Horse Country
Horse Country

The Heart of Horse Country

A two night, two day bourbon itinerary discovering seven bourbon distilleries, all within 25 miles of Lexington, Kentucky.

The Bluegrass Region's reputation for fine horses and fine bourbon whiskey is known worldwide. Magnificent horse farms and charming bourbon distilleries share a place in this extraordinary landscape of gently rolling hills. Here is a suggestion for discovering the heritage of America's only native spirit.

Night One

Arrive in Lexington in time for dinner. Start your bourbon tour at one of Lexington's downtown restaurants for some excellent regional cuisine. Be sure to stop at Belle's Cocktail House at 156 Market Street, named after one of Lexington's most notorious citizens. Stroll through Gratz Park or Triangle Park, then head for your hotel.

Restaurant suggestions:
Blue Heron Steakhouse on Jefferson Street, Tony's on Main Street, Dudley's on Short Street.

Day One

For early risers, make your first stop Keeneland Race Course for the early morning workouts. Come around 7:30 a.m. to be sure you see horses on the track. Then, go to the track kitchen and enjoy a hearty and inexpensive Southern breakfast. From Keeneland, continue out U.S. 60 to Woodford Reserve Distillery. A National Historic Landmark, this bourbon distillery is nestled between Thoroughbred horse farms.

Woodford Reserve is a premium small-batch bourbon. Tours cover the process from cooking the grains in limestone water to the distillation process in copper stills made in Scotland. You'll also learn about the special barrels required for bourbon and see the warehouses. Take advantage of Picnic on the Porch (April through October) before heading to your next stop. The adventurous should take the back roads to Buffalo Trace, past the fascinating remnants of two old distilleries: Old Crow Distillery and Old Taylor Distillery, which is currently under renovation. (Follow 1659 to Main Street in Frankfort. Turn right on Main and left on US 60. Buffalo Trace will be on your right.)

Buffalo Trace, like all bourbon distilleries, carefully guards its unique mash bill--its secret combination of corn, rye and malted barley. In addition to its flagship bourbon, Buffalo Trace Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey, the distillery produces other finely crafted bourbons, including Blanton's, W.L. Weller, Old Charter and Eagle Rare. Various bourbon tours cover the distillery's history (there has been a working distillery on the grounds since 1787) and the differences between whiskey and bourbon. You'll get to visit the hand bottling hall and a century-old aging warehouse.

Take the scenic route back to Lexington. From US 60, take 1681, just after crossing under I 64. This is Old Frankfort Pike, one of Kentucky's best scenic byways. You'll pass farms and fences made of dry-laid limestone, the same limestone that underlies the pastures of the Bluegrass Region, helping to build the strong bones of championship horses. Before you hit downtown, you'll go past Lexington's historic Distillery District. Call ahead and pop in at Barrel House Distilling to sample their Bourbon. (859) 259-0159.

Dinner Suggestions: Ramsey's for comfort food, including a great Hot Brown or Malone's for fine steaks.

For evening entertainment, take a carriage ride through downtown Lexington. 

Need to sample more bourbon? These hot spots have more bourbons than you can experience on one trip:
Henry Clay's Public House

Day Two

Head out to US 60 again. If you couldn't rise early enough yesterday, here's a second chance to stop at Keeneland on your way to Lawrenceburg. Note the unusual castle just before you enter the Bluegrass Parkway. The small Bluegrass Region town of Lawrenceburg claims two distilleries.

Four Roses is not your typical Kentucky bourbon distillery. Situated on the banks of the Salt River, its Spanish Mission-style architecture of the early 1900s is unusual for Kentucky. In the 30s, 40s and 50s, their bourbon was only produced for export in the European and Asian markets. It's now sold in 21 U.S. states, Spain, France, Italy, the Czech Republic, the Netherlands, Austria, Switzerland and Japan. Learn about the process that produces this mellow bourbon with its rich, fruity flavors on one of their distillery tours.

For a great lunch stop in Lawrenceburg, try Talk of the Town on Broadway for soups, sandwiches and Hot Browns.

The last stop on your tour will be Wild Turkey. Bourbon making at this site on the Kentucky River goes back to the mid-19th century. The tour you take today reveals an intriguing combination of tradition and modern mass production. For example, in the fermentation room, 70-year-old cypress tanks, still in use, stand next to modern stainless steel tanks.

Try to make it back to Lexington in time to tour the first Bourbon distillery to be built in Lexington in over 100 years: Town Branch Distillery. Or, call ahead and try to catch one of the distillers at Bluegrass Distillers and hear the story of the region's newest small-batch craft distillery. They are located downtown near Smithtown Seafood.

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Just like enjoying bourbon, there are many ways to experience it by staying in a variety of places from romantic countryside to vibrant downtown cities.