Sure, you can head out to Kentucky’s countryside to explore distilleries, taste whiskey, and learn the history of the craft. But these days, you can do it all in Louisville.

For decades, Louisville was more of a gateway to bourbon country than a significant part of it. Clearly, things have changed. Today’s Bourbon City has much to offer from incredible whiskey experiences to explorable working distilleries, and that’s only half the story. Modern Louisville distilleries feature top flight cocktail bars and sometimes world class restaurants, creating a well-rounded and educational bourbon experience that always delivers a tasty and relaxing conclusion. Here in Part II of Barleycorn’s Louisville Travel Guide is the best distillery experiences, tasting and tours to fill your days. No trip to the countryside required.

The bourbon fountain at the Evan Williams Experience. Photo courtesy of Evan Williams.

Evan Williams Bourbon Experience

528 West Main St, Louisville
The Vibe: Historical and Family Friendly

Heaven Hill’s Evan Williams gets props for being the first to open a modern distilling experience in Louisville, thus solidifying the city as not only a gateway to Kentucky’s bourbon country but a part of it as well. A tour and tasting here is a deep dive into bourbon and Louisville history. This includes the incredible story of Evan Williams himself, who, aside from being Kentucky’s original commercial distiller, was also Louisville’s first wharf master and a big part of the city’s heritage. Tours conclude with a tasting in one of four themed rooms where all your favorite Heaven Hill bourbons are in the house. After your tour, you can retire to On3, a slick and modern loft space where you can enjoy snacks and expertly crafted cocktails.
Tour and tasting: Approximately 45 minutes to one hour; $15 -$25 per person
The main hallway at Angel's Envy

Angel’s Envy Distillery

500 E. Main Street
Vibe: Industrial and educational

When you step inside Angel’s Envy, you will know right away you are somewhere special. But for now, tours are still suspended due to Covid-19 for a couple of weeks. The long-awaited re-opening will be worth the wait as the distillery will feature a brand new Bottle-Your-Own Experience, part of a recently announced $8.2M distillery expansion. Meanwhile, reserve a spot in AE’s Finishing Roundtable Tasting Experience, where guests gather in the gorgeous tasting room to sip on bourbon and rye expressions while being schooled on all things Angel’s Envy. Bonus! Don’t leave without a take-home cocktail to drink back in your hotel room, or pick up an engraved bottle from the gift shop for some lucky soul who really deserves it.
Tour and Tasting Tasting experience is 30 minutes, Tours and tasting is about 1 hour; $24; Tasting only: $12; Reservations required
The Bar At Fort Nelson in all of its glory. The gift shop is impressive, too. Photo courtesy of Michter's

Michter’s Fort Nelson Distillery

801 Main Street
Vibe: Intimate and Opulent

When Michter’s founder Joe Magliocco built a distillery experience and a bar in the historic Fort Nelson Building (which has a fascinating backstory onits own) on Whiskey Row in 2016, it sent a message that Louisville was destined to be a tourism capital in the United States. Michter’s Fort Nelson is a jewel box of a building with a remarkable history of its own, located right across the street from Louisville Slugger. Inside, check out Michter’s antique pot-to-pot still system with its cypress wood fermenters from Michter’s original Pennsylvania Distillery in the late 19th century. Guests enjoy a relaxed tasting of five of Michter’s expressions before hitting The Bar At Fort Nelson upstairs for a cocktail demo and drinks curated by spirits and cocktail historian David Wondrich.
Tour and Tasting About one hour; $20; (Founders Tour ($50) and Legacy Tour ($100) are suspended due to Covid-19 restrictions. Check the website for reopening.
Kentucky Peerless on a painted sky. Photo courtesy of Kentucky Peerless.

Kentucky Peerless Distilling Co.

120 North 10th St
The Vibe: Intimate and Timeless

The most remarkable thing about touring Peerless is getting up close and personal with the employees and whiskey production at this grain-to-glass distillery. Peerless is not a satellite outlet; it’s a full-time distillery where visitors check out impressive hardware like a 2,500-gallon cooker, a 3,800-gallon beer well, and a 26-foot continuous copper still. Whiskey makers frequently interact with guests during this “working” tour as your guide fills you with bourbon and rye knowledge. The Peerless tasting experience is focused exclusively on single barrels, bottles of which are available in the gift shop. If you make the pilgrimage to Louisville, it’s nice to come home with something unique.
Tour and Tasting About 90 minutes, $24 (Tasting only: $12); Reservations required
• The entire process of making whiskey, from grain to bottle, is on full display. Photo courtesy of Rabbit Hole.

Rabbit Hole Distillery

711 E Jefferson St
Vibe: Modern and minimalist

Located in the center of NULU and opened in 2018, Rabbit Hole is a modern Louisville distillery that’s become the lynchpin for this emerging art and culture neighborhood. Step inside this glass and steel enclosed architectural marvel and have yourself a cocktail. Ogle the open design that emphasizes economy of space and transparency while viewing each step of the whiskey production process, including the sensory lab, along the way. Tours lead to the second floor, where you will check out the 48-foot, 24-inch wide column still, fermentation tanks, and perhaps most importantly, the bar. After your tour, retire to Rabbit Hole’s Overlook Bar where you will taste through the spirits portfolio while enjoying killer views of the neighborhood. Feel free to stick around afterwards for delicious drinks after your tour.
Tour and Tasting About one hour; $25; Reservations recommended
Inside the original home of Pappy Van Winkle. Photo courtesy of Stitzel Weller.

Stitzel-Weller Distillery

3860 Fitzgerald Road
The Vibe: Old School, Southern Elegant

Stitzel-Weller, the original home of Pappy Van Winkle, is just a 15 minute drive from downtown Louisville hotels. But upon arrival you’ll feel like you’ve been transported to the Kentucky Countryside. Stitzel-Weller the distillery closed its doors during bourbons darkest days in the early 90s. But these hallowed bourbon grounds were reopened in 2014 as a visitor center for Diageo’s Bulleit, Blade & Bow, I.W. Harper and Orphan Barrel brands. After touring this gorgeous campus and soaking up the American whiskey history, head to the newly opened Garden & Gun Club for some southern hospitality, including gourmet snacks, proper whiskey pours and of course, expertly crafted cocktails.
Tours and Tasting One hour; from $25; Reservations required
Copper & Kings is a brandy house who finds itself at home in a bourbon town. Photo courtesy of Copper& Kings

Copper & Kings American Brandy Company

1121 E Washington St
Vibe: Hip and environmentally conscience

Copper & Kings operates a modern distillery right in the heart of the historic Butchertown neighborhood of Louisville, Kentucky. The distillery entrance is outfitted with repurposed shipping containers surrounded by wildflowers which serve as a bee and monarch butterfly sanctuary. Along with the intimate tour, you’ll learn more than you ever thought you’d know about American Brandy. Guests will be introduced to the stunning copper pot stills before exploring the brandy cellar where maturing liquid undergoes sonic aging, meaning they blast music to agitate the brandy inside the wood. After your tasting, visit their rooftop cocktail bar and restaurant for delicious craft cocktails and brandy-inspired cuisine. Pro tip: Copper & King’s routinely hosts fun and casual events like concerts and movie nights. Check their website to see if something’s going on while you’re in town.
Tour and Tasting $20-$25; Reservations recommended.
Old Forester came full circle by reclaiming their original building on Whiskey Row for a unique visitor experience. Photo courtesy of Old Forester

Distillery At Old Forester

119 West Main Street
The Vibe: Friendly, Informative

Back in the day, Old Forester was the first to make bourbon from a barrel and put it in a sealed bottle in 1870 on Whiskey row, a move designed to assure a quality whiskey. After prohibition, the distillery relocated to the outskirts of downtown Louisville (tours are not available), but in 2019 Od Forester reclaimed their original building and created a state-of-the-art distillery experience. Visitors are guided through each step of the bourbon-making process, including a real-time barrel making and charring demo before sampling four Old Forester expressions. The distillery bar, Georges, is still closed due to Covid-19 policies, but the bar specializes in whiskey flights and seasonal cocktails once open. Pro tip: Bottle hunters have a high possibility of finding a special release in the OF gift shop.

Tour and Tasting About 75 minutes; $32; Reservations recommended.

John McCarthy is a spirit, travel, and lifestyle journalist, managing editor, and author of The Modern Gentleman and Whiskey Rebels: The Dreamers, Visionaries & Badasses Who Are Revolutionizing American Whiskey. McCarthy is also editor of Barleycorn Drinks and Director of Judging of the John Barleycorn Awards.