Where to Drink Right Now in “Bourbon City”: Louisville, Kentucky

At Evan Williams Bourbon Experience, guests can tour the commercial distillery, taste signature whiskies and stop at the On3 cocktail bar. Photo courtesy of Heaven Hill Brands

On historic blocks in downtown Louisville, Whiskey Row along West Main Street is a modern drinkers’ paradise. Today, not just bourbon distilling but bourbon education is the thing: many distilleries now refer to themselves as “campuses” and tasting-room experiences often approach the level of masterclasses. Bourbon nerds abound.

The crop of downtown distillery tasting rooms means you don’t even have to leave Louisville to experience the range of Kentucky bourbon. Another bonus: these tasting rooms have great gift shops with brand swag, bourbon accessories and, of course, rare bottlings (more secret-stash stores are below, too). You can walk all of Whiskey Row in about 30 minutes, or hop on a Bird or Lime rental scooter to speed between stops — no impaired scooting, please!

Old School Tours

Evan Williams Bourbon Experience

This history-focused tour guides you through period-themed rooms to tell the story of the bourbon pioneer who founded Kentucky’s first commercial distillery. The space is also a working artisanal distillery where Square Six High-Rye bourbon is made and for purchase in the stocked gift shop. You’ll end the tour with a tasting of four signature whiskies, including some distillery exclusives. Tack on a visit to the On3 cocktail bar for a cocktail.

Enjoy a four-whiskey tasting after the tour at Old Forester. Charlene Rooke photo
Old Forester

In the days when whiskey was sold by the jug or barrel, one Dr. Forrester wrote a lot of “prescriptions” for medicinal doses of whiskey. Dispensed in apothecary bottles, the brand known as Old Forrester was the first bottled bourbon. (It later dropped one “r” from the name.) The Louisville building that houses the brand’s circa-1870 offices is a working artisanal distillery, with the only cooperage where you can see barrel-making in process during tours. A highlight of the four-whiskey tasting is a pairing with a chocolate-dipped Modjeska (Lousiville’s signature confection of marshmallow enveloped in buttery caramel).

New School Booze

At microdistiller Buzzard’s Roost, you can book a chocolate and whisky tour. Photo courtesy of Buzzard’s Roost
Buzzard’s Roost

A brand that’s got the bourbon industry abuzz, Buzzard’s Roost is a micro-distiller putting its own whiskey in the barrel, but in the meantime has created an intriguing line of uniquely cask-finished and blended spirits sourced locally. “I’ve been in all the warehouses and tasted all the bourbon,” says owner Jason Brauner (who also operates Bourbon’s Bistro in Louisville). In search of unique flavours, he created 17 different proprietary barrel types in a range of toast and char levels in partnership with barrel purveyor Independent Stave Company. “It’s like a spice rack,” he says. Book a deep-dive tasting or chocolate and whiskey pairing, or just pull up to the cozy bar. Beg a sample scarce Buzzard’s Roost Cigar Rye, matured in barrels smoked with Kentucky tobacco.

Explore the process of creating a great modern bourbon at Rabbit Hole. Charlene Rooke photo
Rabbit Hole

Clinical psychologist Kaveh Zamanian left medicine to open this swank, architecturally modern distillery — going “down the rabbit hole” of creating a great modern bourbon. Using not just malted barley but also malted wheat and rye in the mashbills gives its whiskies deeply toasty, savoury and chocolatey notes. Its signature Cavehill bourbon is named for the Louisville cemetery where Col. Sanders, Muhammed Ali and other local legends rest. Your end-of-tour tasting might feature limited releases, like Rabelo bourbon finished in ruby Port casks. The gorgeous Outlook rooftop bar has fabulous views of the city and great cocktails.

Top Shelf Distilleries

Savour a Michter’s bourbon cocktail at The Bar at Fort Nelson. Charlene Rooke photo
Michter’s Fort Nelson Distillery

Since the main Michter’s production facility in nearby Shively, Kentucky, is not open to the public, fans of this upscale, high-quality whiskey head here. A bijoux little distillery and tasting room in the vintage Fort Nelson building (look for its castle-style turret) tells the story of a 19th-century whiskey brand, resurrected as a Kentucky distiller a decade ago. Michter’s celebrates its heritage with the old Pennsylvania copper Vendome stills now cranking out small batches here. A highlight is the opportunity to fill your own bottle of cask-strength bourbon — and to savour a beautiful cocktail at The Bar at Fort Nelson, where drinks historian David Wondrich designed the Classics menu.


The Angel’s Envy distillery is bright and modern. Photo courtesy of Angel’s Envy
Angel’s Envy

A veteran of the Kentucky bourbon trade, Lincoln Henderson (instrumental in creating Woodford Reserve, Gentleman Jack and other iconic bottlings) started Angel’s Envy with his son, Wes, to do thinks a little differently. A walk-though of this striking, modern distillery end with a tasting of the innovative spirits made there: notably, a bourbon finished in Port wine casks, and a rye finished in dark rum barrels. A glittery, gorgeous assortment of gift-shop swag (including angelic gold mint julep cups) features more angel wings than a Victoria’s Secret show.

Rare Bottles and Brands

Visit the Silver Dollar for elevated pub food and well-priced rare whiskies. Charlene Rooke photo

Justin’s House of Bourbon was once the place in town for rare bottle hunters, but these days NuLu (“new Louisville,” an area walking-distance to the east of downtown) neighbourhood shops like Taste Fine Wines and Bourbons and Neat also have temptingly rare and collectible bottles, and many also have bars where can taste rare whiskey by the ounce). Off the tourist track, the Silver Dollar is a spot for elevated pub food and well-priced rare whiskies, many of them the bar’s own single-barrel picks. And if you can’t land a bottle of the coveted Old Rip Van Winkle bourbon, you can buy all the Pappy & Company goods, from hot sauce to coasters and t-shirts, at the company store.

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