Wilderness Trail Distillery opened in 2012. It was founded by Shane Baker and Pat Heist, who are experts in the growing of yeast and had founded the company Ferm-Solutions. Ferm-Solutions specializes in the cultivation of yeast for distillers, breweries and wineries. In fact, they have worked with many distilleries in Kentucky and elsewhere, providing yeast for starting a distillery or fixing problems distilleries have problems that arise with their yeast. It only made sense that Baker and Heist would enter the distilling industry.
Wilderness Trail Distillery started with a small, 250-gallon pot still that made about a barrel a day. They quickly expanded to a 40 foot tall, 18-inch diameter column still with a 250-gallon pot still doubler in 2016. They have expanded yet again to a 40 foot tall and 36-inch diameter column still with a 500-gallon pot still doubler. They distill to about 137 proof after doubling. They can now use both of these stills to produce over 200 barrels of whiskey a day. They have several iron-clad warehouses with traditional barrel ricks on-site for aging their whiskeys.
Because of their knowledge of yeast and fermentation, they have decided to distill sweet mash whiskey instead of sour mash whiskey. This is trickier to do. There is a lot more that can go wrong during the fermentation process and the larger the distillery, the more likely something can go wrong. A distiller has to have a high standard of cleanliness to make sweet mash whiskey and Wilderness Trail has that. However, things can still go wrong and when that happens, Baker and Heist are experts at catching it in the early stages and taking steps to bring things back on track.
Once they distill the whiskey, they put it into 53-gallon barrels that have been toasted and charred to a level 4 char. The Bourbon enters the barrel at 110 proof and the rye goes into the barrel at 100 proof – the lowest entry proof I am aware of for a rye whiskey. They make a traditional Bourbon made with rye and a Bourbon made with wheat.
The wheat recipe Bourbon has a mash bill of 64% corn, 24% wheat and 12% malted barley. It is a very good Bourbon that reminds me of the 4-year-old Bourbon from Stitzel-Weller. No surprise since Baker’s Grandfather worked at Stitzel-Weller until he retired. I am sure that is the flavor they were shooting for since Baker probably grew up drinking that whiskey. The traditional Bourbon uses the same mash bill as the wheat except they substitute rye for wheat. The rye whiskey is 56% rye, 33% corn and 11% malted barley.
The distillery is easy to find. It is near Danville, Kentucky and is a short ride of about 30 minutes off Interstate 64. The distillery is in a lovely countryside setting with some very attractive buildings. The old farmhouse serves as their visitor’s center and offices. Ferm-Solutions is located at the same site and shares the distillery building. A tour of the distillery includes a look at Ferm-Solutions. I have been to a couple of events at the distillery that included some very educational programs on yeast and mash in the Ferm-Solutions laboratory. Wilderness Trail Distillery has just become part of the Kentucky Bourbon Trail. I highly recommend a trip to the distillery.
Wilderness Trail is making excellent whiskeys. I love their single barrel wheat recipe Bourbon but the rye whiskey is quickly becoming my favorite rye whiskey to sip on with a Maduro cigar. The traditional Bourbon is excellent and they do a bottled-in-bond as well. They have a private barrel selection program that offers cask strength expressions and many liquor stores and bars have taken advantage of this program. I think they would all make a great Manhattan, but I have never gotten around to mixing them yet. They are so good neat, I feel it is too much trouble to make a cocktail with them. Wilderness Trail Distillery is just one of the newer distilleries in Kentucky. It has grown from a small operation to become one of the larger distilleries established in the 21st century. It is well worth a visit and their whiskeys are well worth picking up, including any private barrel selections you find.
Photos Courtesy of Rosemary Miller