There is still plenty of time to plan and make a trip to America’s whiskey country yet this year. Just be aware that many distilleries shut down for a few weeks during the hottest part of summer, so call ahead or check their web sites so you aren’t disappointed.
There are now or will soon be 17 different production facilities in Kentucky and Tennessee that welcome visitors. Six are in the Frankfort-Lexington area and five are near Bardstown. Most are major operations owned by giant corporations, but a few are tiny and independent. Most are in Kentucky but three are in Tennessee, including the most popular.
The most-visited American whiskey site is easily the Jack Daniel’s Distillery in Lynchburg, Tennessee. Nearby are George Dickel and Prichards’, a micro-distillery that primarily makes rum.
Two of the remaining micro-distilleries in this collection are in Lexington, Kentucky. They are Alltech’s Lexington Brewing and Distilling Company and Barrel House Distilling Company. Although their brewery and distillery operation is very small, Alltech is a big international company based in Lexington. Barrel House is genuinely small, but it makes vodka, not whiskey (yet).
In nearby Lawrenceburg you will find Four Roses and Wild Turkey. In nearby Versailles; Woodford Reserve. In nearby Frankfort it is Buffalo Trace.
Bardstown is about an hour’s drive from the Lexington-Frankfort area. There you will find Tom Moore, Maker’s Mark, Jim Beam, Heaven Hill and another Four Roses site, where they age and bottle their whiskey. (Lawrenceburg is the distillery only.)
Heaven Hill in Bardstown is everything except the distillery and they have a museum-quality visitors center. Tom Moore, Maker's Mark and Jim Beam are all complete grain-to-bottle operations.
Louisville’s only production facility that gives tours doesn’t make whiskey, it makes barrels. The Brown-Forman Cooperage makes casks for aging Jack Daniel’s, Woodford Reserve, Old Forester, and other Brown-Forman products.
The two remaining attractions are one-offs, not close to any other. One is our last micro-distillery, Corsair Artisan in Bowling Green. The other is CMDK in Owensboro, the old Medley Distillery being revived by Angostura Limited. It is not open to the public yet but will be as soon as it starts distilling again, probably sometime in 2010.
There are other places of interest not associated with production, such as the Oscar Getz Museum of Whiskey History in Bardstown. The entire region is packed with frontier and Civil War history, and Kentucky has many Lincoln sites.
Correction: The original version of this post identified one of the Lexington micro-distilleries as Old Tarr. The distillery's correct name is Barrel House Distilling Company. Old Tarr Distillery is a nearby art and music venue. Both are in the Lexington Distillery District. We regret any inconvenience. (Thanks, Ed.)