The Bourbon Trail, Urban Bourbon Trail & The Louisville Bourbon District

February 1, 2023

hand on the bourbon barrel

What’s the Difference Between “THE Bourbon Trail”, the Urban Bourbon Trail, and the Bourbon District? How Do You “Do” Them?

As an historic Old Louisville Bed and Breakfast appreciating the rise of bourbon-centric tourism, the DuPont Mansion is thrilled to see such a growing influx of nationwide and worldwide travelers seeking lodging for “doing the trail.” There are now about 6,600 Google searches per month for “The Bourbon Trail”, about 2,900 monthly searches for “Bourbon Trail Map”, and thousands of additional searches for distilleries, bourbon tours, distillery tours, Louisville distilleries, best bourbon tours, etc. ‘Bourbonism’ has certainly provided a destination for town-and-country adventure, with seekers trying to discover where to find “the trail”, and how one would do it.

As in any trail seeking, inspired trekkers are first looking for a map, a trail head, a guide, or all three. Fortunately, there are now maps, guides and tours a-plenty, but the novice will first need to understand that the directions depend on the quest: Which bourbon trail do you seek? What kind of experience would you like? One day? A weekend? A week to 10 days? Distillery tours? Walking tours or bucolic Kentucky countryside drives? Bourbon tastings along with some of the most eclectic menus in the country? Do you want to begin or expand your appreciation and knowledge of bourbon?

Even for locals, it helps to know, when we talk about “The Trail” … what exactly do we mean? Here’s a quick definition and guide to official Bourbon Trails, tours and experiences, and how best to “do” them.

The Kentucky Bourbon Trail

bourbon_trail_mapTHE (emphatically pronounced “thee”) Kentucky Bourbon Trail is a reference to 18 Kentucky signature bourbon distilleries plus 23 ‘Craft Tour’ distilleries . The official Trail and associated terms (Kentucky Bourbon Trail®, Bourbon Trail and Kentucky Bourbon Trail Craft Tour®) are the creation and trademarks of the Kentucky Distillers’ Association, since 1999, when the KDA decided to develop a road-trip-style tour of distilleries producing Kentucky’s ‘native spirit’, bourbon whiskey. The official head of The Trail, the Kentucky Bourbon Trail Welcome Center, is located within the front lobby of the Frazier Museum of History, 829 West Main St., Louisville, KY, 40202.

The Trail includes distilleries in Louisville (walking distance from Frazier Museum), and throughout Kentucky. So, you do need to begin your itinerary with the questions, how much time do you have, and what kind of bourbon experience would you like? From the Welcome Center, you can secure your reservations/tickets to distillery tours and tasting events, and purchase your official Bourbon Trail Passport and Guide. However, given unknown demand at any time (especially peaking April through May, around Kentucky Derby time), you may be better served by reviewing options online first, calling ahead, booking your tours, and then checking in at the Welcome Center on your first day for thorough information. You can purchase your Kentucky Bourbon Trail Passport & Guide at the Welcome Center, or directly online (see below).

The Basics and Links, for Doing the The Kentucky Bourbon Trail

Kentucky Bourbon Trail PassportThe Bourbon Trail Passport & Field Guide
It’s easy to get confused, since there is another bourbon-experience “passport” (covered under the Urban Bourbon Trail). This is the official guide and passport (still the 2022 version) for visiting the KBT distilleries, with in-depth information and incentives/gifts for touring them and getting your official book stamped.

Bourbon Trail Itineraries

With three days easily spent in Louisville, and at least another six venturing farther into the state, the KBT has helpful itineraries for getting your Bourbon Trail passport stamped and enjoying classic sites and cuisine of the scenic and historic Bluegrass state along the way.

Kentucky Bourbon Trail Experiences

Again depending on how you would like to spend your time on The Trail, and what you would like to learn, the KBT has developed many packages with bourbon-experience venues, restaurants and historic sites throughout the state. Start at the Frazier, or with a phone call, and blaze your own trail!

The Urban Bourbon Trail

Urban Bourbon Trail MapIf the Kentucky Bourbon Trail is all about the production of bourbon, the Urban Bourbon Trail is about enjoying it, comparing bourbons and pairing with outstanding menus. Focused in Louisville and founded by the Kentucky Department of Tourism, The Urban Bourbon Trail includes more than 40 bars and restaurants which meet the UBT’s requirements for a selection of at least 60 bourbons plus overall quality of menu, cuisine, establishment, service, etc. These are quintessentially “Kentucky”, “Louisville”, and “Bourbon” experiences in dining, from historic to eclectic/mesh and classic neighborhood bar, ideal for dining at any time of day or night while touring the distilleries. As much as Louisville is known as Kentucky Bourbon HQ, it is also developing a global reputation as a top-shelf “foodie town”. With so many options of deliciously experiential cuisine, bourbon-loving visitors would do well to use the Urban Bourbon Trail to plan meals and celebrations.

Bucks on Urban Bourbon Trail PassportHere’s another passport for you! The Urban Bourbon Trail Passport is free and available as a mobile app. When locals ask whether any particular bars or restaurants are “on the trail,” the UBT is the particular trail of reference. By using the mobile app, you can find a special offer at each participating location, as well as a broad selection of the finest bourbons. There are also rewards, for example an official UBT after checking in at six locations.

At DuPont Mansion, we are particularly pleased to have Buck’s Restaurant on the map, as a long-time Old Louisville neighbor and partner Special Packages and Bourbon Experiences, just around the block in walking distance, and offering what Louisvillians would consider classic Louisville dining of the highest quality.

The Bourbon District and Bourbonism

bourbon districtThe official site of Bourbonism and related collectibles, The Bourbon District is somewhat of a geologically tighter tour than the Kentucky Bourbon Trail and the Urban Bourbon Trail, but offering features of each, with distillery tours and other bourbon-centric stops concentrated along 17 blocks of Main Street, in Louisville. If the KBT is the making, and the UBT is the enjoying, the Bourbon District is more about the history of bourbon, along the route of this unique whiskey’s origins. It’s perfect for a day trip or one day of a weekend visit.

bourbon district

The best way to “do the District” is via the Bourbonism website, where you’ll find updated schedules of bourbon tastings and other events along the Main Street corridor, as well as the lists, links and contacts for seven distilleries. For short-term stays, when you want book several distillery tours with the widest possible array of historical, educational and gastronomic attractions, this one-or-two-day tour is up your alley.

Bourbon Tour Packages and Lodging

dupont mansion facadeA short distance down 4th street from the Bourbon District, around the block from Buck’s Restaurant on the Urban Bourbon Trail, and offering Bourbon Tour Packages that feature distillery tours in Louisville and further into Bluegrass country, plus dining, the DuPont Mansion is a perfectly luxurious, historic and convenient stay for visitors (and local stay-cationers) doing the trail (any or all trails) however they choose. Whether a romantic jaunt for two, an ideal day activity for wedding parties, or the 9-day deep-immersion bourbon experience for the serious bourbon fans and sommeliers, DuPont is in-itself a piece of Old Louisville history with white-glove service, gourmet breakfasts and luxuriously restful nights for the trail-weary travelers. We will cheerfully greet you with a toast of good ol’ genuine Kentucky Bourbon Whiskey and help make your arrangements for travel, itineraries and dining.