“It Starts Here” is the tagline of the Frazier History Museum. | Photo by Sara Havens

For the 16 million tourists who trickle into Louisville each year chasing elusive bottles, master distillers and bourbon-making experiences — and for locals who keep those hard-to-find bottles hard to find — there’s now a starting place for the Kentucky Bourbon Trail.

The Frazier History Museum unveiled its Kentucky Bourbon Trail Welcome Center and “Spirit of Kentucky” exhibition Thursday morning to a crowd of media, local politicians, bourbon distillers and others in the industry. It’s now open to the public.

For a bourbon fan, it was fun to see numerous master distillers shaking hands, swapping stories and be just as anxious as others to get the first peek inside the immaculate Weber Group-created Welcome Center.

The Frazier History Museum has a new entrance. | Photo by Sara Havens

“This Welcome Center isn’t just an attraction on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail, it’s going to be an essential first step to help visitors understand what they’re about to experience,” said Rob Samuels, COO of Maker’s Mark and chairman of the board of the Kentucky Distillers’ Association, at the news conference.

“It also represents another unique aspect of the bourbon industry — all the distilleries coming together to create something that benefits everyone. It’s a rare industry where competitors also treat each other as family,” he added.

The Welcome Center is located on the first floor of the Frazier Museum and serves as the museum’s new entrance. It is free of charge, and trained staff will help visitors plan tours to distilleries throughout the state and also help educate them about Kentucky bourbon.

There’s also a scenic and serene Jon Carloftis-created “Gateway Garden” in the space. Carloftis is a world-renowned landscape artist from Lexington who is currently shaping the gardens at the soon-to-open Castle & Key Distillery.

“I would say this is another landmark moment in the ongoing transformation of our city,” said Mayor Greg Fischer at the unveiling. “It is clear that with the bourbon industry and our food scene, we still have so much untapped potential. We’re in baseball season now, so I’d say we’re maybe in the second or third inning of where bourbonism is going to go.”

Mayor Greg Fischer only said “bourbonism” three times during his speech. | Photo by Sara Havens

The mayor also pointed out that in 2011, there were no bourbon experiences in Louisville, and now there will be nine this year, plus a newly expanded Convention Center, 20 hotels and much more.

“This isn’t us just bragging,” he said. “Remember what Muhammad Ali always said, ‘If it’s true, it ain’t bragging.’ ”

The new “Spirit of Kentucky” exhibit is located on the third floor of the Frazier Museum and features 10,000 square feet of all things bourbon. It offers interactive experiences and gives detailed information on what makes Kentucky bourbon so special — including the limestone water, soil, climate, history and people, of course.

Highlights include a covered bridge-style walkway that showcases video footage of the Red River Gorge and Cumberland Falls; the “Gracious Table,” an interactive surface that contains a voluminous digital library of bourbon-related research content; and the “Bottle Hall,” a collection that includes every brand of bourbon currently produced in Kentucky.

We also may have discovered a secret bar, a speakeasy if you will, where we found Al Capone lounging in the corner.

“The Spirit of Kentucky” exhibit is included as part of the admission into the Frazier.

Both the exhibit and the Welcome Center are now open to the public. The Frazier History Museum is located at 829 W. Main St.

Below are more photos of our trip to the Welcome Center and “Spirit of Kentucky” exhibit:

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Sara Havens
Sara Havens is the Culture Editor at Insider Louisville, known around town as the Bar Belle (barbelleblog.com). She's a former editor of LEO Weekly and has written for Playboy and The Alcohol Professor. Havens is the author of two books: "The Bar Belle" and "The Bar Belle Vol. 2."