If you think about drinking culture in Kentucky, you’re likely thinking about one of the state’s staple bourbon or whiskey companies with international renown—Jim Beam, Maker’s Mark, Mitcher’s, among others—that are a force in the American spirits community. But at the helm of all that liquor production are two women leaders of the Kentucky Distiller’s Association (KDA), Pamela Heilmann and Andrea Wilson.
Heilmann is a designated Master Distiller by the KDA and Executive Vice President of Production at Michter’s, while Wilson leads as Mitcher’s Executive Vice President & Master of Maturation as well as a Chair of the KDA.
At Mitcher’s, every aspect of the distillation and maturation process is strictly controlled and choreographed by Heilmann and Wilson, who closely manage the art and science of whiskey production. Which is all to say—they know their liquor.
They also intimately know the town in which they are based, which is why we were lucky enough to get the two whisky masters’ guide to drinking in Louisville, from the best bars to restaurants with the most exciting cocktail menus.
Louisville’s Best Bars
Meta is a local favorite with beautiful, perfectly executed cocktails. Their menu features an assortment of classic cocktails that you’re sure to enjoy, but don’t miss out on the modern riffs, which are just delicious! Order the “Byrrh Me” cocktail.
Hell or High Water is a true speakeasy, complete with cozy red banquettes and dim lighting. Cocktails from the “High Water” section of their menu are light and refreshing, while the “Hell” section’s cocktails pack a more spirit-forward punch.
This beautiful speakeasy-style bar and bowling alley is tucked away behind a piece of art in the Omni Hotel. Whether you’re enjoying your cocktail between bowling frames or just a spectator, it’s always a fun place to go for a drink with a few friends.
Located inside the 21c Museum Hotel, Proof features an extensive spirits list. We recommend grabbing one of their world class cocktails and taking a walk through the museum, which is open 24 hours a day and free to the public.
Located in the trendy Butchertown neighborhood, Lola is the perfect spot for an after dinner drink and features live music, great drinks, and a cool, rustic atmosphere. Our favorite cocktail here is the The Royal Scam.
Our team worked closely with cocktail historian and author David Wondrich on The Bar at Fort Nelson’s classic cocktail list. In addition to the cocktails designed by Dr. Wondrich, the bar program will incorporate modern creations by Head Bartender Sevan Araneda, former General Manager of San Francisco’s Bourbon & Branch, and Bar Manager Dante Wheat, former Bar Manager at Louisville’s Butchertown Social. The Bar will feature custom glassware from U.K. producer John Jenkins and a highly advanced ice program with machines from top global equipment purveyors, including Clinebell, Hoshizaki, and Scotsman. The Bar will serve as a resource for the local Kentuckiana bar community and host educational seminars from leading industry professionals through its Fort NelsonFellows program.
Louisville Restaurants with Excellent Drinks Menus
Few things go better together than a well-executed cocktail and a perfectly cooked steak. Start your meal off with their famous house pickles, and finish with one of their irresistible desserts. Located right in the Omni hotel, Bob’s is a must-try (as is their “Rye Not” cocktail).
Jeff Ruby’s is a classic Louisville staple. Their world-class service, fresh seafood, and high quality steaks are sure to impress—and be sure to save room for their deliciously decadent desserts! Try their version of an Old Fashioned.
You can’t go wrong with bourbon and burgers. No matter what you order, Sidebar’s signature burger blend, which combines chuck, brisket and short rib, make this a go-to spot for a casual yet delicious meal.
Merle’s features fantastic southern soul food and an extensive bourbon list. With live music on the weekends and a lot of outdoor seating, this is the perfect place to sit back for a nice meal and a drink with friends.
Butchertown Grocery’s menu is full of elevated, unique dishes. Whether you’re enjoying their basil-fed escargot, mouth-watering gnocchi or their colorful array of fresh and flavorful seasonal vegetables, you’ll certainly have a memorable experience at this laid back yet upscale spot. We like “The Final Ward” from their cocktail menu.