Angel's Envy Distillery Tour, Louisville, KY

On my last visit to Kentucky, I made a point to visit a few of the distilleries that had popped up in the last few years. It had been a few years since I had gone on a distillery tour (there are only so many distilleries that are worth touring) so I figured that they time had come to visit a couple newbies.

Upon entering the Angel’s Envy distillery, you are greeted at a desk, checked into your tour and invited to wander the gift shop until your tour starts. It really is a lovely gift shop with exposed brick, honey color wood, and black ironwork. There is a story about why the elevator in the back has the name Vermont American above it. Apparently parts of this building used to be a Vermont American plant.

Fun fact, my father worked for a Vermont American plant in northern Wisconsin making drill bits for many years before the plant was shut down and the jobs moved elsewhere.

The tour starts by taking the elevator under the Vermont American sign up to the cooking and fermentation area. The exposed brick of original factory is still a major design element, accented by the wood and metalwork from the gift shop.

The fermenters are closed fermenters, though they will open one up for you to look in.

If you turn around while they are describing the cooking and fermentation process, you get a nice look at their column still. More on that area later.

The mashbill for Angel’s Envy is (very coincidentally, wink wink) the same as Old Forester and Woodford Reserve. I guess it makes sense that it would be since Angel’s Envy was founded by the former Master Distiller of Old Forester, Lincoln Henderson. It was what he liked, knew, and reportedly the whiskey he bought to make the sourced version of Angel’s Envy that is currently for sale (aged stock from this distillery won’t be ready for a while).

After going through the cooking and fermentation area, we were taken to the still room. If you aren’t looking at the still, you will see a nice view of the Downtown Louisville skyline from the window.

The still area is dominated by the copper “Spirit Safe” style display. It was designed to be in the shape of an Angel’s Envy bottle and if all the computers go down, you could crack that thing open along the seam and stick a hydrometer in if need be.

After the still area, we made our way over to the barrel filling area. This is one of the tanks that hold the new make as it comes off the still. I liked the phrase stenciled on it. I feel like that would make a good tee shirt for me.

As you walk out of the barrel filling area, you will notice the barrels waiting to be filled. They do not have an aging area on site, so these will be trucked to another location to age after they are filled.

Here the tour steps a little out of order on the process. The bottling line is between the filling and dumping areas. It wasn’t being run very fast while I was there. Sounds like that might be a usual thing for them.

Of course, the thing that makes Angel’s Envy what it is, is the barrel finishing that the bourbon goes through before bottling. The aged bourbon is brought to the facility and put into barrels that had previously been used to age port wine. In this stage, they leave it for a relatively short period of time (think months not years) stacked on pallets. This step is done on site.

I love being able to see barrels being dumped. I’m not sure why but it always gives me a little thrill. We were lucky enough to catch them dumping some just as we left the barrel finishing area.

And of course the tour ended with a tasting. They only taste the standard Angel’s envy release. But they give you a generous pour (for a tour) before inviting you to put a message into a tube in their wall, buy a cocktail in the on-site cocktail lounge or wander around the tasting area.

The tasting area is dominated by a very large split log table. Two tables were carved from this one log that had been ripped down the center. It was an impressive sight. The tasting room followed the same honey wood and black metal work as the rest of the distillery. It was beautifully done.

I was super impressed with the Angel’s Envy tour. They were very transparent about both the sourced whiskey they are currently bottling as well as the stuff they are making now. I felt extremely welcome on the tour. It was entertaining and beautiful. All in all, I’d recommend this one.


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Lux Row Distillers: Distillery Tour

It’s Bourbon Heritage Month and as such, I am celebrating all things bourbon. Not just the liquid, but travel, tours, and book, as well. Tonight, I’m taking a look at the newly opened Lux Row Distillery in Bardstown, KY.

While in Bardstown, I made sure to stop in and grab a tour at the newly completed Lux Row Distillers. I was at the name announcement ceremony two years ago when the grounds consisted of a historic home and a large pile of dirt. I was really looking forward to seeing the finished result. I wasn’t disappointed. This is a beauty of a distillery. The fact that it is also very obviously a working distillery first and a tourist attraction second just adds to the charm.

Upon walking up to the distillery, I was struck by how welcoming it looked. I knew this was a manufacturing facility, but it looked like someone’s house. (A house well out of my price range, but a house none-the-less.)

The tour started with a movie. They all seem to. It’s a nice efficient way to bring everyone up to speed. After the movie we stepped out into the manufacturing floor. They had two 4,000-gallon cookers that feed twelve 8,000-gallon fermenters. Four of the fermenters were open for tourists to experience, the other eight were closed like the ones shown above.

After making our way around the cookers and fermenters, we were at the stills. The stills live in a lovely, though very warm, room with large windows to show off all the lovely copper.

Out the windows is a nice view of the 200 year-old house that was the main structure standing on the grounds the fist time I visited the property. They have plans for it that they didn’t disclose, but said that for now it is only used for storage.

I thought this was a nice bit of transparency. As you may know, until recently, Luxco was not in the business of distilling bourbon. They were in the business of buying, blending, and bottling bourbon. (In a fun tidbit, they admitted that the current stocks are coming from Jim Beam and Heaven Hill.) As such, with a distillery that has been producing spirit for less than a year, they are filling barrels, but not yet dumping any. And they told us as such when they pointed out the dumping station in the foreground. They roughly said: it’s here for when we need to start using it in four or more years. I liked that. It’s nice to see companies that are not trying to sell a fantasy.

After we saw where barrels are filled (if it wasn’t a Saturday during the Kentucky Bourbon Festival), we move over to where they are stored after they are filled. With this one, they took steps to make sure that the view was worth the walk over.

Unlike most of the Lux Row aging warehouses (or those from most other companies for that matter) this aging warehouse was built with visitors in mind and has a large viewing area inside the front of the warehouse. These very large beams keep all those barrels in place even though there would normally be more supports (and barrels) in their place.

I know every warehouse has a view something like this, but I just liked the photo.

We finished the tour in the tasting room. It was a lovely tasting room. Lots of copper. We tasted Rebel Yell, Ezra Brooks, and David Nicholson 1843. In the process we got to meet members of the Lux family who were in town for the festival. And in another fun tidbit, I learned that if you are looking at the labels of a Luxco bourbon, you can tell if it is wheated or not but the color of the label. All the wheated bourbons have a white label (aside from the Rebel Yell Single Barrel whose label is painted on).

I thoroughly enjoyed my tour at Lux Row Distillers. The grounds were as beautiful as I remembered. The distillery and gift shop were welcoming, and the information was accurate and transparent. Honestly, what more can you ask for?


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Old Forester Distillery Tour at the Old Forester Distilling Co., Louisville, KY

It's Bourbon Heritage Month and I just got back from Kentucky so I thought it might be a good time to highlight some Bourbon Fun. Tonight, I’m taking a look at the Old Forester Distilling Co. A new visitor experience on Whiskey Row in Louisville, KY.

Hey! I’m back from my annual trip to the Kentucky Bourbon Festival…only this year, I really didn’t go to the Festival all that much. I only went to two events that were officially part of the Festival, and only one was a paid, ticketed event. It’s odd, but I might be falling out of love with the KBF. All of the prices have increased to the point where I just don’t want to pay them anymore. Which, on one hand, really sucks. I don’t like to be priced out of things I enjoy (welcome to bourbon in 2018…amirite?) But on the other, it did allow me to have a lot of other experiences that I normally wouldn’t have had time for.

Experiences like tours of some of the new distilleries (or distillery-like experiences) that have popped up since I last took the time to wander away from Bardstown. One of the tours I took was of the new Old Forester Distilling Co. experience on Whiskey Row in Louisville.

When you walk in the door, you are immediately greeted by a large brick and wood room that contains a desk for checking into your tour (or buying tickets) and a waiting area. This is where your tour will start. Depending on how early you arrive, you may decide to visit the gift shop. they will certainly let you, but in true Disneyland fashion, you will also exit the tour into the gift shop as well. So when you give them your money is up to you.

If you choose to visit the Gift Shop before you take your tour, you will be greeted with the best view of the tall copper column still (as well as branded merchandise and multiple bottles that are available for purchase).

By a strange coincidence, one of my fellow tour-takers was a distiller from England who was there as a guest of Brown-Forman and Campbell Brown, the President of Old Forester (who also tagged along for a good portion of the tour as well). This meant that not only were there a few more geeky questions than you normally find on a typical bourbon distillery tour, but we also got a few more candid and honest answers than you would usual too.

Above is the entry to the official “tour area” this area talks about their mash bill and the benefit of Kentucky water.

One of the especially candid answers we received on the tour related to the fermenters (shown above). When the English Distiller (whose name or company I have forgotten) asked why they had open fermenters instead of closed ones, Mr. Brown answered that it was because it provided a better visitor experience and that they have closed fermenters in the big distillery. I enjoyed the candor. It’s refreshing to go on a distillery tour and not be overloaded with marketing speak.

When we stopped to take a look at the still, which I had already seen in the gift shop, I turned around and looked at the other wall which featured these windows showing where spirit at various parts of the distilling run would be visible. One thing I liked about the tour, was that it was really set up to be an education in to how bourbon is made for the average consumer. They wouldn’t have had to have made all the extra graphics to explain what was going on, but they took the time to do it. Nice touch.

Of course the highlight of the tour was the barrel making area. And not just because we happened to have one of the cooper’s grandfather and other older relatives on the tour with us (though watching the young kid sneak up to surprise an elderly great-aunt with a hug was heartwarming as well). Once again, they showed all the steps and let us know which pieces of equipment were state-of-the-art and which were from a previous era of barrel making. More refreshing candor. Some things were just there because it made a better show on a small scale, not because they were efficient on a large scale.

This was our tour guide (I forget her name because her hair covered her name tag and I’m bad with remembering names at the best of times). In any case, she was excellent. Normally, I have a conversation with myself regarding the things they are over simplifying or just plain getting wrong. I didn’t have that conversation here. She was very knowledgeable and I don’t remember a single of noticeable error.

This was a pretty cool machine. It was a hydraulic press that put the hoops on the barrel. I don’t remember seeing anything like this when I toured Independent Stave a few years ago, but my memory is notoriously bad (and it may have been behind the scenes as well). Still, having been a metal-stamping press operator for a few years after high school, this looked like much more fun (and much less noisy) than those were. It even had a JoyStick!

Of course after you build a barrel, you need to test it. And this was where my fellow tour taker’s nephew/grandson came in. He basically adds some water, fills it with air and looks for bubbles.

This is a fairly small distillery by big bourbon standards, but it is a working distillery none-the-less. And they say that some of the liquid that is being made on sight is also being aged on site. Not sure how I’d feel about all that flammable liquid being there, if I was Duluth Trading Company next door.

And this is a bottling line. Once again, it seemed like it was there so you could see a bottling line and learn what they do. It was running pretty slowly compared to others I’ve seen in other distilleries.

And no tour would be complete without a tasting at the end. This tour offered tastes of Old Forester 86 proof, Old Forester Statesman, and Old Forester 1897 bottled in Bond.

 IMAGE: a hand-drawn smiley face

Overall, I really enjoyed the tour. There was little, to no, “Marketing BS” and the entire place was set up not only to show you how bourbon was made, but also to help you learn about how bourbon is made. Plus it was fun! And honestly, that’s just as important at the end of the day.


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Bar Review: Carnival Glory's Alchemy Bar

Between Christmas and New Year's I took my first ever cruise. It was a leap for me because I didn't have a high opinion of cruises. In my brain, they were nothing more than excuses for people to overeat, drink too much cheap booze and see sanitized and "safe" versions of other cultures. And for some of the people on the ship with us, this was certainly true. People abounded who drank nothing but premixed, sugary blended daiquiris and margaritas and Bud Light. These also tended to be the people who never left the gated and guarded confines of the poolside cabana rentals and shops that sold nothing but luxury goods, people whose only interaction with the local people trying recover from multiple recent hurricanes was with the waitstaff at the swim up bar.

Luckily, though this was a sizable portion of my fellow passengers, this wasn't everybody. Knowing that there was a wide variety of passengers with a wide range of tastes, the cruise line made sure to cater to a wide range of expectations. Sure there was a Guy's Burger Joint on board for when you want some grease on a bun, but there was also a fine-dining restaurant that you had to dress up to visit. And, sure, there were plenty of places willing to blend you up an umbrella drink made with flavored syrup, cheap rum, and ice. But on the other end of the spectrum was the subject of tonight's review: the Alchemy Bar.

The Alchemy Bar was the place I visited most often outside of my cabin. I was there every evening for a post-dinner cocktail. Behind the bar were three very talented cocktail creators, Jakub, Andriy, and Majda. I like watching people make cocktails, and these three did that with style. It was my entertainment for each evening. And they didn't just have panache, they also had talent. Yes, there was a menu of tasty drinks for just about every palate. But these folks were adept at making anything they had the ingredients to make. I saw many people just walk up and say: "surprise me." Sometimes, they would make something off the menu, but other times—if you were a regular that talked to them and tipped a buck or two per drink—they would know your likes and dislikes and use that knowledge to make something off the top of their head. 

Jakub was great. After talking with me the first night, he knew I was a big fan of bourbon and rye and had no problem making me a Manhattan or a Sazerac. He even let me talk him through making me my version of a Black Manhattan which uses Campari to up the bitterness. 

 Jakub making a drink

Majda made me a drink that had me worried at first but turned out to be extremely tasty. It contained bourbon, Chambord liqueur, and Grand Marnier. I didn't know how the combination of raspberry and bourbon would go, but it was delicious, though very sweet. She also knew that before I left the bar, I'd want a Buffalo Trace to take back to the room with me. 

And there was one menu drink that I particularly liked. It was called the Island Old Fashioned. You guessed it; it was an Old Fashioned. They made it with eight-year-old rum that they had infused with cinnamon and other spices, house-made bitters, and simple syrup. I ended up having this made for me at least once by all three bartenders. Out of the three, I liked Andriy's version of that the best. I think he added an extra dash of bitters that upped the spice level and made it much more interesting. 

I don't know that you should pay for a cruise just to go to the Alchemy bar. But if you happen to be on a Carnival ship that has one, I think you owe yourself a visit or six. You probably won't have the same folks making you drinks that I had. But I'm sure they will be just as entertaining and talented. And why not toss them a buck while you are at it. You're already paying $11 for a drink, you might as well make it $12. They really seemed to appreciate it.


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George Washington's Mt. Vernon Distillery and Gristmill

First off, I'd like to thank Steve Bashore, Director of Historic Trades at Mt Vernon for taking time out of his schedule to show us around while also trying to complete a distilling run, something that is normally not available to the public. 


One of the things I like best about going to the Kentucky Bourbon Festival is meeting people. There are so many people from so many places that visit. If you talk to the folks around you, you are almost guaranteed to find someone interesting. 2017 was no exception for me. This time I met friend-of-a-friend, Steve Bashore. Steve is the Director of Historic Trades at George Washington's Mt Vernon and, among other things, is in charge of the rebuilt distillery and gristmill there. 

Steve is passionate about his work and I am a big fan of history so we hit it off almost immediately. In fact, I think they closed down the first event we attended around us while we were having our conversation. If my wife hadn't interrupted we might have been there for as long as they were polite enough to let us stay.

One of the topics of conversation was, obviously, where he works. I told him about the failed attempt to visit the last time I was at Mt Vernon (it was closed for the season) and he extended an invitation to show me around personally the next time I was in the area. It turns out the next time I was in the area was two weeks ago, which was perfect timing as it was when they were doing one of the two distilling runs they do per year.  

This is the reproduction of George Washington's Distillery. If you've been on big whiskey tours, this doesn't look like much. It's a historic-looking building in an area full of them. But before the original burned down in the early 1810s, the modest building on this spot was counted among the largest and most profitable distilleries in the young country. This reproduction is fully functioning and twice a year fires up to produce a run of rye whiskey using grain ground on the premises. 

Upon entering the recreated distillery, I was struck by how dark it was. Even with modern lighting in use. The original (and some of the tours) used lanterns and candles to light the interior. I can only imagine how much darker it was in the original building. Above you can see a couple of the historically accurate tools of the trade: a paddle and a rake to stir the mash as it cooks. 

The process that Steve and Mt Vernon use is historically accurate. The grain is ground on site, cooking and fermentation happen in barrels, and the water and mash are moved by hand in buckets. The first step is, of course, to grind the grain. Mount Vernon uses a mash bill of 60% rye, 35% corn, and 5% malt. While, the records of Washington's exact recipe have been lost to time, the historians on site have determined by looking at the ledgers that this ratio makes sense with the amounts of various grains that were coming in and out of the facility. The next step is to heat the water. It is heated in an electric boiler (obviously, this isn't historically accurate, but the insurance people objected to one more wood fire on-premise...and since the original distillery burned down, maybe they have a point). The heated water is transferred to the cooking barrels (shown above) using large buckets on long wooden handles to cook the corn and rye. The temperature is then stepped down and the malt is added and is then stepped down again so the yeast can be added. 

Above you can see the yeast working its magic on the mash to produce alcohol and carbon dioxide. This is happening in a 53-gallon barrel. Empty ones are stored behind. 

As small as the building looked on the outside, it feels even smaller on the inside. The cooking and fermenting area take up less than one-quarter of the building, the five stills run all along the opposite side and storage and proofing take up the remainder. It is an extremely efficient use of space and it is hard to believe that this was typical of the beginnings of the American Whiskey industry considering how far they have come and how big some of them have gotten.

Speaking of the still layout, here we see one of the Mt Vernon distillery workers stoking the fires that run the still. There are five wood-fired stills, each with their own condenser, that run the length of this side of the distillery. Directly to my right are the fermentation barrels seen above.

This is one still setup. The copper bulb comes off and fermented mash is fed into the still with buckets. Then the fires are lit and the whiskey vapors travel down the neck and into the condenser barrel. This barrel contains a copper worm that is cooled by water from the distilleries closed water system. It is the same system that runs the mill, so occasionally they need to supplement the water coming down the trough with a hose of water so there is enough to get the job done. The liquid you see coming out the front is warmed cooling water that is being fed back into the system.

Here is another view of the cooling water and condenser system. You can see hints of the copper worm in the barrel and the water coming out of the trough (you can also see the supplemental hose as well...hey you gotta get the job done too).

Out the back of the barrel comes the distillate. Like any pot distiller, they need to make cuts into heads, hearts, and tails. These are run through a simple coffee filter to catch anything else that might come out along with, gathered in pots, and brought to the proofing station.

Heads, hearts, and tails are all proofed using the hydrometer and tracked in a log book to keep the federal government happy. They are stored in separately by batch and by the still they came off of. After this the distillate will be bottled or placed in 25- and 53-gallon barrels to be aged for two to six years.

We close our tour of the distillery with a fitting image. The piece of wood across the handle state that this still is done for the day, no more wood needs to be added, and the fires will be allowed to burn out.

If you were trying to follow along where each image was taken this should help. Above is the archeological site of the original distillery before they rebuilt. Everything is in the same spot. Proofing happens in the unlabeled upper left corner.

The next part of the tour took us to the gristmill this mill is another historic recreation. As with the distillery, this is also fully functioning. They currently mill all the grain used in the distillery and on the rest of Mt. Vernon, including the restaurant and gift shop. 

This is one of two sets of millstones used to grind all of the grain. 10,700 pounds for the most recent distilling run, plus all the food grade flour that goes up to the main estate. Seems easy enough right? Just run some grain between these two things and out comes flour...

Well, yes, but there is a little more to it than that, as Steve was kind enough to show me. There is the water wheel, the wooden gears, the hopper and more. It is all very interesting and very pretty as the late evening light comes in the windows. 

I'm going to paraphrase the expert explanation that I was given down to the following: water turns the big wheel, which turns a bunch of other gears until it transfers that power up to the millstones. That same movement drives the hopper which separated the flour from the husks. It's all very cool and complicated. 

This is just another view of the mill gears. It's all wooden. And it is also very cool.

Of course, no distillery tour would be complete without a tasting. We sampled the complete lineup. There is a white unaged rye, a straight rye whiskey, an apple brandy, and a peach brandy eau de vie. I didn't do complete tasting notes, but here are my impressions of each. 

White unaged Rye (86 proof): Spicy and smooth. Very tasty. 

Straight Rye Whiskey (86 proof): spicy, but almost too much barrel influence. It tasted like it was aged in a small barrel (which it was). I prefer the unaged version but can't wait to try one that has sat in a full-sized barrel for 4-6 years.

Apple Brandy:  lots of dried apple flavor. More so than many craft apple brandies I've had in the past. I like that about this.

Peach Brandy Eau de Vie (90 proof): sweet, light, dried peach candy. Apparently, around the holidays, this is available in the gift shop as a small bottle and glass set for a lower price than the entire bottle should you be looking to try it.

I really had a lot of fun on this tour. It was an amazingly informative time and all of my guests learned a lot, even those who had been to Mt Vernon before and those who knew almost nothing about distilling. But before I go, I need to share an image of Steve's keys. I'm really glad that key technology has come as far as it has...I don't think I could fit those in my pocket if I need those to start my car.


BourbonGuy.com accepts no advertising. It is solely supported by the sale of the hand-made products I sell at the BourbonGuy Gifts Etsy store. If you'd like to support BourbonGuy.com, visit BourbonGuyGifts.com. Thanks!