Kentucky Bourbon Trail - Celebrating 25 Years of the Kentucky Bourbon Trail

The year was 1999. ‘The Sopranos’ debuted on HBO, ‘SpongeBob SquarePants debuted on Nickelodeon, Bruce Springsteen was inducted into the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame and the Kentucky Distillers’ Association – KDA launched the Kentucky Bourbon Trail® – KBT. When it started out there were only seven stops on the Trail and according to one of the early brochures it said, “While we encourage you to relax and enjoy your trip, we know that proper planning is a necessity. That said, you should allow at least two days to visit all our historic distilleries.” Oh, my how things have changed.

When the Kentucky Bourbon Trail started in 1999 there were no official visitor centers, there were no scripts, no one counted visitors because there weren’t that many. There certainly were no dedicated staff members giving tours. When you walked in the distillery you might get a tour from the person working at the front desk or if you were lucky and timed it right you might get a tour from the master distiller who just happened to be walking through the office at the time. And there certainly was no concept of an ‘experience’ it was more or less a tour of the production process with some bourbon facts tossed in like bourbon must be made of at least 51% corn, in a charred oak barrel and the like.

There were no brown tourism highway markers that pointed you in the direction to the distillery like there are today. In fact, back then, there was no Google maps or TomTom, there were printed maps and Garmin.

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According to KDA President Eric Gregory, “[Back then] we touted the Kentucky Bourbon Trail was something you could do in a single weekend. About a year later, we had to put turn by turn directions on the website. If you were lucky enough to have a Garmin to help you around when you plugged in the address to Maker’s Mark, it took you to a corn field in Marion County. I’m not joking. And heaven forbid if you were going from Four Roses Distillery to Wild Turkey Distillery because it literally took you through a creek, it’s called Wild Cat Creek, look it up.” Maker’s Mark can still be a little tricky even with Google maps today.

Fast forward 25 years and that’s all changed. There are now 46 stops on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail and there is no way you can do the entire thing in a single weekend. It would be a challenge to do the entire thing in a single month since it’s spread out by nearly 450 miles from Eastern Kentucky to Western Kentucky. Besides, like a good bourbon, you don’t want to rush through the Kentucky Bourbon Trail, you should sip it, savor it and enjoy that warm Kentucky hug on your amber adventure.

A Bold New Look is Coming to the Kentucky Bourbon Trail in 2024

As the Kentucky Bourbon Trail celebrates its 25th anniversary it is also celebrating a complete re-branding and re-imagining of the entire Trail experience. In 2023 the KDA put out a request for proposal to hire a company to review and revamp the trail. They selected Lewis in Nashville, Tennessee to tackle the task. At the anniversary celebration they revealed a new logo and will be rolling our new branding and more throughout 2024.

Kentucky Bourbon Trail and Kentucky Bourbon Trail Craft Tour to Merge

One of the big things that will be changing is the Kentucky Bourbon Trail and the Kentucky Bourbon Trail Craft Tour will be merged into one. Differentiating between the large heritage distillers and the craft distillers may have made sense when the Craft Tour was launched in 2012 but from the research that was gathered consumers never really understood the difference. More details of the new combined Kentucky Bourbon Trail will be rolling out over the next several months. As the changes roll out the Kentucky Bourbon Trail tour is getting a bold new look, a sleek new digital experience for visitors to build their own amber adventure. You can get a sneak peek of what’s to come in our video here.

Lt. Gov. Jacqueline Coleman, Congressman Andy Barr, co-chair of the Congressional Bourbon Caucus, and Kentucky Sen. David Yates of Louisville unveiled the newly reimagined Kentucky Bourbon Trail before 200 bourbon luminaries at the Frazier History Museum along historic Whiskey Row in Louisville.

The new-look Kentucky Bourbon Trail experience will showcase the 46 distilleries, giving visitors more options to plan their trip and fully focus their attention on the laid-back hospitality, local culture and cuisine, scenic hidden gems and natural wonders on their journey. 

“We knew we had something special, but we never could have dreamed it would evolve from a simple industrial tour of distilleries into an international bucket list experience filled with rare and behind-the-scenes adventures,” said Gregory.

“All Kentucky distilleries – big and small have invested hundreds of millions of dollars into their tourism experiences, resulting in record-breaking economic development, jobs, tax dollars, restaurants, hotels, and more that build off of Bourbon’s popularity.

“It’s a lucrative path for Bourbon to give back to local communities.”

Elected Officials Toast the Past and Cheer the Future

Kentucky Bourbon Trail - Celebrating 25 Years with Local Dignitaries
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Senior Advisor to Congressman Morgan McGarvey Joni Jenkins, Heaven Hill Distillery General Counsel & Chief Compliance Officer Jessica Pendergrass, Senator David Yates, State Director for Senator Mitch McConnell’s Office Robbin Taylor, Lt. Gov. Jacqueline Coleman, Congressman Andy Barr, KDA President Eric Gregory, State Senator Karen Berg, Kentucky ABC Commissioner Allyson Cox Taylor, KDA Administrator Maggie Woods (L to R).

Congressman Barr’s Congressional Bourbon Caucus is a bipartisan group of members that are dedicated to strengthening the Bourbon industry and educating other Representatives on legislative and regulatory issues that impact it.

“As we celebrate the 25th Anniversary of the Kentucky Bourbon Trail, we honor the tradition, craftsmanship, and economic vitality that Bourbon brings to our Commonwealth,” said Rep. Barr, who is from Lexington, one of the KBT’s official Gateway communities.

“This milestone underscores our rich heritage and the global recognition of Kentucky as the true home of Bourbon. Cheers to another 25 years of excellence and innovation in one of our homegrown signature industries!”

Rep. Morgan McGarvey, co-chair of the Congressional Bourbon Caucus, was scheduled to participate in the event but had an unexpected emergency. Sen. Yates, the chamber’s Minority Whip and former President of the Louisville Metro Council, stepped in to discuss the KBT’s local and state impact.

“It’s been amazing to see how the Kentucky Bourbon Trail® and Bourbonism has revitalized tourism in Louisville, especially on our historic Whiskey Row,” Sen. Yates said. “Bourbon is unique to our Commonwealth and important to its future.  I’m proud to work alongside legislators on both sides of the aisle and each level of government to protect and elevate its importance in Kentucky.”

To celebrate the 25th anniversary and all that is to come, the Kentucky Bourbon Trail received special recognition from the federal and state government. U.S. Senator Mitch McConnell’s tribute in the Congressional Record honored the success of the Kentucky landmark.

Congressional Record - Senate Celebrating 25 Years of the Kentucky Bourbon Trail
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 “I want to thank all those involved for their stewardship of Kentucky’s heritage and their work to build our State’s vibrant Bourbon industry,” McConnell said. “As the Kentucky Bourbon Trail celebrates its silver jubilee, I’d like to extend my best wishes to its dedicated team and all the hard-working Kentuckians who have contributed to the enduring popularity and legacy of Bourbon whiskey.”

Additionally, Governor Andy Beshear proclaimed June 20, 2024, as “Bourbon Trail Day in the Commonwealth.” Lt. Gov. Jacqueline Coleman delivered the proclamation and offered a toast to the KBT’s past and future.

“For years, Kentucky’s signature spirit has spurred tourism and economic development helping build our communities,” she said. “With billions in Bourbon investments underway and a bright new future for the Kentucky Bourbon Trail® tour, the world will continue to know that the Commonwealth of Kentucky is the undisputed home of Bourbon.”

A First Look at the Future Kentucky Bourbon Trail Adventure

Kentucky Bourbon Trail - Celebrating 25 Years with a Brand New Look
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To plan for the future of the behemoth tourist attraction, the KDA engaged IQS Research to personally interview thousands of KBT visitors over the last year. The findings clearly proved that the Bourbon Trail is elevating Kentucky tourism with an affluent demographic featuring:

Kentucky Bourbon Trail - Facts & Figures, A Wide Variety of People Enjoy the Kentucky Bourbon Trail
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  • 76% of visitors come from outside of Kentucky;
  • Visitors are coming in packs and staying in the region for 3 to 5 days;
  • Guests typically spend between $600 and $1,400 on dining, entertainment, lodging, and transportation.
  • More than 60% have incomes above $100,000;
  • 60% of visitors are male, 36% female, 4% non-binary;
  • 12% identified as a racial minority and 7% identified as LGBTQIA+;
  • 91% discovered a new product or Bourbon brand during their trip; and
  • 97% were highly satisfied with their distillery experience, and 96% would recommend the KBT® to their family and friends.
Kentucky Bourbon Trail - Facts & Figures, Tourists are Coming from Across the Nation and Around the World
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Utilizing the IQS data and the KDA’s biennial economic impact report, the Lewis team held in-depth interviews with leadership and frontline employees at Kentucky Bourbon Trail attractions and conducted further in-depth research in key feeder markets to collect potential visitors’ impressions.

Kentucky Bourbon Trail - Facts & Figures, Trail Visitors Know Their Product, Consume Bourbon Regularly, and Enjoy the Heritage of Bourbon
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The impressive result is an all-new brand identity that is modern, adventurous, and reflective of the new and elevated offerings at distilleries. The new logo embraces the rich colors and textures of the Commonwealth’s Bourbon legacy and features typography that’s symbolic of iconic trailhead signs, evoking a keen sense of adventure.

Kentucky Bourbon Trail - Facts & Figures, Distillery Visitors are Highly Satisfied, Engaged, and Visiting Multiple Distilleries
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Slow Down, Savor the Adventure and Explore the Possibilities

Recognizing the Trail experience can no longer be completed in a long weekend, the reimagined Kentucky Bourbon Trail will shift away from incentivizing the desire to quickly finish the journey to instead slowing down, savoring the adventure and exploring the possibilities.

Visitors will begin to see the changes throughout the summer, including:

  • A fresh new look that conveys a sense of discovery, elevated adventure and attainable luxury;
  • A combined Kentucky Bourbon Trail and Kentucky Bourbon Trail Craft Tour into one Bourbon Trail program;
  • An all-new digital experience to help guests explore and prepare for their trip like never before;
  • Ability to Build Your Own Bourbon Trail®, allowing visitors to imagine and explore a wide range of possible itineraries before they ever arrive in Kentucky. #BYOBT

“Our guides on the frontline of the Bourbon Trail know there is an experience that’s perfect for each and every visitor, and the reimagined Kentucky Bourbon Trail will be even easier to explore and discover,” said Jes Pendergrass, Chair of the KDA Board of Directors and General Counsel & Chief Compliance Officer at Heaven Hill.

“Just as every Bourbon is a unique expression, each distillery brings its own personality to the visitor experience, and the Bourbon Trail™ has more offerings than ever before. We encourage our visitors to take their time, sip and savor each moment, and come back often to relax and enjoy our laid-back Kentucky Bourbon culture.”

Katie Peninger, Vice President of Account Service at Lewis, said, “What we learned is that Bourbon tourists know what they want, why they’re here, and what their priorities are. With #BYOBT, the visitor decides what’s important, and the website presents them with the distilleries, hotels and restaurants that match their preferences.”

The Kentucky Bourbon Trail will be rolling out the new logo, messaging and digital experiences throughout 2024.

Learn more about the  Kentucky Distillers’ Association.
View all ‘Kentucky Bourbon Trail’ distilleries.
View all ‘Kentucky Bourbon Trail Craft Tour’ distilleries.
View ‘Kentucky Bourbon Trail’ & ‘Kentucky Bourbon Trail Craft Tour’ Distilleries on one page.
View all Kentucky Distilleries.
View all U.S. Distilleries.

Kentucky Bourbon Trail - Kentucky Distillers' Association Staff
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Kentucky Distillers’ Association staff.

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