In just a few short years, Louisville’s nickname has switched from River City to Bourbon City — and for good reason: It’s hoarding bourbon experiences like the Mag Bar attracts moving vehicles. Nowhere else in the state emits as much bourbon-ism as we do here, and that includes Bardstown, a.k.a. Bourbon Capital of the World.
We’ll let them have that designation because historically it’s probably accurate, but Louisville was also a pivotal city in bourbon’s humble beginnings. Whiskey Row, for example, was once chock full of distilleries, rectifiers, warehouses and distributors — more than 50 to be exact — due to our location on the Ohio River and shipping prowess. Even distilleries that were located deep in the hollers made it a point to have an office on Louisville’s Main Street if they wanted to spread their brand far and wide.
The same idea is actually happening today with the uptick of “satellite tasting rooms” like the recently opened Castle & Key 502 and the upcoming Bardstown Bourbon Company storefront. Sure, they don’t need Louisville to peddle their product, but since so many folks are flocking here for bourbon-soaked weekend getaways, they figure they can razzle and dazzle them into a return visit to the actual distillery and/or create a loyal fanbase.
I’m often asked which is the best distillery tour in Louisville, and the truth is, they’re all great in their own way. Just like there isn’t one single “favorite” or “best” bourbon out there, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all tour. Everybody’s tastes are different. But that being said, if you’re a fan of Skrewball Whiskey, I kindly ask that you visit Indiana instead.
Below is a list of all the bourbon experiences and bourbon-adjacent businesses Louisville has to offer. I’ve also included one cool thing about each establishment so you can sound informed when chatting with your Uber driver. Notice I’m not listing bourbon-themed bars, restaurants, hotels or lodging because there simply isn’t room here in this rag, and, frankly, they’re not paying me enough. “Will work for bourbon” only goes so far.
Distilleries & Tasting Rooms
500 E. Main St.
One cool thing: Their rye whiskey is a decadent dessert. Don’t tell me you can’t handle rye until you try a sample of this on the tour. I bet you leave with a bottle.
Barrels & Billets
800 W. Main St.
One cool thing: You learn all about the complex art of blending at this fun little experience from the Louisville Slugger Museum folks. Make your own one-of-a-kind bourbon blend and take home a bottle to show off.
1460 Dixie Highway
One cool thing: This is the first Black-owned distillery in Kentucky, and the three brothers behind the brand are the nicest guys you’ll ever meet. They’ll soon have a tasting room experience downtown as well, but they offer tours here at their Dixie Highway distillery in the meantime.
624 W. Main St.
One cool thing: The stuffed buzzards hanging around the gift shop are pretty awesome (and cute), but I’d also recommend trying their Bourbon & Chocolate tour.
Castle & Key 502
400 S. Second St.
One cool thing: Located inside the Omni’s Marketplace, this gift shop and tasting room lets you sample all the tasty Castle & Key products, including bourbon and gin.
Copper & Kings
1121 E. Washington St.
One cool thing: Known for making brandy, gin and absinthe, this mainstay Louisville distillery now lets you bottle your own bourbon that has been finished in brandy barrels. Trust me, it’s delicious.
Evan Williams Bourbon Experience
528 W. Main St.
One cool thing: The first distillery to open its doors on Main Street (both before and after Prohibition) offers plenty of history and samples on its tours. Be sure to scour the gift shop for hard-to-find releases (like Square 6 and Evan Williams 12 Year).
6230 Old Lagrange Road, Crestwood
One cool thing: Home of Jefferson Bourbon (for now), this craft distillery is about 20 minutes from Louisville and offers a great peek behind the Jefferson’s Ocean curtain. The tour guides are some of the best in the business.
120 N. 10th St.
One cool thing: There’s really great whiskey coming out of this downtown distillery (try the double oak bourbon), but first you’ll have to meet Rye, the famous distillery cat.
801 W. Main St.
One cool thing: Sometimes you might get lucky and score a hard-to-find bottle like Michter’s 10 or Toasted Barrel Finish Rye, but even if you don’t, be sure to check out the incredible cocktail bar on the second floor.
105 W. Market St.
One cool thing: Subscribe to their mailing list so you can stay up to date on their occasional releases throughout the year. This tasting room isn’t open to the public, but if you’re lucky enough to meet Sherri or Mark Carter, you might get an invite.
119 W. Main St.
One cool thing: This is the only distillery tour where you’ll get to see a barrel being built and charred. That’s because parent company Brown-Forman is the only spirits company that has its own cooperage.
Old Louisville Distilling Co.
4427 Poplar Level Road
One cool thing: This little off-the-beaten-path tasting room/warehouse is worth seeking out because you get to sample all the bourbons and whiskeys that founder Amine Karaoud has in stock — wait for it — straight from the barrel, as god intended.
Prohibition Craft Spirits
436 Baxter Ave.
One cool thing: Home of Nulu Whiskey, this little distillery, tucked between downtown and the Highlands, revels in experimental finishes of sourced bourbon and whiskey. You’ll definitely try something here you never knew existed.
711 E. Jefferson St.
One cool thing: A literal representation of where tradition and innovation collide, this distillery is a modern marvel in the Nulu neighborhood that offers great tours. Plus, the bar upstairs offers stellar views of the city.
3860 Fitzgerald Road
One cool thing: Now the homeplace of Blade & Bow and I.W. Harper, you can’t help but feel connected to the legendary history of this hallowed bourbon site where both W.L. Weller and Pappy got their start.
819 W. Main St.
One cool thing: Chocolatier Kelly Ramsey loves her bourbon, so she infuses her famous small-batch chocolate truffles with just about any and every brand out there. While you’re browsing, be sure to pick up a box of mint chimères, too.
The Barrel on Main
100 S. Fourth St.
One cool thing: Public artwork is cool, and the fact that this larger-than-life exhibit is in the shape of a bourbon barrel is even cooler. Go Insta crazy!
Bourbon Barrel Foods
1201 Story Ave. #175
One cool thing: With a slogan of “eat your bourbon,” this shop has been satisfying the bourbon-adjacent crowd since it opened more than a decade ago. Matt Jamie started with barrel-finished soy sauce and now has an entire store filled with bourbon-soaked spices, syrups, sauces and so much more.
Frazier History Museum
829 W. Main St.
One cool thing: At first glance a history museum might sound boring, but the Frazier is anything but. It’s the official starting point of the Kentucky Bourbon Trail and has an entire exhibit dedicated to Louisville’s bourbon history. You’ll love the gift shop, too.
Pappy & Co.
843 E. Market St.
One cool thing: No, you won’t find any Pappy here, but the quaint shop run by his great-granddaughters has all sorts of Pappy-inspired barware, clothing, local artwork and more.
Urban Bourbon Trail
Louisville Visitor Center
401 W. Main St.
One cool thing: Louisville is packed with bourbon bars, and this organized collection highlights some of the best. You can pick up a passport at the visitor center (or go online) and collect stamps along the way as you imbibe through the evening.
Vendome Copper & Brass Works
729 Franklin St.
One cool thing: Vendome is a family-owned company in Louisville that has been making stills and distilling equipment for places all over the globe since the early 1900s. They don’t offer tours, but it’s cool to drive by and watch them welding, pounding and cutting steel and copper.
Watch Hill Proper
11201 River Beauty Loop, Prospect
One cool thing: I know I said I wasn’t going to mention bars, but Watch Hill Proper is a true bourbon mecca — and confirmed as America’s largest whiskey bar, with more than 1,600 bottles on the shelf. Bring your sleeping bag.
Bardstown Bourbon Co.
730 W. Main St.
One cool thing: This fancy bottle shop and tasting room will be open very soon just a few doors down from the Louisville Slugger Museum. Expect cocktail classes, tasting sessions, special releases and more.
722 W. Main St.
One cool thing: Also in that same area, Pursuit Spirits will open up a visitor center and tasting room, along with a speakeasy. The duo behind the brand, Kenny Coleman and Ryan Cecil, will also create barrel-picking experiences for aficionados.
Sara Havens is a bourbon writer and whiskey expert based in Louisville who also rendezvous as The Bar Belle. Contact her at barbellelou.com or [email protected]. •