Trip Overview

There’s a spirit that flows from Kentucky into Tennessee, a shared craft rooted in the land, tradition and ingenuity: abundant corn and pure water fueled family-owned distilleries until temperance and federal prohibition forced operations under the cover of night. Since the second half of the 20th century, many U.S. distilling dynasties have resurged. In the immediate past, they’ve been complemented by a prolific craft movement, a younger generation that’s working to alter legislation and yesteryear formulas in order to operate and bring new tastes to the public.

So what makes a Kentucky bourbon, a Tennessee whiskey or a moonshine? It’s a learning curve, y’all, but distillery tours and tastings break it down. Just keep the following in mind before you go:

  • Many distilleries offer regular tours for a nominal fee that includes a tasting. These tours tend to run 45-60 minutes and usually do not require reservations. In the case that a distillery offers a specialty tour, reservations are usually required. It is always smart to call ahead to avoid holiday closures and months with limited production when you might not see much activity.
  • Visitors under the age of 21 may be allowed to tour, but never to taste. Call ahead to inquire into age requirements.
  • Wear comfortable, closed-toe shoes suitable for walking. Many tours meander a bit and may venture outside.
  • The Kentucky Distillers’ Association maps out a Kentucky Bourbon Trail and a Kentucky Bourbon Trail Craft Tour for you; they even offer passports for each one – get yours stamped at member distilleries to earn a t-shirt or julep cup. The trails feature member distilleries, but you’ll discover many others along the route.
  • In Tennessee, follow the Tennessee Whiskey Trail or The Jack Trail, which combines middle Tennessee distilleries with other sites of historic, culinary and outdoor interest.
  • In both states, watch for restaurants and boutique businesses that incorporate America’s spirits into menu specialties and food gifts. I’ve included a few in the following itinerary for you.