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In 2013, the Evan Williams Bourbon Experience swung open its doors on Louisville’s famed Main Street, bringing distillation back to Whiskey Row and turning up the heat on bourbon tourism, which had just begun to simmer.

Now, Louisville is home to 10 distilleries and dozens of bourbon bars and experiences, making it the ideal place to stay for tourists flocking to tackle the Kentucky Bourbon Trail. In fact, Louisville boasts the official starting point of the trail, which can be found at the Frazier History Museum on West Main Street.

Louisville is synonymous with bourbon, and while it cannot legally call itself the “Bourbon Capital of the World” (Bardstown fairly owns that moniker), Mayor Greg Fischer created a term that encompasses the passion, fervor, and respect of age-old traditions surrounding the brown spirit: “bourbonism.”

Louisville’s Geographical Advantage

It’s worth noting that while bourbon brings all the boys (and girls) to the yard today, back in the mid-1800s and early 1900s, Louisville’s Main Street was thriving with even more distilleries and bourbon companies — at least 30, according to bourbon historian and author Michael Veach. And the reason is simple: the river.

According to an article on his website, Veach says both distilleries and rectifiers wanted to have a presence on Main Street to be close to the wharf, where their products could ship out to various markets.

“Louisville was the center of the bourbon distribution in America,” he writes. “It was also where people came to purchase their barrels of bourbon. Louisville was much easier to get to than the small towns and rural areas where many distilleries were located.”

If you’ve spent any time walking along Whiskey Row, you can feel the exciting, bustling energy of bourbon’s past, present, and future. It’s as tangible and tantalizing as the smell of cooking mash wafting through the air, and it’s as warming, inviting, and tasty as the barrel-aged liquid itself.

Louisville-Area Distilleries

(Some of these distilleries may not be open or offering tours due to COVID restrictions – call The Frazier History Museum for more info on who’s open.)

Urban Bourbon Trail

The Urban Bourbon Trail began in 2008 as a way to show off local bars and restaurants to the gaggles of tourists coming to Louisville each year. Whether they were in town for a bourbon experience, a convention, or just stopping through, folks could pick up a free UBT passport and collect stamps as they enjoyed cocktails at each place listed. Once a person collected six stamps, they could turn in their passport for a prize.

The UBT is still going strong today, and although it’ll probably be revamped once the dust settles from the pandemic, it’s a great way to promote “bourbonism” and keep tourists and locals supporting local businesses.

The criteria for getting into the UBT includes having at least 60 bourbons or more on your shelf and offering a version of the Old Fashioned — Louisville’s official cocktail. The last iteration of the passport included over 40 establishments, but unfortunately, some did not survive 2020, so it’ll likely be updated within the year.

Outdated passports will still be accepted at the Louisville Visitor Center, so you can continue to sip those cocktails and collect those stamps.

Photos Courtesy of Maggie Kimberl

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