Louisville Liquor: The Urban Bourbon Trail

By: Mark Shallcross

January 15, 2014

Doc Crow's, Urban Bourbon Trail 2011-12 (Photo by Marty Pearl)

Dating back to the days of Daniel Boone and the opening of the route to the American west along the Wilderness Road into Kentucky in 1775, the Bluegrass State has long celebrated trailblazers of all kinds. Today, thousands of people from all over the world are blazing a path that requires a different kind of “courage” than Boone possessed.

The Urban Bourbon Trail in Louisville is fast becoming a must-do activity for visitors to the city, as well as local residents who enjoy sipping a bit of the state’s signature spirit. The Urban Bourbon Trail is a collection of 26 different bars and restaurants in Louisville that offer a minimum of 50 different bourbon labels. The staff at each establishment are well educated in explaining the nuances of the different bourbons available.


St. Charles Exchange | The Urban Bourbon Trail

St. Charles Exchange restaurant and bar is housed in one of the oldest buildings in Louisville’s West Main Street district © Louisville Convention & Visitors Bureau


UBT enthusiasts can obtain a booklet-style passport for validation of visits to any of the 26 stops on the trail at the Louisville Convention & Visitors Bureau Visitors Center, or by downloading an electronic passport using the iPhone or Android app. After patronizing six of the stops on the trail, participants will be designated as an Official Bourbon Country citizen and will receive a t-shirt and certificate attesting to the honour.


Bourbon whisky has a rich history in Louisville and throughout the state. In 1783, Evan Williams, an immigrant from Wales, opened a distillery in downtown Louisville on the banks of the Ohio River and became Kentucky’s first commercial distiller. By 1912, there were 42 whisky wholesalers or distillers located in a 20-block stretch of Main Street in downtown Louisville, earning the area the moniker “Whiskey Row.” Prohibition of alcohol in 1920 virtually put an end to the industry, but the production and appreciation for fine bourbon has exploded in the past decade or so. There are currently more barrels of bourbon aging in Kentucky (4.9 million) than there are people living in the state.


Evan Williams Bourbon Experience | The Urban Bourbon Trail

The lobby of the new Evan WIlliams Bourboun Experience greets visitors with a five-story bottle of bourbon © Louisville Convention & Visitors Bureau


One of the best ways to appreciate the lore of bourbon production and its intractable ties to Kentucky is a stop at the new $10 million Evan Williams Bourbon Experience in downtown Louisville.


Visitors to the attraction are greeted in the lobby by a five-story tall bottle of a bourbon-coloured concoction pouring a continuous stream of the libation into a four-foot-tall glass. The Evans Williams Bourbon Experience features an interactive tour where guests journey back in time to see Williams’ original distillery and video recreations of the Louisville wharf in the late 18th century. Within the facility is a craft distillery, producing about one barrel of bourbon a day, as well a pair of tasting rooms where two different high-end samples are served to guests at the end of the tour.


Silver Dollar | The Urban Bourbon Trail

Mint juleps are one of the the signature cocktails served at the honky-tonk silver dollar © Louisville Convention & Visitors Bureau

A great place to kick off the Urban Bourbon Trail is the Old Seelbach Bar at the Seelbach Hotel, which was named one of the “Best Bars in the World” by Esquire magazine. The bar and hotel inspired author F. Scott Fitzgerald to set Tom and Daisy Buchanan’s wedding scene at the Seelbach in “˜The Great Gatsby.’ Also downtown, the Down One Bourbon Bar celebrates a Prohibition-era speakeasy atmosphere in a clubby setting. In the Clifton neighbourhood, a converted fire station is now home to a honky-tonk bar and restaurant named The Silver Dollar, which earlier this year was named one of the “Ten Best Whiskey Bars” in the country by GQ magazine.


It’s probably unreasonable for travellers to hit every stop on the Urban Bourbon Trail in one visit, but that’s all the more reason to make a return trip to the city.


21c (Proof on Main) | The Urban Bourbon Trail

The bar at Proof restaurant is fronted by an enormous statue of David in downtown Louisville © Louisville Convention & Visitors Bureau


Header photo © Alexey Lysenko/Thinkstock


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Have you been on the Urban Bourbon Trail? Let us know in the comments below.

Written by Mark Shallcross




Mark Shallcross

Mark V. Shallcross is a free-lance writer living in Louisville, Kentucky. A graduate of the University of Louisville, Mark is a tenth-generation Kentuckian who has worked as a reporter for The Courier-Journal, Voice-Tribune and Jeffersonville (Indiana) Evening News newspapers. He worked most recently as a communications manager, copywriter and media liaison for the Kentucky Derby Festival. He enjoys travel, reading and competitive running.

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