The world is celebrating two American legend’s birthdays this week. Musician, singer, songwriter Bob Dylan turned 80 earlier this week while the world famous Kentucky Bourbon Trail® celebrates its 22nd birthday on May 27. Both offer a little bit of heaven right here on earth.

When the Kentucky Bourbon Trail was created in 1999 it was home to half a dozen Kentucky distilleries. There was little fanfare, no admittance fee, several were in dry county’s, there was no talk of the customer experience and craft distilleries didn’t exist. Oh my how things have changed over one score and two years.

Fast forward to 2021 and the Kentucky Bourbon Trail has expanded to include 18 signature distilleries plus another 19 artisanal distilleries that are now a part of the Kentucky Bourbon Trail Craft Tour that started in 2012. To help put this in perspective back in 1999 Kentucky distillers reported filling 450,000 barrels. Since then distillers have increased that number nearly five fold. Kentucky distillers reported filling more than 2 million barrels of spirits each of the last two years. That’s a whole lot of corn, rye, wheat and barley being cooked, fermented, distilled and aged in the Bluegrass State.

The New 2021 Kentucky Bourbon Trail Passport & Field Guide ‘Unlocks’ Exclusive Experiences

We reached out to the Kentucky Distillers’ Association to get the inside story on what to expect in the new and improved Kentucky Bourbon Trail Passport.

“It’s been a year in the works,” said Kentucky Distillers’ Association – KDA President Eric Gregory. “It’s a ton of information. It’s not only fun and educational but also we are really excited about the Passport ‘unlocks’.

“For years we’ve had the Passport which we passed out for free. Then a few years ago we created the Bourbon Trail Almanac and Field Guide. It was a hot seller which had a lot of information in it on how to plan your trip. Over the years we’ve had more and more people asking for the almanac. We’ve been trying to figure out how to revamp the Passport to better serve today’s bourbon tourist. We first started the Passport in 2007. At that time, nobody knew the Bourbon Trail existed. Finishing it was pretty easy with six distilleries.

“As we’ve expanded the Kentucky Bourbon Trail tour it’s becoming increasingly harder to finish (to get your free t-shirt). And at the same time, today’s bourbon tourist is a much more affluent demographic. From research we’ve done they don’t care about coupons or free gifts. What they said they want is experiences, they want juice. They want something they can only get in Kentucky. In working with the distilleries, they all said let’s do something fun with this.

Copper - Cu 29
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Q: What is the traditional 22nd Anniversary Gift?
A: Copper – When it comes to anniversary’s the element copper (Cu) symbolizes prosperity, perfection and good fortune. This seem seems quite appropriate for distilled spirits since most stills, whether they are pot stills or column stills, are made of solid copper or lined with copper to help in the distillation process.

“We’ve merged the Passport and the Field Guide into one book, its 150 pages. It will still fit in your pocket and its chock full of information. Every distillery has a page, it’s got cocktail recipes, tasting notes, educational information about ‘Why Kentucky?’, information about the spirits industry, it now includes all distilleries – heritage and craft – so one Passport for all distilleries.

Luckett & Farley - Woodford Reserve Distillery Renovation Project
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Woodford Reserve Distillery.

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“It’s one Passport for all tours. It has a suggested retail price of $5.99. Here’s the cool thing. When you buy this book and visit a distillery you get your Passport stamped, that stamp unlocks special thing that you can only get at the distillery. Things like barrel picks, special bottles, commemorative barware, special pours and tastings. Your Passport now helps to elevate your Kentucky Bourbon Trail experience. It’s something you can only get at the distillery.

“When there were only six distilleries. Something you could do over a long weekend. It was almost a race to get your Passport stamped. It has changed so much over the last 22 years. The bourbon tourist today is looking to savor the experience. We really want you to take your time, relax and enjoy all the cool things that Kentucky has to offer.

“The distilleries have elevated their experiences. It’s no longer about ‘how can I visit as many distilleries in one day as possible. Now you go there, you hang out, and you have a great bourbon inspired lunch or cocktail and you take it all in and relax.”

New Riff Distilling - 24 Distillery Way, Newport, KY 41073, Building Front
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New Riff Distilling.

Adam Johnson, Senior Director of the KDA’s Kentucky Bourbon Trail experiences, said Passport owners will be able to register their Field Guide online to receive the latest news and events happening at their favorite distilleries.

The guide has detailed information about each distillery that will help visitors tailor their trip, such as whether the distillery has an on-site restaurant or cocktails available, accepts online reservations, produces other spirits besides Bourbon and more.

“This new book is a perfect companion piece that allows guests to celebrate our legendary Bourbon culture with ease.”

“We are pleased to share with you an easy-to-use, fit-in-your-pocket, guide where you will discover Kentucky Bourbon is more than just a drink. It’s a way of life,” said Dee Ford, Chairwoman of the KDA’s Kentucky Bourbon Trail Advisory Panel.

“This has been a year in the making and we appreciate all the passion and energy that KDA members have devoted to making it come true,” said Ford, who is Brand Home Manager at Angel’s Envy Distillery. “We can’t wait for you to meet our makers and be our tasters.”

Passports Proceeds Support Responsibility & Sustainability Initiatives

Boone County Distilling - The Bear, A 500 Gallon Copper Pot Still by Vendome
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Boone County Distilling.

The new Passport & Field Guide goes on sale starting May 27 at participating distilleries for the suggested retail price of $5.99. Proceeds from the sale go directly to KDA responsibility and sustainability initiatives. The Bourbon Trail Passport & Field Guide emphasizes the KDA’s commitment to responsible consumption with transportation tips, tasting guidelines and visitor best practices. Portions of these proceeds help to fund things like free Uber or Lyft rides home for major holidays.

“Visitors can purchase one of our new guides knowing that proceeds will help continue that pledge and also fund research and initiatives to ensure the sustainable stewardship of wood, water and grains that are vital to our communities and our future.” Sara Barnes, KDA Director of Industry Responsibility and Sustainability.

Plan Your Distillery Adventures Ahead of Time

On a side the key to a pleasant Kentucky Bourbon Trail or Kentucky Bourbon Trail Craft Tour experience is to plan ahead. Because of Covid many distilleries have reduced the number of guests allowed on each tour while some distilleries are not fully open for tours. Many distilleries are booked out a month in advance. Kentucky is scheduled to eliminate most Covid restrictions as of June 10, 2021 but rules and guidelines at each individual business will vary. Some distilleries may continue to require guests to wear a mask and social distance. Please respect these guidelines and remember these locations are producing tomorrow’s distilled spirits.

It’s best to start your journey online to book your tours, accommodations and restaurant visits. Start your planning early, call ahead, book your stops, raise a glass and have fun. Cheers!

View all Kentucky Distilleries.
View all U.S. Distilleries.

The ABCs of Bourbon

A: Bourbon is a distinct product of the United States of America, as declared by Congressional Resolution in 1984.
B: Bourbon must be aged in a new, charred oak container. This container is almost always a barrel.
C: The grain recipe-or mash bill-used to make Bourbon must contain at least 51% corn.
D: Bourbon cannot be distilled above 160 proof. This preserves flavors and character from the cooking and fermentation process.
E: Bourbon cannot enter the barrel at more than 125 proof. Water is added to achieve the desired entry proof.
F: When Bourbon is bottled, like all whiskey, the bottles cannot be filled at less than 80 proof.
G: It must be genuine – no color or flavoring agents or other spirits may be added.

(Excerpt from Page 20 of the Bourbon Trail Passport & Field Almanac.)

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