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Backdoctor

Help planning a Kentucky Bourbon trip

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Backdoctor

Hi,

 

I've been enjoying trying many different bourbons the past year. I realized I liked bourbon much more than single malt. That said, I try to go to smaller production labels if possible though I do like Angel's Envy, Michter's American Whiskey and Bourbon, Basil's Hayden, AE Rye, Willett Pot among others. Just got some EH Taylor Small Batch, and really liked it. Have had Noah's Mill, Van Winkle 12 yo ( thought it was overrated), Willett Rye, Bookers, Bakers, Clyde Mays and many other. 

 

With that in mind we are thinking of mixing tourism with bourbon tasting. Maybe spend a day or two in Nashville then head north to Louisville/Lexington area. Also thinking of some time in Daniel Boone National Forest. 

 

In my mind I know I'd love to visit Buffalo Trace, Willett, Angel's Envy. I know a lot of bourbons are made at distilleries that don't have the name of the bourbon on them, like Buffalo trace who makes many different labels. So what are some "can't miss" tours or tastings? Are there places that are worth taking a tour vs some that are good just for a tasting? I have a LOT Of experience with wineries so I know some places you SHOULD do the tour, others just a tasting is fine. 

 

Also, any stores, places to eat that are also special. I am looking at flying into Nashville, spend a day or two there, drive to Lexington and spend 3 days working way to Louisville. Leave a day for hiking in Daniel Boone, and head back to Nashville to fly back. Flights and rental car is about $300 less this way and its only a few hours extra driving. 

 

Looking for your experience and advice. Thanks.

 

Harris

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Richnimrod

My advice about tours is as follows...

Besides Willett, I'd add Jim Beam and Heaven Hill which are close, and Maker's Mark (which isn't too far from those, and is a wonderful tour), also Buffalo Trace offers some beautiful 'old' buildings, and nice grounds.     The Buffalo is rather closer to Lexington, being in Frankfort; but worth the extra miles IMO.    At Heaven Hill you don't see any distillery equipment, just some displays and video, since the vistor's center at Bardstown isn't located near their distillery; but the tastings offered can be stellar, if you go with the high-end one.   The tasting at Beam is a bit off-putting to me (a mechanical dispenser you operate yourself); but the tour is good.

I can't offer much on dining, as my experience is limited being on a restricted diet.

 

A note about 'smaller production labels'...

They are sometimes interesting; but rarely any "better" than the brands offered by the major distillers, and often the majors beat their pants off on price/quality comparisons. 

These are my own opinions, based upon only my experiences of course.

 

Have FUN in KY.     IT's a great place to do that!!!

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kwshannon

We've done several KY and TN distillery tours.  I agree with Richnimrod about Willett, Beam, Maker's and BT.  Have not done HH.  If you decide on Frankfort, then you are also close to Four Roses, Woodford, and Wild Turkey.

 

One tip for dining, and lodging, the Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill has wonderful food, and lodging in the historic buildings.  We've stayed a couple of times and enjoyed it. 

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Backdoctor

Thank you for the help! Does anyone know of a decent printable map that shows all distilleries open to the public, not just sponsors? In Napa/Sonoma there are great winery maps that are printable. So far I find ones with "sponsors" leaving out the others. 

 

Thanks

 

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fishnbowljoe

Here's a link for you Doc.

 

http://kybourbontrail.com/map/

 

BT and 1792/Barton are no longer members of the KDA, and as such, they don't appear on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail map.

 

Here are my suggestions for distillery visits.

 

#1. The Old:  Buffalo Trace. My favorite distillery, and the one that makes my favorite bourbons. BT is pretty much a huge industrial complex. It's very old, and is great not only to visit as a distillery, but also from an historical aspect. The folks there are wonderful.

 

#2. The New: Wild Turkey. WT built a brand new distillery just a few short years ago. It's very modern, both in terms of architecture and technology. Everything can basically be handled  by two guys in a room sitting in front of a bank of computers.  It's very modern and clean, almost to the point of being too"sterile". 

 

#3. Other:  Makers Mark. It's a scenic country drive out from Bardstown, and the grounds there are absolutely beautiful. That's mostly why I pic MM as #3. Much has changed there over the years. They have a new visitor center, new cave/warehouse, etc.., but it's still the same when it comes to the story they tell as to how they came into being. Many folks refer to it as marketing fluff. Regardless of the story, MM is a worthwhile place to visit.

 

Biba! Joe

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Richnimrod

Geeez, I don't know how I forgot to mention the two closest to Bardstown; the nearly brand new Kentucky Bourbon Distillers, which is almost right in Bardstown (just across the freeway).     Very modern, being so new, and quite different architecturally from most/all of the others; but definitely oriented toward visitors (and will be even more so soon enough when all their visitor facilities are completed; a restaurant, tavern, and B&B).  

For a total contrast visit 1792 Distillery (Barton) that is Right In Bardstown.    1792 is quite typically industrial, as opposed to the modern architecture of KBD; but their tasting is just fine, and still Free as of last September.

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camduncan

Joe is on the money with his recommendations!  I'd only add one more, and that's Woodford Reserve.... to me it's on par with Makers Mark for beautiful surrounds, and the drive through the horse farms to get there is one of the best IMO.

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Backdoctor

I was thinking Woodford Reserve. Never thought of Wild Turkey cause I don't usually get it, the tour is good? I guess I have to be open to the fact some of these large production places know what they are doing. 

 

I just cant over do it, my wife will be bored. What do you think 2-3 per day a decent pace which gives time to do other things?

 

H

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tanstaafl2
25 minutes ago, Backdoctor said:

I was thinking Woodford Reserve. Never thought of Wild Turkey cause I don't usually get it, the tour is good? I guess I have to be open to the fact some of these large production places know what they are doing. 

 

I just cant over do it, my wife will be bored. What do you think 2-3 per day a decent pace which gives time to do other things?

 

H

3 distilleries in one day, if you plan to do much more than drive by and pop into the gift shop, would be a full day even if they are geographically relatively close to one another (as FR, WT, Woodford and BT are for example). You want time for extra stuff then 2 tours a day is probably a good maximum.

 

Makers Mark, as noted, is a nice tour but not really that close to any other distilleries especially if you are staying in the Lexington and Louisville areas. I definitely wouldn't count on doing more than one other tour the day you do Makers (Beam or Barton are probably closest). Independent Stave cooperage is kinda sorta in the MM area and is of some interest as well if you like that sort of thing.

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smokinjoe
5 hours ago, Backdoctor said:

I was thinking Woodford Reserve. Never thought of Wild Turkey cause I don't usually get it, the tour is good? I guess I have to be open to the fact some of these large production places know what they are doing. 

 

I just cant over do it, my wife will be bored. What do you think 2-3 per day a decent pace which gives time to do other things?

 

H

If you're trying to get in a good tour while also keeping your wife engaged, you must do Maker's.  As mentioned earlier, it is a gorgeous setting, and the Chihuly piece at the end of the tour is one of a kind.  

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Backdoctor
On ‎12‎/‎18‎/‎2017 at 9:06 PM, smokinjoe said:

If you're trying to get in a good tour while also keeping your wife engaged, you must do Maker's.  As mentioned earlier, it is a gorgeous setting, and the Chihuly piece at the end of the tour is one of a kind.  

Thanks. I don't know if she will drink, but she will enjoy it if its interesting. Also, she can be the designated driver... ;)

 

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smokinjoe
1 minute ago, Backdoctor said:

Thanks. I don't know if she will drink, but she will enjoy it if its interesting. Also, she can be the designated driver... ;)

 

Maker's is kinda like Disney.  There's something for everybody.  They know how to put on a show and keep everyone engaged.  For the total package, and to keep everyone from bourbon enthusiast to anyone off the street interested and entertained, no distillery does it better than MM.  

 

The Chihuly sculpture on the ceiling at the end of the tour:

IMG_2346.JPG

IMG_2350.JPG

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kawboyz11

I live in the central KY area and have visited many of the distilleries, quite a few times. My suggestions would be to tour Buffalo Trace and Woodford Reserve while in the Central KY/Lexington area. Both offer fantastic tours, with Buffalo Trace being the best tour/experience in my opinion. Do a tasting at Four Roses, the distillery is under construction so I would suggest touring the place at a later date. If you have time, stop by Wild Turkey and check it out too, it is located within 10 minutes of Four Roses. As for the Louisville/Bardstown area Heaven Hill, Willet, and Makers Mark would be my suggestions. Heaven Hill only offers tastings at the Heritage Center, but go for the connoisseur tasting as it is only $10 more and offers premium products, including this years William Heavenhill 14 year offering. Makers is definitely a great tour and experience, one that keeps many non-bourbon fans engaged as well. Willet is doing some renovations I believe, but is only a few minutes from Heaven Hill and offers a pretty good tasting.

 

There are countless more distilleries in both the Central KY and Louisville/Bardstown areas, but these would be my choices. If you have the time, I would certain check out several others as well (Angels Envy, Michters, and Evan Williams bourbon experience are all located in Louisville, 1792/Barton is located in Bardstown). As far as lunch or dinner, you should definitely check out the Old Talbot Inn & Tavern in Bardstown. It is a really neat place that has great food at a very reasonable price. Their tavern also has an extensive bourbon selection, with many of the LE and unicorn bourbons available. Hope this information is helpful to you, if you need anything further let me know.

 

 

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briankeith513
4 hours ago, kawboyz11 said:

I live in the central KY area and have visited many of the distilleries, quite a few times. My suggestions would be to tour Buffalo Trace and Woodford Reserve while in the Central KY/Lexington area. Both offer fantastic tours, with Buffalo Trace being the best tour/experience in my opinion. Do a tasting at Four Roses, the distillery is under construction so I would suggest touring the place at a later date. If you have time, stop by Wild Turkey and check it out too, it is located within 10 minutes of Four Roses. As for the Louisville/Bardstown area Heaven Hill, Willet, and Makers Mark would be my suggestions. Heaven Hill only offers tastings at the Heritage Center, but go for the connoisseur tasting as it is only $10 more and offers premium products, including this years William Heavenhill 14 year offering. Makers is definitely a great tour and experience, one that keeps many non-bourbon fans engaged as well. Willet is doing some renovations I believe, but is only a few minutes from Heaven Hill and offers a pretty good tasting.

 

There are countless more distilleries in both the Central KY and Louisville/Bardstown areas, but these would be my choices. If you have the time, I would certain check out several others as well (Angels Envy, Michters, and Evan Williams bourbon experience are all located in Louisville, 1792/Barton is located in Bardstown). As far as lunch or dinner, you should definitely check out the Old Talbot Inn & Tavern in Bardstown. It is a really neat place that has great food at a very reasonable price. Their tavern also has an extensive bourbon selection, with many of the LE and unicorn bourbons available. Hope this information is helpful to you, if you need anything further let me know.

Is Michter's open?  I thought they opened later in 2018.

4 hours ago, kawboyz11 said:

 

 

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kawboyz11
2 hours ago, briankeith513 said:

Is Michter's open?  I thought they opened later in 2018.

 

I had thought they were but maybe I am mistaken. 

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CardsandBourbon

Earlier posters have mentioned all the distilleries.  Here is a link to a previous post I made mentioning some restaurants in Louisville.

 

 

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Backdoctor
11 hours ago, CardsandBourbon said:

Earlier posters have mentioned all the distilleries.  Here is a link to a previous post I made mentioning some restaurants in Louisville.

 

 

Thank you! Have a Merry Christmas!

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Backdoctor

Would really like to see Michter's , Buffalo trace. Also seems Maker's Mark is a must. Also thinking Woodford. Need to get a map and mark out what's next to what. I'm thinking 2   a day, around 6-8 the whole trip.  Also would love to see Angels Envy ... 

 

Do you know if I can find a shipping box to pack lets say 6 bottles to put in cargo of jet to take home?

 

 

Edited by Backdoctor

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Guss West

You can pack up to 5L (maybe more now) in your checked bag.  I padded each bottle well and had no issues getting several home from KY.  The attendants often have special stickers for the luggage as well.  They get lots of customers with a bottle or six in their bag. 

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PowderKeg

- Pretty sure Michters isn't offering tours.   Main St bldg is supposedly still a long ways off from completion.

 

- Can spend a day at Buffalo Trace alone - Bourbon Barrel, Hard Hat, and EH Taylor (Bourbon Pompeii) tours are all great (and cover diff aspects of BT) and can be done in one day, but must reserve spots a month+ in advance.   

 

- If given a choice between MM and Beam tours I'd go Beam every time (and I'm a MM Ambassador!) - did MM last week and was underwhelmed and disappointed compared to my last MM tour 6 or so years ago.   IMHO has replaced the remote, down-home, days-past feel with a much more commercial/tourist approach now.  Also turned-off by the (very) scripted tour and IMHO revisionist history on parts of MM developments and wheated recipe source, along with spinning and selective presentation of some "facts" when comparing MM to other distillers (along with a superiority complex at times too).  Still a lot of neat stuff at MM though.  Beam tour is a great all-around tour.

 

- Give serious consideration to Castle & Key - they're doing restoration tours right now on Thurs & Fridays.  Not quite as detailed on the distilling side as BT and Beam, but focused on the plans,  progress and discoveries of restoring an historic distillery (EH Taylor) and the surrounding grounds and gardens.  No bourbon tasting - only been distilling on-site for the past year+ - but the new make coming off the still was very tasty and the details of the recipes, barrelling proof, and intended bottle proof really sounds promising.  This was the highlight of my Bourbon Pilgrimage last week to the Sacred Cities of Frankfort, Bardstown, and Louisville. 

 

- Can spend one day in Bardstown and catch Willett, Barton/1792, Heaven Hill Heritage Center, and Oscar Goetz museum.  Barton IMHO is very underrated - have really enjoyed the tours I've gone on there and they're nowhere near as crowded as BT (also free like BT, since they're Sazerac sister distilleries).   Or might jam in a run up the road to Four Roses warehouse/bottling (also really good) or Beam if timed right and drop one of the others.

 

- A day in Louisville can get you Angels Envy, Evan Williams (speakeasy tasting is really neat as is the separate craft-sized distillery tour), Beam Urban Bourbon tasting and maybe a personalized bottling (which is open late unlike all others), and Bulleit/Stitzel-Weller (for the historic distillery grounds more than Bulleit).  Other options to check if some of those don't float your boat are Frazier and Louisville Slugger museums, Big Four Bridge walk across the Ohio, Belle of Louisville (if running), Peerless distilling and Copper & Kings tours, and 502 Winery tasting to name some.  Also a lunch trip to J Graham's Cafe in the Brown Motel for an original Hot Brown.  Really a ton of bar and restaurant optons in Louisville covered better by others.  

 

- Independent Stave (ISC) tour is also good and a shift from distillery tours.  Could make most of a day with ISC, Makers, and Limestone Branch.

 

Few more notes: widely varying tour options, daily availability, and popularity between the distlleries requires detailed planning and reservations, especially if done during traditional tourist days/times.  Don't assume that tours will end precisely on-time, especially at BT and Barton - their guides seem to have more freedom to "adjust" the tour and can run long with extra/alternate stops if not too busy and with an interested tour group.  Only buy distillery-only bottles and bling from the distillery shops - significantly better pricing can be found in Louisville at Total Wine and multiple Liquor Barns (for stuff not found at Total Wine) and other L-ville shops.   Skip the Bardstown shops close to the square as they focus on reaming bourbon tourists - there are a couple good ones on the eastern outer edge of town and a little south of the parkway though.

 

 

 

 

 

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gurgalunas

I did a 3 day tour in April, and crammed a lot into it.  We stayed in L'ville.  I'll give a summary and you can take what you want from it...

 

Day 1, stopped at beam and walked the grounds and gift shop.  Looking back, I'd do the full tour.  I've become a fan of some of the higher end stuff, and would like to see the operation in more detail.

 

Went virtually next door to 4 Roses bottling and aging facility.  Took the tour here.  It was good, nothing exceptional.  Worth stopping at the gift shop at the least to see what Distillers Select bottles are available.

 

Went to Bardstown and stopped at Heaven Hill,  Barton 1792, and Willett.  Didn't tour HH, but will if I get the chance again.  Very industrial appearance, but I've really grown to appreciate their products, and would love to do the tasting.  The visitors center is worth 30 minutes to look thru.  Barton was fun.  The tour guide was very flexible, and even let my 4 year old drive the golf cart through the grounds (sat on her lap).  Willett was nice too, one of my favorites up to that point.  

 

Day 2 was Buffalo Trace, Woodford Reserve, Wild Turkey, 4R distillery.  I wish I'd dedicated a whole day to BT, it was that spectacular.  So much history, and lots of familiarity with their products.  WR was fine, great scenery both driving to and on site.  The tour was good, but seemed pretentious, kinda country club-like.  Even the janitors had on khakis and collared shirts.  WT was a short stop due to a time crunch.  I'd like to tour it next time.  4R was nice, again running late, so I skipped out on the last tour of the day.  They did give me a private tasting of  the 3 Distillers Select bottles and even got to meet  Brent Elliott.  Wish I had more time here.

 

Day 3 was mostly other stuff, but I did fit in Stitzel-Weller as my last bourbon stop.  Lots of history in that place, but the tour was marginal.  Very Bulleit focused.  Take the time to visit with the "guard" at the gate.  That old fella has been there his whole life and is worth the visit to talk with him...

 

Next trip, I want to see MM, but it's out of the way, and the drive time will limit what you can do on that day.  Castle and Key was also recommended by the BT and WR guides.  I might have interest in the future in Whiskey Row, as there are several being built in downtown L'ville to expand on the several already there.

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fishnbowljoe

I gave my distillery recommendations in an earlier post. However, I have something else to add that you might want to take into consideration. 

 

It appears that you have a somewhat limited amount of time. I'm speaking from experience when I say that you need to allow yourself a little "fudge factor" time. You just never know what's gonna happen when you visit distilleries. Your tour might get started a little late, or end up running longer than expected. You can easily get distracted in a distillery gift shop. You could meet some nice folks and get to talking and lose track of time. Ya' just never know. If you try to stick to a strict timetable while trying to cram too much in, you could possibly miss something enjoyable and worthwhile. So pick and choose wisely, and try to make the most of what time you do have.

 

I sincerely hope you have a great trip. When all is said and done, please make sure you let us know how things went.

 

Biba! Joe

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Backdoctor
22 hours ago, PowderKeg said:

Thank you for the great detailed advice! Are the distillery only offerings unusually highly priced? I also wonder if in general bourbon will be less expensive than here in Florida, and better/larger selection?

 

 

22 hours ago, PowderKeg said:

 

 

 

 

- Pretty sure Michters isn't offering tours.   Main St bldg is supposedly still a long ways off from completion.

 

- Can spend a day at Buffalo Trace alone - Bourbon Barrel, Hard Hat, and EH Taylor (Bourbon Pompeii) tours are all great (and cover diff aspects of BT) and can be done in one day, but must reserve spots a month+ in advance.   

 

- If given a choice between MM and Beam tours I'd go Beam every time (and I'm a MM Ambassador!) - did MM last week and was underwhelmed and disappointed compared to my last MM tour 6 or so years ago.   IMHO has replaced the remote, down-home, days-past feel with a much more commercial/tourist approach now.  Also turned-off by the (very) scripted tour and IMHO revisionist history on parts of MM developments and wheated recipe source, along with spinning and selective presentation of some "facts" when comparing MM to other distillers (along with a superiority complex at times too).  Still a lot of neat stuff at MM though.  Beam tour is a great all-around tour.

 

- Give serious consideration to Castle & Key - they're doing restoration tours right now on Thurs & Fridays.  Not quite as detailed on the distilling side as BT and Beam, but focused on the plans,  progress and discoveries of restoring an historic distillery (EH Taylor) and the surrounding grounds and gardens.  No bourbon tasting - only been distilling on-site for the past year+ - but the new make coming off the still was very tasty and the details of the recipes, barrelling proof, and intended bottle proof really sounds promising.  This was the highlight of my Bourbon Pilgrimage last week to the Sacred Cities of Frankfort, Bardstown, and Louisville. 

 

- Can spend one day in Bardstown and catch Willett, Barton/1792, Heaven Hill Heritage Center, and Oscar Goetz museum.  Barton IMHO is very underrated - have really enjoyed the tours I've gone on there and they're nowhere near as crowded as BT (also free like BT, since they're Sazerac sister distilleries).   Or might jam in a run up the road to Four Roses warehouse/bottling (also really good) or Beam if timed right and drop one of the others.

 

- A day in Louisville can get you Angels Envy, Evan Williams (speakeasy tasting is really neat as is the separate craft-sized distillery tour), Beam Urban Bourbon tasting and maybe a personalized bottling (which is open late unlike all others), and Bulleit/Stitzel-Weller (for the historic distillery grounds more than Bulleit).  Other options to check if some of those don't float your boat are Frazier and Louisville Slugger museums, Big Four Bridge walk across the Ohio, Belle of Louisville (if running), Peerless distilling and Copper & Kings tours, and 502 Winery tasting to name some.  Also a lunch trip to J Graham's Cafe in the Brown Motel for an original Hot Brown.  Really a ton of bar and restaurant optons in Louisville covered better by others.  

 

- Independent Stave (ISC) tour is also good and a shift from distillery tours.  Could make most of a day with ISC, Makers, and Limestone Branch.

 

Few more notes: widely varying tour options, daily availability, and popularity between the distlleries requires detailed planning and reservations, especially if done during traditional tourist days/times.  Don't assume that tours will end precisely on-time, especially at BT and Barton - their guides seem to have more freedom to "adjust" the tour and can run long with extra/alternate stops if not too busy and with an interested tour group.  Only buy distillery-only bottles and bling from the distillery shops - significantly better pricing can be found in Louisville at Total Wine and multiple Liquor Barns (for stuff not found at Total Wine) and other L-ville shops.   Skip the Bardstown shops close to the square as they focus on reaming bourbon tourists - there are a couple good ones on the eastern outer edge of town and a little south of the parkway though.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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PowderKeg

.- $$ compared to FL, don't have a clue.  Best thing is to hit a few of your preferred shops w/ good/avg area prices and take lotsa notes on your favorites and similar brands, then compare when you get to KY.  Speaking for AR where I recently moved, $$ fluctuates but is mostly within a couple bucks of KY +/- EXCEPT FOR Total Wine in Louisville - TW runs from a couple bucks to $10 or more cheaper across the board than anywhere else I've been in north/central KY.  That's why I say hit TW first if you'd like to bring some home, then others for what TW doesn't have on the shelf.  

 

- Some distillery gift/visitor shops offer LEs or versions that aren't available anywhere/anyway else, so they are usually mighty $$$$.  For any distillery's regular brands in the gift shop, they're usually going to be priced several to many $ more than local shops because the distilleries don't want to be price competitors.   Beam & MM are particularly high, but if you're buying a bottle to fill yourself or wax the top, well then you just chalk it off to a one-time unique experience.

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PowderKeg

As far as variety and availability, KY isn't the garden spot of selections that many think it is.  I saw more WSR in one day here in Little Rock than I saw in a few years in KY, and in a few cases cheaper too.  LR is almost swimming in WSR right now.   1792SiB is on quite a few shelves down here too - seen way more of it than all of the 1792 varieties  (not including small batch, it's common and always available) combined in KY since Barton first announced them a few years ago.

 

What you want to watch/focus on are the varieties that aren't distributed much if at all outside KY, like Bulleit Barrel Strength, HH 6yr BiB, likely Willett's own distillate Old Bardstown BiB and other Willett brands, maybe VOB BiB, and such if they float your boat.

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