Rosemary and I had an opportunity to visit the Leiper’s Fork Distillery the other day when we attended the Bourbon Bash charity event in Franklin, Tennessee. It was the first time we had visited there since 2016. It is a beautiful little distillery. In fact, we spent our time there visiting with Lee Kennedy, the owner and Master Distiller and his person in charge of the visitors center, Paul Bissett. We sat down to taste the three whiskeys made there, their Tennessee Whiskey, wheat recipe Bourbon and Rye Whiskey. They are all excellent whiskeys. I did have an opportunity to question Lee about his distillery and his plans for the future.
The distillery is small and uses pot stills, making about two and a half barrels of whiskey a day and only just short of five hundred barrels a year. Their whiskey is made with the sweet mash process and they have a lower barrel entry proof of 110. They have limited distribution in the United States, but have started selling in Great Britain and other foreign markets. It is an attractive log cabin style building with a great flow for the tours. I asked Lee about expansion and he replied that he is in no hurry to expand. His distillery is family owned and he does not wish the expense at this time that expansion would bring. Besides, his main focus is making good whiskey. When he opened the distillery, Lee did not want to have tours, but saw the need of tourism in promotion of his brands. I am glad he made that decision as the tour is excellent.
We tasted the Tennessee whiskey first. I reminded him that on my first visit, when he told me that his main interest was in making Bourbon and did not want to make a Tennessee whiskey, but was told that he needed to make a Tennessee whiskey because he was in Tennessee, not Kentucky. He is glad that he did as the Tennessee whiskey is excellent. It is the same mash bill as the their Bourbon except he uses rye instead of wheat and of course, he runs the new make through maple wood charcoal before placing it in the barrel. We next moved on to the Bourbon that is a wheat recipe. I suggested that he might consider lowering the barrel entry proof on his Bourbon to 107, the barrel entry proof used at Stitzel-Weller before the Van Winkles sold the distillery. I think their Bourbon is very similar to that whiskey already and would become even more like classic Stitzel-Weller Bourbon if he made the change.
We ended with tasting his rye whiskey. He first started making rye whiskey because he wanted a brand that he could sell at under four years of age and rye whiskey tastes better at young age than Bourbon. His rye is now four years old and he bottles it as a bonded whiskey, as he does with his other whiskeys. It is almost brandy-like with lots of dark fruits and caramel sweetness. I ended up bringing a bottle home with me.
As for the future, Lee has purchased some property that has a nice source of water – a spring flowing out of a cave. He is looking to build a larger distillery there but wants to make it a pot still distillery as well. He is looking to make about fifty barrels a day. He is in no hurry to do this expansion. He believes that he needs to expand his markets before thinking of distillery expansion. I believe he has a good plan and I am looking forward to seeing his whiskey in Kentucky.
We ended the discussion and tasting soon after tasting the rye whiskey. Lee had to get ready for the Bourbon Bash that evening. Lee has a charity for veterans called “Freedom & Whiskey” and the Bourbon Bash raises money for that charity. We thanked him for his time and left, but before stopping in the gift shop to get his rye whiskey.
Photos Courtesy of Rosemary Miller