Looking for a fascinating and fun RV Road Trip? Camp and taste your way along Bourbon Trail!
In the heart of central Kentucky – not far from its famed bluegrass country – is an area known as the Bourbon Trail, a confluence of numerous distilleries that produce the bulk of the world’s Bourbon.
The distilleries are roughly in a circle between Lexington on the east and Louisville on the west with the town of Bardstown, KY smack dab in the middle.
Formally designated by Congress as “America’s Official Native Spirit.” The distilleries offer tours and tastings and offer a perfect RV getaway.
Here's a video we did when we did an RV trip to the Bourbon Trail a while back.
The History of the Bourbon Trail and the Beam family
Kentucky Bourbon has a rich history and proud tradition that dates back to the late 1700s.
For more than two centuries, no family has influenced bourbon-making more deeply than the Beam family, maker of the world’s best selling bourbon.
The tour of the Jim Beam distillery near Clermont, KY offers an up-close look at how they make the world’s best-selling bourbon–from grain to barrel to bottle and beyond.
Here, you learn that bourbon is unique among whiskeys because, by law, it must be at least 51% corn. Why is it called Bourbon?
Well, one of Kentucky’s original counties was Bourbon County, 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.
Allow at least three hours for the Beam tour, which always ends in the tasting room, where visitors can sample some of the 12 different brands the company makes.
But remember, the Beam operation is just one of seven distilleries on the Bourbon Trail.
Your central campground on the Bourbon Trail: Bardstown, KY
A great place to use as your RVing base while touring the Bourbon Trail is Bardstown, KY, recently designated by USA Today as America's most beautiful small town.
It's a delightful town, steeped in history. Abraham Lincoln walked its streets. So did Daniel Boone. Upstairs at the Old Talbott Inn, built in 1779, are bullet holes reportedly fired by Jesse James. Bardstown has museums and quaint shops.
What the Napa Valley is to California wine, Bardstown is to the Bourbon Trail.
Just outside of town, we used the My Old Kentucky Home State Park as our camping base, named after the famous Steven Foster song celebrating the mansion the state park is home to.
The Heaven Hill Distillery on the Bourbon Trail
Just down the road from the State Park is the Heaven Hill distillery.
It, too, offers great tours and lots of history. Oh yeah, they have tastings, too.
It was founded by the Heavenhill family. One word. Heavenhill.
But rumor has it that when a teetotaler daughter saw a typo referring to the place as Heaven Hill – two words – she let the mistake stay so as to distance the family name from the whiskey business.
The Makers Mark Distillery on the Bourbon Trail
About a half-hour drive from Bardstown is the Makers Mark distillery.
Situated on gorgeous grounds with Whiskey Creek running right through it and providing the pure water used in making of its bourbon, I was offered a tin cup sip straight out of a distilling tank before the product had aged.
My tongue burned.
Jennifer got no further than a sniff.
At Maker’s Mark, visitors have the opportunity to hand dip a bottle themselves… sealing it with the brand's distinctive melted red wax.
Each distillery is unique. Each distillery has a story.
Red Roses Distillery on the Bourbon Trail
Take Red Roses Bourbon, for example. Seems its founder was smitten by a beautiful young lady.
He asked her to marry him. She refused to answer immediately but said, if the next time he saw her she was wearing a corsage, the answer was yes.
The next time he saw her she was wearing a corsage of four red roses. Thus a bourbon brand was born.
Bardstown Brewing Company on the Bourbon Trail
The Bardstown Brewing Company bills itself as the most sophisticated and technically flexible distillery in the nation.
Touring this new distillery is very easy. Everything is in the open, all processes are done in open spaces behind clear glass.
This distillery makes private-label bourbons for a number of different brands, including Jefferson’s, High West, Belle Meade, Hirsch, Calumet, James E. Pepper, Cyrus Noble. as well as its own in-house brand, Bardstown Brewing Co.
Can't make the trip just yet? Check out a virtual tour
Over in Frankfort, the Buffalo Trace Distillery has put together an awesome app that features a virtual reality tour of its historic distillery.
Here's a preview of the app:
But if you can visit the actual distillery, it's well worth the trip. It sits on 400 acres of beautiful Kentucky countryside and is a National Historic Site.
Pappy Van Winkle Bourbon – for the true connoisseur
They make many different brands here, including the infamous Pappy Van Winkle, a brand that is aged from 10 to 23 years and is considered a very rare, limited edition bourbon. It commands a very high price.
The folks who own the brand and bottle it at Buffalo Trace – the Old Rip Van Winkle Distillery – sell a 15-year-old aged bottle for $119. The 20-year-old reserve is $199. The 23-year-old is $299.
The distillery all that demand has caused tome profiteering on the brand.
Says the distillery: “Unfortunately, some retailers choose to use this demand as a reason to increase their pricing. We know it’s often sold for far beyond our suggested retail prices, which you can find on the product pages of this site.”
Check online and you'll see some folks trying to get thousands of dollars for a bottle of Pappy's.
By the way, there really was a namesake for the brand. His was is Julian “Pappy” Van Winkle who was a traveling whiskey salesman who wanted to make a decent bourbon so he started distilling his own over 100 years ago,
The business has been passed on through the generations to family members.
Budget a week to fully experience the Bourbon Trail
Even if you don't drink alcohol or bourbon is not your thing, the bourbon trail is a fascinating look at history in some of the most beautiful country you can find.
If you decide to visit Kentucky's Bourbon Trail, allow at least a week to really take it all in.
There are lots of campgrounds servicing the area.
We can't stress how much fun we had on The Bourbon Trail and we think you, too, will find it one of the most enjoyable trips around.
All of the distilleries have plenty of parking for RVs.
Most tours have an age limit, so check before bringing kids. And pets, as expected, are not allowed.
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