Before we get into the best bourbon distilleries Louisville has to offer, we need to clear up some things about bourbon.
First: The difference between bourbon and whiskey: Bourbon can only be produced in the United States; but us Kentuckians know that the only REAL bourbon is distilled here in Kentucky! Plus 95% of bourbon is distilled in Kentucky. It contains more than 50% corn and then matured in a brand new charred oak barrel. All bourbons are whiskey, but not all whiskeys are bourbon. Plus 95
Second: The difference between Rye and Bourbon: Rye whiskey is whiskey, but with more than 50% rye in the mash.
Third: Whiskey or Whisky? In America, it’s whiskey. Anywhere other than America, it’s whisky (most of the time).
So let’s take a tour of Louisville distilleries that have made a huge impact on our city and state over the years!
Angel’s Envy– Downtown Louisville, Whiskey Row
Angel’s Envy is a family owned and operated business. Lincoln Henderson worked at numerous distilleries and helped create some of the most well-known brands in bourbon, but Angel’s Envy was his first and only independent project. Angel’s Envy Started out as an idea from father (Lincoln), son (Wes) and later involved grandsons Kyle and Andrew. Angel’s Envy is different from other Kentucky bourbon because of it’s “double maturation” process. Whereas the average Kentucky bourbon is aged at least two years, Angels’ Envy is aged between four to six years in American white oak barrels. Once aged, the bourbon goes through the “double maturation” process which means it is placed in a separate 60-gallon Port barrel from Portugal for an additional six months. It is then blended again in batches of 8-12 barrels at a time. At this time, the bourbon is only ready when master distillers determine it’s ‘Angel’s Envy’. Because of his unique distilling process, Lincoln has been inducted into the Kentucky Bourbon Hall of Fame, and was awarded the “Lifetime Achievement Award from Malt Advocate. The attention to detail and quality of bourbon is why Angel’s Envy will continuously be one of the best in Louisville.
Bulleit Bourbon was re-created by Thomas Bulleit Jr. in 1987 using an old family recipe. He decided to leave his successful law practice and become a master distiller using his great- great grandfather’s recipes. His great-great grandfather, Augustus was a tavern keeper in the 1830s and was determined to create a unique bourbon flavor. Sadly, Augustus vanished while transporting his unique flavor from Kentucky to New Orleans. No one knows what happened to him, and on that day, his creation almost disappeared into history along with him. One thing the Bulleit family understood from Augustus, was that whiskey should be made with high rye content. This is the cornerstone of Bulleit Bourbon. The high rye content gives the bold, spicy character with a smooth, clean finish. The limestone-filtered water along with the American oak barrels contribute to the smoky flavor. Bulleit distills four types of bourbon including their most known, “Bulleit Bourbon,” “Bulleit Rye,” “Bulleit Bourbon 10 Year Old,” and “Bulleit Barrel Strength.”
Evan Williams emigrated to the United States in the 18th century and settled in Louisville, Kentucky. He began distilling in 1783, and is known as Kentucky’s first commercial distillery. You can receive more information regarding the history of Evan Williams when you tour their downtown location, which is part of the Kentucky Bourbon Trail. Although this location is not a distillery, Evan Williams is distilled at Heaven Hill distillery and bottled in Bardstown, Ky. Evan Williams has up to 12 different types of bourbons and liqueurs and was once the second largest-selling brand of Kentucky Straight Bourbon.
Originally located in Henderson, Kentucky in the 1880s, Kentucky Peerless (formerly known as Worsham Distilling) began operating under the founder, Henry Kraver. Henry distilled high quality bourbon, so he invested in state of the art machinery and invested in numerous warehouses. Some of his warehouses became U.S Federally Bonded following the Bond Act of 1897. At the time of prohibition, Peerless was one of the few whiskeys used for prescription or medicinal use. Nearly five generations later, Corky Taylor and his son Carson revived the old recipe and created a distillery right here in downtown Louisville. Under one roof, Peerless grains are milled, cooked, fermented, double-distilled, and barreled. You can view their distilling process and experience bourbon through the generations at their location downtown!
A few years after the original Whiskey Row developed on Main Street in Louisville, Old Forester was introduced in 1870 by founder George Brown. J.T.S. Brown and Bro. Company developed the first bourbon to be sold in sealed glass bottles. They determined glass bottles ensured the quality of the bourbon and created a consistent flavor in each bottle. Old Forester was named after Dr. William Forrester, a customer of George Brown while he was working as a pharmaceutical salesman. Old Forester was also U.S. Federally Bonded and was presented at 100 proof to comply with legal regulations. During the 1920s, most distilleries were forced to close, but J.T.S. Brown and Bro. (now named Brown-Forman) received a federal license to continue producing for medicinal purposes. After the prohibition, Old Forester increased it’s production and sales and is the only bourbon to be continuously distilled by the founding family before, during, and after prohibition. Today, Brown-Forman purchased Bluegrass Cooperage (now known as Brown-Forman Cooperage) to make Old Forester whisky barrels. It’s the only cooperage owned by a major distiller and it’s located right here in Louisville! Currently, Brown-Forman distills up to 10 different types of Old Forester bourbon. You can experience the history and distilling process through their distillery tour located in Whiskey Row.
Woodford Reserve– Versailles, KY
Honestly, we can’t discuss bourbon that’s impacted our city and state without mentioning Woodford Reserve. Produced by the Brown-Forman Corporation, Woodford Reserve is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and designated as a National Historic Landmark. Although the distillery has had several owners, Brown-Forman has owned and operated it since 1993. There are around seven types of bourbon distilled by Woodford Reserve including Woodford Reserve Bourbon, Woodford Reserve Double Oaked, Woodford Reserve Straight Rye Whiskey, Woodford Reserve Straight Malt Whiskey along with limited edition releases, including Woodford Reserve Master’s Collection, Woodford Reserve Master’s Collection Batch Proof, a Kentucky-only Distillery Series, and a special commemorative Kentucky Derby bottle it releases annually to pay homage to it’s official sponsorship of The Kentucky Derby®. Since 2005, Woodford has collected numerous awards and accolades including the declaration of the “Official Bourbon of the Kentucky Derby.” It’s also a stop on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail! If we haven’t sold you yet on this delectable bourbon, maybe the fact that Elizabeth McCall, the Assistant Master Distiller, is a local gal, and one of the youngest assistant master distillers in the U.S. Promoted from Master Taste Tester to Assistant Master Distiller, Mccall is a 2nd generation family member to work in the bourbon industry. Support Elizabeth and the state of Kentucky by heading out to Woodford Reserve Distillery today!
**Information collected for this article came from the listed companies’ websites**