Explore KY's Bourbon and Distillery History

Tour curated by: The ExploreKYHistory Team

After horses, Kentucky’s best-known commodity is probably bourbon whiskey. That distinction has been well earned. The state's association with distilling spirits goes back as far as 1775 and the first permanent white settlements. From those early days to the present, Kentucky's connection with bourbon and distilling only continues to grow.

Recognized as a distinctly original American product by Congress in 1964, bourbon is composed of a fermented mash consisting of at least 51% corn and smaller amounts of wheat, rye, and barley, along with yeast and limestone water. Bourbon is distilled no more than 160 proof and aged in charred oak barrels.

The importance of bourbon and distilleries to the state's history is noted on a number of highway historical markers, and thus are explored in this themed tour. Here are highlighted some of the oldest and most famous names and places affiliated with Kentucky's distillery history. Many of the historic structures that supported the spirits industry still survive. In other cases, only remnants remain.

We hope that you will use this tour—the information and images—to learn about Kentucky's unique relationship with bourbon and other distilled spirits and how they have impacted the state's past and present, and will shape the future.

Locations for Tour

Historical Marker #2295 in Paris notes the influence of bourbon whiskey on Kentucky's history. When one considers what Kentucky is known for, at least three things quickly come to mind: horses, basketball, and bourbon. Whiskey has been…

Historical Marker #2103 in Louisville notes the significance of the “Old Forester” brand, which was the first commercially bottled bourbon. It will likely never be known who produced the first bourbon distilled in Kentucky. The spirits'…

Historical Marker #1246 in Paris notes the history of Bourbon County, which was created in 1785. At the time, Kentucky was part of Virginia. Bourbon County, which was carved from Fayette County, was the fifth county established in what would become…

Historical Marker #2091 in Stamping Ground (Scott County) notes the location of Buffalo Springs, which provided an important supply of water for local distilleries. Large herds of buffalo once wandered what became Kentucky. These large mammals…

Historical Marker #2105 notes the creation of the Brown-Forman Company in Louisville, Kentucky, and one of the company's founders, George Garvin Brown. Brown was born in Munfordville, Kentucky, on September 2, 1846. He moved to Louisville in…

Historical Marker #103 in Franklin County notes the location of Leestown, an early pioneer Kentucky River village just north of Frankfort. This site eventually became the location of a distillery complex. Two early Kentucky surveyors, brothers…

Historical Marker #2206 notes the location of the H. E. Pogue Distillery, which operated for more than fifty years near Maysville. The Ohio River route into what became Kentucky was popular with settlers from Maryland, Pennsylvania, and northern…

Historical Marker #2104 in Louisville notes the historical significance of that city's Main Street whiskey firms. Louisville's rise to become Kentucky's largest city in the nineteenth century was due in large part to its location on…

Historical markers #1986 and #1987 note the location and significance of the Labrot and Graham Distillery in Versailles, Kentucky. The Labrot and Graham distillery holds the distinction of being one of the oldest working distilleries in Kentucky. …

Historical Marker #2313 notes the legacy and location of Lexington's Historic Distillery District. Shortly after the end of the Civil War, the Headley and Farra Company established a distillery in Lexington on Old Frankfort Pike, now called…

Historical Marker #1509 commemorates the history of the grist mill and distillery that would later be known as Makers Mark in Loretto, Kentucky. In 1803, Charles Burks, his wife Sarah, and their family settled on the west bank of Hardin Creek in…

Historical Marker #2428 commemorates the history of the O.F.C.-Stagg Distillery in Franklin County. Perhaps the most remarkable man to enter the whiskey industry during the post-Civil War years was Colonel Edmund Haynes Taylor, Jr. Born in…

Historical Marker #2445 commemorates Evan Williams (1755 – 1810), an early Kentucky whiskey distiller in Jefferson County. A native of Wales, Williams came to Kentucky around 1780. He settled in Louisville, which had been established two years…