Willett Distillery: An Intimate Stop on Kentucky’s Bourbon Trail

Willett Distillery
Willett Distillery: where smooth, rich tasting goodness is made.

About this time last year, I was learning about bourbon in Louisville, Kentucky as I traversed the Urban Bourbon Trail. This month I added to my bourbon know-how at Willett Distillery in Bardstown.

Founded in 1936, Willett Distillery is still owned and operated by a Willett. For anyone who likes intimate tours where the tour guide offers to take pictures of visitors, and you can taste several types of bourbon as a finale, come here.

Just a few minutes drive from the heart of Bardstown, southeast of Louisville, Willett Distillery fits the craft bourbon category. Operating as a micro-distillery, Willett is a smaller scale operation than the mega distilleries like Heaven Hill, a major player in the Bardstown landscape. Willett bourbon tastes anything but small.

I savored each of the offerings and settled on a bottle of private stock Johnny Drum as a gift for my husband who was not with me on this venture.

The 45-minute tour includes a close look at each of the steps required to produce bourbon whiskey thanks to a guide who points out each step of the bourbon making process and explains what makes Willett’s whiskey a bourbon stand out. What part of the process you’ll see depends upon what day you visit. Because our tour was on a Saturday, the distillery was quiet. We did get a whiff and a taste of fermentation as the yeast did it’s work in a few of the tanks.

In the aging warehouse.
In Willett Distillery aging warehouse.

I particularly enjoyed the aesthetics of the distillery’s architecture.  The mix of wood, brick and large glass windows is lovely. My other favorite stop on the tour was the aging warehouse where rows of stacked oak barrels filled with bourbon give off a mild whiff of dusky sweetness.

Tours are seven days a week except for Easter, Memorial Day, Labor Day, July 4th, Thanksgiving, December 24, 25, 31 and January 1. Mon.-Sat. tours run from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on the hour. Sun. tours from March-December are 12:30; 1:30; 2;30 and 3:30. 

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We paid $10 which included the tour and a souvenir glass. Otherwise tours are $7. Each tour includes tasting.

Military members with ID are free, but if you want the glass, it’s $3. We did not have reservations but according to the website, if you’re visiting Friday-Sunday, reservations are recommended. Call 502-348-0899 or e-mail visitorcenter@willettdistillery.com.

A few of Willett's bourbon offerings.
A few of Willett’s bourbon offerings.

If you go, pick up a Kentucky Bourbon Trail Craft Tour passport. As you visit each of the 9 craft bourbon distilleries featured on the do-it-yourself-tour, get the passport stamped. After you’ve visited each place, you’ll get a free T-shirt. The craft bourbon distilleries are in different parts of Kentucky which makes for a festive way to take in the Bluegrass State.

Post and photos courtesy of Jamie Rhein of Midwest Travel Writers Association