Chicagoans, did you know that we are only a 1 hour flight from Lexington, Kentucky and the Bourbon Trail? It’s the ideal destination for a quick weekend away.
Lexington is primarily known for two things: bourbon and horses. My friend Jenny and I flew down to Lexington for 48 hours, and discovered so much to do in the small city. Like many of Lexington’s visitors, one of our primary goals was to learn about – and taste – bourbon. I am excited to tell you about the distilleries we visited.
Can’t Miss Stops on the Bourbon Trail near Lexington
The distilleries around Lexington on the bourbon trail are special because they are located above an underground limestone shelf. This naturally filters the iron out of the ground water making it very pure. The water is also rich in calcium, which is said to give the horses in Kentucky strong bones. This natural water source is used by distilleries and is the reason why many distilleries are located on bourbon trail – they are all near the water source.
Did you know that the population of Kentucky is 4.4 million… but there are 6.6 million barrels of bourbon aging in Kentucky warehouses?! Bourbon is big business in Kentucky. During our time in Lexington we visited three distilleries, and we loved each one for different reasons.
The Distillery District / James E Pepper
Our first stop was the newly reopened James E Pepper Distillery in the Distillery District. James E Pepper is a modern day reincarnation of the historic distillery of the same name. Things are off to a strong start – the distillery officially opened their doors in July and it has just been added to the bourbon trail.
We met up with Marjorie who was super friendly and knowledgable. She taught us all about James E Pepper, the history of bourbon in Kentucky, and the story of how the distillery has been brought back to life. We learned so much – and she kept the tour fun. We were shocked to learn that the distillery just opened for tours because Majorie knew it all!
The James E Pepper first started producing bourbon after the American Revolution, and it stayed open all the way until 1958. The brand was relaunched in 2017 and is producing award-winning whiskeys.
I definitely recommend doing a tour at the first distillery you visit. This way to learn all about bourbon and how to taste it and then you are ready to stop into other distilleries for tastings.
James E Pepper made some of our favorite bourbons and Jenny and I both bought some to bring home.
I recommend going to James E Pepper before dinner since it is located beside some great bars and restaurants in the distillery district. We went to Middlefork Kitchen Bar and then Crank & Boom after our tour and tasting. It was a great way to spend half a day!
Woodford Reserve is on a beautiful piece of land surrounded by horse farms – it is a National Historic Landmark. They offer a variety of distillery tours, tastings, and mixology tasting presentations. Since we had done a full tour at James E Pepper and were already familiar with how bourbon is made, we opted to do just a tasting at Woodford.
There is a patio where you can enjoy a drink, and there is a cafe – this is important to note since the other distilleries we visited did not offer food. You may want to time your visit to Woodford Reserve around lunch.
Our favorite was the Double Oaked, it was so smooth!
Buffalo Trace is a big operation and the oldest continuously operating distillery in America. During the Prohibition Buffalo Trace was permitted to make whiskey for “medicinal purposes” and Kentuckians had a staggering number of prescriptions for whiskey.
Today Buffalo Trace offers 6 different tours, and you could opt to spend an entire day there doing different tours! The tours range from a National Historic Landmark Tour that focuses on the architecture, to a behind the scenes hard hat tour, and a ghost tour. There is something for everyone.
Blanton’s and Eagle Rare are also made at this distillery. Some of the tours stop at the Blanton’s bottling area, and a very friendly guide named David gave us a peek inside.
One thing that Jenny and I talked about throughout the trip was how Lexington is a perfect destination for a weekend away with friends. Lexington is so easy to get to from Chicago. It would be so much fun to spend a weekend visiting the distilleries and seeing a horse race! Plus Lexington isn’t super touristy or crowded like other nearby cities. And the food is top notch!
Have you been to Lexington? Did you love it as much as we did? Do you have recommendations for my next trip? Please share in the comments.
This post was sponsored by Visit Lexington. The opinions expressed are my own.