I was recently asked to arrange a staff training trip to the Michter’s Distillery and the bar at Michter’s Fort Nelson Distillery, by Gary Crunkleton. Gary makes these trips to Kentucky with his staff at least once a year. He had three days in Kentucky and planned to visit several distilleries and wanted me to go along and talk history to his staff. I have recently had bypass surgery and was not up to going with his staff for the three full days, but Gary asked me to arrange a trip to Michter’s Distillery and then have dinner with the staff at Bourbons Bistro. I gladly accepted the offer.

I contacted Andrea Wilson at Michter’s Distillery and told her that Gary Crunkleton was bringing his staff to Kentucky and wanted to visit Michter’s Distillery in Shively. I told her that it would also be nice if they could visit the Bar at Fort Nelson since they were mostly bartenders and servers at the Crunkleton, both the Chapel Hill and Charlotte North Carolina locations of the Crunkleton. Andrea gladly agreed and set up the visit.

Rosemary and I met Gary and the staff at Michter’s in Shively after lunch. The staff had visited Peerless that morning and the van brought them to Michter’s, where Rosemary and I were waiting for them. Andrea Wilson was not available for the Shively tour, but would meet us at Fort Nelson later. We were in very good hands with the staff in charge of the tour. The distillery is not open to the public for regular tours, but they do give tours to “friends and family,” and Gary is considered in that group. The tour started in the processing room where they dump the barrels and filter the whiskey before bottling. We had a very good explanation as to how this is done and we visited the lab where we tasted some samples of Michter’s Bourbon that were filtered with the “standard filtration used by most distilleries” and Michter’s filtration, which is customized for each whiskey. We then went out and tasted some whiskey that was being dumped – unfiltered and at barrel proof.

We then went to the grain receiving and mill where they talked about the grains used and how they grind the meal for the mash. We then went to the distillery where they heard more about cooking the mash, fermentation, and distillation. The next stop was at another lab where we tasted the new make whiskey. The final stop of the tour was in the warehouse where we heard about the low barrel entry proof used by Michter’s (103) and how they heat the warehouses during winter and monitor the whiskey temperature in the barrels.

The next stop was in a conference room in the office building across the road. There, we had waiting for us several trays of meats, cheeses and fruits with crackers to snack on before they tasted through every product available in the Michter’s whiskey lineup. It was a very good tasting. We finished the tasting and got in our vehicles to move on to Fort Nelson.

At Fort Nelson, the staff had a brief tour of the distillery while Gary, Rosemary and I went up to the bar. There we met Andrea Wilson and to our surprise, Michter’s Master Distiller Dan McKee was there as well, and we ordered some cocktails. The staff from the Crunkleton soon joined us and they too ordered cocktails. The Michter’s staff were available to answer questions about the bar and the cocktails and of course Andrea Wilson and Dan McKee circulated and answered questions. A good time was had by all.We left the Bar at Fort Nelson and went to Bourbons Bistro for dinner. There I continued to answer questions from the staff and we enjoyed a good meal. I highly recommend this type of training to all bar owners. A well-educated staff is one of the keys to a successful whiskey bar. Gary Crunkleton does an excellent job with training his staff and I think that is one of the reasons we see so many familiar faces when he brings his staff to Kentucky. They understand the value of learning about whiskey and stay on at the Crunkleton because of the quality of the training. Staff training is key to creating good service and staff retention.

Photos Courtesy of Rosemary Miller