Immerse Yourself In American Whiskey At These Historic Cities 

Immerse Yourself In American Whiskey At These Historic Cities 

Nick Kenyon
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Nick Kenyon

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This article is part of a series celebrating Boss Hunting’s favourite corners of the United States. Click here to see more.


American whiskey is enjoying a renaissance, drawing aficionados to the very cities that anchor its history and production. As enthusiasts explore the nuances of bourbon, Tennessee whiskey, and rye, they are increasingly turning their attention to the urban centres that have become synonymous with whiskey production. These cities not only offer a glimpse into the distilling process, but they also embody the cultural and historical tapestry that has shaped the history of the United States.

Louisville, Kentucky, stands as a titan in the whiskey world, boasting a legacy that dates back to the 18th century. Known as the gateway to the Kentucky Bourbon Trail, the city offers an unparalleled experience for whiskey lovers. Distilleries old and new lace the urban landscape, each telling a part of the broader narrative of Kentucky’s bourbon heritage. The city’s dedication to craftsmanship makes it a pilgrimage for those seeking to understand the complexity of American whiskey.

Beyond this iconic gateway, cities like Nashville, Tennessee and Portland, Oregon contribute to the story of American whiskey in their own distinct ways. Nashville’s whiskey culture is infused with the region’s musical heritage, offering a harmonious blend of sensory experiences. Portland, with its artisanal approach to food and drink, has become a breeding ground for innovative distilleries elevating American whiskey to new heights. These cities, among others, mark the chapters of an ongoing story, inviting visitors to taste and discover the history of American whiskey.


Origins and Early Distillers

The origins of American whiskey can be traced back to the late 18th century. Settlers, primarily of Scottish and Irish descent, brought with them the knowledge of distilling to the American colonies. 

Corn, which was abundant in the USA, became the primary grain for producing whiskey, leading to the creation of bourbon. Key figures such as Elijah Craig are often credited with pioneering the technique of charred barrel aging, which is a defining characteristic of Kentucky bourbon.

In the late 20th and early 21st centuries, American whiskey experienced a resurgence, often referred to as the modern craft movement. This period has seen a rise in small-scale distilleries, as well as innovation with new mash bill formulations and aging processes.

This movement has helped to revitalise traditional whiskey-producing regions and fostered a new appreciation for high-quality, artisanal whiskey. 

American whiskey offers a diverse palette of flavours and traditions. Its variations are defined by strict legal requirements and geographical heritage.


Whiskey Styles & Their Homes

Bourbon – Louisville, Kentucky

Bourbon is a corn-based whiskey, with the grain constituting at least 51% of the mash bill. It’s typically aged in new, charred oak barrels which impart a distinct sweetness and notes of vanilla. Makers must produce bourbon in the United States, and while it is closely associated with Kentucky, it isn’t geographically restricted within the country.

Louisville stands as the gateway to the Kentucky Bourbon Trail, boasting an illustrious history steeped in bourbon culture. The city is also home to the Urban Bourbon Trail, featuring numerous bars and restaurants specialising in bourbon.

Key distilleries include The Angel’s Envy Distillery and the Evan Williams Bourbon Experience, where visitors can immerse themselves in the art of bourbon making. Just half an hour away in Clermont, you can also pay a visit to the legendary Jim Beam distillery that offers tasting sessions that explain the bourbon-making process of the brand. 

One hour east from Louisville, in Frankfort, is another of the world’s most famous distilleries, Buffalo Trace, most noted for producing Old Rip Van Winkle and Pappy Van Winkle, some of the most coveted releases on the planet. 

Continue south along the Kentucky river and arrive at Wild Turkey, on the outskirts of Lawrenceburg, where the famous Russell family have been blending since 1954. Jimmy Russell and his boy Eddie are the only active father and son duo of bourbon Master Distillers in the world. Just over an hour south east is Maker’s Mark, which is more than worth a visit to dip your own bottles in the brand’s signature red wax. 

If you’re hunting for a spot to stay while in Louisville, The Brown Hotel is an iconic hotel offering luxury stays and one that’s famous for its hospitality.

Tennessee Whiskey – Lynchburg, Tennessee

Tennessee Whiskey, while similar to bourbon in its composition, undergoes an additional filtration process known as the Lincoln County Process. It involves filtering the spirit through sugar maple charcoal before aging, which is claimed to remove impurities and add a unique smoothness. 

Lynchburg’s name is synonymous with the Jack Daniel’s Distillery, the oldest registered distillery in the United States. Despite its small size, the town’s global impact through this iconic brand underscores Tennessee whiskey’s unique charcoal mellowing process.

If you’re in town and interested in fully immersing yourself in the culture of bourbon, visiting the Jack Daniel’s Distillery is a must, where you can enjoy an in-depth tour of the facility and a taste of their Tennessee Whiskey.

Rye Whiskey

Rye whiskey is made primarily from rye grain, which must be at least 51% of the mash bill. This type of whiskey delivers a spicier and more robust flavour profile compared to the sweeter bourbon. Rye whiskey has witnessed a resurgence in popularity and is integral to many classic American cocktails like the Boulevardier, Manhattan or Sazerac. 

Unlike bourbon and Tennessee Whiskey, Rye is harder to define by a singular location with incredible examples popping up all over the USA. Alongside Jim Beam, Clermont, Kentucky is also the home of Basil Hayden, loved for its rich and unique rye whiskey that blends Kentucky rye, Canadian rye from Basil Hayden’s Alberta-based distillery, and a touch of California-made port. Be sure to stop at Shelbyville en route for a tasting at Bulleit Distilling Co. whose Bulleit Rye has been amassing awards since its launch in 2011. 

High West Distillery in Park City, Utah is famous for its Double Rye bottling which is heavy on spice and blended from two differently aged rye whiskeys. The fact that it’s the world’s only ski-in distillery makes it a must-visit in itself. 

In Waco, Texas, Balcones Distilling makes a young rye whiskey with a mash bill of 100 percent rye grains, including Elbon Rye from the north of Texas along with crystal, chocolate and roasted rye varieties. You’ll get to taste it, and other releases on their distillery tour but make sure to book in advance. 

Emerging Whiskey

New regional whiskey styles are emerging around the USA thanks to the proliferation of craft distilleries, bringing new ideas to decades-old whiskey-distilling traditions. American single malts, stylistically similar to Scottish malts, smoked with mesquite (instead of peat) or aged in Port Barrels are exploding onto the scene. 

These expressions are aged in unique climates, that reflect a genuine sense of place like that of Weybridge, Vermont, in the country’s north east, where Lost Lantern have won prestigious awards like ‘Best American Single Malt’ and ‘Global Independent Bottler of the Year’.

Finally, exciting new hubs like Distillery Row in Portland, Oregon are pushing innovation via a concentrated collective of distillers all offering tours, tastings and retail. Westward Whiskey, founded in 2004, is leading the charge with innovative releases aged in wine and stout barrels, changing the global perception of what an American Whisky can be. 

These cities contribute significantly to the wider American economy with their thriving tourism and distilling industries, while also preserving the important stories of America’s distilling lineage. Engaging with these cities offers an educational journey into the complexities of whiskey-making and its place in American culture.


This article is sponsored by VisitTheUSA.com.au and is part of a series celebrating Boss Hunting’s favourite corners of the United States. Click here to see more, and thank you for supporting the brands that support Boss Hunting.

Nick Kenyon
WORDS by
Nick Kenyon is the Editor of Boss Hunting, joining the team after working as the Deputy Editor of luxury watch magazine Time+Tide. He has a passion for watches, with other interests across style, sports and more. Get in touch at nick (at) luxity.com.au

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