As a frequent and enthusiastic visitor to the famed Bourbon Trail, I have had the opportunity to work with Mint Julep Tours, a tour company based in Louisville, KY that offers both custom and public bourbon distillery tours. I have used their services on four different occasions, and I have to say that they are fantastic (although I should mention that I have only used their custom option and have not experienced their public tours). Every time I have used them I have had a large enough group to be able to use the custom option, which can include anything you could reasonably want, but it starts with your private vehicle and itinerary and goes from there. They do offer public tours which are similar, but you are grouped with other people, ride in the same vehicle, and the tour options are predetermined for you.
Some people hear the words “Guided Tour” and think of old people and a dull voice over the PA system as you sit on a bus and travel around. This is NOT that kind of tour. Mint Julep Tours is a one-stop shop for all of your bourbon trail tour needs. They are more than just a driver to get you from distillery to distillery. They are well-versed in all things Kentucky as well as bourbon history. They know some of the “Honey Holes” where you may have some luck with hard-to-find bottles as well as the best places to stop and grab a bite to eat on your trip.
My first experience with them was in the spring of 2012. I had organized a group of 14 guys and we wanted to hit the Bourbon Trail for a weekend of fun. I had only been to one distillery on the trail prior to this trip (Woodford Reserve). We knew we needed a driver and I found Mint Julep Tours online after doing a bit or research and gave them a call. Right off the bat, I was impressed that they were so helpful in organizing the day for our group: from our “day of” trip itinerary to suggestions for our meals out the night before and everything in between, these guys were clearly more than just drivers. They guided us on where the best places to stay and where to go out and enjoy the Louisville nightlife based on the age range of our group and what kind of activities we would enjoy.
On the day of your tour, Mint Julep Tours picks you up at your hotel and makes sure you stay on schedule to arrive for your tours on time. When Mint Julep Tours says custom, they mean it. Every aspect of their tour is catered to the needs of your group and will be planned in detail well in advance. Depending on how early your group wants to start and how much drinking you do, you can usually get to at least two different distilleries. From what I’ve heard, three is doable as well but your schedule becomes a bit tighter. Mint Julep Tours will even try to pair your group up with a driver (and sometimes an additional guide) that best fits the personality of your group. They also provide a cooler with bottled water as well as plenty of plastic cups to sample any bourbon that you might pick up along the way at the distillery gift shops or various liquor stores.
Since my first trip with Mint Julep Tours in 2012, I’ve used them again on three different occasions. The most recent time was this past August. A friend of mine had moved to NYC to be with his girlfriend and eventually got engaged. Since he is also a big bourbon fan and had been with me on two of my previous trips with Mint Julep Tours, he decided to have his bachelor weekend in Louisville and hit the Bourbon Trail once again. I was in charge of planning this extravaganza, so my first call was to Mint Julep Tours to secure transportation. We booked one of their 23 passenger buses and then got started planning our day with Debbie, who was a huge help getting our day planned. After getting picked up at the 21c (IMO, one of the best hotels in the Midwest), we headed out to hit the Trail.
This was our tour itinerary:
- 9:30 am - Depart Louisville 21 C
- 11:00 am - Willett Tour and Tasting
- 12:30 pm - Barton Tasting
- 1:15 pm - Lunch - Kurtz - Guest Pays
- 3:00 pm - Maker's Mark tour and tasting
- 6:00 pm - Return to Louisville
The first few times I had been on the Bourbon Trail, not all of the distilleries charged admission. Since then, the Bourbon Trail has become such big business - not only for the state of KY but for the individual distilleries as well - that I believe they now all charge admission. At some distilleries, you can still just show up and take a tour but with others, you may need reservations. Mint Julep Tours takes care of all of these details on your behalf. If you go on your own, be sure to check the distillery’s website or give them a call first. You don’t want to show up on a day they are not open for tours!
Mint Julep Tours is all about having fun. They do all they can to make sure your group has a memorable experience. The only thing they don’t allow is smoking on the bus. That said, if I could change one thing about the Mint Julep Tours experience, I’d LOVE it if there was a cigar-friendly bus. All of their guides are extremely knowledgeable about all things bourbon as well as Kentucky. I’ve never had a bad trip with them but I have had two particularly fantastic guides. I highly recommend Gary or Phil if you get a chance to request a guide or driver for your custom tour. They worked really well with our slightly rowdy group of guys on a bourbon bender.
Mint Julep Tours was started by Sean and Lisa Higgins. I was able to chat with Sean and ask him a few questions about their company and how it all got started.
I asked Sean how this Mint Julep Tours came to be and he explained that it all came together over some cigars and bourbon. He had some neighbors that worked in the bourbon industry and would always get together to have a few drinks. One evening they got to talking about the Bourbon Trail and the KY Tourism Board and how there was going to be a big push to market the Bourbon Trail as a destination to attract visitors to their state. In 2007, the only marketing that really existed for the Bourbon Trail was basically a map of the trail with the locations of each distillery. There was no official tour or transportation company for the Bourbon Trail. His idea was born.
Sean and Lisa started Mint Julep Tours in their basement with one 14 passenger church bus. In 2008 the city of Louisville helped them become the “Official Tour Company of the Bourbon Trail.” They have come a long way in a short time and this is now a full-time job for both Sean and Lisa. Sean left his career in IT in 2013 to focus on their growing business. Mint Julep Tours now has 11 full-time employees and 27 more part-time tour guides and drivers. The company now has 12 vehicles that range from Cadillac Escalades to 23 passenger busses. Mint Julep Tours just recently moved into a new 8000 square foot building. Within their new building, they have a 3500 square foot event space decorated with memorabilia from Louisville Slugger, Churchill Downs (including 3 old betting windows), the Bourbon Trail and some of the distilleries as well as local artists. And that event space does not even include the 6500 square foot garage space that was built just for all of their vehicles.
For now, if you don’t have a large enough group to book one of their custom tours, you can book a public tour on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays. There may even be plans in the works to possibly expand to Wednesdays and Sundays in the future.
Sean tells me that while they do offer both city and horse country tours to their list of services, roughly 85% of their business is from the Bourbon Trail. By the end of 2016, Mint Julep Tours will take over 20k passengers on their tours this year.
I highly recommend you give them a call if you are going to Louisville or plan on hitting the Bourbon Trail, you won’t regret it.
*FYI, I was not given anything to write this. This is NOT a sponsored article.