If your closet is full of well-worn cowboy boots, Wrangler jeans and a Stetson or two, chances are you’ve tried two fingers of bourbon at least once in your life. Drinking the caramel-colored spirit is one thing, but if you want to see how it’s made, you’ll need to head to the Southern states of Tennessee and Kentucky, where there are almost as many distilleries as people. (Well, that might be an exaggeration, but you get the idea.)
Bourbon vs. Whiskey vs. Whisky
Bourbon is a type of whiskey that gained popularity mainly in Kentucky. The same production process is used in Tennessee, but there it’s called Tennessee Whiskey. Made from corn, bourbon differs from typical whiskey in that it must be made in America, and the oak barrels must be charred. So basically, all bourbon is whiskey, but not all whiskey is bourbon. Now, what about the “e”? It’s simply a preference. Most North American distilleries spell it “whiskey,” while the rest of the world prefers to drop the “e” and spell the spirit “whisky.”
Start your tour of Bourbon Country at the oldest distilling site in the U.S. Buffalo Trace has been producing bourbon for more than 200 years. The distillery in Frankfort offers several different tours — depending on how detailed a look at the operations you want — throughout the week, and most need to be reserved through its website. There’s even one that details the ghosts that reside at Buffalo Trace.
Just down the road in Versailles, you can take a two-hour tour of the Woodford Reserve distillery. Other tours are available, and the distillery does not accept reservations.
Wild Turkey Bourbon
Wild Turkey Bourbon offers tours daily on the hour at its Austin Nichols distillery in Lawrenceburg.
Other Kentucky makers that offer tours include Knob Hill, Jim Beam and Maker’s Mark. Heaven Hill Distilleries in Bardstown runs the Bourbon Heritage Center. Known as the “Bourbon Capital of the World,” Bardstown was built mainly by the earliest distillers and their newly acquired money.
George Dickel in Normandy offers tours of its distillery, which is known for its mellow-flavored final product. Tours are free and offered daily. If you want to end the tour with a tasting, there is a small charge.
You’ll want to schedule plenty of time to tour the Jack Daniels distillery in Lynchburg, which is located in a dry county. Jack Daniels is perhaps the most well-known of all Tennessee whiskeys, and its distillery and expansive campus lives up to this fame with museums, restaurants and shops found on its quaint Main Street.
Nashville is home to the innovative Corsair Artisan distillery. Reserve a tour spot to see how they use quinoa in their whiskies. The distillery is open for tours Tuesday through Friday afternoons, and at noon on weekends.
Short Mountain Distillery
If you’re traveling the distilleries with a group or in a charter bus, you can reserve a spot to tour Short Mountain Distillery in Woodbury to see how it makes small-batch bourbon and Tennessee whiskey in addition to producing authentic moonshine.
Now that you know the difference and heritage involved in producing authentic American Bourbon, which distillery do you want to tour first?
Photo Credit: Big Stock