12 Distilleries In Kentucky Every Bourbon Fan Should Visit

Bourbon is distinctly American. For bourbon fans seeking an adventure, no other state offers the array of distilleries to visit and great whiskies to sip as Kentucky. As bourbon is the national spirit, Kentucky is its capital.

Rum and applejack were the most popular spirits throughout colonial America, but Irish and Scotch settlers implemented their whiskey-making background to make bourbon number one by the end of the 19th century. Corn was a reliable, abundant crop of the Midwest region, so distilling it to make whiskey just made sense. This origin holds today, as bourbons can only be classified as such if their mash bill contains at least 51% corn (via Bourbon Gospel). As for geographical authenticity, bourbon doesn't have to be made in Kentucky, although some purists will be sure to argue. Bourbon does, however, have to be made in the United States, per the federal standards passed by Congress in 1964. Over 95% of the world's bourbon — including the majority of the iconic bottles and brands we know and love — is produced in the Bluegrass State (per History).

In 1999, the Kentucky Distillers' Association established the Kentucky Bourbon Trail. This road trip-style experience maps out the state's signature distilleries, including an official passport and field guide (via Kentucky Bourbon Trail). If you're planning a bourbon pilgrimage, here are several distilleries that deserve a visit. Some have sustained, some have seen a renaissance, and some just recently made a name for themselves, but all own a piece of American drinking history.

Old Forester

It's only right to begin this list with the beginning of bourbon. Founded in 1870 by George Garvin Brown, Old Forester is the first-known commercially bottled bourbon, according to Whiskey Rocks. When Prohibition began in 1920, Old Forester was one of the few companies permitted to continue manufacturing and selling whiskey legally, and it is the only one still in operation today (via Old Forester Distilling Co.).

Now, tours are given of this historic brand's distillery in Louisville on Whiskey Row. On the Old Forester Tour, guests can witness the bourbon-making process from start to finish and see firsthand everything that goes into fermentation, distillation, barrel-making, maturation, and bottling. The tour also includes a bourbon tasting of four Old Forester expressions, which are on constant rotation throughout the year. The other tour, which runs less frequently, is the Nothing Better On the Market Tour. This experience offers the same distillery tour plus a guided tasting that includes Old Forester Single Barrel, 1910 Old Fine Whiskey, and Old Forester Birthday Bourbon.

While you're at Old Forester, you may also have the opportunity to purchase a bottle of the brand's 117 Series. Only available at the distillery, each bottling of these limited-production bourbons highlights a different aspect of the brand's history or production. The 2022 release, for instance, commemorates the 2015 fire that ravaged Whiskey Row (via Old Forester Distilling Co.).

Jim Beam

Jim Beam may be the most commercially advertised, recognizable, and least expensive bourbon on this list. Even though it's among the cheaper bourbons, the brand's rich history ensures that this distillery is worth visiting.

The origins of Jim Beam can be traced back to the 1780s, when James (Jim) Beam's great-grandfather, Jacob Beam, began distilling corn as one of the original contributors to the bourbon industry (via James B. Beam Distilling Co.). The legacy was passed down three generations to James who, in 1933 when Prohibition ended, recreated his family's original yeast recipe and founded the James B. Distilling Company within the year.

Today, that same yeast is used to ferment Jim Beam's bourbon at the brand's distillery in Clermont, Kentucky. If you make the visit, you'll have a variety of tours to choose from. Guests can take a straightforward tour of the distillery and production process, a mixology course where you'll mix bourbon cocktails alongside experts, and even a behind-the-scenes tour with current Master Distiller Fred Noe and his son, Freddie.

If Jim Beam isn't your favorite bourbon, you can try a tasting of the entire Beam family lineup, including Knob Creek, or indulge in the Basil Hayden Culinary Tasting Experience. There is even a fully immersive option called Thief Your Own, during which you'll pull your choice of bourbon from barrels, proof each to your liking, and bring home a case of bourbon that you made.

Maker's Mark

It doesn't take a bourbon drinker to recognize a bottle of Maker's Mark. If you find yourself at the distillery, you'll have the opportunity to dip a bottle into that iconic red wax yourself. The picturesque distillery is a National Historic Landmark and "the oldest working distillery on its original site," according to American Whiskey Trail. Maker's Mark also boasts its very own natural water sanctuary that is used to distill the bourbon (via Beam Suntory).

According to Maker's Mark, the brand was founded in 1953, but the recipe used to make this bourbon was already a 170-year family secret by that point. That recipe, however, was altered just a tad by Bill Samuel Sr., who replaced the spicy bite of rye grain with red winter wheat — a substitution that gives the bourbon its distinct softness. This reinvention has clearly sustained the brand, as Maker's Mark remains one of the most popular bottles of bourbon today (via Whiskey Raiders).

Today, Maker's Mark continues its thriving operation on Star Hill Farm in Loretto, Kentucky. Here, you can take a tour and observe the precise attention to detail behind every step of the production process. Guests can see the limestone cellar where special editions of Maker's Mark 46 and Maker's Mark Private Selection are finished and even dine at the upscale Star Hill Provisions. Special expressions, such as the higher proof Maker's Mark 101 and the Private Selection Special Editions, are also available at the distillery.

Woodford Reserve

Woodford Reserve is one of the youngest brands on this list, but it has been quick to make a name for itself. It certainly helps that the brand's home is one of the oldest distilleries in Kentucky (named a National Historic Landmark, it was established by Elijah Pepper in 1812, per The Spirits Educator). While the brand itself may not be as historic as others, you'll sip some mighty good whiskey in a very chronicled location during this stop. Plus, visiting the home of the official bourbon of the Kentucky Derby is pretty cool, too (via USA Today).

There are several tours available at the Woodford Reserve Distillery in Versailles. The Path to Flavor Tour includes a guided tour of the grounds and distillery followed by a tasting of Woodford Reserve's flagship craft bourbon. The Spectacle For the Senses Tasting is a shorter experience that offers a guided tasting of five whiskeys.

For something more in-depth, go for the VIP Master Distiller Experience. This is an extended, behind-the-scenes tour of the distillery, lab, and warehouse alongside the Master Distiller Chris Morris or Assistant Master Distiller Elizabeth McCall, and ends with the Family of Brand's tasting. The Innovation Inspired Tour and Tasting celebrates Woodford Reserve's forward-thinking spirit and offers sips of the brand's bourbon, exclusive Distillery Series, Master's Collection, and Baccarat Edition.

Wild Turkey

Known today as Wild Turkey Hill, this Lawrenceburg site has been home to a distillery since 1850 (via The Whiskey Jug). The Ripy brothers built a new distillery there in 1869 and produced a bourbon that went on to represent Kentucky at the world fair in Chicago in 1893. Those roots are intertwined with Austin Nichols, who began selling wine and spirits in 1855 — the business would eventually own the now-famous bourbon brand (via Wild Turkey). The Wild Turkey brand was not formally founded until 1940 (the name reportedly comes from a hunting trip for the bird), and Master Distiller Jimmy Russell and his son, Eddie, transformed the bourbon into an industry leader (via American Whiskey Trail).

A visit to the Wild Turkey Distillery will showcase the process of producing the brand's bourbon as well as memorabilia dating back to the Prohibition era. Of course, each tour ends with a tasting of this historic bourbon. While architecture may not be a box to check at a bourbon distillery, the visitor center at Wild Turkey has been awarded for its design (via Architect Magazine), which is enhanced and complemented with a stunning view of the Kentucky river.

Four Roses

In 1884, a man named Paul Jones Jr. opened an office on Louisville's historic Whiskey Row before trademarking the name Four Roses a few years later (via Four Roses Distillery). The brand was sustained through Prohibition and beyond. Not only was Four Roses the most popular bourbon throughout the 1930s, '40s, and '50s, per Vue New Jersey, but it also reached international success in Europe and Asia and is still a top-selling bourbon globally.

Despite this commercial success and status, Four Roses remains dedicated to its bourbon-making traditions. You can experience that dedication firsthand at their distillery, which has been operating in Lawrenceburg since 1910 (via Whiskey University). Tours are available of the distillery and production process, as well as the visitor center (opened in 2021) featuring Bar 1888. This bar has a rotation of Four Roses' expressions for sampling and a parlor for lounging. You can also pay a visit to the bourbon warehouse and bottling facility in Cox's Creek.

Angel's Envy

Angel's Envy was born out of innovation and new ideas. It was founded by Lincoln Henderson, creator of other whiskey brands such as Woodford Reserve and Gentleman Jack, according to Whiskycast. Henderson's nearly four decades of experience in the bourbon industry earned him induction into the Kentucky Bourbon Hall of Fame as well as a lifetime achievement award from Malt Advocate. A few years after ending his career at the top of his game, in 2006, Henderson pursued a new venture with his son, Wes, to make a bourbon finished in port wine casks (via Angel's Envy). A younger generation of Hendersons has since joined the team, and Angel's Envy is a thriving family business.

This distillery is one of the newest on this list, opening its doors for the first time in 2016 in downtown Louisville, and a much-needed expansion was completed in 2022 (via Distillery Trail). Your options when visiting are plentiful, from tours and tastings to personal bottlings and a class on creating your ideal Manhattan cocktail. The distillery is also available for private event bookings. If you're ever in Louisville, visiting Angel's Envy is a must. It may not be the most historic bourbon distillery around, but its uniqueness and modern charm are a testament to the world of bourbon in its many forms.

New Riff Distilling

Speaking of modern, New Riff Distilling is on a mission to make a big name out of a small business. Established in 2014, the distillery hasn't limited itself to bourbon, as they also distill rye whiskey and gin (via New Riff Distilling). The Newport distillery is one of the bourbon producers on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail Craft Tour in the greater Cincinnati area (via Kentucky Bourbon Trail). Although farther away from others on the list, this spot is worth traveling to.

Once you're there, you'll have the option of four different tours. The Bonded Tour includes a tour of the distillery and a tasting of New Riff's bourbons. Only offered twice a month, guests on The Barrel Proof Tour can experience the brand's warehouse and sip whiskey straight out of the barrel. The Grain to Glass Tour allows guests to sample the evolution of New Riff's whiskeys, beginning with a two-year-old bourbon, then a four-year bourbon and rye, and finally a tour-exclusive six-year bourbon. Finally, the Blend experience grants the opportunity to blend your very own whiskey based on your preference and guided by experts and then bottle it to take home. If you don't quite have time for a tour, visit the Aquifer Tasting Bar for some spirit flights or craft cocktails.

Castle & Key

Castle & Key is another young distillery with a story linked to bourbon's heritage. Bourbon legend Colonel E.H. Taylor Jr. founded this Millville distillery in 1887 (via Sipping History). The distillery shut down at the beginning of Prohibition, then changed owners several times after it was repealed (via Castle & Key Distillery). Eventually, the distillery was abandoned and began to decay, and it was not until 2012 that this fortress of spirits history was resurrected. Will Arvin visited the abandoned distillery, recognized its potential and importance, and decided to restore it.

Guests can take on The Distillery Experience, where they can witness the distillery's evolution from conception to death to renaissance, including the original springhouse used as a water supply over 130 years ago that has been reclaimed for that same use today. Take in the floral paradise of the sunken garden before ending the tour with a unique tasting of all the spirits Castle & Key has to offer. Unfortunately, due to the recent rebirth of the distillery, as of 2022, their bourbon only just finished maturation, so the whiskey is only available for purchases through a first-come-first-serve system during limited releases. While that may not be available for tastings, visitors can sample their craft gin and vodka.


Willett is another bourbon brand richly steeped in history. Although officially founded in 1909 by Aloysius Lambert Thompson Willett, distilling whiskey goes back two generations in the Willett family (via Willett Distillery). After Prohibition put a halt on the family business, a new distillery was erected shortly after in 1936. The Willett Distillery has been making bourbon every since, and visitors can now take in all its history and whiskey through two different tours.

A tour of the distillery and bourbon production also educates on the history of the Willett brand and ends with a sample tasting of its whiskeys. The Tasting Thru the Times experience includes tastings of Willett expressions from the past and present. This tasting consists of a rotation of samples, but if you're lucky, you'll also be able to sip rare bourbons such as the Willett Family Estate Bottled Bourbon or the Willett Pot Still Reserve. Once you've completed the tour or tasting, The Bar at Willett offers an upscale dining experience complemented by craft cocktails made with its whiskey.

Heaven Hill

Founded in 1935, Heaven Hill built a bourbon legacy that's now home to some of the most high-end bottles of bourbon on the market, as well as household name brands. Launched in the midst of the Great Depression and having powered through a devasting fire in 1996, this distillery knows adversity and resilience (via The Whiskey Jug).

Located in the heart of Bardstown, visitors of Heaven Hill can expect a blend of traditional and modern atmosphere, the perfect representation of a brand that innovates but preserves. The brand's original bottled-in-bond is still available, as are special, limited editions of the iconic Old Fitzgerald brand (via Heaven Hill Distillery). The distillery has three different tasting rooms where guests can choose between the Magic of the Mashbill, Whiskey Connoisseur Experience, or You Do Bourbon, granting opportunities to taste up to nine different whiskeys or bottle and personalize one yourself. The Five Brothers Bar on the upstairs floor is open for craft cocktails and straight pours.

Buffalo Trace

The lengthy and storied history of Buffalo Trace is enough to warrant a visit on its own, but the whiskeys held at this distillery are on a level unparalleled by any other distillery on this list (via Paste Magazine). As one of the few distillers permitted to continue operation through Prohibition, Buffalo Trace is one of the country's oldest, continuously operating bourbon makers, according to The Spirits Business. Along the way, it has acquired some powerhouse brands of the industry, earning the distillery over 40 titles since the year 2000 and more than 500 awards for its wide range of premium whiskeys (via Buffalo Trace Distillery). For example, brands such as Eagle Rare, O.F.C. Vintages, Blanton's Single Barrel, George T. Stagg, and Van Winkle all reside at the Buffalo Trace Distillery.

The distillery, located in the state capital of Frankfort, is on a massive piece of property with endless tourist attractions. There's the Trace Tour, Expansion Tour, Old Taylor Tour, Bourbon Barrel Tour, Arboretum and Botanical Garden Tour, Hard Hat Tour, and National Historic Landmark Tour, all of which include a tasting of the distillery's award-winning whiskeys.

If you only have time to visit one bourbon distillery in Kentucky, Buffalo Trace should probably be the one. If you have time to visit multiple stops on the bourbon trail, it may be wise to end it here. While the others are packed with history, beautiful sites, and great whiskey, they may pale in comparison to this one.