Business, you might say, is absolutely pouring in for distilleries along the Kentucky Bourbon Trail.
Indeed, last year, for the first time ever, more than 2 million people visited the 42 distilleries along the Kentucky Bourbon Trail, according to the Kentucky Distillers’ Association (KDA).
The previous record for attendance was set in 2019, when 1.7 million people visited the Kentucky Bourbon Trail. In 2022, however, the number of visitors climbed to a staggering 2,135,555 visits.
“Bourbon is a key driver for tourism in Kentucky, drawing visitors from around the world to our commonwealth,” Mike Berry, secretary of the Kentucky Tourism, Arts, and Heritage Cabinet said in a statement. “In a post-pandemic environment, travelers are thirsty for our native spirit and all the exciting opportunities tourism has to offer.”
The KDA created the Kentucky Bourbon Trail in 1999 so visitors could get an up-close look at the state’s most historic distilleries. Today, 18 historic distilleries and 24 smaller distilleries make up the Kentucky Bourbon Trail.
Visiting the Kentucky Bourbon Trail, or making a pilgrimage, as some bourbon lovers may say, is increasingly popular. The KDA notes that over the last 10 years, attendance has grown by 370 percent.
That overall growth, and particularly the jump in attendance last year, presents a challenge: The record-setting number of visitors puts a strain on the distilleries.
To address that congestion, the KDA launched a campaign last year called “Book Now, Bourbon Later” to encourage people to book reservations in advance. What’s more, a growing number of distilleries even require reservations now.
“We are thrilled to welcome visitors from all over the world to experience our rich history and southern hospitality,” said Mandy Ryan, director of the KDA’s Kentucky Bourbon Trail experiences. “Please plan ahead so you can slow down and savor our bourbon culture and everything Kentucky has to offer. Like we say — the proof is here.”
All About Bourbon
There are specific requirements that must be met for a whiskey to be classified as a bourbon. First, it must be made with a minimum of 51 percent corn, then aged in new, charred oak barrels, the KDA explains.
Next, bourbon must be stored at no more than 125 proof before being bottled at no less than 80 proof.
Amazingly, there are now almost 11 million barrels of bourbon aging in Kentucky.
To put bourbon’s popularity in perspective, sales of the spirit pump $8.5 billion into Kentucky’s economy each year. What’s more, bourbon distilleries employ more than 17,000 people, with a combined payroll of more than $800 million annually, the association explains.
How To Plan A Trip Along The Kentucky Bourbon Trail
The good news for bourbon lovers is that there are 42 distilleries they can visit in Kentucky!
Of that number, 18 are what’s called “Signature Distilleries,” such as Wild Turkey, Angel’s Envy, Four Roses, and James B. Beam. Then there are 24 “Craft Distilleries,” such as Old Pogue, Kentucky Artisan, Casey Jones, and James E. Pepper.
There’s no right or wrong way to experience the Kentucky Bourbon Trail — you can start or stop anywhere on the route and see as many distilleries as you want. You can even visit distilleries while you also explore Kentucky.
If you are interested in visiting the Kentucky Bourbon Trail, this map of Kentucky’s distilleries will help make your planning easier.
The KDA also offers numerous tips to make your trip planning easier. For example, you can learn more about individual distilleries as well as how to combine your tour of distilleries with other interests such as outdoor activities and learning about nearby hotels and restaurants.
For more about the Kentucky Bourbon Trail, be sure to also read: