A rendering of Bulleit Distilling Co. | Photo by ProofMediaMix

Lawyer-turned-bourbon-distiller Tom Bulleit won the bourbon lottery today. Along with celebrating his birthday, his 30-year wedding anniversary and 30 years of Bulleit Bourbon, he welcomed media and friends to his brand new, state-of-the-art modern whiskey distillery in Shelby County.

Tom Bulleit | Courtesy of Bulleit Distilling Co.

Bulleit Distilling Co., which is now owned and operated by global spirits company Diageo, officially opened its doors today at a private ceremony that included Gov. Matt Bevin, Sen. Paul Hornback, Kentucky Distillers’ Association’s Eric Gregory, members of Diageo’s North American team, Tom Bulleit (of course) and even Churchill Downs bugle man Steve Buttleman.

The 300-acre, $115 million distillery, just east of Shelbyville, has been producing bourbon for a few weeks now and when at full capacity will be able to produce 1.8 million proof gallons annually. (To enjoy a taste of this new spirit, fans will have to be patient: Bulleit is aged for a minimum of four years.)

Touted as one of the most modernized bourbon distilleries in the state, the facility will rely on some solar-powered energy and will practice energy efficiency and recycling throughout the distilling process.

Bulleit credits pride and passion as keys to his bourbon’s success and said his journey to where he is today included many years of “falling uphill.” After all, when he left his law practice in 1987 to resurrect his family’s old bourbon recipe, brown spirits weren’t quite in fashion at the time. But he pressed on.

“Seeing this distillery come to life has been a truly surreal experience that couldn’t have been achieved without the tireless work of so many men and women,” he said. “We can’t wait to share the delicious whiskey that will be produced here for centuries to come. For me, today represents a lifetime dream.”

Bulleit also thanked fellow bourbon industry cohorts, some of whom were in the audience. “When the water rises, all the boats float higher,” he said, referring to the camaraderie found among Kentucky’s bourbon distillers.

And Gregory of the KDA pointed out, “Show me another industry where competitors come to cheer you on.”

The ribbon-cutting ceremony | Courtesy of Bulleit Distilling Co.

Gov. Bevin likened Bulleit’s story to the American Dream and reiterated his stance to cut through any red tape holding the Kentucky bourbon industry back from competing with other states.

(Bevin is supposed to sign H.B. 100 into law very soon, which would allow the sales of vintage spirits and get rid of other archaic alcohol laws.)

“Bourbon, in addition to its status as a signature Kentucky product, is an important driver of the state’s economy and workforce,” Bevin said. “Bulleit continues to add international acclaim to Kentucky’s proud spirit-making tradition. I congratulate the company on these achievements and expect they’ll see continued strong growth in the coming years.”

At the moment, a visitor’s center for tourists is not part of the new distillery — the official Bulleit tour is still at the Stitzel-Weller Distillery in Shively — but that will probably change in a year or two as they get the facility up and running to capacity. Expansion plans also are already in the works, and two more palletized warehouses will be added to the four existing ones by the end of the year. Each warehouse can hold 55,000 barrels.

Insider was invited along to document the experience, and here’s a peek inside the new Bulleit Distilling Co.

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The distillery has a 52-foot still by Vendome Copper & Brass Works. | Photo by Sara Havens

Sara Havens is the Culture Editor at Insider Louisville. She's known around town as the Bar Belle and updates her blog (barbelleblog.com) daily. 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."


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