Welcome to the party, Old Forester Whiskey Row series and Birthday Bourbon. | Photo by Sara Havens
Welcome to the party, Old Forester Whiskey Row series and Birthday Bourbon. | Photo by Sara Havens

We’re about two weeks away from National Bourbon Heritage Month, and there is certainly no shortage of new releases and booze news. Fall is a prime time for highly sought-after bourbons to hit store shelves, and this year is no different. Here’s what we know, what we’ve heard, what we’ve sampled and what we’re pining after …

A Baby: Jeptha Creed fills its first bourbon barrel
Jeptha Creed's first bourbon barrel | Photo by Sara Havens
Jeptha Creed’s first bourbon barrel | Photo by Sara Havens

In April, Insider first met up with the Nethery family from Shelby County, who is building a distillery off I-64 in Shelbyville called Jeptha Creed. They were giddy with excitement, even though much was to be done before the 15,500-square-foot space resembled a bourbon-makin’ machine.

Well, on Thursday, Aug. 18, we stood at the distillery, on concrete where dirt once was, and watched them fill their very first barrel of four-grain bourbon. Owner/distiller Joyce Nethery led the event and gave the rundown to the onlookers.

She says Jeptha will be a craft farm distillery, and they’ll grow as many ingredients for their bourbon, whiskey, moonshine and vodka as they can, including the unique heirloom corn they’ll use called Bloody Butcher.

The occasion marked the first bourbon that has been produced (legally) in Shelby County since before Prohibition, and many Shelbyville and Shelby County politicians were on hand to celebrate. In fact, Shelby County judge-executive Rob Rothenburger took on the duties of filling the barrel, while Shelbyville Mayor Tom Hardesty hammered in the bung.

Oops: Shelby County judge executive Rob Rothenburger overfilled the first barrel. | Photo by Sara Havens
Oops: Shelby County judge executive Rob Rothenburger overfilled the first barrel. | Photo by Sara Havens

Just like that, history was made. And now we wait … at least two years. But in the meantime, Nethery says she hopes Jeptha will be open for visitors as soon as late October, when they plan to kick off their vodka and moonshine line.

A Birthday: Old Forester will release its Birthday Bourbon and new Whiskey Row expression in September
Birthday Bourbon will be out Sept. 2. | Photo by Sara Havens
Birthday Bourbon will be out Sept. 2. | Photo by Sara Havens

Old Forester knows how to throw a birthday party. Each year, on founder George Garvin Brown’s birthday (Sept. 2), the Louisville distillery releases the highly anticipated Birthday Bourbon. The hard-to-find release is always delicious and delectable, a product handpicked by master distiller Chris Morris and — new this year — master bourbon specialist Jackie Zykan.

Also coming out in September is Old Fo’s third expression from its Whiskey Row series, which started in 2014. This one is a 1920 Prohibition-style throwback and will be bottled at a whopping 115 proof! Why so high? Well, the story goes like this, as explained by Zykan:

“If you had a prescription for whiskey during Prohibition, you could likely get your hands on a bottle of Old Forester Bonded Bourbon. If you had friends in the business during Prohibition, you could get your hands on some whiskey straight from the barrel. Whiskey Row 1920 is an insider’s sip, an expression of vintage barrel strength with a perfect palate of warm autumn nuances.”

This guy is 115 proof. | Courtesy of Old Forester
This guy is 115 proof. | Courtesy of Old Forester

It’s good to have friends in row places. (Sorry, couldn’t resist.)

Insider was able to try both new bourbons on Thursday at the Old Forester and Frazier History Museum‘s Speakeasy event. While the Birthday Bourbon, at 97 proof, was as tasty as a campfire s’more, the strong yet subtle 1920 dazzled us with spicy notes and a smooth finish, especially being so high in proof.

The Birthday Bourbon is definitely a sipping bourbon, while the 1920, I believe, would pair well in cocktails like Old Fashioneds or Manhattans due to its proof and spice.

Thankfully, the 1920 will easily be found at your local liquor store, but the Birthday Bourbon may not. And if you do find it, let me know! (I, too, have a birthday coming soon … hint, hint.)

A Rabbit Hole: NuLu distillery breaks ground and will release three new products next month
These three will be out in September. | Courtesy of Rabbit Hole
These three will be out in September. | Courtesy of Rabbit Hole

What could possibly make NuLu even more hipper than it already is? Why, a bourbon distillery, of course. Word came this week that the ground has been broken for the Rabbit Hole Distillery, which will be on East Jefferson Street and extend up to Market.

The owners and investors are spending $12.5 million on the state-of-the-art distillery, but while that’s being built, they’re already offering some products next month, including a four-grain bourbon, a rye whiskey and a bourbon finished in sherry casks.

At last weekend’s Bourbon Mixer, Rabbit Hole’s creative director, Michael Motamedi, was on hand offering up samples of its new products, as well as cool swag like snifter glasses and T-shirts. We tried both the bourbon and the rye whiskey, which was created by Rabbit Hole’s master distiller at another Kentucky distillery in Newport, and found them both to be quite tasty for being so young (2 years old).

And we weren’t alone. Rabbit Hole won both the male and female votes by a landslide at the Mixer for favorite distillery, and it was up against big guns like Buffalo Trace, Woodford Reserve and Jim Beam.

A rendering of the NuLu distillery | Courtesy of Rabbit Hole
A rendering of the NuLu distillery | Courtesy of Rabbit Hole

Motamedi and Rabbit Hole founder Kaveh Zamanian told us they are looking forward to entering the distillery market in Louisville, and want to be known as an innovative operation. Their plans for the NuLu distillery are elaborate and offer an interactive experience for tourists and locals alike. They’re also planning on releasing a gin and high-rye bourbon in the next year or so.

This is a distillery to watch, for sure.

Proof’s Picks: 21c unveils new private selection/single barrel offerings at Louisville and Lexington locations
Three cheers for 21c. | Photo by Sara Havens
Three cheers for 21c. | Photo by Sara Havens

21c Museum Hotel is partnering up with various distilleries around the country — mostly in Kentucky, though — to offer a new series of limited-quantity bottlings of private selection and single barrel spirits. What does that mean exactly?

Well, a team visits a distillery and handpicks its very own barrel of, say, Blanton’s bourbon. It’ll then be bottled by the distillery, stamped with Proof on Main/21c’s label and sent to Louisville and Lexington locations.

You can order it at either of the bars — Proof or Lockbox in Lexington (inside the 21c there), as well as Garage Bar — and possibly even purchase your own bottle at the two hotel’s gift shops, if they’re available.

Proof’s beverage director, Chea Beckley, invited Insider over the other day to sample the three offerings they have so far. (It’s a tough job, but someone’s gotta do it.) We tried an Eagle Rare 10 Year Proof Selection, a Blanton’s Proof Selection and a Copper & Kings 21c Private Cask Brandy.

Beckley explained the program while we swirled, smelled, swooned over and sampled all three spirits. We started with the Eagle Rare, a Buffalo Trace Distillery product that was selected in 2012. At 90 proof, it was sweet like caramel, warm like Grandma and easy like Sunday morning. It was my favorite of the three.

Chea Beckley looking lovingly at his bourbon | Photo by Sara Havens
Chea Beckley looking lovingly at his bourbon | Photo by Sara Havens

He says the Proof-picked bottles are another way the company can offer a once-in-a-lifetime experience. The private-selected bourbon will never be the same from barrel to barrel, and it’s not a product you can just go to Liquor Barn and pick up, although they might have their own private-selected offerings. But back to the samples.

The Blanton’s bourbon, also a Buffalo Trace product, was picked in 2015 and bottled at 93 proof. The fruit notes danced on my tongue after the first sip, a little more than usual from a regular Blanton’s, and the finish was long, sweet and smooth, like a pickup line that actually fulfilled its purpose. I could tell Beckley was a big fan of this bourbon, because he kept staring at his glass lovingly, twisting and tussling it around as if a mermaid would pop out.

Could there be a mermaid in there? | Photo by Sara Havens
Could there be a mermaid in there? | Photo by Sara Havens

The Copper & Kings brandy was aged in used bourbon barrels for two years and bottled at cask strength. I was afraid I might not like it since, well, it’s not bourbon, but Beckley reassured me it’s a bourbon-lovers’ brandy. He was right, and it was delicious and slightly potent at 128 proof. I put an ice cube in to cut some of that bite, and it opened up the brandy completely. At first you smell the ghost of bourbon’s past, and then, as it sits, the florals of brandy’s future abound.

The two bourbons mentioned above are only available at Proof on Main, but the brandy can be found at Lockbox and Garage Bar. Beckley says they’ve done more selections, including Old Forester and WhistlePig, and are awaiting their bounty to be bottled.

A Wishing Well(er): Now is the time to start looking for that elusive Weller 12
Have you seen me?
Have you seen me?

I won’t tell you who said it, or when they said it. But now, my fellow bourbon buddies, is the time to keep your eyes peeled for the W.L. Weller 12 release. My source says it’s ready to be shipped out this week, so it should be in stores nationwide by this time next week.

Sweet Jesus, someone please help me look. As a bourbon writer, of course I don’t have a favorite child, but Weller 12 is something to behold, especially since he doesn’t come out to play very often. If I could ground him and send him to my liquor cabinet, I would.

Sara Havens
Sara Havens is the Culture Editor at Insider Louisville, known around town as the Bar Belle (barbelleblog.com). She's a former editor of LEO Weekly and has written for Playboy and The Alcohol Professor. Havens is the author of two books: "The Bar Belle" and "The Bar Belle Vol. 2."