Kentucky is widely recognized as the birthplace of bourbon, and the Woodford Reserve Distillery is a prime example of the state’s rich bourbon-making heritage. This historic distillery has been producing premium bourbon for over two centuries, and its commitment to traditional methods and high-quality ingredients has made it one of the most respected bourbon producers in the country. The Woodford Reserve Distillery has a long and storied history of producing some of the finest bourbon in the world.

In this article, we’ll delve into the history of the Woodford Reserve and what makes it so special. Whether you’re a connoisseur of the “water of life” or just looking for a unique and educational experience, Woodford Reserve is a must-visit for anyone interested in bourbon and the culture surrounding it. Visiting this iconic distillery will leave you with a deeper cultural appreciation for a quintessentially American spirit.

Woodford Reserve Bourbon Distillery

From the bluegrass fields to the bourbon barrels, everything about this old distillery is the definition of Kentucky. Heck, Woodford Reserve Bourbon is practically Kentucky in a bottle if you think about it. A winding drive through iconic thoroughbred farms blanketed with a pristine Bluegrass quilt leads you to the centuries-old estate. Even if you don’t love bourbon (sshh, don’t say that out loud around here!), the experience alone is plenty reason to put this piece of Kentucky history on your must-see list.

Thoroughbred farms near Woodford Reserve. Woodford distillery history.

Where is Woodford Reserve Bourbon Made?

Woodford Reserve Bourbon Distillery is a historic bourbon distillery located in Versailles, Kentucky. It was established in 1812 and has been producing premium bourbon ever since. Only in Kentucky does fine bourbon mature right alongside fine thoroughbred horses. The distillery is situated on the picturesque Woodford Reserve horse farm. The setting is idyllic, almost like a movie. Bluegrass and bourbon are synonymous with Kentucky, making it a perfect place to sip on the states’ favorite booze. The combination of history, ambiance, and pride found in the bluegrass hills of Versailles make the Woodford Distillery one of the most popular stops on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail.

The Woodford Reserve distillery is known for their meticulous attention to detail. This applies to every stage of the bourbon-making process, from selecting the finest ingredients to using traditional, time-tested methods to produce their premium product. They use only the finest grains and limestone-filtered water to create their mash bill. The aging process uses charred oak barrels to produce the rich, complex flavors that bourbon lovers crave.

Part of what makes the Woodford Reserve Distillery so special is not just its historic home, but the old school distilling process. One of the unique features of Woodford Reserve is their use of three Scottish-made copper pot stills. These stills produce a smoother, more refined bourbon, with less harshness and bitterness than other methods.

Batches of Woodford bourbon are distilled three times and then matured in a heat-cycled warehouse – a process generally abandoned by the industry. The distillery also has a unique approach to barrel aging, using a process called “seasoning,” where they expose the barrels to the elements for nine months prior to filling them with bourbon. This allows the wood to breathe and mature, resulting in a richer, more complex flavor profile.

woodford reserve bourbon bottles

The History Behind Woodford Reserve Bourbon Distillery

The history of Woodford Reserve Distillery dates back more than two centuries. This iconic bourbon distillery has been tucked away in these plush Kentucky hills since Elijah Pepper first began crafting bourbon here in 1812. Pepper was a prominent distiller in the region known for its high-quality bourbon made from the finest grains and limestone-filtered water. The distillery operated under the Pepper family name until it was sold to Labrot & Graham in 1878.

During Prohibition, the distillery was forced to close like many others in the industry. In 1933, following the repeal of Prohibition, the distillery reopened its operations before eventually being sold to Brown-Forman Corporation. Brown-Forman actually purchased the property twice. After the acquisition from Labrot & Graham in 1941, Brown-Forman continued production for several years before shutting down operations in 1959 and selling the property to a local farmer.

In the 90’s, the company re-purchased that property with a commitment to bring the distillery back to life. The company invested in modernizing the distillery while preserving the traditional techniques that had made the original Pepper distillery famous. Brown-Forman resumed production of bourbon and reintroduced the distillery as Woodford Reserve.

The Woodford Reserve brand has since become one of the most renowned and respected bourbon brands in the world. Despite changing hands a few times over the last couple hundred years, Woodford still uses the original distillery to produce bourbon. If you ask me, that’s pretty special. It is now one of the oldest, smallest, and dare I say, most beautiful bourbon distilleries in the state. You don’t have to take my word for it though. Woodford Reserve is now recognized as a National Historic Landmark.

woodford reserve distillery

Woodford Reserve Distillery & Other Kentucky Bourbon Trail Tours

Today, the Woodford Reserve Distillery is a popular tourist destination. Visitors can tour the facilities, learn about the history of bourbon, and experience the traditional bourbon-making process firsthand. The distillery boasts many of the original buildings and equipment, including the signature copper pot stills which are used to produce their award-winning bourbon. The history and legacy of Woodford Reserve Distillery continues to be a vital part of Kentucky’s rich bourbon heritage. Don’t be surprised if Woodford Reserve Distillery is the highlight of your next trip through the Bluegrass State.

Exploring the Bourbon Trail is a great way to experience Kentucky. Plan your own Kentucky Bourbon Trail tour using the Bourbon Trail Trip Planner. You can even get a free Bourbon Trail Passport to collect stamps at each distillery!

Jenna Walker

Jenna Walker is a travel writer from Oklahoma who lives with her husband, two children, and three rescue pets. While out and about in the world, she loves spending time outdoors, exploring local culture, and trying new foods. Jenna knows that, often, we overlook our own backyard. You can also find her stories and guides on the website, The Oklahoma Experience.