Kentucky: Bourbon Trail and Churchill Downs

We love bourbon! So we decided a trip to Kentucky to explore the bourbon trail was a must do! We chose to stay in-between Louisville and Lexington because we planned to go to several distilleries and the ones we were most interested in where not all condensed to one small area.  There are several distilleries in the Louisville area and Lexington area so you do not have to drive around nearly as much as we did. There is also an Urban Bourbon Trail in downtown Louisville if you wanted to stay within the city.  The driving between Louisville and Lexington is beautiful, you will drive through rural farm lands with rolling hills and will see lots of horses.  From where we live in Michigan, it was only a six hour drive down to this area so it made sense to do this as a long weekend road trip.

We drove down Friday night and stopped in Louisville at the restaurant called Game for dinner. This a burger restaurant which specializes in serving different game meats. You can get venison, elk and even kangaroo. The place is pretty small and was busy but it was worth the wait. The burgers were great and we always enjoy getting to try something we’ve never had before. A burger is a nice way to introduce game meet if you are not familiar with it or hesitant about it.

Saturday we started our Bourbon tour. We started with Maker’s Mark since they were the furthest away from the others. From there we headed to 4 Roses, then to Woodford where we had a reservation ahead of time. Finally we went to Buffalo Trace, where we didn’t have a reservation and didn’t get a tour, just a tasting. From there we did dinner and then headed back to our Air B & B for the night.

Maker’s Mark: This was definitely the best tour that we went on. They are well organized and well set up for tours. We did not have a reservation ahead of time which was another reason why we chose to go there first thing and try to get on the first tour of the day since it does get busy.  You can book your tour ahead of time on their website to ensure your spot. The general tour lasts about one hour and ends with a tasting. Tours start at 9:30 AM Monday-Saturday, the last tour of the day is at 3:30 PM Sunday they open at 11:30 AM. Here is their website for more information  The tour takes you through the distillery and all the buildings where the barrels are stored. They even let us taste the mash that was fermenting.  You end with a tasting and from there are brought to the store. All the bottles in the store do not have the red wax on the top. Any bottle you chose to buy you can dip yourself with instruction from the workers which is a fun experience. The buildings themselves are beautiful as are the grounds that surround the distillery. We would highly recommend visiting if you are in the area!


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4 Roses: Our next stop was 4 Roses which has a different type of architecture from the other distilleries in the area. Their buildings are in a more Spanish style. When we arrived the next tour which was going to start in the next few minutes was full. But there was a tasting also about to start. We chose to just do the tasting vs waiting for the next tour. You can make a reservation here as well to reserve your spot ahead of time. Tours start on the hour, every hour with the last tour leaving at 3PM. Check out their website for more details The tasting we did was set up outside under a large gazebo. We got a brief overview of the distilleries history followed by a sampling of three of their bourbons. All of them were very good. We ended up buying the small batch which we thought was very good for the price.
Woodford: Our third stop was Woodford where we did purchase tickets ahead of time and would strongly recommend this as they do get really busy.  Tours are offered Monday-Saturday 10 AM-3 PM, Sundays they open at 1 PM. Check out their website for more details
The drive into this distillery is beautiful! This is one of the oldest distilleries in the area. You drive through several ranches with fields on either side of the road full of horses grazing. When we arrived to the distillery it was very crowded. When you enter there is a large waiting room full of couches and a fire place. There is also a small café where you can purchase sandwiches and snacks while you are waiting for your tour to begin. The tour again goes through the entire distillery, barrel aging buildings and ends with a tasting. You get to sample the standard Woodford Reserve and then you try the double oak. They also give you chocolates with your tasting. We loved the double oak and ended up leaving with a bottle. It is definitely one of our favorites!

Buffalo Trace: When we arrived all the tours for the day were full so we did just a tasting. Tours are available Monday-Saturday 9:30 AM- 4 PM and Sundays 12-3 PM. The standard tour you don’t need a reservation for but they do tend to fill up so we would recommend getting there early. They do offer other tours as well which you can reserve online at their website. We did get to walk around the grounds of the distillery while waiting for our tasting. We just didn’t get to go inside all the buildings since we were not on an actual tour. The biggest complaint we had about the tasting here is that we have had all of the bourbons that were included in the tasting. We were hoping to try some of the bottles they make which are not readily found at any grocery or liquor store. We did get to try their white mash and their vodka which we hadn’t had before. The Bourbons we tasted were the standard Buffalo Trace and Eagle Rare. We don’t really care for vodka so for us we were really hoping to try some new bourbons. The grounds of the distillery are really pretty, there are some old buildings nearby that are not part of the distillery. If you are there for a tasting or tour take some time to walk around the area as well before you leave.


After our Bourbon tours we headed to the Old Bourbon Kitchen (OBC) near Lexington for dinner. This place was awesome! They had an extensive bourbon list to chose from. They offered flights so you can try multiple Bourbons. We really enjoyed their Barreled Old Oashioned. We had an ahi tuna appetizer then we enjoyed shrimp and grits and fried chicken for our main courses. All of the dishes were great.

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Churchill Downs and the Kentucky Derby Museum: Sunday we decided to see some horse racing at Churchill downs. Tickets for a covered seat were extremely affordable, $10 a ticket as it wasn’t the Derby or another important race. Races started at 1pm and went all afternoon with races starting every 30 minutes. We arrived early so we could walk around and see the museum. A separate entrance fee is required to see the museum. We paid for the museum entrance and a tour of the grounds. On the tour we saw the paddock- the area where the horses line up in preparation for the race. We also got to hear some additional history and facts about the derby and got to watch the first race from right at the gate without any other visitors blocking our view. The museum is very well done and definitely worth a visit. You can get through the museum in about 45 minutes to an hour and the tour is about 30 minutes long.  After the museum and tour we spent the rest of the afternoon enjoying the races. It was not very busy the day we were there so we could move around to different seats to get a better view of the races. It was a fun way to spend an afternoon in Kentucky. We decided not to do any actual betting but instead spent our money on lunch and Mint Juleps.

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After our afternoon at Churchill downs we went back to downtown Louisville for some appetizers and drinks. We would recommend The Bristol for a drink and their green chili wantons appetizer. We also really enjoyed Proof on Main which was right down the street. We got a Bourbon flight here to try even more Bourbons. There is a lot of cool art throughout the restaurant to take a look at while you’re enjoying your drinks and some food. We shared a few more appetizers here before heading back to relax at our Air B & B. We stayed at a farm house in-between Louisville and Lexington and it was one of the best Air B & B experiences we have had! Air B & B has a lot of great options in both Louisville and Lexington and the surrounding areas. Whether you plan to focus your time in one of these two cities or drive around like we did you will not be disappointed! If you are anything like us you will also leave with an even greater love of all things Bourbon!