Back in 2011 Michter’s announced that they had purchased the Fort Nelson Building on Main Street to create their visitor’s experience and a small distillery in Louisville. On January 31, 2019 it finally opened. It was a long road with many complications, but well worth the wait.
It all started in 1989 when Joe Magliocco acquired the abandoned trademark for the Michter’s brand for $245.00. Joe had been part of his family business, Chatham Imports, for years. He started as a salesman for the Michter’s brands and had fond memories of the brand. When he saw the brand was available he acquired it despite never having been involved in distilling spirits. He sought advice from his friends in the industry, including the head of Brown-Forman, Owsley Brown. They advised him on how to proceed.
It started with purchasing some bulk whiskey to start the brand and then moved to having the whiskey contract distilled to their specifications. Joe hired Willie Pratt, a retired Brown-Forman quality control and aging specialist, to be their first Master Distiller to oversee the contract distilling. Of course they had the whiskeys made in Kentucky because at that time that was the only option.
A few people in Pennsylvania have complained that they moved the production to Kentucky, but there was never really any other choice. Kentucky was where whiskey was made in the 1990s. Pennsylvania was not friendly to the distilling industry and no one Pennsylvania even wanted it badly enough to come up with the $250.00 to acquire the brand when the distillery closed down and abandoned the trademark.
The stills and mash tubs from the original distillery had been purchased by a member of the Beam family and moved to his garage in Bardstown, Ky. Joe Magliocco was a week or so too late in approaching the owners to acquire this equipment and Tom Herbruck had purchased them to start his distillery, Tom’s Foolery Distillery, near Cleveland, Ohio. Fortunately for Magliocco, Herbruck outgrew those stills and wanted to expand to a larger still and offered the original equipment to Michter’s, who was glad to purchase them for their Fort Nelson Distillery.
In 2011, Michter’s announced that they were going to open a small distillery and visitor’s experience in the Fort Nelson Building on Main Street in Louisville. They were the first company to announce such a move in Louisville and were hoping to be the first to open such an experience in Louisville. Then Michter’s learned the building had serious structural issues. A wall was leaning 28 inches outward and threatening to collapse. Money had to be spent to stabilize the building before they could put in the visitor’s experience and distillery.
To give Magliocco and the Michter’s team the credit they are due, they could have walked away from the building at that point and found another location, but Joe loves historic old buildings and wanted to preserve this one in the heart of downtown Louisville. Michter’s ended up spending more money stabilizing the building than they had originally planned to spend upon the entire distillery. It took almost 8 years from the announcement to get the Michter’s Fort Nelson Distillery open.
Walking into the Fort Nelson Building the visitor enters a well-stocked gift shop where they can get their tickets for a tour. There are some exhibits on the walls and a short film discussing Michter’s history playing on video screens. A short walk into another room and they enter the distillery. The original stills and mash tubs are set up and the air is filled with the aroma of fermenting mash from the three Cypress mash tubs. Vendome Copper and Brass has done an excellent job of refurbishing the original stills and setting them up for production. These stills are not huge and only a small amount of Michter’s production will be made at this site, but judging from the quality of the mash I taste in those tubs, it will be good whiskey. Just behind the small distillery there is a door leading into the tasting room. It is a very nice little tasting room with space for about 25 people to sit and taste at a time.
After leaving the tasting room we proceeded upstairs to the bar. It is a very elegant and attractive bar with a full cocktail menu. Rosemary and I had a Michter’s Rye Manhattan that was well made and presented with three cherries. The bar has room for about 25 people to sit and more room to stand and look at the exhibits. Just outside of the bar is an area where the visitor can look down into the distillery for a bird’s eye view of the process.
The Michter’s Fort Nelson Distillery has been a long time coming but the end result is superb. This is an experience that all Bourbon and Rye lovers will enjoy. It is a very short walk from the head of the Kentucky Bourbon Trail, located inside The Frazier History Museum. It is a short walk over a block to visit Peerless Distillery as well. The Evan Williams Experience is about three blocks away, Jim Beam’s Urban Still House is five blocks and Old Forester is seven blocks. Angel’s Envy, Copper & Kings and Rabbit Hole are a just a short ride away. Michter’s Fort Nelson Distillery is a welcome addition to the Downtown Bourbon experience.
Photos Courtesy of Rosemary Miller