Construction is not quite complete at the Bardstown Bourbon Company, which is already producing whiskey and has slated the opening of its visitor’s center for this summer.
Bardstown Bourbon Company’s collaborative distilling program has already drawn so much interest from companies looking to team up with their expert staff, led by Master Distiller Steve Nally, that BBC is booked solid for the next year.
“We sold our entire capacity before we made a drop,” BBC CEO David Mandell said. “It has exceeded our expectations.”
So much so, the distillery has already broken ground on an expansion to the main distillery, its second rickhouse is under construction, and ground will be broken for a third one before the second is finished. Mandell envisions as many as 10 rickhouses on site eventually. Total cost of the facility, including the expansion, is about $25 million.
The expansion will double BBC’s production capacity from 1.5 million proof gallons to 3 million, and enable the facility in the future to expand to 6 million with the installation of another still and additional fermenters.
“They’re already here — they’re already working,” Mandell said of the construction crews at the site, which made it easier to just go ahead and begin the expansion rather than waiting around.
“That’s a very unexpected and pleasant surprise for us,” said Kim Huston, president of the Nelson County Economic Development Agency.
As many as 18-20 new positions will be created as well, Mandell said, doubling the workforce at the distillery. Mandell said they have forged partnerships with 12 other established distilleries to make their products, in addition to those featuring the BBC brand, and could eventually expand to 15.
“We’ve got a team of folks who really know what they’re doing,” said Mandell, who stresses that what they do is a stark contrast from the “contract distilling” done by large operations such as MGP in Lawrenceburg, Ind., which produces hundreds of different spirits for many companies. In the BBC collaborative approach, BBC distillers partner with personnel from other small distilleries to make the whiskey the client wants to make, and they work together to find the right mashbills and other recipes to make their own unique products.
“Customers want to know how it’s made … and they want to control their own destiny,” Mandell said. “And they want it to be from Kentucky.”
The BBC’s unique business model arose in part because of the bourbon boom and accompanying shortage of available bourbon to be purchased. Many brands contract out to other major bourbon producers to buy their excess product and add their own label to it. Others contract through operations such as MGP. But the major distilleries have been keeping more of their own product than they used to, and launching different labels within their own brands as they look to capitalize on the increased interest in bourbon. That doesn’t leave much left over for smaller distilleries looking to keep their products on the shelf.
“They offer a service very vital to Western Spirits,” said Jon Holecz, the vice-president of marketing for the Bowling Green-based distillery, maker of Lexington, Bird Dog and Calumet bourbons.
“We don’t currently own a distillery,” Holecz said. “We’ve never really had a distillery home.”
Western Spirits is the first of BBC’s partners to go public, and they began distilling in the past two weeks. Holecz said they’re trying to make their bourbons more available statewide and nationwide, and looking to expand their small batch and single barrel lines. It wasn’t possible before, with the supply of excess bourbon dwindling as the spirit grows in popularity.
“We don’t want to be a place that makes hundreds of whiskeys,” Mandell said. “We’re building long-term collaborations. We want to grow with you. We’re just shocked that the growth has happened so quickly.”
Mandell said the goal is to keep their operations customer-focused, making the whiskeys brands such as Western Spirits want to make, while calling on the decades of experience Nally and the distilling staff has under their belts.
“We kind of knew that these folks had one of these brilliant business minds,” Huston said of BBC. “They were looking to do something different and set themselves apart.”
Holecz said the partnership with BBC has been even better than expected, and they’re looking at expanding their Calumet Bourbon line. He said Western Spirits has been made to feel like part of the family and it has been rewarding to be with BBC from the ground up.
“This allows us to continue down the path we want to go,” Holecz said. “This helps us fill that much-needed bourbon supply we’re hoping to forecast.”