A portrait of E.H. Taylor looks over the Bourbon Pompeii. | Photo by Sara Havens

For bourbon lovers and history buffs alike, Buffalo Trace Distillery’s new E.H. Taylor Tour is a remarkable, one-of-a-kind experience you must see to believe.

Aside from the usual bells and whistles of a standard distillery tour — sticking your hands into mash, nosing white dog and sampling the final product at the end — this unique excursion gives you a peek at what distillery life was like in the late 1800s as it leads you into what Buffalo Trace has coined the “Bourbon Pompeii.”

Referencing the ancient Roman town that was destroyed and buried under volcanic ash, later to be discovered, the story of the Bourbon Pompeii is more accidental and far less tragic. In 2016, staff at Buffalo Trace were looking to add meeting and event space to the distillery grounds, so they chose the old O.F.C. Building, the site of E.H. Taylor’s original distillery in 1869.

Catwalks take you right over the ancient fermenting vats. | Photo by Sara Havens

As construction workers began to reinforce the iron posts securing the building, they chiseled out some of the concrete floor and found some items not typically common underneath a floor — things like bricks, copper, pipes and glass.

“They said, ‘You might want to come take a look,'” recalled Buffalo Trace president/CEO Mark Brown at Wednesday’s press opening. “We eventually realized there was something very special here.”

Plans to turn the space into a meeting room were immediately scrapped, and archeologists and experts were brought in to help assess and unearth what they believed was Taylor’s original distillery.

They found the distillery’s original foundation wall from 1869, as well as additional foundations built a few years later. Several large fermenting vats were uncovered, as well a drop tub.

The tour takes you right over these fermenting vats via a catwalk, and several display signs explain the process and purpose of each. Buffalo Trace also plans to restore one of the fermenters by lining it with copper, as Taylor did in his day, and creating a new old-fashioned whiskey reminiscent of what the bourbon legend would have produced.

Brown and his staff believe the old distillery may have been struck by lightning and damaged by fire, so those in charge back then probably decided to just decommission the machinery and vats and concrete over them.

Typically, as a distillery expands and modernizes, its equipment is removed and the rooms are redesigned. So for a complete distillery to be discovered untouched that dates to the late 1800s, it just might be the oldest, most intact distillery in existence in the United States — and possibly the world.

Brown said there was one instance in Scotland where an old distillery was found, but the company decided to turn it into a parking lot.

It took about a year for the construction team and experts, including bourbon archeologist Nick Laracuente, to dig out and refurbish the distillery, and it didn’t take them too long after they first began to match up the foundation with original maps and lithographs of the distillery.

Buffalo Trace president Mark Brown (front) helps cut the ribbon to the Bourbon Pompeii. | Photo by Sara Havens

Insider was invited to the press opening of the Bourbon Pompeii on Wednesday, and it truly was a breathtaking experience to see the historic distillery restored to its glory days when the charismatic E.H. Taylor roamed the grounds and touted his bourbon as the best in the land.

As we sipped on some E.H. Taylor Small Batch neat and explored the archeological treasures, we felt like we were taking a step back in time. Of course, not much has changed from then until now — bourbon is still made how it’s always been made, regardless of how many computers a distillery contains these days.

We think Taylor would have been quite pleased that his infrastructure has been resurrected for a new generation of bourbon lovers to enjoy — after all, his fingerprints are not only all over the Bourbon Pompeii, they’re all over the bourbon industry as well.

The special E.H. Taylor Tour runs Monday through Friday at 2:30 p.m., and reservations are recommended. All Buffalo Trace tours are free.

Here are some more photos from our experience at the Bourbon Pompeii:

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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."