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Kentucky Bourbon Trail: Heaven Hill Behind the Scenes tour

Posted on by Eric Burke

I'm having a little Evan Williams 1783 while I write this. Thought it was fitting to have a Heaven Hill product I'd never had before while writing about my visit to their facility.

This is my second tale of a visit to Heaven Hill. I was not impressed by the first visit, tour ticket mishaps and what-not. You can go back and read that one if you want, it's well written but not very flattering.

This tale begins well before I went to Kentucky. If you went back and read about my previous trip to Heaven Hill, you'll know that I was pretty upset. I almost didn't go back other than to get my passport stamped. A few months ago (4-6 or so?, might have been) I visited the Heaven Hill website to check on something or another. Seeing if a brand was theirs or something. I was rooting around the site, as you do, when I saw a link to the Bourbon Heritage Center site. On a whim I clicked the link so I could relive that sweet little worm of a memory of my disappointment. You know so I could really remember how much I didn't like it.

The site had been redone. It was actually really nice looking. Stupid good looking site. I clicked on the view our tours link, and then on the Book a Tour link. Everything was really slick. I was impressed. So much so, that before I knew it I was inputting my credit card info into the slick little form and buying tickets for the Behind the Scenes tour for both my wife and I. 

Stupid good looking and slick form...

Ok fast-forward to the day of the tour. I'm a bit nervous, as you might expect. But there was no need. I walked in, the lady behind the little desk greeted us warmly, asked what we were there for, checked us in and gave us our little stickers. We were in. 

Fred, our tour guide got the two of us set up in the movie theater. (Yes, it was just the two of us, I know, right? how awesome!) I described the movie in the last post, it hadn't changed. I was right though, with a better outlook it, I did like it. After the movie we walked out, got into a van, and drove across the parking lot. 

Did I tell you Fred was old? Well, he is. And he's a retired school teacher. Which means that he was completely full of the ol' knowledge.

So we got out of the van at the barrel filling building. This was an impressive process. There was one person working the filling machines in there, one unloading the truck holding the empty barrels, one loading the full one into another truck and some quality assurance people behind the scenes. That's it. Everything was controlled by hydraulic activators. Everything. It was like a mad genius who hated computers put this thing together. It was awesome!

Barrel filling by mad-genius machine

After the barrel filling room we went to the warehouse. This was part of our previous tour. It was still good. I loved it. The smell of a bourbon aging warehouse is unbelievable. Old wood, evaporating bourbon, dust and sunshine. I could have stood there all day just smelling.

This barrel was filled on Dec 7, 2010 (number of letter in alphabet=number of month in year, A=January, B=February, etc)But I didn't. Out we went and piled back into the van. Next stop was the barrel extraction room. Now I have to call it this, other places will call it the dump house or something similar, in fact Heaven Hill did too. But there was no dumping. Instead another mad genius hydraulic system bought full barrels to be vacu-sucked empty. I'm sure there is a very good reason for the vacu-sucking. I didn't ask. They didn't say.

Vacu-suck extraction of bourbon

Next stop was the bottling line. Compared to Four Roses, this was massive. Like, that took up a corner and this took up somewhere in the neighborhood of 3-4 giant rooms. It was huge. They had a bunch of lines. Almost all of them were down or filling something other than bourbon, but by this time, we didn't care. This was an amazing tour. Totally worth the $25.

But it wasn't done. Oh no. A van ride back to the Heritage Center and we walked into the large barrel shaped tasting room. Fred was on his game. He knew we were bourbon drinkers, and didn't bother with the entire how to taste presentation we got last time. No we just got down to business. He offered us about 5-6 different bourbons to choose from. My wife chose the 20 year and 21 year Elijah Craig. I took the new Larceny and the Elijah Craig 12 year (but a higher proof one than I can get at home). Needless to say, we each also tasted each others. I wasn't going to let that kind of old bourbon go by without at least a sip.

And then it was done. We each got a souvenir pin, a signed certificate, and an invitation to the gift shop. All of which I appreciated greatly.

So, yes, I loved this tour. My attitude has flipped 180 degrees. I will now recommend the Behind the Scenes tour to anyone who will ask. Or in this case, to an entire internet who didn't ask. It was great. Fred was awesome. I'd say he's tied with Terry at Four Roses and maybe one other for best tour guide we had. I loved hanging out with him and chatting. What was going on around us was just gravy. Very tasty and informative gravy.