You know you’re going to a brand new construction site when even Google Maps can’t get you there. After several wrong turns and dead ends, Insider finally made it on Wednesday to the first hard-hat media tour of Lux Row Distillers, the latest bourbon distillery being built in Bardstown, Ky.
The 70-acre property was purchased in 2016 by Luxco, a family-owned company out of St. Louis that currently owns bourbon brands Ezra Brooks, Rebel Yell, Blood Oath and David Nicholson 1843, and also has a stake in Limestone Branch Distillery in Lebanon, Ky., which produces Yellowstone.
The plan is to construct an 18,000-square-foot distillery and visitor’s center on the site, along with six rick houses that’ll store 20,000 barrels each. And the company is keeping an old stone house that has been on the property since the 18th century and is registered as a National Historic Place.
The name of the distillery was chosen to incorporate both the family name of the company — Lux — and the scenic nature of the land in Nelson County. As you drive up the winding road to the visitor’s center, rows and rows of trees greet you — hence, Lux Row.
Creative director Michele Lux, wife of chairman and CEO Donn Lux, greeted the small group of bourbon industry folks and media who gathered underneath a large white tent on the premises. Before a quick tour of the construction site was to begin, she urged us to make ourselves at home with a table of snacks and a full bar of the company’s products.
It was 10 a.m.
We decided to skip the drinks — for now — and grabbed a hard hat and safety vest to prepare for the tour. The surrounding farmland is indeed quaint and sprawling. And even though the distillery was only a shell of its future self, we could picture it holding court in the serene setting.
Michele Lux began the tour with a little backstory on her family and the company, and how she found herself in charge of designing and planning the entire visitor experience.
The company began in 1958 as a private label bottler and has since grown into a producer, bottler, importer and marketer, with a wide array of liquor brands, including Juarez Tequila, Everclear and Pearl Vodka.
One day, Lux recalled, while her husband was contemplating who he was going to hire to help design the distillery’s visitor’s center, she inadvertently nominated herself.
“I had decorated a few homes, so I said, ‘I’ll do it!’ That quickly rolled into responsibility for the visitor’s center, the retail space, the tasting room, the intro room to the tour, and hiring all the front-of-the-end staff. In general, the entire visitor experience,” said Lux.
She immediately partnered with Peggy Noe Stevens & Associates out of Louisville, which helps plan and design distillery experiences here in Kentucky and all around the country. So Lux, along with Peggy Noe Stevens and VP Mary Stone came up with a plan for the entire front end of Lux Row, which promises to be a state-of-the-art, hands-on tour.
Every detail, down to the reclaimed barn wood that’ll be used for the tasting bar, has been discussed, and construction crews — from Buzick Construction in Bardstown and Joseph & Joseph in Louisville — are currently bringing the designers’ vision to life.
Although we were standing on dirt and were literally surrounded by brick and mortar, as Lux talked about her concept for the space, it was easy to visualize because she was so enthusiastic and committed to the overall goal of creating a unique experience for visitors.
Distillery operations manager, Tony Kamer, then led us through the distillery, which actually contained most of the equipment needed to begin distilling. Large grain mills, fermenters, a doubler and a 42-foot-tall still have all been installed, and as with most distilleries these days, they’ve created enough space to add equipment in the future if necessary.
The Vendome-made still has the capacity to produce more than one million proof gallons a year, and a unique array of windows, arranged almost like a staircase, will allow viewers to see the copper still from all sides.
Kamer said they hope to be distilling by December or January, and plan to be open in the spring — before Derby, more specifically.
Lux ended the tour by pointing out the newly finished rick house that sat off into the distance, which will be one of six and can store more than 20,000 barrels. She said they plan to incorporate golf carts into the tour to take patrons out to the rick houses, for those who might have issues with walking.
It was then back to the tent, where we enjoyed some snacks and a few sips of the Luxco portfolio of bourbons. The Rebel Yell 10-Year Single Barrel was one of our favorites — rich and smooth for an aged wheated bourbon, with deep notes of caramel and dried fruit. They also let us try the highly acclaimed (and sought-after) Blood Oath release of the year, which was spicy and well-balanced, with a long, nice finish at the end.
Here are some more photos and renderings from our Lux Row experience: