It was 10 years when Louisvillian Sean Higgins and his wife, Lisa, decided to throw caution to the wind and start a tourism business centered on Kentucky bourbon. The brown spirit was just starting to buzz again after a 30-year downswing, and the Higgins had a hunch that bourbon was here to stay.
Mint Julep Tours launched in 2008 and had a small fleet of buses and vans that offered informative tours, mainly transporting guests from their Louisville hotels to distilleries in Bardstown, Lawrenceburg, Frankfort and beyond.
Now, the company has rebranded as Mint Julep Experiences, operates more than 20 tour vehicles, employs a staff of 50+, has expanded into Tennessee with a second office in Nashville, and offers curated tours and elevated experiences just about every day of the year. And, along with the bourbon and whiskey focus, they’ve added culinary, history and adventure-inspired tours.
Sean Higgins tells Insider that this year, Mint Julep Experiences should reach about 40,000 guests, up 10,000 from last year.
He says the switch from offering simple tours to elaborate experiences has been the most challenging yet rewarding thing for the business. In the end, it helped propel the company beyond what he imagined 10 years ago.
“This approach is so much harder to execute, but with the passion and care that each of our drivers, guides and experience coordinators delivers to each and every guest, we get ‘r done,” says Higgins. “This is why we have been awarded TripAdvisor’s Award of Excellence for nine straight years and were selected this year to be inducted into TripAdvisor’s Hall of Fame. Kinda like our Heisman.”
The Tennessee tours and office space began in March of 2018, and Higgins says they’re doing extremely well.
“The one dynamic we have been surprised by is the desire of international travelers to come from Nashville to Bourbon Country for a day since they are so close to Kentucky,” he explains. “We also have tours available to Tennessee Whiskey Trail distilleries like Jack Daniel’s every day of the week, plus tour packages that incorporate Southern barbecue, historic landmarks, leather craftsmanship, custom cowboy boot making and more.”
Looking toward the future, Higgins is excited by a few concepts on the horizon. Mint Julep recently started a $65,000 “ultimate whiskey vacation” out of the Nashville office he’s looking forward to showing off. And locally, they’re going to start offering tours to the Brown-Forman Cooperage for those interested in how barrels are made.
Asked what’s the best part of being an integral part of the bourbon industry, Higgins says: “It truly is a family. We see our role in this family is to create safe, authentic, easy and fun adventures for the traveler to appreciate all Kentucky has to offer.”
This being Labor Day Weekend and all, we’d thought we’d take a look at some of the tours Mint Julep Experiences is offering from Louisville. Turns out, there are quite a few — and they’re all pretty interesting.
On Sunday, Sept. 2, there’s the “Best of Kentucky” tour that includes a stop at a horse farm and Buffalo Trace Distillery; the “Brew in the Lou” tour that hits three local breweries; and a “Bourbon Distillery Tour” that swings by both Maker’s Mark and Lux Row distilleries.
For more information on these, and a look at other tour offerings, check out the schedule online.
Before Higgins tries to enjoy his holiday weekend, we asked him some very important questions …
What’s the most surprising thing on your Bucket List?
Attend a rugby World Cup tournament.
What poster was on your wall in junior high?
Farrah Fawcett — it may still be the best-selling poster of all time.
If you were mayor, to whom would you give the key to the city?
Actually, I would turn around and hand it back to our current mayor, as I think he is doing a wonderful job.
What are your preferred pizza toppings?
Hawaiian, plus banana peppers and onions. Sweet and savory.
If you could be any age for a week, what would it be?
25 — so I can hang with my kids at their age.
What famous person do people say you resemble the most?
The Dude, Jeff Bridges.
Who would you most like to be stuck with in an elevator?