Louisville is getting back to its boozy roots. America’s only native spirit, bourbon is big business, with Kentucky producing some 95 percent of the world’s supply. According to the Kentucky Distillers Association, there were 4.9 million barrels of bourbon aging in Kentucky in 2012. That’s more than a whole barrel for each Kentuckian.
But all this growth stood to pass Louisville by: Although the city sits solidly in bluegrass bourbon country, there hasn’t been a new public distillery in the downtown district since Prohibition. That’s all about to change, though, as four bourbon producers work to set up new Louisville-based artisanal distilling operations and revive the city’s historic Whiskey Row.
Line ’Em Up
Kentucky Peerless Distilling Company has its eye on a mid-2014 opening in downtown Louisville. This father-son operation owned by Corky and Carson Taylor is actually a revival of Peerless Distilling, a 19th century operation run by Corky’s great-grandfather, Henry Kraver, in nearby Henderson. The duo will start by focusing on moonshine production until their four-year-old bourbon is ready for distribution, and plan to follow up with a premium small-batch variety—Henry Kraver Select Product.
Likewise, Michter’s—which calls itself “America’s first whiskey company” and tracks its distilling tradition back to the 18th century when one George Washington purchased several casks of the stuff to get his Valley Forge soldiers through the winter—is building a new small-production distillery. The location (across from the Louisville Slugger Factory and Museum in the historic Fort Nelson building) is a stunning example of the 1890s cast-iron architectural facades prominent along Louisville’s Museum Row. Michter’s will offer tours and tastings of its highly acclaimed bourbon, rye, and American whiskey.
Last September, Angel’s Envy—known for its practice of finishing oak-aged bourbon in ruby port wine casks—broke ground for its new artisanal distillery on the site of the 19th century Vermont American Complex. Wes Henderson, Angel’s Envy COO, said the blending and bottling portion of the program should be up and running by April 2014, with full distilling operations in effect by March 2015.
Can’t wait until spring to get your bourbon on? You don’t have to: The Evan Williams Bourbon Experience opened in November, wowing guests with a towering five-story bourbon bottle just inside the main entrance (a nod to the Slugger Factory’s oversized bat). Also showcased: a gleaming copper pot still operation—a modern take on the traditional equipment used by Mr. Williams himself when he started up the business back in 1783—and an old-timey saloon-style tasting room.
Hit the Trail
All this development comes hot on the heels of the city’s wildly popular Urban Bourbon Trail, a pub crawl that invites neophytes and experienced imbibers alike to visit more than two dozen restaurants, watering holes, and Louisville institutions like the Brown Hotel Lobby Bar and The Seelbach Hilton’s Old Seelbach bar (best known for inspiring F. Scott Fitzgerald to write The Great Gatsby). Sample the small batch bourbon at 21c Museum Hotel’s Proof on Main and then take a rest at the 57-foot bar at Maker’s Mark Bourbon House & Lounge. Participants receive stamps in a passport that they can redeem for prizes—as if all that bourbon wasn’t incentive enough.