There’s little doubt that the state of Kentucky is the bourbon capital of the world, and therefore the ideal holiday destination for true spirit aficionados. Here are the eight must-visit distilleries to get a taste of Kentucky’s finest export.
Barrel House Distilling Company
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Owned by two friends, Barrel House Distilling Company produces oak rum, pure blue vodka, Devil John moonshine and, of course, bourbon. The oak rum is thought to be the only of its kind made in Kentucky and gets its flavor from being aged in used, charred oak bourbon barrels. Another first, for Lexington at least, is the pure blue vodka which was the first distilled spirit to be made at Barrel House. The moonshine is a favorite among visitors. It is named in honor of the legendary civil war soldier, lawman and moonshiner from Kentucky – Devil John.
Celebrating Kentucky’s finest year in its name, the Barton 1792 Distillery and Visitor Centre prides itself on creating smooth handcrafted bourbon on the site of the ancient Tom Moore Distillery. The 1792 Ridgemont Reserve Barrel Select is made using only the finest corn, rye and malted barley, is handcrafted in small batches and left to age in new charred oak barrels in the infamous Warehouse Z for eight years. When each barrel is opened eight years later, it is the job of one man, Ken Pierce, to taste and select the smoky liquid that will make it to the bottle. This ensures that every batch is as delicious as the last. The distillery is set on 192 acres of beautiful land and has 28 aging warehouses. It offers complimentary tours and tastings for visitors interested in learning about the entire bourbon-making process.
A family business with an impressive history, Willett Distillery is an unmissable stop for whiskey lovers passing through the state. Founded by Thompson Willett back in 1936, it is his grandchildren that run the distillery today. They are eager to relate their exciting family history to visitors while showing them around the perfectly sized site. Tours are available year round with complimentary tastings of a choice of all of the bourbons and rye whiskeys the family distills – even their most top-end bottles.
Run by fifth and sixth generation Pogues, The Old Pogue Distillery is as traditional a family-run distillery as it could possibly be. The recipes used to create their small batch bourbon and rye spirits are the same ones that were developed by the owners’ ancestors in the 19th century. Be sure to sample the Old Pogue Master’s Select Bourbon which was the flagship product of the original family distillery that opened in 1876. Tours and tastings are led by the distillers themselves and can be arranged by appointment Wednesday to Sunday and are free of charge. Private tastings and events can also be arranged for special occasions. Note : reservations are by email only.
Lying in the heart of Bourbon country, the Limestone Branch Distillery is run by two brothers and uses only the most traditional of distilling methods. Each bottle of moonshine has been produced in small one-barrel batches in the 150 gallon hand-hammered copper pot still and aged beautifully. Only the finest ingredients are used in the brothers’ recipes including locally sourced limestone water, which is said to be an essential part of the resulting delicious taste. Tours, tastings and demonstrations are offered to visitors seven days a week for those eager to learn more about the traditional American technique of distilling. Don’t forget to try the award-winning T.J. Pottinger moonshine to fully appreciate the masterful craft of the Limestone Branch.
For award-winning vodka as well as handmade bourbon, rye whiskey and a unique style rum, take a tour around the Wilderness Trail Distillery. As the first legal distillery to open in Danville, the Wilderness Trail Distillery prides itself on producing the finest spirits using traditional techniques. The corn, wheat and malted barley used in the products are all grown within three miles of the distillery and are ground on site to ensure complete freshness. Only pure highbridge limestone spring water is used in the recipes and the bourbon is bottled by hand. The distillery favors the sweet mash process over the sour mash process in all of its products. It is believed this ensures a softer spirit and allows it to not filter its premium Blue Heron Vodka.
Conveniently located just a mile off of the I-24, MB Roland Distillery is a great stop-off point on a long journey across the state or as a point of interest destination in its own right. Tours and tastings are offered for free year round and are often led by the owner himself. Visitors can learn all about the distilling process of the moonshine and whiskey produced on site before getting to taste them all at the end of the tour. Be sure to sample some of the more unusual and experimental bottles such as the pink lemonade moonshine and the fruit shines. Situated on a former Amish dairy, MB Roland also hosts Pickin’ On The Porch – a live music event that takes place on selected Saturdays between May and November. Stop by on one of these evenings to sample some of the best spirits while enjoying the music, food, beer and snowcones also on offer.
One of the youngest distilleries in the state, New Riff Distillery opened in spring 2014 and has dreams of becoming one of the best in the world. At present New Riff produces bourbon and rye whiskeys but it has plans to create gins and more innovative whiskeys in the near future. Those planning a visit to the distillery can reserve a place on one of the daily free tours complete with a complimentary tasting session. Book via their website. For anyone with a really strong interest in the distilling process who would like a more in-depth tour of the site, New Riff also run Distiller’s Tours once a week for a small charge.