In just five short years, Rabbit Hole Distilling has gone from one man’s vision to a $15 million, 55,000-square-foot facility and distillery in Louisville’s NuLu neighborhood that is eager to produce award-winning bourbon, whiskey and much more.
Rabbit Hole founder Kaveh Zamanian came to bourbon through his love and appreciation of wine, and he saw similarities between the fervor surrounding California’s Napa Valley and Kentucky’s potential to create a similar experience centered on bourbon.
On Monday, Zamanian led a hard-hat tour for media and industry folks of the distillery, which is still very much under construction. He hopes to be open and distilling by Derby, though, with the restaurant that is planned for the site to open in mid-summer 2018.
Currently, Rabbit Hole has four products available — a four-grain bourbon; a rye whiskey; a bourbon finished in sherry casks; and a London dry gin finished in rye whiskey barrels — on store shelves, which the company contract-distilled at an unnamed northern Kentucky distillery.
Earlier this year, the bourbon and rye whiskey both earned double gold awards at the New York World Wine & Spirits Competition, and the bourbon finished in sherry casks won the gold award.
Insider first caught up with the Rabbit Hole team in 2016 as they were preparing to break ground on the distillery in NuLu, and Zamanian told us then that the mantra for his brand was innovation.
“I want consumers to associate Rabbit Hole with what it really represents, which is adventure, being whimsical, playful, not necessarily taking ourselves too seriously, and being able to go down the rabbit hole and enjoy the process,” he said.
On Monday’s tour, he echoed that statement and showed us tangible evidence that Rabbit Hole would be different, innovative and fun. The building itself, designed by architect Doug Pierson, is bold and ambitious. Made mostly of glass and winding steel, the distillery not only will give visitors a look at the bourbon-making process from grain to glass, but it’ll offer beautiful, panoramic views of Louisville from 65 feet above the ground.
The distillery faces East Jefferson Street and will back up to the end of the Green Building’s parking lot and the building that’ll become its restaurant, which faces Market Street. When all is said and done, it’ll connect Market and Jefferson streets with walkways and courtyards.
Our focus of the tour, however, was the distillery itself, which will be equipped with everything to make bourbon, whiskey and other products from grain to mash to still to barrel.
The only thing it won’t be able to do is age barrels, which Zamanian said would continue to happen at rick houses in Frankfort, Ky. But after the barrels have been appropriately aged, they’ll return to the facility to be bottled.
Zamanian compared the Rabbit Hole Distillery to a Ferrari, saying the challenge was to build a full, operating distillery within the tight confines of NuLu. With a 48-foot-by-24-inch column still made by Vendome Copper & Brass Works (just down the street), he said his “little” Ferrari would be able to produce 1.2 million proof gallons a year, which translates to about 20,000 barrels.
Most of the distillery equipment has been installed, and the construction crew is working to winterize the building so they can continue working through the colder months. The glass, which makes up a majority of the outside, will be installed within the next month, Zamanian said.
We walked up many flights of wobbly, makeshift stairs (we were actually in the elevator shaft) and saw the nine, 9,000-gallon fermenters and tanks, a pot still and column still, grain silos and all the empty rooms that’ll soon house a bottling line, executive offices and — at the very top — a tasting bar and event space.
The coolest part of the tour was when we finally made it to the top floor, 65 feet above the ground, and witnessed the breathtaking view of Louisville. From the skyline to the bridges to Butchertown to the Highlands, the view as the sun was beginning to set was incredible.
It made me think of the Guinness Storehouse/Museum‘s Gravity Bar in Dublin, which offers an unforgettable, 360-degree view of the Irish city from the structure’s seventh floor.
Zamanian said he’s excited to work with New York City’s Death & Co., a trend-setting cocktail bar, which is partnering with Rabbit Hole to help plan the event space, bar and restaurant.
At the conclusion of the tour — after we made it back on solid ground — Zamanian added that he’s ready to bring a new energy and voice to Kentucky bourbon, and he looks forward to opening the distillery’s doors in 2018.
Here are more photos from the tour, as well as some professional renderings: