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Scotland has Scotch, Ireland has whiskey, and the U.S.? Well, the U.S. has Bourbon.
Bourbon, by definition, is a barrel-aged type of whiskey made primarily from corn (which is what makes it so distinct from other grain whiskeys). Its production is regulated by law; bourbon has to be made of a grain mix of at least 51% corn, must be aged in charred white oak barrels for at least two years, and must be produced in the United States.
And, even though Bourbon is made all across the country, the state of Kentucky is undeniably viewed as the home of Bourbon. The spirit is even named after one of Kentucky's original counties.
In 1999, the Kentucky Distillers Association launched the Kentucky Bourbon Trail to give visitors a firsthand look at the art and science of crafting Bourbon, and "to educate them about the rich history and proud tradition of our signature spirit," according to the Bourbon Trail's official website.
Today, the Kentucky Bourbon Trail consists of eight distilleries located between Louisville and Lexington. These run the gamut from large-scale Bourbon production facilities to small, historic distilleries. Most distilleries on the Trail offer tours and tastings it's recommended to allow at least 3 days if you want to visit all eight and fill up your Kentucky Bourbon Trail Passport (which will earn you a special t-shirt).
Here's a look at the stops on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail:
Evan Williams Bourbon Experience - Located along Whiskey Row in downtown Louisville, the Evan Williams Bourbon Experience is not just a distillery, but also an immersive experience for visitors. It celebrates the legacy of Evan Williams, Kentucky's first distiller, and offers both tours and tastings.
Four Roses - In operation for roughly 100 years, Four Roses is unique in that its distillery is housed in a historic Spanish Mission-style building, which you don't often see in Kentucky.
Heaven Hill - If you're looking for a good starting point for your Kentucky Bourbon Trail tour, consider Heaven Hill, home to the Bourbon Heritage Center. Heaven Hill is also the largest independent, family-owned Bourbon producer in America, offering three different tours focusing on the history, heritage, and lore of Bourbon making.
Jim Beam - The tour at Jim Beam home to the world's best-selling Bourbon takes you behind the scenes of the production process, and ends in a really unique tasting room where you get to try two of the distillery's 12 brands of Bourbon.
Maker's Mark - This distillery is a bit out of the way, but it offers an intimate behind-the-scenes tour of the Bourbon-making process.
Town Branch - Located in Lexington, Town Branch is both a distillery AND brewery. A tour here will get your four tasting tickets, allowing you to sample from the brand's five beers and three spirits.
Wild Turkey - One of the best-selling premium Bourbons in the world, Wild Turkey offers distillery tours where you might have the chance to meet Master Distiller Jimmy Russell, who is third in a line of distillers and was inducted into the Bourbon Hall of Fame in 2000.
Woodford Reserve - Tracing its origin back more than 200 years, Woodford Reserve is the oldest and smallest distillery in Kentucky. It also makes Woodford Reserve Distillers Select, the official Bourbon of the Kentucky Derby.
The Kentucky Bourbon Trail officially ends there, but the organization added a Craft Tour in 2012, which consists of nine craft distilleries. The Bourbon Trail website describes this tour as designed for those looking to experience Kentucky Bourbon at its very core.
Whether you visit one or all 17 distilleries, traversing at least part of the Bourbon Trail is a must-do activity in Kentucky.
Would YOU want to experience the Kentucky Bourbon Trail?
Note: Available plans and coverages may have changed since this blog was published.
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Graduate student by day and avid traveler and blogger by night (and on weekends and during holidays), Amanda is just a small-town Ohio girl trying to balance a "normal" life with a desire to discover the world beyond her Midwest bubble. Amanda's adventurous nature and inability to say "no" have led her to some pretty amazing adventures all around the world. But she has no desire to stop exploring anytime soon. Read Amanda's blog, A Dangerous Business, or follow her on Facebook, Twitter or Google Plus.
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