Kentucky’s Bourbon Trail is a hit
with tourists, locals
Its success has spawned the Urban Bourbon Trail
June 2016 Cover
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (June 2016) – You don’t have to be a bourbon drinker to appreciate the success of the Kentucky Bourbon Trail and its sister trails, the Kentucky Bourbon Craft Trail and Urban Bourbon Trail. The trails were created to promote the state’s bourbon industry and the bars and restaurants that serve bourbon, and they have been wildly successful in doing so.
Not only have the trails helped the local economy by boosting sales at area bars and eateries, the $3 billion Kentucky bourbon industry itself has nearly doubled in production in recent years, with 5 million barrels now aging in the state’s warehouses. And for those true bourbon drinkers across the country and the world, such growth has provided a wealth of options for enjoying Kentucky’s native spirits – either at one of nine distilleries on the trail or at one of the 35 Louisville bars and restaurants that now participate in the Urban Bourbon Trail.
Distilleries on the
Kentucky Bourbon Trail
• Jim Beam Distillery
526 Happy Hollow Rd., Clermont, KY
• Maker's Mark Distillery
3350 Burks Spring Rd., Loretto, KY
• The Woodford Reserve Distillery
7855 McCracken Pike, Versailles, KY
• Evan Williams Bourbon Experience
528 W. Main St., Louisville, KY
• Bulleit Frontier Whiskey Experience
3860 Fitzgerald Rd., Louisville, KY
• Four Roses Bourbon
1224 Bonds Mill Rd.,
• Heaven Hill Distilleries
1311 Gilkey Run Rd., Bardstown, KY
• Town Branch Bourbon
402 Cross St., Lexington, KY
• Wild Turkey
1417 Versailles Rd.,
Urban Bourbon Trail Bar List
* Bourbons Bistro
2255 Frankfort Ave., Clifton
* The Bar at BLU
280 W. Jefferson St., Downtown
* Brown Hotel Lobby Bar
335 W. Broadway, Downtown
* The Old Seelbach Bar
500 S. Fourth St., Downtown
* Proof on Main
702 W. Main St., Downtown
1767 Bardstown Rd., Highlands
301 W. Market St., Downtown
446 S. Fourth St., Downtown
Bristol Bar & Grill
614 W. Main St., Downtown
Bristol Bar & Grill
1321 Bardstown Rd., Highlands
425 W. Ormsby, Old Louisville
Charr’d Bourbon Kitchen & Lounge
1903 Embassy Square Blvd.
Derby Café, Kentucky Derby Museum
704 Central Ave.
Dish on Market
434 W. Market St., Downtown
Doc Crow’s Southern Smokehouse & Raw Bar
127 W. Main St., Downtown
Down One Bourbon Bar & Restaurant
321 W. Main St., Downtown
624 E. Market St., Downtown
Haymarket Whiskey Bar
331 E. Market St., Downtown
Jockey Silks Bourbon Bar
140 N. Fourth St. (inside Galt House), Downtown
1147 Bardstown Rd., Highlands
Manny & Merle
122 W. Main St., Downtown
651 S. Fourth St., Downtown
Momma’s Mustard, Pickles & BBQ
102 Bauer Ave.
North End Café
1722 Frankfort Ave., Clifton
123 W. Main St.
Ramsi’s Café on the World
1293 Bardstown Rd., Highlands
900 E. Market St., Downtown
1538 Bardstown Rd., Highlands
129 N. Second St., Downtown
1761 Frankfort Ave., Clifton
Sway at the Hyatt Regency
311 S. Fourth St., Downtown
Troll Pub Under the Bridge
150 W. Washington St., Downtown
2106 Frankfort Ave., Clifton
Vincenzo’s Italian Restaurant
150 S. Fifth St., Downtown
2300 Frankfort Ave., Clifton
(* = Founding members)
Among them are Brian Janosky, 36, and Claudia Negrete, 30, of Austin, Texas, who toured Heaven Hill’s Evan Williams Bourbon Experience in May in downtown Louisville as a birthday trip for Claudia. Janosky said he has previously lived in Frankfort, Ky., so he was familiar with the Kentucky Bourbon Trail. The couple spent the weekend touring Four Roses Distillery, Buffalo Trace and Wild Turkey before arriving at Evan Williams Bourbon Experience on Louisville’s Main Street.
“It was great. They pack a lot of information into a short amount of time,” Brian said of the one-hour tour and tastings while Claudia picked out a T-shirt in the gift shop. “The technology they use really added to the experience.”
Ken Neiswender, 55, of Hersey, Pa., also was on the tour that day. A regular bourbon drinker, he and his wife were in town for his niece’s wedding and “squeezed in five distillery tours while we were here.” He called the Evan Williams Bourbon Experience “a great tour; very educational. I could have stood there all day watching them distill the bourbon.”
The Evan Williams Bourbon Experience tour last year drew more than 100,000 visitors, according to General Manager Jeffrey Crowe. “It has been wonderful to have people from all over the world come through here and see how bourbon is made. The Bourbon Trails have helped promote it both locally and outside the area."
Jean Frederick started working as a tour guide and now is sales manager at the Evan Williams Bourbon Experience, which opened in November 2013. In only a little more than two years, the staff has grown to 29 and played host to more than 140 events last year alone, Crowe said.
Heaven Hill’s main Bernheim Distillery at 17th and Breckinridge streets in Louisville is where the majority of its bourbon is made.
“These visitor centers have become the heartbeat of the industry, and help to promote our brands to the world,” Frederick said. “Our visitation gets bigger and better every year. We used to have lulls, but there are no lulls anymore. We are open seven days a week, year-round.”
The Evan Williams Bourbon Experience, at 528 W. Main St., features tastings and a tour that includes a video about how bourbon is made, plus a look into the distillery room, where master distiller of 40 years, Charlie Downs, makes one artisanal barrel of whiskey a day. It take up to seven years of aging before the whiskey is ready for drinking, so it will be a while before the whiskey at this visitors center comes of age, Downs said.
“This being an artisanal distillery, we experiment here,” Downs explained. “We make one barrel a day as compared to the 970 barrels a day being made at our main distillery.” He said Heaven Hill has 1.3 million barrels of whiskey aging right now – the most ever for the company. Since its opening, Downs has overseen the making of 600 barrels at the downtown location.
“It’s a roll of the dice, really, since we don’t know what the market will be like in six to eight years when it is finished aging. But we have to have whiskey on hand to meet the demand.”
Heaven Hill is the largest family owned distillery in America, and the company makes 109 varieties of whiskey and bourbon, Frederick said. It also operated the first distillery in downtown Louisville prior to Prohibition.
The Kentucky Distillers’ Association formed the Kentucky Bourbon Trail tour in 1999 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 the state’s signature spirit. It began in the 1700s with the first settlers of Kentucky. Like most farmers and frontiersmen, they found that getting crops to market over narrow trails and steep mountains was a daunting task.
They soon learned that converting corn and other grains to whiskey made them easily transportable, prevented the excess grain from simply rotting, and gave them some welcome diversion from the rough life of the frontier.
Photo courtesy of Evan Williams Bourbon Experience
The lobby of the Evan Williams Bourbon Experience on Louisville’s West Main Street is where the one-hour tours begin and end and features a large glass of bourbon.
Since then, generations of Kentuckians have continued the heritage and time-honored tradition of making fine bourbon, unchanged from the process used by their ancestors centuries before.
The name bourbon was taken from Bourbon County, one of Kentucky’s original counties that was established in 1785 when Kentucky was still part of Virginia. Farmers shipped their whiskey in oak barrels – stamped from Bourbon County – down the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers to New Orleans. The long trip aged the whiskey, with the oak wood giving it the distinct mellow flavor and amber color. Pretty soon, whiskey from Bourbon County grew in popularity and became known as Bourbon whiskey.
In 1964, Congress officially recognized bourbon’s place in Kentucky’s history – and its future – by declaring it a distinctive product of the United States.
Today, bourbon is a signature industry that helps create 9,000 jobs, generates more than $125 million in tax revenue each year and is a growing international symbol of Kentucky craftsmanship and tradition. Last year, 762,009 people visited the Kentucky Bourbon Trail, according to the KDA.
Photo courtesy of Bourbon Raw
Inside Bourbon Raw at 4th St. Live!, patrons can sample flights of bourbons as part of the Urban Bourbon Trail.
As an offshoot of the original Kentucky Bourbon Trail, the Kentucky Distillers Association in 2012 created the Kentucky Bourbon Trail Craft Tour to accommodate the growing number of smaller craft distilleries opening throughout the state. This trail has now grown to include 11 craft distilleries, including Kentucky Peerless Distillery Co. in downtown Louisville. Last year, 133,864 people visited the Craft Tour, according to the KDA.
In 2008, the Louisville Convention & Visitors Bureau launched the Urban Bourbon Trail to help promote the industry via the bars and restaurants in Louisville that serve bourbon. Initially, the trail had six founding members, and today that list has grown to 35 establishments, including bars and eateries in downtown, in the Highlands on Bardstown Road and the Clifton area on Frankfort Ave. Taking a page from the original Kentucky Bourbon Trail, tourism officials offer a Passport program to those patrons who visit at least six bars and restaurants to earn a Citizen of Bourbon Country certificate and a T-shirt.
Photo by Don Ward
Evan Williams’ master distiller Charlie Downs poses beside the artisan still at Heaven Hill’s Bourbon Experience, where he makes one barrel of whiskey each day.
Christa Ritchie, a member of the Louisville Convention & Visitors Bureau’s communication team, coordinates the Urban Bourbon Trail. She maintains regular contact with bar and restaurant owners via email for special bourbon-related promotions. The tourism staff also holds an annual meeting in September to train bar and restaurant owners about bourbon and to launch the next year’s passport. “With 35 members now, it’s a big group of people for the annual meeting,” Ritchie said.
Ritchie said the UBT has entertained visitors from all 50 states and more than 20 countries since its inception. And the list of members continues to grow.
“I hear a lot of great feedback from bar and restaurant owners about the trail,” Ritchie said. “And it’s great for visitors with so many places close together in the downtown, plus we have had great response from our members in the Highlands and the Frankfort Avenue area. The trail has done a lot to increase business and generate awareness about the state’s bourbon industry.”
Photo by Don Ward
Haymarket Whiskey Bar owner Matthew Landan poses at the bar, which features more than 350 varieties of bourbons.
Anywhere from 200 to 400 passports are redeemed each month, depending on the time of year, Ritchie said. Since its inception in 2008, the UBT has had more than 16,000 people redeem a passport by visiting at least six places on the tour, she said. “And that’s not counting the hundreds of people who are hitting our trail but don’t redeem a passport.”
Several new businesses want to join the UBT, however, they must meet certain criteria set down by the tourism bureau. For example, the business must be locally owned and in existence for at least one year. It must feature at least 50 bourbons on its menu. It must also feature bourbon as part of its core business and at least three bourbon-inspired food dishes. And it must also help promote the trail by including the logo on its menu.
In return, the tourism bureau promotes the trail and its members via various specials throughout the year. In April, they promote mint julep month to kickoff the Kentucky Derby. From June 5-18 the UBT celebrates Old Fashioned Fortnight by offering food and drink specials. It will also encompass the Whisky Live event at the Marriott East. This is a buffet dinner and tasting event coming to Louisville for the first time. September is Bourbon Heritage Month in Kentucky, prompting another promotion for UBT members. The Kentucky Bourbon Festival also is held each September in Bardstown.
Matthew Landan owns Haymarket Whiskey Bar at 331 E. Main Street and says membership in the UBT has helped his business grow. He has operated a business at the location since 2007, starting with an expresso coffee bar and eventually converting it to a whiskey bar in 2012. He offers bourbon education classes and live music in a large building adjacent to his building. Haymarket Whiskey Bar now offers 350 different varieties of bourbons – one of the largest collections in Louisville.
“The trail has been great for business,” said Landan, 44. “And the good thing about it is that it is still growing. We get lots of people coming in here because of it and since we are an authentic whiskey bar.”
Photo by Don Ward
Jean Frederick, sales manager at the Evan Williams Bourbon Experience, poses in the gift shop with a bottle of a top seller, Elijah Craig single barrel bourbon.
Many UBT members offer bourbon “flights,” or samples of various bourbons. Bourbon Raw is among them. Located at 4th St. Live!, the bar is centrally located downtown amid many hotels that attract convention guests as well as locals. “We get a lot of locals and a ton of wedding convention business,” said manager Liz Hazelwood, 33. The bar offers 85 bourbons and holds several special events throughout the year to promote bourbon, she said. Their bourbon flights come in traditional, low rye and high rye samples.
Evan William’s Frederick said, “There’s a sense of pride among the people who work in this industry. I think it’s partly because of the history of bourbon in the state, and because people are proud of where they are from.”
“It’s a good way for people to learn about bourbon,” she said. “We get a lot of people from out of town who have never tried bourbon before, so we do a lot to educate them and suggest a bourbon to try.”
The Bourbon Raw location used to house Maker’s Mark bar and restaurant, one of the founding members of the UBT, but it closed and Bourbon Raw opened in its place in October 2015.
Beth Smith, event coordinator at Bourbon Raw, said that in her experience the people throughout the bar business in Louisville work to promote and refer each other, with bourbon as the main attraction. She cited the Evan Williams Bourbon Experience as a great example of how people from an attraction can work with the bar and restaurant industry toward a common goal.
“For something like that to be in the downtown is great for tourism and also for us,” Smith said. “The Urban Bourbon Trail enables us to promote each other as a whole, and it gives visitors a great way to experience and learn about the history of bourbon in Kentucky.”
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