Kentucky Bourbon Trail®

About the Kentucky Bourbon Trail®

Learn about Bourbon’s rich history and the events leading up to the birth of the Kentucky Bourbon Trail® experience and the Bourbon boom. Discover how important Bourbon is to the growth of Kentucky, its people and the communities they call home.


Bourbon was born when immigrant settlers brought their distilling traditions to an area that would eventually become Kentucky. Over the centuries, Bourbon has grown into a symbol of American craftsmanship and ingenuity, with enthusiasts from every corner of the globe savoring its rich heritage and unique flavors.

  • 1774

    First Settlers, First Stills

    Nearly every American story is an immigrant story, and Bourbon’s tale is just that. When the first European settlers arrived in Harrodsburg some 250 years ago, they came with something crucial in tow: the first rugged stills and the knowledge from their homelands to use them.

    Further settlement of Virginia’s Kentucky County was incentivized by the Corn Patch & Cabin Rights Act in 1776 which offered 400 acres to any settlers who built cabins and planted corn. This led to the wholesale cultivation of corn and thus provided the foundation for the classic Bourbon mashbill.

  • 1803

    Rollin’ on the River

    The Louisiana Purchase opened markets for trade in Southern states along the Mississippi River. This meant that whiskey could now be shipped downstream from Kentucky and sold further South, all the way to the bustling Port of New Orleans. Kentucky’s 1,000+ miles of commercially navigable waterways played an important role in the growth and distribution of Kentucky Bourbon.

  • 1840

    What’s in a Name?

    Few things are shrouded in as much mystery as the origins of how Bourbon got its name. The name “Bourbon” originated from a long lineage of French royalty. In fact, Bourbon County was named in honor of the French royal family who had provided military and financial assistance to the colonies during the Revolutionary War. Some believe that Jacob Spears – distiller and Bourbon County resident – may have been the first to label his product as “Bourbon whiskey” in 1840.

  • 1880

    Protect Bourbon, At All Costs

    To protect America’s spirit from “needless and obstructive laws and regulations,” Bourbon distillers met in Louisville to effectively form the Kentucky Distillers’ Association (KDA) – one of the most powerful lobbies in the Commonwealth and one of the oldest trade associations in the US. For decades, the group has fought tirelessly to reduce whiskey taxes, shrink insurance fees and address other important measures of the time. Ironically, it was Prohibition that catalyzed the KDA’s rebirth in 1935.

  • 1964

    America’s Native Spirit, Officially

    When Congress recognized “Bourbon whiskey a distinctive product of the United States” by Congressional Resolution on May 4, 1964, it became official: No other country in the world can produce Bourbon. It’s our native spirit, and ours alone. But we’ll share it with anyone, of course.

  • 1999

    Hitting The Trail™

    After years of informal tours, the Kentucky Distillers’ Association (KDA) created the Kentucky Bourbon Trail® tour as a destination experience, where Bourbon lovers can go behind the scenes at Kentucky’s signature distilleries. For the very first time, people from all over the world were invited to get a glimpse of our world, from grain to glass.

  • 2012

    Crafting a New Trail

    As the world’s fascination with Bourbon continued to grow, so did people’s interest in small craft distillers. And so in 2012, the KDA founded the Kentucky Bourbon Trail Craft Tour®, the nation’s first tourism program to highlight small producers. From flavored moonshine with local ingredients to barrel aged vodka, brandy, gin and – you guessed it – Bourbon, these craft distillers have changed the game in local spirits and the stories behind them.

  • 2016

    A Million Annual Tours (and Counting)

    For the first time ever, Kentucky Bourbon Trail® and Kentucky Bourbon Trail Craft Tour® distilleries gave visitors more than 1 million tours in a year, confirming that it’s not just what’s inside the bottle that draws people to Kentucky Bourbon. The makers, the iconic brand homes and the Commonwealth’s legendary hospitality are all part of a culture that welcomes everyone and invites you to stay just a bit longer.

  • 2018

    Raise a Glass…Our Glass

    The KDA collected Master Distillers, Master Tasters, and the best palates in Kentucky to design the first-ever glass specifically tailored for enjoying Kentucky Bourbon. They chose a glass with a wider rim so the nose from high-proof Bourbons doesn’t overwhelm the sampler, and it allows for an ice cube (or two) to demonstrate how a little bit of water changes the taste.

  • 2023

    For Every Kentuckian, Three Barrels

    The Bourbon boom doesn’t seem to be slowing down, and the numbers are proof. With over 12.6 million barrels of Bourbon aging in warehouses across the state (3 barrels for every resident), 46 distillery stops on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail® and Craft Tour™ experiences, and over 2 million annual visits to distilleries – it was a record-breaking year all around.

  • 2024

    A Toast to 25 Years

    The Kentucky Bourbon Trail® celebrates its 25th Anniversary with fresh branding and an all-new digital experience. The previous Kentucky Bourbon Trail Craft Tour® was merged into the Kentucky Bourbon Trail® to create a single visitor experience, with endless possibilities.

Bourbon Facts

With iconic distilleries dotting the Kentucky countryside, Bourbon Tourism has flourished, drawing visitors from around the world eager to explore the birthplace of America’s native spirit. But even beyond tourism, Bourbon has become a cultural and economic cornerstone and plays an integral role in Kentucky’s prosperity. For more Bourbon facts and information, visit

  • 95%

    Kentucky produces 95% of the global supply of Bourbon.

  • 9b

    Kentucky Bourbon is a $9 billion economic and tourism powerhouse for the Commonwealth, now generating more jobs, more payroll, more tax revenue, more tourists and more distilleries in more Kentucky counties than ever before.

  • 12.6m

    Distillers produced a record 2.7 million barrels of Bourbon in 2022, the fifth year in a row topping 2 million. Today, there is a record inventory of 12.6 million Bourbon barrels aging across the state.

  • 100

    Kentucky has 100 licensed distilleries operated by 84 companies in 42 Kentucky counties.

  • 300%

    Corn production in core distilling counties has increased 300% since the first 2009 study. Distillers purchased 21 million bushels of Kentucky grown corn & grains.

  • 2.5m

    Bourbon is responsible for 2.5 million visitor experiences in 2023. Bourbon tourists trend younger, spend more, and stay longer compared to other tourism attractions.

  • 23,100

    Distilling generates more than 23,100 jobs in Kentucky with annual salaries and wages of $1.63 billion ($2.2 billion including benefits).

  • 5.4b

    KDA members are in the middle of a $5.4 billion capital investment spree. Of the $3.5 billion of investments KDA distillers plan to make in the next five years, they project spending at least $194 million to expand their tourism operations on our famous Kentucky Bourbon Trail® experience.

  • 500m

    Kentucky distillers shipped more than $500 million in exports in 2022, almost all of which was Bourbon.