In the ever expanding universe of Kentucky bourbon, it can be hard to keep up with new distilleries and new things to sample.
But it is so much fun trying.
Most distilleries in the state are part of the Kentucky Bourbon Trail or its craft tour, which focuses on smaller distilleries. Buffalo Trace in Frankfort and its sister distillery, Barton in Bardstown, are separate but still well worth a look for fans.
Almost every distillery will have a tour or visitors' experience to explore and often a tasting room where you can get a sample or two.
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In Lexington, Alltech's Lexington Brewing and Distilling Co., 401 Cross St., is unique because it's one of the very few with both a brewery and a distillery. And you can sample from both. The distillery produces bourbon, rye, scotch and a coffee liqueur called Bluegrass Sundown. The brewery makes the signature Kentucky Bourbon Barrel Ale, Kentucky Bourbon Barrel Stout and seasonal barrel aged beers.
Several other distilleries are less than an hour away and well worth the drive.
Woodford Reserve Distillery, owned by Brown-Forman, is nestled in the heart of horse country at 7855 McCracken Pike in Versailles. The historic Labrot & Graham distillery on Glenns Creek offers several different tours and has a restaurant on site.
Like Woodford Reserve, Buffalo Trace Distillery, 113 Great Buffalo Trace in Frankfort, also is a national historic landmark.
At Buffalo Trace, you can choose from several hour-long tours, including an evening ghost tour. Around certain holidays, special events like the Halloween-themed Disturbia in the Distillery, a night of "dinner, drams and drama," or the Lighting of the Trace in December are held. The hottest ticket every year is for their Pappy for your Pappy Father's Day dinner with the Van Winkles.
Sample the Buffalo Trace Bourbon Cream with root beer for a real treat.
Nearby are two special Kentucky distilleries: Wild Turkey and Four Roses.
Wild Turkey, 1417 Versailles Road in Lawrenceburg, has beautiful views of the Kentucky River from the tasting room of the visitors' center. Master distiller Jimmy Russell, known as the Buddha of Bourbon, can often be found in the lobby holding court with fans and signing bottles. His Russell's Reserve offerings are particularly sought after.
Four Roses, 1224 Bonds Mill Road in Lawrenceburg, looks like a romantic Spanish-style mission dropped into the rolling Kentucky hills. Built in 1910, the distillery has free tours and a tasting room for sampling some of the most acclaimed whiskey in the business.
Four Roses also offers tours of their bottling operation in Cox's Creek, outside Bardstown.
A trip to Bardstown, home of the Kentucky Bourbon Festival every year in September, takes you nearer to several more distilleries and visitors' centers, including Jim Beam's American Stillhouse at 526 Happy Hollow Road in Clermont, which has a comprehensive tasting room that lets you choose your two samples (blame Kentucky lawmakers for the limit) from a swath of Beam Suntory offerings.
The Heaven Hill Bourbon Heritage Experience, which offers the Mashbill tour for $10 or the Whiskey Connoisseur Experience for $20, is at 1311 Gilkey Run Road Bardstown, although the actual Heaven Hill distillery is in Louisville now. Heaven Hill also has opened the Evan Williams Bourbon Experience, 528 W. Main St., for visitors on the Urban Bourbon Trail.
A little farther away is the Maker's Mark Distillery, 3350 Burks Spring Road in Loretto. This distillery boasts more than just premium bourbon: between the tasting room and the gift shop, tours pass beneath a stunning Dale Chihuly stained-glass ceiling.
And Maker's Mark offers visitors something a little special: Maker's Mark Cask Strength, a version of the popular bourbon available only at the distillery gift shop.
If you are looking for more distilleries, check out the Kentucky Distillers' Association, which offers a T-shirt to those who complete their bourbon "passport" by visiting all of them. VisitLex.com and GotoLouisville.com also have information on bourbon-related sites you can visit.
If all this whets your appetite for bourbon, ask about private barrel selections: At most major Kentucky distilleries you can arrange to select your own barrel to have bottled and sent to you. For the right price, of course.