Have you ever dreamt of a town where Old Fashioneds line the streets? Where you could find row after row of establishments serving a perfect mint julep? Where Manhattans flowed from every tap? It exists and it’s goes by the name of Louisville, Kentucky! Take along my Lush Guide to the Urban Bourbon Trail and you’ll find everything you need that’s bourbon-related in this town.
Exploring the Urban Bourbon Trail in Louisville
Heading to Louisville and asking yourself where to drink bourbon? Don’t worry – it’s not going to be hard to find a place. In fact, the town has made it super easy for you by creating the Urban Bourbon Trail. As this is Lush Life’s Urban Bourbon Trail, I am adding a few distilleries and extra bourbon-related spots you just can’t miss when exploring Louisville’s bourbon history, plus a few unrelated bourbon things to do in Louisville and great hotels to stay in while you’re there.
An offshoot of the official Kentucky Bourbon Trail which guides bourbon enthusiasts throughout the state, the Urban Bourbon Trail is a list of over 40 bars and restaurants serving the best bourbon cocktails in the city. Grab an official Urban Bourbon Trail Passport at the Louisville Visitor Center right in town and only a six minute walk from the birthplace of the Old Fashioned.
Where to begin the Urban Bourbon Trail
It’s hard not to expect Col. James Pepper, Master Distiller and owner of Old Pepper Bourbon in the late 1800’s, to sidle up to the bar at the Pendennis Club to join you for his new favorite cocktail. Watching any of the bartenders make an Old Fashioned here is like watching history repeating itself.
Rumor has it that this is the place where it was invented and who am I to disagree. On one of his jaunts to New York, Pepper took the recipe to the Waldorf Astoria and we’ve never looked back. A stop in front of this revered edifice is a must.
Top Tip(ples): Ring the doorbell or call the front desk (502-584-4311) to inquire, be polite and they might let you in!
- The Pendennis Club – 218 West Muhammad Ali Blvd., Louisville, Kentucky 40202.
After years of disuse and almost complete demolition, a one mile stretch of Main Street is now home to a few of the newest whiskey distilleries in Kentucky. You can walk from East to West on Main Street and visit distillery after distillery and never leave this one street.
Old Forester Distillery
For the WOW factor, you can’t beat the new Old Forester Distillery on Whiskey Row. One gorgeous copper column still, at least four stories high, greets you as you enter. With its own live cooperage (a facility where barrels are made), multimedia history of its founder George Garvin Brown, plus tasting rooms, shop and in-house bar, Old Forester continues to be one of the most forward thinking brands.
This modern approach was ingrained in them by their founder when he had the smarts to have Old Forester Bourbon approved for use during Prohibition as medicine.
Top Tip(ples): Old Forester was the official bourbon of the Pendennis Old Fashioned! Don’t miss the bitters here!
- Old Forester Distillery – 119 West Main Street, Louisville, KY 40202.
Evan Williams Bourbon Experience
Evan Williams, the man, was one of the first purveyors of this spirit we now call bourbon. In 1783, he set up shop right on Main Street, Louisville, Kentucky. Evan Williams, the bourbon brand, was relaunched in the 1900’s paying reverence to the man who brought so much joy to the world.
The Evan Williams Bourbon Experience was the first new bourbon distillery to be launched on Whiskey Row, across the street from where Evan Williams himself had his shop. Confused – discover more about the history on the tour and see where a barrel of bourbon a day is produced!
Top Tip(ples): Don’t miss their Speakeasy Bar in the old vault at the bottom of the building!
- Evan Williams Bourbon Experience – 528 West Main St, Louisville, KY 40202.
Other Stops on Whiskey Row
If you have time, visit all the other distilleries on Whiskey Row:
- Angel’s Envy – try bourbon finished in port barrels (technically not bourbon, but who cares!)
- Jim Beam – They may have changed their name from the german Boehm to Beam after prohibition, but this spirit has always been an American classic!
- Kentucky Peerless – Another smart distillery owner who registered his bourbon as medicine during Prohibition!
- Rabbit Hole – a modern approach to bourbon making – more of a mixing whiskey and they invite you to the bar next door to taste their cocktails
- Michter’s Fort Nelson Distillery – Once this distillery had a home in Pennsylvania, now it’s on Whiskey Row.
- Lush Lead: A few of the cocktails at Michter’s Fort Nelson Distillery were curated by David Wondrich – the author of the drinks’ books, Imbibe and Punch!
Other Bourbon stops in Louisville
Bulleit Frontier Whiskey Experience at Stitzel-Weller
“Lively” Shively is home to the Bulleit Frontier Whiskey Experience at Stitzel-Weller. Or that’s how Shively was known in the olden days. The distilleries on Whiskey Row were being taxed so heavily that a few of them moved right out of town to Shively where there were no taxes – making it very lively indeed. There also happened to be the purest water right below the ground, perfect for bourbon brewing.
This massive, 53 acre property was home to many brands before Diageo snapped it up and now Bulleit Bourbon lives here happily. Take the tour, buy the products, enjoy being outside and make sure to get them to explain the meaning of the five key hanging on the on the door!
Top Tip(ples): Take a virtual tour with Sylvia Holden, Team Leader at Bulleit Frontier Whiskey Experience at Stitzel-Weller on Lush Life Podcast!
- Bulleit Frontier Whiskey Experience at Stitzel-Weller – 3860 Fitzgerald Road, Louisville, KY 40216
Brown Forman Cooperage
You are forced to remember how important the barrel is in making bourbon. Finally, the Brown Forman Cooperage has opened to the public. Brown Forman was founded by that same George Garvin Brown who created Old Forester and it’s now one of the most important spirits’ company in the world. 3000 new barrels are created each day!
Experience every part of process, even watch the barrels being toasted. Remember – that’s where the magic happens, once the liquid is poured inside.
Top Tip(ples): The cooperage is really close to the airport, so call before and see if you can pop in before or after your flight.
- Brown Forman Cooperage Tour – For tour information, click the link or call 502.583.1433 or email Info@MintJulepTours.com
Things to do in Louisville, when you’re not at a distillery or bar:
Churchill Downs and the Kentucky Derby
It only happens once a year and takes fewer than two minutes to complete, but fortunes are made and lost during that time. One of the most exciting sports events of the year, the Kentucky Derby has people all over the world donning their hats and sipping their mint juleps.
Churchill Downs has been home to the Kentucky Derby since its inception and many have cried and laughed over wins by Justified, Man-o-War or Seabiscuit. You can tour Churchill Downs or attend a race. If you are invited to the Derby, don’t miss it.
Top Tip(ples): Old thoroughbreds can find a happy home at Old Friends Farm for Retired Thoroughbreds in Georgetown. It’s just about an hour’s drive from Louisville out there and well worth the visit. You can read all about the work they are doing here.
Muhammad Ali Center
Probably one of the most famous athletes and icons of all time, Muhammad Ali was embraced as a son of Louisville. You can discover how his legacy inspired the world at the Muhammad Ali Centre about a ten minute walk from Whiskey Row.
Louisville Slugger Museum
I don’t think any piece of sporting apparatus is as revered in America as the Louisville Slugger and, like its name portends, they are made here in downtown Louisville. There is almost no way you can miss the 120 foot high replica, as you enter the city centre. A few things may have changed since the 1800’s, but giving it a go in their batting cage and trying to hit a homer hasn’t!
Where to Stay in Louisville
Brits might be amused to know that Prime Minister David Lloyd George was the first person to sign the guest register at this Louisville institution.
Greeting the best and brightest since it opened, the Brown Hotel is the place to stay in town if you love old-world charm and want to feel the history of Louisville in every detail.
Don’t forget to try the homemade Hot Brown sandwich, an open-faced mess of bread, turkey, bacon and cheese covered in Mornay Sauce which is great for soaking up bourbon cocktails.
For a more modern traveler, there is the Omni Hotel. All the mod-cons one would expect with a bit of cheeky fun hidden away that you wouldn’t expect.
Down in the basement lies Pin + Proof, a bowling alley that serves classical cocktails and southern treats, such as deviled eggs and a cheese ball covered in smoked pecans.
Top Tip(ples): I would be remiss not to mention the Marriott Downtown and their Distiller’s Club. Hidden away, you have to ask them to enter and may need a membership, but ask anyway!
If the Old Fashioned is your kind of cocktail, then you will have so much fun exploring the Urban Bourbon Trail in Louisville. Don’t miss the cultural things to do in Louisville as well!
Thanks so much to www.kentuckytourism.com for organizing this trip. All my opinions are my own!