One problem with visiting distilleries during the traditional summer vacation month of August is that most of them are quiet. Even though modern technology makes it possible to distill year round, and some do, hot weather is unpleasant for the workers so many distilleries shut down for at least a few weeks during the hottest part of the year.
That, of course, means they all start to crank back up in the fall. Buffalo Trace even makes a festival of it. The Kentucky Bourbon Festival in Bardstown is always the third week in September, 9/12-18 this year. Although it’s technically all week, most stuff happens on the weekend.
The Kentucky Bourbon Trail, sponsored by the Kentucky Distillers Association, will get you to most of the distilleries that give tours. Buffalo Trace and Barton 1792, both owned by Sazerac, give tours but aren’t on the trail. There are also several distilleries that don’t give tours but you can see them from the road.
As important as seeing the distilleries is seeing at least one cooperage (where they make the barrels). Brown-Forman Cooperage, in Louisville, where they build barrels for Jack Daniel’s and other Brown-Forman products, welcomes visitors through Mint Julep Tours. Kentucky Cooperage, in Lebanon, has two public tours a day, no reservations needed. You also get to visit Lebanon, which is charming. I recommend the Cedarwood Restaurant, located just west of the cooperage. It’s a real-deal Kentucky country restaurant, not some city folk’s idea of one.
I also like that Kentucky and Tennessee usually get two or three more weeks of nice weather in the spring and fall than Chicago does. When that first cold hawk (aka Mr. Hawkins) blows in from Lake Michigan, find I-65 and head south.