Kentucky is horse country, home of the Kentucky Derby, but it's also bourbon country. This is where 95 percent of the world's bourbon is made.
Louisville is a uniquely cosmopolitan city, peppered with old world luxury, a hip urban vibe and a healthy dose of kitsch. Here, you can get some of the finest bourbon cocktails you'll ever drink and any bourbon-related product you could imagine, from bourbon coffee to bourbon shower gel! Churchill Downs is in Louisville. In the rolling hills of horse country outside of the city is the Kentucky Bourbon Trail.
This is where the bourbon distilleries are and many open their doors for tours. You can also tour the Brown-Forman cooperage, where they make the barrels for their bourbons.
You can do a public tour, where you hop on a bus and they'll pick the stops for you. Or, you can do a custom tour, where you get to choose the distilleries. Two things to know before planning a trip to the bourbon trail: 1) The distilleries can be anywhere from 8 to 74 miles apart and 2) bourbon isn't that kind of drink. So, you're not going to be able to hit five in a day. The best way to do the distilleries is one by one, but if you're from out of town and don't have that luxury, you'll get a max of three in a day—two distilleries where you'll do the full tour and tasting and one just for the tasting. No matter which ones you go to, leave time for the gift shop! Each has some unique bourbon offerings, from copper shot glasses at Woodford Reserve to turkey callers at Wild Turkey.
Prices vary depending on how many distilleries you want to do and how many people are in your group. The two main tour companies are Mint Julep Tours and R&R Limousine. Or, you can drive there yourself. Just be sure to drink responsibly.
They'll issue you a Kentucky Bourbon Trail passport upon your arrival, as well as an Urban Bourbon Trail passport, which will help jump-start your tour of all the fine bourbon offerings the city and countryside have to offer—some you may have been dying to try and some you didn't even know existed! Collect enough stamps in your passport, and they'll name you an official citizen of Bourbon Country!
There are only eight distilleries on the official Kentucky Bourbon Trail—Four Roses, Heaven Hill, Jim Beam, Maker's Mark, Town Branch, Wild Turkey, Woodford Reserve and Evan Williams—but there are other distilleries that do tours.
Here on the bourbon trail, you'll see everything from giant mash vats the size of swimming pools, to big copper stills, secret passageways of bourbon and the system used to transport the barrels around the distilleries—train-track like barrel runs. Oh, and did we mention the flaming barrels?
Click ahead for photos from the Kentucky Bourbon Trail.
—By CNBC's Cindy Perman. Follow her on Twitter @ponyblog
Posted 24 Sept. 2013.