A true connoisseur of great whiskey knows that there is only one special place that produces the unique, mellow flavor of Bourbon; a flavor as smooth and gentle as Kentucky’s rolling hills and as rich as the traditions that created it: the Kentucky Bourbon Trail ®.
Bourbon making was born with Kentucky’s first farmers in the early 1700’s. It was a difficult task getting their corn crops to market and they soon realized that transporting in a liquid form greatly reduced loss. The tough life of frontiersmen made their intoxicating product high in demand, so it became profitable as well. Making whiskey was a widespread art, so how did it come to be known as Bourbon in Kentucky?
Back in 1785, one of Kentucky’s three original counties was Bourbon County. Kentucky farmers had the liquid highway of the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers at their disposal and they shipped their whiskey in oak barrels downriver to the bustling port of New Orleans. The whiskey aged on the long trip south with the oak wood giving it a distinctive mellow flavor and lovely tawny color. The whiskey from central Kentucky gained fame and recognition, eventually becoming referred to as Bourbon whiskey. Thus true “Bourbon” can only come from Kentucky!
Some Bourbon facts: (Reference: Jim Beam)
- In 1964 the US Congress officially recognized Bourbon as a distinctive product of the US.
- All Bourbon is whiskey but not all whiskey is Bourbon. Tennessee whiskey? Not Bourbon. Canadian whiskey? Nope. Scotch? Definitely not
- Labels can’t say “Bourbon” unless distilling takes place in the United States. And it can’t be “Kentucky Bourbon” unless it’s distilled in Kentucky.
- Whiskey can age in re-used barrels. By law Bourbon must use NEW charred American white oak barrels. Scotch whisky often recycles barrels first used for Bourbon. Travel Maestro fun fact: Is whiskey or whisky the correct spelling? Both! Use “whiskey” if the distilling location has an “e” in the name, for example, Tennessee. Using this rule, you spell the Scottish version of the drink “whisky.”
- Water is the only thing allowed to be added to Bourbon (and only to bring it down to proof). Other whiskey makers can add colors and flavors to their products.
When you visit Kentucky today, you can travel the Kentucky Bourbon Trail and visit six different distilleries of the world-famous Kentucky Bourbon: Maker’s Mark, Jim Beam, Four Roses, Wild Turkey, Heaven Hill, and Woodford Reserve. I recommend that you plan at least two days to make the trek, but definitely feel free to take longer and appreciate the beauty of Central Kentucky. Start at any of the distilleries and amble at your own pace, as there is no direction to the “trail.” Two of the distilleries are about three miles apart and others are 70 miles apart.
Each distillery has its own special features and each offers a Bourbon tasting at the end of the tour – any age can take the tour, but you must be 21 to sample. You can collect stamps at each distillery for the Kentucky Bourbon Trail® Passport and earn a Kentucky Bourbon Trail® t-shirt at the end (mailed when you send in the stamped passport). At Maker’s Mark, join the Ambassador’s club and get your name on a barrel of true Kentucky Bourbon and first option on the bottles that come out of it when aged. At Jim Beam, get a souvenir signed by a Seventh Generation Beam family distiller. Each distillery has something to collect.
The Kentucky Bourbon Trail thrives in the heart of Kentucky and in the spirit of the people who make the elixir with time-honored tradition. So raise a glass in salute to the unique whiskey made only in Kentucky. To plan your visit, contact a Covington vacation advisor.