You can’t quite fathom the enormity of the Bardstown Bourbon Company (BBCo) until you’ve stood on the new distillery’s 100 acres of land resting between cornfields and industrial buildings in Bardstown, Ky. Situated just off the Bluegrass Parkway not too far from downtown Bardstown, BBCo will be a destination experience similar to wineries in Napa Valley.
Insider Louisville was invited for a first look at the $25 million complex, and what we witnessed was not only a huge undertaking, but a team focused on quality, ingenuity and passion for bourbon. Our small media group was led by BBCo president and CEO David Mandell, master distiller Steve Nally and VP of operations Garnett Black.
There is still much to be done to the 37,000-square-foot, state-of-the-art distillery before its opening in early to mid 2017, but the shell is complete, and distilling equipment is up and running. In fact, the day we were there, Nally and his team pulled the first product off the still — a high-proof white dog with a heavy wheat recipe. After a some more tweaking, they’ll fill the first barrels, lock them up in their newly constructed rick house, and let the process of making premium bourbon begin its long (five- to six-year) journey.
Mandell walked us through the area that will become the Visitors Center. The large room will feature a restaurant, bar, classrooms with windows looking into the distillery, event space and even a whiskey library — which will be one of the largest in the state, he said. There also are plans to add a boutique hotel to the complex after it opens next year.
What sets BBCo apart from other distilleries will be its Collaborative Distilling Program, where other craft distillers and individuals can custom make their own whiskey or bourbon using BBCo’s equipment and team. It not only allows them to work with experts in the field — the production team has an average of more than 15 years of experience in bourbon distilling — but also ensure quality, control the future source for their product and provide an ongoing partnership with a company that’ll help promote their brand.
BBCo will have its own brand of bourbon, most likely a premium wheat-based recipe, according to Nally (who formerly worked as master distiller at Maker’s Mark), but most of its production will be dedicated to the collaborators.
Once inside the loud and steamy distillery room, Mandell explained the distillery has a 1.5 million-gallon capacity at the moment, but it can and likely will be expanded to 6 million without disturbing the current design. And since the company’s Collaborative Distilling Program is already sold out, there’s a good chance it’ll expand before doors even open to the public.
“The Bardstown Bourbon Company is reshaping the American whiskey market,” said Mandell in a press release. “The success of our Collaborative Distilling Program demonstrates the massive demand for custom, authentic, Kentucky whiskey products. We’re excited to begin producing bourbon for our customers and our own brands.”
Nally stood back while Mandell explained the company’s details to the press, but once we entered the distillery, essentially his laboratory, he came alive and seemed eager to share his processes and insights. “Everything is transparent here,” he said. “We even put glass panels in our column still so visitors and clients can see every step of the process.”
The tall still, made by Louisville’s Vendome Copper & Brass Works, features large square windows — the first of its kind, according to Mandell — where you can see the liquid bubbling and splashing about as it makes its way to the top. The equipment is surrounded by windows, and at night, explained Mandell, you can stand outside and actually see the liquid inside the still, as well as the full distilling process.
At the end of the tour, Mandell gathered BBCo’s 15-member crew and thanked them for their dedication to the industry. “Without them, this wouldn’t be a distillery,” he said. “They’re the reason we’re going to succeed, and we can’t do it without them.”
He then presented each person with a certificate good for one of the first 15 barrels filled, a gesture that meant much more than just free bourbon.
Get used to the name Bardstown Bourbon Co., because you’ll be hearing a lot about it this time next year.