"This new visitor center will essentially serve as the 'University of Bourbon,'" said Jimmy Russell, Wild Turkey's longtime master distiller.
Heaven Hill Distilleries Inc., whose brands include Evan Williams bourbon, already has a visitors center in Bardstown, but it's building an attraction in downtown Louisville that will feature a small distillery along with exhibits chronicling Kentucky's long whiskey-making tradition. The nearly $10 million attraction's centerpiece will be a five-story-high Evan Williams bottle towering over the lobby.
"We feel confident that it will pay off by building awareness of our brands and company" as well as the overall bourbon category, said Heaven Hill spokesman Larry Kass.
Four Roses Distillery, also near Lawrenceburg, recently opened a new visitors center to promote the 124-year-old brand made at its Spanish Mission-style distillery. The new center and gift shop were part of a $2.4 million expansion.
The Woodford Reserve Distillery, near Versailles, plans renovations to its visitors center next year and has hired more tour guides.
Visitors to the popular Maker's Mark Distillery, near Loretto, can dip their own bottles in the distinctive red wax that tops every bottle of the premium bourbon.
Alltech's Lexington Brewing & Distilling Co. recently started making its Town Branch bourbon at a new $9.2 million distillery in the heart of Kentucky's second-largest city. The distillery includes a visitors center.
The distilleries are within easy driving distance of thoroughbred farms, another signature Kentucky industry. Some people combine bourbon tours with visits to farms or to Churchill Downs, in Louisville, or Keeneland, in Lexington, when there's live racing at the tracks.
Sometimes visitors get to meet the master distillers -- the men responsible for making the bourbon -- if they're not on the road promoting the brands.
"One of the best parts of my job is sharing my love for bourbon," Russell said.
At the Jim Beam's distillery, in Clermont, visitors might see Noe taking a break, sitting on a rocking chair outside his office just up a ridge from the visitors center. Like his counterparts at other distilleries, he relishes the chance to talk about whiskey making.
"I really am a live, breathing person, and not some marketing tool that somebody just made up," Noe said.
THE JIM BEAM AMERICAN STILLHOUSE: 526 Happy Hollow Road, Clermont, Ky.; www.americanstillhouse.com or 502-543-9877. Monday-Saturday, 9 a.m.-5:30 p.m.; Sunday, noon-4:30 p.m. Closed Sundays in January and February and major holidays. Guided tours, $8. Self-guided tours, free.