Rosemary and I were invited to visit the Bulleit Distillery in Shelby County as part of the soft opening of the new visitor’s experience. The distillery is located a few miles from Shelbyville on a country road in an idyllic landscape of rolling hills and Guist Creek. The distillery is about a 40 minute drive from downtown Louisville.
The new visitor’s center is well designed and serves its function in a pleasing manner. It is open, has a relaxed and comfortable seating area and a huge gift shop that sells not only Bulleit branded items, but Stetson hats. I could not resist and added one to my hat collection, complete with a feather tipped in Bulleit orange. They have the full range of Bulleit whiskeys for sale in the shop as well as several high quality related items. I particularly liked the wooden box portable bar – made to hold a bottle of Bulleit and a couple of their old fashioned glasses. There is a bar and a tasting room in the visitor’s center. The bar has been designed to be as ecologically friendly as possible and includes a living wall of herbs needed to garnish the cocktails. The tasting room is large with plenty of space at tables for large groups. They did not have the tasting experience set up for the soft opening, but I am told that it will include a full sensory experience that includes pairing the whiskeys with food items to bring out flavors in the whiskey. Needless to say, but I like that idea.
After opening remarks from local dignitaries and Diageo executives we were loaded on a propane fueled distillery bus and driven to the distillery for a tour. The interior of the bus has been brightly decorated by a local graffiti artist. The distillery itself is set back from the road and can not be seen from the visitor’s center. The winding road to the distillery was short, but long enough for our host to discuss how the distillery was designed to be ecologically friendly with solar panels powering the light in the parking lot and the power they need for forklifts. Water conservation is also high on their list with all of the liquid from the mash being reused in either the sour mash process or the cooking of the grains. This is actually something that E.H. Taylor, Jr. did at his O.F.C. distillery in the 1870s, so I found it interesting that what is old is new again. They source all of their corn from Shelby County farmers.
Once inside the distillery the tour was interesting but a bit sterile. I was looking at everything through glass windows. I know this is being done for safety reasons and the Wild Turkey tour is the same way, but I like to smell and taste the mash or even have the guide pull a sample of the new make from the tail box. These experiences are what make a distillery tour engaging to those people who have been on distillery tours more than twice. With that said, I was impressed with the illustration of the processes on the walls. They were clearly designed in a way to illustrate what was happening behind the window. It was nice to see the old thumper from Stitzel-Weller being used again with a new copper jacket instead of the ugly aluminum jacket that was used at Stitzel-Weller.
We did not tour the warehouses. Bulleit has six 50,000 barrel warehouses and are building another one. The warehouses at this site are all palletized with six barrels to a pallet. The guide made a point of saying that they have “Big Ass Fans” (that is actually the brand name of the fans) circulating air in the warehouses to make sure there is plenty of air circulation around the aging whiskey. I personally have more concern that the whiskey has very little contact with the heads of the barrels. One head has zero contact with the whiskey and the bottom head is flooded all of the time so there is no flow back and forth in the wood. Gravity will keep what whiskey that enters the head in the head so the wood in the head has virtually no impact on the flavor. The good news is that they will continue to age at Stitzel Weller so there will be about 300,000 barrels of Bulleit being aged in the traditional manner. This explains why the master blender was being introduced at the event. Her job will be to try to prevent too much flavor drift in the product as they mix whiskey from both sites.
We ended the tour back at the visitor’s center and had food from two local food trucks. It was excellent. I like the idea of having local food trucks cater these types of events. It allows for good local food without the need of a kitchen.
I enjoyed the experience at the Bulleit distillery. I would recommend it to people. I look forward to going back to try their tasting experience. That alone should be a good reason to visit Shelby County and the Bulleit Distillery.
Photos Courtesy of Rosemary Miller