscape of Bourbon country, and of course, that distinctive taste that only Kentucky Bourbon can provide.

“We have so much history and heritage producing bourbon, it’s part of our culture and commonwealth dna,” explains Adam.

You’ll discover exactly why the thirst for Bour- bon continues to grow, along with the state’s distilling industry. Each distillery uses differ- ent recipes and yeast strains and varies in barrel char and age, but all pour themselves into their craft. Taste, see and hear the magic of this liquid gold.