The Best Small Towns on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail

Producing 95 percent of the world's Bourbon, Kentucky is home to over forty distilleries and two-hundred years of rich history. Established in 1785, the bourbon industry continues to boom, contributing over 8.5 billion dollars to Kentucky’s economy each year. Tourists flock to the Kentucky Bourbon Trail, with over 600,000 in attendance in 2021, a 170 percent increase from the previous year.

With so many destinations and various tour options, it can takes days, or even weeks to experience everything Bourbon County has to offer. While some may decide to stick to the larger city centers, such as Louisville, Lexington, and Owensboro, there are many fantastic small towns to explore on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail.

1. Maysville

The Simon Kenton Memorial bridge
The Simon Kenton Memorial bridge between Maysville and Ohio. Image credit Clairness via Shutterstock

Situated northeast of Lexington, and known as the “birthplace of Bourbon”, Maysville is one of the most beautiful towns in Kentucky. Nestled picturesquely along the Ohio River, Maysville is an important port town and was an integral player in the distribution of whiskey into the late 1800s. Sitting high on a bluff, a few minutes west of Maysville is the Old Pogue Distillery run by fifth and sixth-generation Pogues. Tours are by appointment only and include the distillery itself, the Pogue family home, and the Bourbon museum.

In town, the Kentucky Gateway Museum Center’s Old Pogue Experience provides visitors with a series of exhibits on the history of bourbon in Maysville. Downtown Maysville is a treasure trove of art and culture with multiple galleries, colorful murals, and a vibrant theater scene. Maysville also encompasses the historic neighborhood of Old Washington which is open for tours seasonally. The National Underground Railroad Museum is another attraction, displaying the town’s deep roots in the historic route and abolitionist movement.

2. Clermont

Bernheim Arboretum and Research Forest
Bernheim Arboretum and Research Forest on a fall day. Image credit Irina Mos via Shutterstock

Located thirty minutes south of Louisville, on Long Lick Creek and next to the extraordinary Bernheim Arboretum and Research Forest, sits the tiny town of Clermont. With only thirteen inhabitants, it is one of the smallest villages in Kentucky but is arguably the most popular spot on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail. Home to the Jim Bean Distillery, the first family of Bourbon, the eight generations of experience has earned it the title of one of the best bourbons in the world.

A corn farmer by trade, James Bean tried his hand at making whiskey and revolutionized the industry by producing a sweet-tasting liquor. Bourbon is now produced with a minimum of 51 percent corn, and in 1964, the US declared bourbon an indigenous product of the US. No other country in the world can produce Bourbon and use that name.

3. Loretto

Makers Mark distillery
Whiskey barrels in storage at Makers Mark distillery. Image credit AliRizaYuce via Shutterstock

South of Bardstown, is the small town of Loretto, famous for its Maker’s Mark Bourbon distillery. As the largest distillery in the world, and a National Historic Landmark, it is a must-see for any whiskey lover or history buff. A tour of the pristinely preserved distillery which includes the limestone cellar coined, “the classiest cave in Kentucky”, is sure to take you back in time.

The signature bourbon features soft, red winter wheat instead of rye which adds to the sweetness. The eye-catching red-seal wax topper that drips down the neck of the bottle created by the co-founder, Margie, makes each bottle unique and is one of the reasons for its popularity. As the first B corp global company in Bourbon country, the environment and sustainability are front and center in everything they do.

While driving through Marion Country, keep an eye out for the local quilt art displays. There are over sixty quilts to find on the Marion County Quilt Trail.

4. Lebanon

Lebanon Kentucky Church
Lebanon United Methodist Church. Image credit Nyttend via Shutterstock

Only ten miles from Loretto, in the heart of Kentucky, lays the picturesque town of Lebanon. With the Rolling Fork River and Fagan Branch Lake nearby, there are countless activities for nature enthusiasts as you take a stop on your way along the Kentucky Bourbon Trail.

Take a float down the Fork, or enjoy fishing and hiking at Fagan Branch, all while taking in scenic views and a plethora of wildlife. The town itself also hosts a vibrant art scene, with outdoor murals, and performances at the Kentucky Class Arts at Centre Square. In the winter, visitors can enjoy the Light Up Raywick event at the park, complete with dazzling lights and an ice skating rink. For history lovers, the Loretto Heritage center is a must-visit museum in addition to the many historic landmarks around town.

Known for its Yellowstone Select Bourbon and founded by the Beam family in 2011 in Lebanon, is the Limestone Branch Distillery. Named after the country’s first natural wonder, Yellowstone National Park, conservation is an integral part of the company’s motto. Every year they donate money from the sales of Yellowstone Select whiskey to the National Parks Conservation Association.

5. Ludlow

Cincinnati Ohio skyline
Aerial view of the Cincinnati Skyline and Ohio River. Image credit Agnieszka Gaul via Shutterstock 

Across the Ohio River from Cincinnati, in northern Kentucky is Ludlow. Here you will find a unique and entertaining Distillery and Lounge, founded in 2014 by two friends. Second Sights Spirits’ mantra, “everything they do should be good for the spirit” is a toast to their goal to focus on local premium products. Book a tour of the Distillery or stop into the Lounge for Cocktails and Coffee.

Right outside of town, the hiking and biking trails through Devou Park boast stunning views of the Cincinnati skyline and Ohio river. In the massive 700-acre park, there are countless attractions, including golf, an amphitheater, Prison Lake, and the Behringer-Crawford museum.

6. Oak Grove

Fort Campbell
Fort Campbell in Oak Grove. Image credit LouisvilleUSACE via Creative Commons

The rural community of Oak Grove is approximately 60 miles northwest of Nashville, 16 miles south of Hopkinsville, and hugs the Tennessee border. Currently sitting at around 8,000 inhabitants, it is one of the fastest-growing towns in Kentucky. It is best known as “the hometown of Fort Campbell” and includes the Don F. Pratt Museum which features the history of the 101st Airborne Division. The town also hosts a spectacular Butterfly Festival, and a Spring into Summer Festival with activities for everyone in the family.

The MB Roland Distillery is only ten minutes away from the town center and is the first completely “grain to glass” craft distillery. Founded in 2009, they offer some unique spins on the classics, including their popular Kentucky Pink Lemonade.

7. Crestwood

Yew Dell Castle
Castle at Yew Dell Botanical Gardens in Crestwood. Image credit YewDellBG via Creative Commons

Close to the start of the Bourbon Trail in Louisville is the small town of Crestwood. Originally called Beard’s Station, it was once home to three distilleries in the 1850s. Now there is just one; Kentucky Artisan Distillery. With a wide selection of bourbon, from Jefferson’s Reserve to Whiskey Row, this distillery is home to multiple brands. One thing that remains the same is how they process their whiskey, by hand. As the third-largest bourbon distillery in the world, it is amazing that there are no computers running the lines. Founded in 2012, they endeavor to make whiskey like they did two hundred years ago.

In addition to the bourbon, the town of Crestwood has beautiful parks and the Yew Dell Botanical Gardens to explore.

Hit the Bourbon Trail

There is no wrong way to explore the Kentucky Bourbon Trail, with endless towns, cities, and distilleries to visit. Be sure to make a reservation to tour the distilleries, as most require it, and they can book up in advance. However, you do not need to fret about the supply of Bourbon. With more than two barrels of Bourbon for every person living in Kentucky, there is plenty in stock for you and all your friends.

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