Guess what, y’all? You don’t need to venture out to the Bourbon Trail to taste bourbon or take a distillery tour: there are plenty of distilleries in Louisville!
Louisville, Kentucky is a city that’s famously known for a drink: bourbon. Sure, it’s technically Kentucky that invented bourbon, but Louisville has embraced it, built upon it, and created a drinking scene honoring it. We even coined the term “Bourbonism to describe bourbon-focused tourism. Oh, and the city’s nickname? Bourbon City. So I guess you could say bourbon is kinda our thing!
But we’re not just a one-trick pony (get it? horse pun): you’ll also find distilleries in Louisville crafting rye whiskey, brandy, absinthe, Scotch, liqueurs, and more. Are you thirsty yet??
Whether you’re stopping in Louisville on your way to do the Bourbon Trail or just visiting Louisville because it’s the best city ever (we’re only slightly biased), you can’t skip out on tasting a few Louisville specialties – and you don’t even have to leave town. This post covers all nine incredible distilleries in Louisville!
Looking for more boozy inspiration? Check out a few of these other posts:
- The 16 Best Bars in Louisville, Kentucky
- The 26 Best Louisville Breweries (& Southern Indiana, too)
- Kentucky Derby Tips: The Ultimate First-Timer’s Derby Guide
Bourbon Tasting 101
First, the basics: what is bourbon?? Bourbon is a type of whiskey that is aged in new charred oak barrels and made with at least 51% corn. Bourbon is not a location-specific product, but to be considered Kentucky bourbon, it must be produced in the state (both distilled and aged).
The differences in the way bourbon tastes comes from two primary factors. First, there is the mash recipe used: the percentages of rye, malted barley, wheat, and even corn vary from bourbon to bourbon.
Second, there’s the amount of toast or char on the barrel and the amount of time the bourbon spends in it. The aging of the high-proof distilled mash inside of the toasted barrel is what produces the sweet syrupy taste and caramel color of bourbon, as the spirit breaks down the sugars from the toasted oak.
Playing with those two factors can result in vastly different bourbons. A bourbon made with a high percentage of corn and a lightly toasted barrel will likely taste sweeter than a bourbon made with a high percentage of rye and a dark, charred barrel.
And to add another element, many bourbons are finished, meaning they are aged for a second time in another barrel – that could be a second oak barrel, or perhaps a barrel that has soaked up another spirit, such as port or sherry. Finished bourbons are often smoother, sweeter, and better for sipping – especially when paired with chocolate (which you’ll find at many bourbon distilleries)!
While you might find bourbon produced elsewhere, Kentucky bourbon is hands down the best tasting bourbon. And that’s not just us being conceited: it’s actually because of Kentucky’s naturally limestone-filtered water, which makes our bourbon taste sweeter.
Understanding a little bit about bourbon will help enhance your experience bourbon tasting in Louisville – and of course, you can learn all about bourbon on a distillery tour!
History of Bourbon Distilleries in Louisville
Bourbon and other types of distilleries began popping up in Kentucky and Louisville as early as the late 1700’s. Thanks to its ideal location right on the Ohio River, Louisville became a major trading center for spirits distilled in Virginia, Kentucky and West Virginia, shipping on steamboats all the way down to New Orleans (although that is not where Bourbon Street got its name).
From New Orleans, bourbon would be loaded on ocean-going vessels for delivery to eastern seaboard ports like Philadelphia, New York, and Boston- a route that was much faster and less expensive than taking goods by wagon over the Appalachian Mountains.
In the 1850’s, Louisville was home to a strip of downtown on Main Street known as “Whiskey Row,” full of distilleries and speakeasies. Business was booming!
… Or it was, until prohibition shut it down, which was generally a bummer for everyone except for maybe Temperance Union members like Carry A. Nation, who had a fantastic time smashing saloons with a hatchet. Ahhh, the good old days.
The Volstead Act (AKA prohibition) did include two exceptions for the production of alcohol: It could be prescribed by doctors for medicinal purposes, and it could be used for religious sacraments by priests, rabbis and ministers. We all know that clause was supposed to refer to wine, but hey. Those handy loopholes meant that some distilleries in Louisville didn’t cease making alcohol during prohibition! How about that.
Today, many of the distilleries in Louisville have moved back to their original home – or near their original home – on Whiskey Row, an under-a-mile stretch of downtown that’s still packed with bourbon bars, distilleries, and speakeasies and a major part of Louisville’s Urban Bourbon Trail.
Each distillery offers its own unique bourbons to taste, as well as distillery tours starting from as low as $12. The average price for a bourbon distillery tour is around $25 – check each website for current pricing.
- Travel Tip: Spending a weekend in Louisville? We’ve created the perfect Louisville weekend itinerary, including a day focusing on bourbon distilleries along Whiskey Row as well as its neighboring street, Museum Row.
Distilleries in Louisville, KY
From bourbon to rye whiskey to brandy and even absinthe, there is a wide variety of distilleries in Louisville! Although yes, they are mostly bourbon distilleries. Below are all of the distilleries in Louisville, including what makes each distillery unique and what to expect on a distillery tour.
Old Forester Distilling Co.
Old Forester is located on Whiskey Row, the historic home of the bourbon industry in Louisville. In a beautiful, full-circle kind of way, in 2018 Old Forester moved back into the same building they inhabited from 1882 – 1919, reclaiming their former space.
Today, Old Forester is home to the only cooperage in downtown Louisville, where they make and char their own barrels – a unique experience and a highlight of the distillery tour.
Even though the distillery has changed with the times, they’ve kept some of their old traditions, like the “Whiskey Drummer”, a person who plays the drum outside heralding the rolling of Old Forester whiskey barrels onto their trucks as they make their way to the warehouse to age.
The inside of the Old Forester bourbon distillery is bright and airy. As you step inside, you’ll immediately notice a long stairway with a dramatic copper still that stands several stories tall.
One of the most unique whiskies you’ll find at Old Forester is the 1920s Prohibition Style Whiskey. Yep, that’s right: Old Forester had a permit during prohibition to make medicinal whiskey, so they never stopped!
Since this spirit was made to be medicinal, it was required to be made at a very high proof, meaning that this tasty bourbon with hints of dark caramel, chocolate, malt nuttiness and sweet graham cracker is strong. It’ll definitely cure what ails ya (if what ails ya is being thirsty for very strong bourbon).
Old Forester offers two distillery tours:
- The 75-minute Old Forester Tour takes you to see see fermentation, distillation, and barrel making processes, as well as how the whiskies are maturated & bottled in their state-of-the art facility. At the end, you’ll get to taste four expressions.
- The Nothing Better in the Market Tour is for those who want something a little extra (and are willing to pay more for it). This 75-minute tour give you a more in-depth look at the distillery and ends in a VIP tasting experience. You’ll get to sample some of their finest whiskies, like Old Forester Single Barrel, 1910 Old Fine Whiskey, and Old Forester Birthday Bourbon.
Old Forester is located on the east side of downtown between Museum Row and NuLu, about a block away from Roots 101 African American Museum.
Angel’s Envy Distillery
What’s a finished bourbon, you ask? Well after the usual aging process, Angel’s Envy bourbon is then aged in port barrels, which to me, sounds like something a pirate might do. But like, a Portuguese pirate with impeccable taste.
The end product is a deliciously complex introductory bourbon with notes of fruit and vanilla, perfect for both sipping or mixing into cocktails.
You’ll definitely want to try their unique port-finished Cask Strength bourbon, which was voted “Best Spirit in the World” by F. Paul Pacult’s Spirit Journal in 2012, the very first year it was released. Which, yes, is a huge deal.
Angels Envy also makes an incredible Rye Whiskey finished in rum barrels, which features a hint of sweet Caribbean rum and sherry wood (ahoy)!
Visitors can take a full tour of the gorgeous Louisville distillery along with a bourbon tasting, or fill their very own bottle of bourbon, during one of these distillery tours:
- The Angel’s Envy Signature Tour offers an hour-long deep-dive into the distillery’s history to learn about the distilling process from start to finish. The tour concludes with a tasting of the Angel’s Envy Bourbon Finished in Port Casks and Rye Finished in Caribbean Rum Casks.
- If you want to get a little more hands on, Angel’s Envy offers a Bottle Your Own Tour, where you’ll get to bottle your very own 750ml bottle of Angel’s Envy Kentucky Straight Bourbon Finished in Port Wine Barrels, which comes with a commemorative box case and display stand. While this doesn’t include a proper tour if the distillery, you’ll feel like a bad*ss filling your own bottle to take home! This experience lasts 40-minutes.
Angel’s Envy is located just steps away from NuLu, so before or after your tour checkout some of the best shops and restaurants in NuLu. Also, Rabbit Hole Distillery is just around the corner if you’d like to hop on over!
Rabbit Hole Distillery
Which we totally get; once upon a time, Let’s Go Louisville’s founder had a stable corporate career before she threw it all away to be a travel blogger. Sometimes you just gotta go chase your dreams, ya know?
Anyway, this is one rabbit hole you do want to fall down at one of the most whimsical distilleries in Louisville!
Rabbit Hole specializes in bourbon and rye, best exemplified in their rye-forward Heigold Straight Bourbon Whiskey, named for the German immigrant turned stonemason who constructed the manor known today only as the Heigold House Facade, an eerie remnant of a former grand mansion still standing at the intersection of Frankfort Avenue and River Road.
Their line of bourbons also includes the unique Dareringer Bourbon Whiskey, finished in sherry casks which bring hints of raisins, currants, and cherries.
Rabbit Hole offers a signature distillery tour:
- During the one-hour, immersive guided tour of the contemporary, industrial-chic distillery, you’ll learn about how grains are transformed into whiskey, how Rabbit Hole’s philosophy is changing the bourbon industry, taste a 4-grain Kentucky Straight Bourbon, and end at the Overlook lounge for a generous bourbon tasting with a view.
As you’re touring, make sure to check out their local art collection as well.
Evan Williams Bourbon Experience
Two things Louisville loves – theater and bourbon – merge at another one of the distilleries in downtown Louisville: The Evan Williams Bourbon Experience.
Evans Williams bourbon is a staple in Louisville. You’ll find it everywhere, which is not surprising because Evan Williams was Kentucky’s first distillery, opened in 1783!
Evan Williams is actually distilled at the Heaven Hill Distillery (which is in fact produced in Louisville, although the actual tasting room is in Bardstown, Kentucky along the Bourbon Trail) at their downtown location you can learn about the distilling process, take a unique trip back in time to a Prohibition-era speakeasy (that’s where the live theatre bit comes in), and most importantly, sample bourbon!
The classic Evan Williams Bourbon is extremely palatable with notes of oak, brown sugar and caramel, and wonderful in mixed drinks like a Mint Julep at Kentucky Derby time. But the small batch, award-winning 1793 Bourbon line takes things up several notches to an elevated, premium bourbon.
Evan Williams also makes specialty flavors and seasonal bourbons, like Evan Williams Honey, a bourbon blended with honey liqueur resulting in an incredible smooth spirit with a taste of sweet honey, allspice, vanilla and slight smoke. We also love Evan Williams Fire, a bourbon blended with sweet, spicy honeyed cinnamon. You might even say it’s …. fire. Bad-dum-ssh.
The Evan Williams Experience offers two tours:
- The first is their Traditional Tour & Tasting which features a film and historical walk through of the founding of the distillery to today. We recommend this for anyone who hasn’t done a full blown distillery tour, as you’ll learn a lot about the process of bourbon making. The tour lasts about an hour and includes a souvenir distillers glass.
- The other option is a Speakeasy Tour, a 45-minute long celebration of the end of Prohibition in the Evan Williams speakeasy. You will be transported back in time as you sneak through a safe into a hidden Prohibition-era speakeasy, complete with a 1920’s bartender who’s brimming with historic bourbon knowledge! During your trip back in time you’ll get to try plenty of samples of Evan Williams bourbon – and hopefully make it out safely without being busted by a hatchet-wielding member of the Temperance Movement. This fun and unique experience is surprisingly affordable (and kid-friendly, as far as bourbon tastings go) and comes with a souvenir distillers glass.
The Evan Williams Bourbon Experience is located on Museum Row, about a block away from the Muhammad Ali Center as well as the contemporary 21C Museum Hotel, which has an awesome free art gallery you can visit 24/7 – just look for the giant gold David statue and small crowd of red penguins, you can’t miss it.
Michter’s Distillery descends from one of America’s oldest whiskey companies. Back in 1753, Michter’s known as Shenk’s and was located in Pennsylvania. Lore has it that General George Washington visited the distillery and purchased whiskey to fortify his men during the brutal winter at Valley Forge during the Revolutionary War. So, that’s some provenance!
Michter’s today takes a “cost be damned” approach to producing their American whiskeys (gotta make George proud). Their no-nonsense Kentucky Straight Bourbon and Kentucky Straight Rye are as classic as it gets – and if you’re a connoisseur, you need to try the classic recipes aged for 10, 20, or even 25 years.
But their unblended American Whiskey defies a classic definition: it’s aged in whiskey barrels rather than brand new oak barrels.
Michter’s also offers a sumptuous Toasted Barrel Finish Bourbon, which takes a classic bourbon and finishes it in a second toasted barrel, resulting in complex campfire, cinnamon, pecan and marshmallow flavors. S’mores, anyone?
Michter’s has two locations in Louisville: an enormous warehouse distillery in Shively where the spirits are actually produced, and a tasting room and “micro distillery” located in the historic Fort Nelson Building on Museum Row, which is open to visitors.
At their downtown Fort Nelson location, the micro-distillery offers three tours :
- Their most basic (and inexpensive) tour is their Discovery Tour, which offers a brief one-hour overview of the Michter’s distilling, barreling, and the extra steps they take to pursue their goal of making the “greatest American whiskey”. The tour concludes with a tasting of five Michter’s expressions.
- The hour and a half long Founders Tour includes all the information of the Discovery tour, but also gives you the opportunity to delve deeper into the distillation process, learning all about their legendary Pennsylvania pit still system. You’ll get to smell the various sample heads cuts, hearts cuts, and tails cuts from tails, which are the different phases that the alcohol goes through as it is distilled. The tour ends with 7 samples, and they also send you home with a commemorative gift!
- The Legacy Tour at two hours takes you a step further behind the scenes to their historic distilling process, and is offered only once monthly. Alongside one of Michter’s senior team members, you will delve into all the process from the tours above AND get to participate in the filling of a barrel and learn about their approach to filtration. This tour concludes with you getting to try some of their rarest expressions, and you’ll take home a commemorative gift.
Famous bourbon distiller “Pappy” Van Winkle originally opened Stitzel Weller. If you’re even mildly interested in bourbon, you’ve probably heard of Pappy Van Winkle bourbons as being so highly sought after that you have to enter a drawing to get the right to purchase a bottle, which can sell for thousands of dollars. A shot of Pappy at a bar, if you can find it, runs around $100 a glass. It’s big rich, y’all.
Located in the Shively neighborhood of Louisville five miles from downtown, the Stitzel-Weller distillery has a bucolic atmosphere. Five symbolic brass keys hang on a front door flanked by a dramatic column facade – it’s very much a glamorous Kentucky presentation. (We do love our pomp, circumstance, and fancy hats.)
Stitzel-Weller’s Blade and Bow and I.W. Harper lines each feature two varieties: a classic bourbon, and an aged version. Tasting both offers a unique opportunity to see the difference in quality that aging can produce.
The Orphan Barrel line of extremely limited-edition whiskies takes things to a more creative notch, and I don’t just mean the beautifully designed labels. Each small-batch bottle features 20+ year old aged whiskey crafted in a wide variety of expressions, from Malt Scotch to Canadian Whiskey and American Whiskey – plus a couple more bourbons, just to keep things interesting.
The whiskeys can be tasted on one of several tour options:
- The one-hour long Stitzel-Weller Experience tour lets you trace the footsteps of bourbon legends (:cough: Pappy Van Winkle :cough:), as you explore an active barrel house, cooper shop and micro still-house. The tour ends with a tasting of three smooth bourbons.
- The hour-and-a-half Progressive Walking Tour & Taste combines the touring experience with taste testing throughout – no need to wait for the end! You’ll sip I.W. Harper in the old fill house and old boiler room, as well as some Orphan Barrel whiskeys in the one of the last standing Cooperages (barrel-making facility) in Kentucky, and finally some of their flagship Blade & Bow whiskeys in their 5 Key Club room. This tour also comes with a commemorative glass!
The distillery also offers a tasting-only experience and a chocolate tasting experience. Because chocolate and bourbon are a match made in heaven, y’all. You can also occasionally find mixology and cocktail classes offered on site.
Kentucky Peerless Distilling Co.
The distillery currently known as Kentucky Peerless Distilling Co. barreled their first bourbons in 1881 and was one of the largest distilleries in Kentucky… until Prohibition shut it down. Peerless managed to survive for a while, selling its barrels by prescription only for medicinal use.
But in 1937, the distillery’s owner fell from the top of a set of grandiose stairs at the famous Palmer House Hotel in Chicago, resulting in a leg amputation that no amount of medicinal bourbon could heal. It was the end of an era… for a time.
In 2014, the descendants of that very owner decided to resurrect the once-great brand, and Peerless moved into an enormous 115-year-old building on 10th street in downtown Louisville, where it has been crafting grain-to-bottle spirits ever since.
Today, Peerless produces top-quality bourbons and ryes in classic single barrel expressions. But our favorite is their Double Oak Bourbon, aged twice for a smooth palate of honey sweetness, cinnamon, and spicy oak.
We’re also suckers for their classy, round oak barrel glass bottles (listen: every Louisvillian has a collection of bourbon on display at home, and yes, the look of the bottles absolutely matters).
Kentucky Peerless Distilling Co. offers three distillery experiences:
- On the hour-long tour, you’ll get a behind-the-scenes look at how Peerless crafts bourbon and rye from grain to bottle in their beautiful, old wooden warehouse. After your tour you will also get a complete whiskey tasting.
- The Heritage Experience is perfect for true connoisseurs, with a private tour and specialty tasting in the on-site speakeasy.
- Just want the tasting without the tour? Save a few bucks and book a 45-minute tasting experience instead.
Kentucky Peerless Distilling Co. is located just off of Museum Row, about a block from The Frazier Kentucky History Museum and The Louisville Slugger Museum. It’s also a short walk under the highway overpass to the Riverwalk along the Ohio River, where you’ll find this powerful piece of artwork commemorating enslaved Kentuckians.
Kentucky Artisan Distillery
Started in 2012, Kentucky Artisan Distillery is located in the heart of Crestwood, Kentucky, just outside the outskirts of Louisville (but we’re counting it anyway).
The general store/barn aesthetic is reminiscent of the distilleries you’ll find along the Bourbon Trail, but it isn’t one of your typical Kentucky distilleries: they are the state’s first contract distillery, which means they can house and produce multiple different brands under one roof. The distillery hand-crafts spirits from farm to bottle, all made from grain grown and harvested right in Crestwood at Waldeck Farm.
The distillery houses several different brands of bourbon. Their flagship is Jefferson’s Reserve, a brand dating back to 1799 with an origin story involving a grandmother getting arrested for “production and sales of spirituous liquors” (get your hatchets, y’all!) The whiskey collection ranges from classic small-batch blended bourbons to rye whiskey finished in cognac casks and a wheat-forward bourbon that’s aged at sea, resulting in notes of butterscotch, nutmeg, sourdough bread, ocean vibes and 1800’s-era sea shanties.
Another brand made under the Kentucky Artisan roof is the Whiskey Row Bourbon, a small-batch bourbon line crafted in a pre-prohibition-era style.
The working distillery offers just a single tour:
- Kentucky Artisan Distillery’s budget-friendly hour-long tour must be scheduled 30 days in advance – space is limited! The intimate tour shows guests the entire bourbon-making process and a sample of all the brands that the distillery partners with.
Copper & Kings
Guess what, y’all? There’s more than just bourbon distilleries in Louisville! The Butchertown-based Copper & Kings Distillery produces brandy, absinthe, gin, and a variety of liqueurs, all made from American-grown grapes and apples.
But hey, this is bourbon country, so you better believe bourbon plays a role: their American-style grape brandies and apple brandies are batch distilled in copper pot-stills and aged in bourbon barrels, which give them a signature sweetness, complexity and smoothness.
Try their bestselling American Apple brandy, which is malt-heavy with a rich, crisp apple finish. It’s the perfect crossover spirit for whiskey lovers who are brandy-curious, or brandy lovers who are whiskey-curious. Spirit enjoyment is a spectrum, y’all.
Even their absinthe is unique. Unlike most absinthes that get their green color from dyes or steeping plants, their absinthe is clear. The Absinthe Alembic Blanche starts with Muscat wine brandy, double distilled in copper, then macerated with traditional Absinthe ingredients like Grande Wormwood, Anis, Fennel and Hyssop, and select aromatics and botanicals. And if you want to get real extra about it, try the barrel-finished version (because everything is better barrel-aged)!
But Copper & Kings doesn’t stop there. They also produce 5 kinds of fruit-based gin, ranging from dry and classic to the History of Lovers Gin made from apple wine macerated with crushed whole juniper berries, rose hips and rose water, sweet orange, tangerine, lime and pink grapefruit peels, jasmine and lavender petals, coriander, pink pepper corns and licorice root, and finished with rose hips, hibiscus petals and strawberry juice. Did anyone else just swoon?!
Try these spirits and much more on one of these two distillery tour options:
- The one-hour Copper & Kings Experience will show you why they are the “World’s Most Imaginative Distillery”. You’ll learn how their spirits are made (and how they’re different). The tour ends with a tasting experience where you will sample from their core portfolio of innovative spirits including American Brandy, Gin, Absinthe & Liqueurs.
- On the Copper & Kings Barrel-to-Bottle Experience, you’ll sample the full lineup of cask-strength, limited release spirits and dive into the science and the art of barrel aging while tasting the diverse flavor profiles of unique barrels and finishes. Following the tasting, you can fill your own selection straight from the barrel for a souvenir bottle to take home with you!
After your tour, head up to the rooftop bar and restaurant for lunch with a view of Butchertown and the distillery grounds, filled with beautiful wildflowers and they even keep bees! It’s not uncommon to see Monarch butterflies flitting from flower to flower.
Copper & Kings is located in the Butchertown neighborhood, where popular shops like Work the Metal are just steps away. If you want to keep drinking and have some nighttime fun, Play Dance Bar is right next door – it’s the perfect place to see a drag show!
Map of Louisville Distilleries
NuLu, downtown Louisville, Shively, Crestwood – it’s hard to keep track of all the bourbon distilleries in Louisville! Especially when you’re, uh, drinking a lot of bourbon.
But we’re here to help – and we made an interactive map! Bookmark this post so you can come back to it for reference when you’re 3 tastings deep.
Which of these distilleries in Louisville are you most looking forward to visiting? What questions can we answer? Drop us a comment below!
Before you go, be sure to check out these other posts:
- The 16 Best Bars in Louisville, Kentucky
- The 26 Best Louisville Breweries (& Southern Indiana, too)
- Kentucky Derby Tips: The Ultimate First-Timer’s Derby Guide
- The Best Gay Bars in Louisville, Kentucky
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