Although whiskey has been one of Kentucky’s main products since the 18th century, local boosters have only recently recognized its tourism potential. The latest is the Urban Bourbon Trail being promoted by the Louisville Convention and Visitors Bureau.
Like the Kentucky Bourbon Trail it includes a passport program. Get a stamp from every destination and win a free T-shirt. (They don't say T-shirt, they say "special gift.")
Although there are two whiskey distilleries in Louisville, operated by Brown-Forman and Heaven Hill respectively, neither one gives public tours. Instead, the Urban Bourbon Trail points you to eight Louisville watering holes that feature Kentucky whiskey. Five of them are in hotels. I recommend the Old Seelbach Bar for its historic elegance and Proof on Main for its modern flair. Both have first class restaurants too.
Just a few doors north of the Seelbach is the Maker’s Mark Lounge, which features a wide range of whiskeys and other spirits, not just its eponymous bourbon. It is a very good restaurant too, but I generally choose appetizers at the bar.
Of the eight Urban Bourbon Trail destinations, only Bourbon’s Bistro is outside of downtown, on Frankfort Ave. It is the Louisville joint most dedicated to bourbon whiskey, not just as a beverage but also as an ingredient in creative cooking. The bar and restaurant is in an 1877 building in a nice neighborhood, so have a little walk afterwards.
The Urban Bourbon Trail web site is JustAddBourbon.com, and includes links to the Kentucky Bourbon Trail, which covers the distillery tours.
While I commend Louisville and the Commonwealth for finally recognizing the potential for whiskey country tourism , I have two complaints. One is with the Louisville folks, for running a few too many themes up the flagpole. They've got "Urban Bourbon" and "Just Add Bourbon" and "Bourbon Country," all going at once.
They also seem to think they can trademark "Bourbon Country." Nice try, but I've been publishing The Bourbon Country Reader for about 15 years.
My other complaint is one of parochialism. To me, America's Whiskey Country covers Kentucky and Tennessee, and maybe even Virginia because of Virginia Gentleman and Mount Vernon. Even if one dismisses Virginia, it's hard to dismiss Tennessee since Jack Daniel's is the most popular American straight whiskey in the world and the most popular whiskey country tourist attraction.
The original whiskey trail was launched a few years ago by the Distilled Spirits Council (DISCUS). Known as the American Whiskey Trail, it covers distilleries in both Tennessee and Kentucky, as well as historic sites like Mount Vernon, but its flaw is that because DISCUS is a membership organization, and Heaven Hill and Four Roses are not members, those very important producers are excluded.
So despite all of these helpful programs, a prospective Bourbon Country (so sue me) tourist still has to do a little work to get the complete picture.