In late summer of 2019, the Bardstown Bourbon Company cut ribbon on a sleek visitors center in its namesake hometown. Although they’d already been distilling here for more than 5 years, this particular phase of the operation delivered on the founder’s promise to deliver a “Napa Valley experience on the Bourbon Trail.” It cost a small fortune to bring that vision to life, but all signs point to the wisdom of the investment.
As the Kentucky Bourbon Trail welcomed over 1.7 million whiskey drinkers, in the final year before the pandemic, BBC solidified its status as a can’t-miss destination along the way. That’s because this place offers something for everyone: a bar and restaurant, cocktail classes, art installations, even windowed warehouses offering elevated views of the sprawling landscape. Of course, if you’re here just for the bourbon, you will not be disappointed. They hold a wider array of American whiskeys—current and vintage—than you’ll find anywhere else in the state.
Part of that is owed to the varied selections behind the stick at the Bottle & Bond Kitchen and Bar. BBC is one of the rare stops along the trail to dish out full service fare—everything from filet mignon to pickle-brined fried chicken and waffles—along with bourbons from all the major producers in Kentucky and beyond. So, not only can you sample the latest liquids from the brand’s exciting Discovery Series, you can also enjoy it on a flight alongside Eagle Rare or Michter’s or whatever.
“We are whiskey lovers at our core,” explains Brandon Smith, a marketing manager for Bardstown. “We not only highlight our collaborative distilling partners but also the industry at large. In doing so, we can truly celebrate the entire whiskey category with respect towards tradition and innovation.”
Celebrate they do. And that brings us to one of the property’s most celebrated hidden gem: The Vintage Library. It’s a quiet parlor lined to the ceiling on all sides with shelves of whiskey dating back to the late 19th Century; a breathtaking sight for bourbon lovers and history buffs, alike. You can book a thirty minute tasting here for $250 a head.
“It’s a special experience which allows passionate whiskey lovers to literally drink history,” adds Smith. “Fortunately, in Kentucky, we are able to source and procure any vintage whiskey from collectors and sell them by the glass in our iconic Vintage Library [thanks to the passage of a 2017 state law].”
But you should certainly save room for the exciting liquid rolling off the stills on-site. It’s a massive inventory which includes some-330,000 barrels of whiskey distilled from any of 50 different mash-bills. A $30 tour of an adjacent rickhouse affords you the opportunity to dip a thief into a selected cask, sampling one-of-a-kind bourbon from the “honey spot” of the aging facility.
It’s not something you’re able to do at most of the 17 other distilleries now counted on the Bourbon Trail. And that’s the point: In an industry famously mired in centuries of tradition and lore, BBC relishes its positioning as a modernized operation. That they only started laying down liquid seven years ago is brandished as a feature rather than a flaw.
“There are no made up stories or legends here,” says Herb Heneman, executive vice president of sales. “From the glass walls of the distillery to the mash-bills on our labels, we are 100% transparent in all we do. And being modern, collaborative, and transparent aren’t necessarily things bourbon has historically been known for.”
Visitors can walk out with their own taste for that modern approach in bottle form. BBC just launched a distillery-only series, showcasing bourbons unique to the retail store onsite. You can now also pour your own bottle from a single cask selection in the rickhouse. For those that can’t make the journey, keep your eyes peeled for national releases featuring whiskeys finished in everything from Plantation Rum barrels to Chateau de Laubade Armagnac casks.
“And in 2023 we will launch our own, 100% estate-distilled Kentucky Straight Bourbon, Rye, and a wheated bourbon,” Heneman tells Forbes.
If you’re lucky enough to secure a sampling of spirits in Bardstown Bourbon’s stunning Vintage Library, you’ll walk away with a renewed reverence for all things past. But just beyond that vault all attention here is singularly fixed on the future. And an exciting one it’s shaping up to be for BBC.