Purveyors of fine spirits won’t miss the chance to explore the ins and outs of legendary distilleries around the world. Anyone who enjoys a fine spirit can attest to the importance of each step when imbibing. It’s the procedure (almost as much as the spirit itself) that lends to the entire experience. True spirit lovers all have their own style when it comes to their favorite drink. The key to creating these fine liquors is the distillation process, something spirit-lovers usually know a thing or two about, and if they don’t, they generally want to know, hence the popularity of distillery tours.
Makers Mark Distillery
Makers Mark Distillery Image: Joe Shlabotnik (flickr)
The Makers Mark Distillery in Loretto, Kentucky is one of the most famous on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail, an expedition launched by the Kentucky Distiller’s Association mapping out a trail between seven of the top eight bourbon distilleries in the state. Makers Mark bottled their first bourbon in 1958, landed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1974, and was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1980. It is one of the only historic distilleries in the U.S. still using the original buildings in the distillation process. A stamped, red wax seal tops each of the bottles, aged from between six and seven years. Red winter wheat replaces the rye typically used in bourbon production. Tours are offered from March through December, Mondays through Saturdays.
Buffalo Trace Distillery
Buffalo Trace Distillery Image: cwwycoff1 (flickr)
Bourbon whiskey has been produced on the site of the Buffalo Trace Distillery in Frankfort, Kentucky since 1773. Buffalo Trace Kentucky Straight Bourbon is the distilleries namesake brand, first introduced publicly in 1999. The site is the oldest one distilling in the country and is situated on the Kentucky River banks in an area claimed to have once been a buffalo crossing, so lending credence to its listing on the National Register of Historic Places. One notable aspect of the company is it holds the smallest bonded storage warehouse in the world, one that only stores one single barrel of (bourbon) whiskey at any given time.
Jack Daniels Distillery
Jack Daniels Distillery Image: ravas51 (flickr), CC BY-SA 2.0
Sour mash Tennessee whiskey is the trademark of the Jack Daniel’s Distillery in Lynchburg, Tennessee. Often simply called “J.D.,” it is the top selling whiskey in the world. Classified as a straight bourbon, the owner’s (Brown-Forman Corporation) market Jack Daniel’s as a whiskey and not a Tennessee bourbon. Founded in 1866, the Jack Daniel’s Distillery survived the state’s prohibition of 1910 (by moving operations to both Missouri and Alabama) and also the halt of whiskey production between 1942 through 1946 because of World War II. The unique process of a sugar maple charcoal filter in massive wood vats gives the bourbon whiskey its unique flavor. Distillery tours are daily between 9:00 am to 4:30 pm.
Jim Beam Distillery
Jim Beam Distillery Image: clara.raubertas (flickr), CC BY-SA 2.0
Another highlight on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail, Jim Beam is a world-renowned bourbon whiskey produced in Clermont. The company has been manned by seven family generations since 1975. The name was bestowed in 1933 in tribute to James B. Beam, who regenerated the distillery after prohibition ceased. Several straight bourbon whiskey variations of Jim Beam are available, aged four, five, seven, and eight years called Original, Choice, Seven Year, and Black. Ninety proof Devil’s Cut is extracted from the cask walls and blended with a six year aged bourbon. Jim Beam Distillery tours are offered through reserved ticketing only which takes guests from start to finish in the entire process.
Woodford Reserve Distillery
Woodford Reserve Distillery Image: Sonnett (flickr), CC BY-SA 2.0
Woodford Reserve Distillery creates premium Kentucky Straight bourbon in small batches, marketed by the name Labrot & Graham. The Woodford County operation is less than ten miles from Versailles, Kentucky on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail. Distillation on the Woodford site dates back to 1797 - with the current building constructed in 1838 - giving it the label of oldest bourbon distillery of the nine current operations in the state. It is on the National Register of Historic Places and is a National Historic Landmark. There are one-hour overview tours and two-hour session tours available.
Wild Turkey Distillery
Wild Turkey Distillery Image: Jason Sturner 72 (flickr)
Begun by the Ripy family, the Wild Turkey Distillery was built on Wild Turkey Hill in Lawrenceburg, Kentucky in 1869. Master Distiller Jimmy Russell has been making the famous 101 proof Kentucky straight Wild Turkey bourbon since 1954. The distillery also survived through the prohibition, modernizing the distillery when the ban ceased, and stepping back into production with fervor. In 2000, owner Austin Nichols named 10 year old Russell’s Reserve after Jimmy Russell. Distillery tours happen Monday to Saturday with five time slots to choose from.
Old Bushmills Distillery
Old Bushmills Distillery Image: yvescosentino (flickr)
Bushmill’s Irish whiskey hails from the Old Bushmill Distillery in Antrim County, Northern Ireland. It is one of the top attractions, welcoming more than 120,000 visitors for distillery tours each year. Rich history lies behind the name; the distillery was granted a license in 1608 through Sir Thomas Phillipps by King James I, a fact printed on all the bottles today and one that brings the Bushmill’s Distillery to the top of the list of oldest licensed distilleries in the world. The company offers several varieties, including the original Bushmill’s Irish Whiskey, and several single malts ranging from 10 to 21 years. Those wanting to visit are encouraged to contact the company for specific times.
Top image: Jim Bean