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Rendering of Bardstown Bourbon Co.

A cadre of state and city officials gathered Thursday in the sultry warmth below the rotunda at My Old Kentucky Home State Park in Bardstown to announce a new distillery was joining the fray in the Bourbon Capital of the World.

Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear announced the creation of the Bardstown Bourbon Co., a modern distillery to be built on a 100-acre lot inside the Nelson County Industrial Park, located beside the Bluegrass Parkway. When functional about two years from now, the 45,000 square-foot facility will produce about 27,000 barrels annually (about 450,000 cases a year).

BBC master distiller Steve Nally, the longtime master distiller at Maker’s Mark, said the end product will be aged six to seven years and designed for the premium market.

“That’s what we’re aiming for, those premium products,” said Nally, 63, who retired from the Loretto, Ky., liquor maker in 2003. In a taupe suit and black cowboy boots, Nally stood out as a reg’lar dude among the dignitaries—so typical for most distillers. A 40-year bourbon-industry veteran, Nally is a member of the Bourbon Hall of Fame. “A lot of what we’ll do will be small batch stuff.”

The facility will include a visitors center that will incorporate a culinary experience in which local restaurants will be involved.

Distiller Steve Nally at today's annoucement
Distiller Steve Nally at today’s announcement | Photo by Steve Coomes

Nally said the flavor ingredient in the bourbon will be wheat, “because that’s what I’m familiar with.”

Famous “wheated” bourbons include Pappy Van Winkle, Weller and, of course, Maker’s Mark.

“I think it’s smoother,” he said. “You develop those flavors through aging and how you move the barrels throughout the warehouse.”

As one might expect for such a press conference, bourbon began flowing at 10 a.m.—straight, on the rocks or in a tasty Bardstown Sunrise cocktail that combined bourbon, amaretto and lemonade (delicious, I might add). Bacon-wrapped steak (from the Rickhouse) and meatballs staved off pre-lunch hunger for the crowd of about 70.

For those not in the press, this isn’t how it’s done most times.

The Stephen Foster Singers launched the event with a rousing rendition of “My Old Kentucky Home” (Can anyone grow up in the Bluegrass and not be moved by that?) followed by Beshear’s decidedly Kentucky Proud remarks.

“Ninety-five percent of the bourbon made in the world is made in Kentucky. The other 5 percent is counterfeit,” he joked. “There are 4.3 million people in Kentucky, and about 4 million barrels of bourbon in aging. That’s about one for each person here; we’ll share the rest with everyone else.”

(Actually, there are about 7 million barrels aging, according to Harlen Wheatley, master distiller at Buffalo Trace in Frankfort.)

Beshear set the cost of the distillery at $25 million and said it will create 35 new full-time jobs.

David Mandell, president and CEO of the BBC, called the response of Bardstown officials to complete the deal, “swift and responsive. Your action has brought us to this point today.”

He said the company was sold on the people of Bardstown and the community as a whole, but the deal’s potential $300,000 in tax benefits surely helped, too.

Perhaps the best news is Nally is back where he belongs. He and wife, Donna, moved from Kentucky to Wyoming in 2009 to launch a new wheated bourbon distillery called Wyoming Whiskey. It hit the market there in 2012. It’s not available here.

He’s since parted ways with the company, saying that, “The owners of the distillery have been trained to make the product themselves, so it’ll be fine,” and that he and Donna, “are so glad to be back in Bardstown.”

The Wyoming experience was a good one, Nally said, but the lone drawback was few folks outside Kentucky know how to drink bourbon properly.

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“I’d pour them a little taste and say, ‘Smell it first,’ and they would, but then they’d shoot it,” he said with a grimace. “It’s about education. That takes time, even here.”

For your own education, Nally said he likes to keep his bourbons in the freezer or refrigerator to chill them, rather than drink them with ice, which waters them down.

“You still get to drink it neat, and I think the cold can open them up a little,” he said. “It’s easy to do that way.”

Groundbreaking for BBC will happen this summer, with actual production starting in late 2015 or early 2016. Pete Kamer, a retired veteran operations manager at Heaven Hill, will consult on the project.

“What’s going on in the industry in terms of growth is just crazy right now,” Kamer said. “I retired several years ago, but I’m working sometimes 60 to 70 hours a week helping out. It’s a great time in the industry.”

Steve Coomes
Steve Coomes is a restaurant veteran turned award-winning food, spirits and travel writer. In his 24-year career, he has edited and written for multiple national trade and consumer publications including Nation's Restaurant News and Southern Living. He is a feature writer for Louisville magazine, Edible Louisville & The Bluegrass and Food & Dining Magazine. The author of two books, "Country Ham: A Southern Tradition of Hogs, Salt & Smoke," and the "Home Distiller's Guide to Spirits," he also serves as a ghostwriter for multiple clients.

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