Bardstown, Ky.-based Heaven Hill Distilleries announced it will spend $135 million to begin construction on a new distillery there this spring. According to a news release, construction of the plant is expected to conclude in late 2024.
Located on a 61-acre site off Old Bloomfield Road (just a few miles from its current bottling plant and shipping facility), the plant’s production capability will begin at 10 million proof gallons annually (150,000 barrels per year) and grow to 30 million proof gallons annually (450,000 barrels per year) over time.
For the sake of comparison, its current distillery on the historic Bernheim site in Louisville, Ky., produces more than 400,000 barrels annually. Were Heaven Hill to double its current output, it would become one of the nation’s largest beverage alcohol distillers.
“The people of Bardstown have helped us create and build our brands over all these many years, so it’s a special homecoming to bring distilling back to this community,” Max Shapira, president of Heaven Hill, said in a news release. “Our new distillery will honor our long-time Bardstown roots while applying state-of-the-art equipment and processes to produce the highest quality American Whiskey and build upon our meaningful partnership with Bardstown and the Commonwealth of Kentucky.”
Heaven Hill lost its original Bardstown distillery in a tragic fire in 1996. The fire, whose cause remains undetermined, began in a rickhouse and spread to six others. Flaming whiskey from those structures poured downhill and into the distillery, which was built in 1935. In all, 92,000 barrels were lost in the fire, but no one was injured. Miraculously, its yeast stocks were not damaged, and the strain remains in use today.
“Bourbon making is an old art, but we are applying forward-thinking approaches to ensure we are environmentally conscious and a good neighbor,” Conor O’Driscoll, Heaven Hill master distiller, said in the news release. “Heaven Hill’s tradition of distilling with attention to detail, quality and craftsmanship will now be even more accessible as we grow our distilling heritage in Bardstown.”
BOURBON & BANTER’S VIEW: Building a distillery in Bardstown makes sense on multiple levels. Real estate is far cheaper in Bardstown than in Louisville, the new location is right on a rail line and close to all but one of Heaven Hill’s 63 rickhouses. Currently, all barrels are filled from Bernheim’s trio of massive stills in Louisville, so it’s likely barrel filling will happen at the new Bardstown distillery.
But when you live in Louisville, you hear things, such as complaints about how the city’s Metropolitan Sewer District jacked up sewage fees on the Bernheim plant to dizzying heights several years ago. Could that have played a role in Heaven Hill’s decision to build in Bardstown rather than Louisville? Surely on some level.
That Bernheim has three huge stills operating in that small space is an engineering marvel in and of itself, so why not make the next expansion a greenfield effort? Bottom line is it’ll be good for Bardstown, a town for which Max Shapira will forever have a soft spot. It’s his hometown.
Will the new production ease currently tight supplies for Heaven Hill’s whiskeys?
What it’ll do is make them more widely available to global customers.
Yeah, some of you will start rending your garments over that reality, but it’s just a fact: This is how businesses grow in a modern economy. The risk gets spread across the globe these days. The planet, not just the United States, is where the biggest opportunities lie.
Steve Coomes is editor of BourbonBanter.com. A Louisville restaurant industry veteran turned award-winning food writer, he has edited and written for dozens of national trade and consumer publications including Pizza Today, Nation's Restaurant News and Southern Living over his 31-year journalism career. As a spirits writer, Steve's work can be found in Bourbon Plus, Bourbon Review, Bourbon & Banter, WhiskeyWash.com and other publications. In 2014, he authored the book, "Country Ham: A Southern Tradition of Hogs, Salt & Smoke," and has authored other titles as a private ghostwriter.
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