Exploring Nelson County’s abandoned T.W. Samuels Distillery

Exploring Nelson County’s abandoned T.W. Samuels Distillery

At the end of the 19th century, Kentucky’s Nelson County was the undisputed bourbon capital of the world. No other region even came close. By 1896, roughly 26 distilleries spread throughout the county were actively distilling, aging, bottling and distributing whiskey for national consumption. But over the decades, Prohibition, consolidation of companies, changing liquor tastes and the rise of the highway would take a toll. Some 120 years later, there are just four bourbon companies headquartered in that same county today. And one of those is actually distilling in downtown Louisville, two counties away.

What’s been left behind is a number of abandoned but stunning factories that serve as dusty monuments to distilleries forged in another era. Each in a varying degree of decay and each with a long history connected to a once-beloved bourbon brand such as Old Tub and Old Charter. And, if you know just where to look, many are remarkably easy to find. Local residents will tell you that the crown jewel of these crumbling remains can be found roughly halfway between Clermont and Bardstown in the center of a tiny little community named Deatsville. Just beyond the eastern edge of the massive 14,000 acre Bernheim Forest and less than a ¼ mile north of the bustling Kentucky State Route 245 sits the T.W. Samuels Distillery and Warehouses.

The first thing most people notice when they approach the property is the massive collection of aging warehouses that flank the distillery. The afternoon sun reflects off the metal exterior of these old rickhouses showcasing a unique shape and design that’s been long abandoned in lieu of modern warehouses that allow for larger storage. Despite its dilapidated condition, the buildings that make up the privately-owned distillery complex are surprisingly well preserved for a location that hasn’t produced bourbon in several decades. The complex has new locks, boarded windows covering original panes and several rusted signs that clearly indicate the original function of each building. Some areas look like somebody might have just visited yesterday while others look like they haven’t been so much as dusted in years. While quiet now, these grounds were part of a long history of several once-beloved brands – all of which have been forgotten, discontinued or relegated to the back of the shelf with limited availability. However, in the dust of all the whiskey ghosts, one global brand today can trace their origin to the T.W. Samuels Distillery: Maker’s Mark.

The namesake of the distillery, Taylor William Samuels established a distillery in 1844 just down the road from the buildings you can view today. The Samuels family had already been making whiskey in America for three generations, but T.W. and his son decided to make the leap from family pastime to commercial business. Success soon followed. By the 1860’s, the company warehouses held over 14,000 barrels of aging bourbon – considered to be a massive stockpile at the time. A prominent businessman, T.W. wore several hats including “High Sheriff” of Nelson County. It was during his tenure as Sheriff in 1865 that he persuaded the last remnants of confederate soldiers in the area to surrender. The father/son duo operated the distillery for over fifty years and eventually upgraded the facility by moving it down the road to the current location. Their most popular brands were the top selling Old Deatsville and T. W. Samuels bottles which carried the memorable slogan “There’s a barrel of satisfaction in every bottle.”

In 1909, the distillery and six warehouses were destroyed by fire with a reported loss that included 9,000 barrels of whiskey. Just four years later, The Star Distillery Co. from Ohio purchased a majority of the company in what would be the first of several ownership moves. During the dark days of Prohibition between 1920 and 1933, most of the buildings were razed for salvage; many of the buildings left behind today date to the “Post Repeal” period of around 1933.

The Samuels name would later be intrinsically linked with another bourbon brand when T.W.’s great grandson, Bill Samuels Sr. would give up the family business in 1943 only to start his own bourbon brand ten years later in Loretto. Using a recipe that includes wheat instead of rye and bottles dipped in red wax, Maker’s Mark would soon eventually become one of the most recognized liquor brands in the country. Today, the Chief Operating Officer at Maker’s Mark Distillery is still a Samuels (Rob) and the great, great grandson of T.W. Meanwhile, The T.W. Samuels distillery plodded through the back half of the 20th century crafting low-end whiskey and even bottling spring water as recently as the early 1970’s. In more recent years, the T.W. Samuels line of bourbon has been sold under the Heaven Hill label with sporadic releases.

Today, the distillery sits idle but nine of the warehouses have been rehabilitated and are being used by two major bourbon brands to house thousands of barrels of sleeping whiskey. Occasionally, a barrel truck off-loading fresh barrels (and branded with a familiar logo) will make an appearance. Otherwise, all is quiet in the shuttered space. And the only train traffic that the once busy rail line which faithfully served the distillery carries today is My Old Kentucky Dinner Train. However, the T.W. Samuels Distillery could one day undergo a massive transformation to restore the facility to former glory like the one currently occurring roughly 70 miles away in Woodford County at the Old Taylor Distillery. For now, the sign out front says “The Olde T.W. Samuels Distillery & Samuels Springs” but it probably could say “Watch this space.”

Written by Phil Kollin – Mint Julep Tours Driver & Guide

Mint Julep Tours can create the perfect itinerary for your bourbon adventure. While the T.W. Samuels distillery remains closed at all time to all visitors, Mint Julep Tours can arrange a drive-by past the distillery (or other abandoned Nelson County distilleries) on any custom tour. Call 502-583-1433 or visit us online today to begin planning your trip and to receive more information on custom experiences.

Toasting to Bourbon Pioneer George Garvin Brown on his Birthday

 

Toasting to Bourbon Pioneer George Garvin Brown on his Birthday

You probably won’t find too many parents who settle on “Garvin” when naming their children, but that name has a long history and a deep connection with bourbon lore. If you’ve ever enjoyed a single drop of straight bourbon whiskey in your life, you likely owe a bit of gratitude to George Garvin Brown – the man who is credited with revolutionizing the way Americans bought and consumed bourbon in the 1870s. 

9-6-16-blog-post-3A bourbon innovation that was clear as glass.

George Garvin Brown celebrated a milestone birthday this past Friday – The big 170. Born in 1846, he was contemporaries with other notable historic figures born that year such as Buffalo Bill Cody, George Westinghouse and, ironically, radical temperance movement champion Carrie Nation. Of course, Brown is long gone, but whiskey aficionados celebrate his birthday every year. Before Brown came along, distillers sold their whiskey exclusively by the barrel. And since most weren’t keen on the idea of buying upwards of 40 gallons of alcohol at once, many consumers brought their own jugs from home to fill directly from retailer’s barrels. In order to extend supply, less-than-scrupulous saloons and bars were known to add everything from prune juice to tobacco spit to rattlesnake heads to help fill up the jugs. “Rectifying” barrels in this manner was a common practice that allowed retailers to achieve the ideal coloring and consistency without the cost of adding more bourbon.

At the time, George Garvin Brown was a young Louisville-based pharmaceutical salesman. Glass bottles for packaging were a recent innovation and Brown saw potential for whiskey to be sold in pharmacies across the nation next to other medicines. George had a novel idea. A forward thinking idea that would turn the world of whiskey on its head: Put bourbon exclusively into glass bottles. Sealed bottles would assure quality and, 35 years before Upton Sinclair’s “The Jungle”, it was among the first steps in making sure consumers knew exactly what they were taking home. With this innovation, Old Forester bourbon was born, and an iconic brand was launched.

The beginnings of the Louisville based distillery that’s still growing today

Soon after Brown’s innovation, he partnered with another George – his accountant George Forman – and established “Brown-Forman and Company” in 1870, just five years before the first running of The Kentucky Derby. Fast forward 146 years to today and Brown’s company is among the largest American-owned spirits and wine companies in the world- an incredibly impressive feat since the list of failed Kentucky bourbon distilleries over that time period reads like a laundry list of long lost whiskey brands.

9-6-16-blog-post-2Fred Noe, Master Distiller of Jim Beam Brands, likes to joke that Kentucky is the land of four million people and ten last names. So it comes as no surprise that today you’ll find Brown’s descendants everywhere in the Bluegrass. Louisville’s Frazier History Museum was founded by Owsley Brown Frazier in 2004. And, just two blocks down Main Street, you’ll find the 21c Museum Hotel which is co-owned by Laura Lee Brown. In fact, the current Chairman of the Board of Directors at Brown-Forman is none other than George Garvin Brown IV – George’s great-great grandson.

Break out the cake, candles and rock glasses!

We celebrate Brown’s birthday in September pretty much the same way we celebrate a lot of things in Kentucky: with bourbon. For the last 15 years, Brown-Forman has released a beloved special edition of their flagship brand known as “Old Forester Birthday Bourbon.” The oddly shaped bottle has become a “must have” for whiskey lovers who sample, collect, and trade limited edition releases. Each batch is different, each year brings a unique offering, and each release has earned a reputation as being among the most elusive whiskey for those seeking to find it on liquor store shelves.

9-6-16-blog-post-1This year’s Old Forester Birthday Bourbon release was patiently aged for 12 years (three times as long as the standard Old Forester product) entirely on the 5th floor of a single warehouse. These barrels were filled and then placed near the windows of the warehouse allowing them to soak up the heat of the sun. Master Distiller Chris Morris expects roughly 14,500 bottles to be released. While this year’s release is a smidge larger than years past, The Old Forester Birthday Bourbon is relatively miniscule. It takes timing and luck to stumble across a bottle. Considering most of us are lucky to end up with a cupcake and an off-key serenading of “Happy Birthday”, that is one great way to celebrate a man’s birthday.

And, beyond limited bourbon releases, Brown-Forman continues to grow. Projected to open in late 2017 will be the newest edition to The Kentucky Bourbon Trail: A $45 million Old Forester Distillery located right on Louisville’s historic Whiskey Row steps from where George Garvin Brown began the company. And Brown-Forman, makers of Woodford Reserve, Jack Daniels, Early Times and several other liquor brands, is already planning a celebration for their 150th anniversary in 2020. Now, that looks to be a party that George Garvin Brown would approve of.

So, next time you find yourself near a glass of bourbon, raise it high for a well-deserved toast to the man who had the wherewithal to put all that pure bourbon into a convenient, glass bottle. And we also ask you to consider extending some overdue thanks by considering naming your next offspring “Garvin.” Cheers to George Garvin Brown!

Mint Julep Tours can arrange visits to Brown-Forman’s Woodford Reserve Distillery or Brown-Forman’s cooperage as part of any custom tour. Call 502-583-1433 or visit us online today to begin planning your adventure!

Booking the Perfect Custom Adventure with Mint Julep Tours – We Do It All Y’all!

Booking the Perfect Custom Adventure with Mint Julep Tours – We Do It All Y’all!

3.3 Blog Post 1Recently, a guest suggested that our buses could benefit from a giant sign that reads: “We Do It All Y’All!” And while we prefer to keep our buses just the way they are, the passenger made a good point. When you spot a Mint Julep Tours bus crisscrossing the state, you may not realize that those onboard are often guests who have embarked on a made-to-order adventure. Did you know that Mint Julep Tours offers custom tours every day of the week and nearly every single day of the year? And that all of our custom tours are as unique as different batches of a tasty single-barrel bourbon? Maybe you’re interested in experiencing a bourbon tasting in the middle of a dimly-lit warehouse surrounded by thousands of barrels. Or perhaps a day that involves braving the zip lines at Louisville’s Mega Cavern and then traveling south to the Maker’s Mark distillery to tour, taste and dip a bottle in that signature red wax is more your speed. Or you might prefer an outing that combines a visit to a beautiful Kentucky thoroughbred horse farm, a leisurely upscale lunch in the town of Midway and then a stop to shop at the famed Zappos Shoe Outlet. In short, if you can imagine a specific, custom touring experience in Kentucky, Mint Julep Tours can make it happen! We are proud to be one of the top full service destination management companies in Kentucky. And the fun all begins with a phone call.

3.3 Blog Post 2Many of the calls to Mint Julep Tours start out the same way. An excited voice on the other end of the line makes an enthusiastic yet cautious and curious declaration: “I want do the Bourbon Trail!” Each and every custom tour booking starts with a detailed conversation with one of our coordinators. Many first-time visitors to the area have endless questions based on bits of information they’ve read, a detailed inspection of our Trip Advisor reviews or second-hand stories from friends who have taken similar treks to The Kentucky Bourbon Trail ® , Horse Farms, Louisville and beyond. Our staff’s first priority is to fill in those knowledge gaps and better understand the precise type of outing our guests want to experience. From bachelor/bachelorette parties to corporate outings and everything in between, Mint Julep Tours can accommodate groups of all sizes by creating a tour with the right itinerary, length, style and tone.

3.3 Blog Post 3One common pitfall among visitors is learning the hard way that Kentucky’s geography and state routes can be a touch confusing (just ask anyone who has attempted to travel to Loretto, KY without a quality map), and the perceived distances between major distilleries are sometimes much greater than anticipated. When you book a custom tour with Mint Julep Tours, we make sure that you don’t end up spending more time in the bus than you do at the distilleries. We also work to ensure that your planned stops are the best fit for your crew. With nearly two dozen top-notch bourbon distilleries scattered throughout the state, it can be a daunting process to choose the best options for you. Those who have a soft spot in their heart for Booker’s bourbon may be surprised to learn that the product is distilled at the Jim Beam American Stillhouse. Or maybe you want to up your dinner game and enjoy a private dinner in the Stone Room at Captain’s Quarters located smack dab on the Ohio River. We can even set up private bourbon tastings for groups ranging in size from 5 to 500! But custom tours with Mint Julep Tours are so much more than just bourbon.

Over the last eight years, our buses have logged more miles on Kentucky interstates, highways and back roads than we can count. We’ve created experiences for guests at the iconic Keeneland Racecourse just outside of Lexington, sessions at The Knob Creek Gun Range and scheduled visits to both the Independent Stave Cooperage in Lebanon, KY and the Brown-Forman Cooperage next door to the Louisville International Airport. Kentucky is home to everything from Mammoth Cave to the National Corvette Museum to Abe Lincoln’s Childhood Home – all places you can visit on a Mint Julep Tours excursion as part of a custom tour.

3.3 Blog Post 4In 2015, Louisville was named among the “Friendliest Cities in America” by Travel + Leisure Magazine and we’ve helped guests experience that first hand. We’ve booked reservations at iconic Churchill Down’s Turf Club and set up tours at new attractions making waves like brandy distillery Copper & Kings. Mint Julep Tours can take you to the Falls of The Ohio State Park, Schimpff’s Confectionery, Bourbon Barrel Foods or we can even take you bowling at Vernon Lanes! If you want to go even further off the beaten path, we’ve set up Segway Races (complete with obstacle course, of course) and scavenger hunts that will have your group scurrying madly across town. Our staff can suggest the perfect restaurants and hotel as well as book reservations when needed. If you’re more interested in exploring some of the best Louisville has to offer, you’ll be hard pressed to find a staff that knows Derby City better.

A custom adventure with Mint Julep Tours is so much more than just bus a ride around Kentucky. Combine the strength of a custom tour with our professional, knowledgeable and award-winning Mint Julep Tours guides and drivers, and you’ve got the recipe for one amazing day…or maybe more! We may book tours, but we specialize in creating custom experiences and one-of-a-kind memories. And that’s why we believe “the purpose of fun is to have some.” Want to get started? The fun starts with a phone call to Mint Julep Tours today.

As one of Kentucky’s top destination management company, Mint Julep Tours can create an itinerary for the perfect custom. Call 502-583-1433 or visit us online today to begin planning your adventure.

Vendome Copper & Brass Works – Crafting Custom Copper Stills for over 100 Years

Vendome Copper & Brass Works – Crafting custom copper stills for over 100 years

The smiling tour guide at the Evan Williams Bourbon Experience stopped walking and gestured to a shining structure displayed prominently on the other side of the glass. “And this is our copper pot still,” she beamed proudly. “This critical component of our artisanal distillery can produce around a barrel of bourbon a day.” Her smile widened as her cheery tone took on just a hint of bragging. “And it was custom made just for us by the Vendome Company.” Similar scenes play out countless times across The Kentucky Bourbon Trail ® and beyond. One common name that you’ll find at more and more bourbon distilleries is the one that’s imprinted on the face of their stills, tanks and other distilling equipment: Louisville’s own Vendome Copper and Brass Works.

IMG_4624Vendome’s headquarters and manufacturing facility is a sprawling urban set up that is surprisingly easy to miss. Located just two blocks off busy Main Street and less than 300 feet from Thomas Edison’s 1866 Kentucky residence, Vendome Corp’s five buildings sit snugly between a city skate park and an imposing Ohio River Flood Wall. The manufacturer is almost always bustling with activity these days. The sound of constant hammering, pounding, and grinding of various components echoes across the street, while workers sporting shirts with the logo “The Power of Our Stills” move swiftly from one building to another. Beneath the downtown skyline, an open garage offers a sneak peek to half a dozen gorgeous, new copper stills of various sizes that are in various stages of completion. Business at Vendome is indeed good.

IMG_7037Building in-demand gear is nothing new to Vendome. The company was formed by W. Elmore Sherman, Sr. at the turn of the last century and has been family owned and operated for well over a hundred years. Vendome has had their share of challenges over their long history including significant downturns in whiskey production, The Great Flood of 1937, and even Prohibition. Over time and with some perseverance, the Sherman family name has become just as familiar among Bourbon aficionados as other industry lineages like the Beams, Samuels, and Boswells of the Independent Stave Company. Vendome’s prolonged success can be attributed to their craftsmanship, flexibility and service. Every single still is custom designed; no job is too big and no craft distillery’s needs are too small. Customers can even choose one of three different finishes for their still including an acid clean, satin finish or a labor-intensive high-polished mirror finish for that perfect distillery tour shine. Beyond visual appeal, copper has been the preferred metal since the time of even the earliest whiskey distillers. The copper generates a chemical reaction between the mash and the metal which pulls out unwanted sulfates and Sulfur. Today, new stills are regularly being installed at distilleries across the country. When The Old Taylor Distillery outside of Versailles, KY needed new equipment last summer as part of its ongoing complete restoration, Master Distiller Marianne Barnes commissioned Vendome. The result? A massive 24-inch copper column still coupled with a 375-gallon copper doubler. Today, far beyond The Kentucky Bourbon Trail, Vendome’s copper stills can be found in Guatemala, Canada, Ireland and even Romania. And while Vendome may be best known for their stunning stills, the company also produces stainless steel fermenters, cookers, condensers, coolers, receiving tanks and more. It could be argued that Vendome can build just about everything you might need to start a distillery except the corn, rye, barley and yeast.

IMG_7016Vendome’s roster of clients over the years reads like a who’s who in the world of Bourbon and American Whiskey: Michter’s, Evan Williams, Jim Beam, Angel’s Envy, Maker’s Mark, Four Roses and Buffalo Trace just to name a few. Vendome’s customers further extend beyond alcohol to pharmaceutical companies, confectionary businesses and dairy operators. Today, the waiting list for a custom still may be close to a year. All of this has made Vendome one of the most in-demand brass and copper fabrication plants in the nation.

Next time you visit a bourbon distillery, be on the lookout for Vendome’s signature plaque on new and old gear. Beyond Kentucky’s beloved limestone filtered water and the charred oak barrels, one common element that an increasing number of distilleries are sharing is custom gear from Vendome Copper and Brass Works. And, just maybe, the robust copper construction and a century of craftsmanship could make the bourbon that ends up in the bottle taste a little bit better than others.

 

Vendome Brass and Copper Works is located at 729 East Franklin Street Louisville, KY 40202 and currently does not offer tours to the public. A visit to the exterior building of Vendome may be requested on a personalized, custom tour with Mint Julep Tours. Many of Vendome’s stills and other equipment can been viewed at distilleries on and off The Kentucky Bourbon Trail ®. Call 502-583-1433 or visit us online for more information and to book a tour today!

Mint Julep Tours Announces Office Relocation, Expansion

Mint Julep Tours Announces Office Relocation, Expansion

Louisville, Kentucky – Mint Julep Tours, a local business that is a recognized leader in tours, transportation, and special events throughout Kentucky, is excited to announce it will be moving its offices and vehicle garage to a new larger property located at 1631 Mellwood Ave. Eyedia, a local furniture and home décor consignment store previously occupied the space. In addition to the 7,000 square ft. building, Mint Julep Tours will also be constructing a new garage on the property to house it’s rapidly expanding fleet of buses and vehicles.

According to Mint Julep Tours co-founder and owner, Sean Higgins, the move was necessary due to the significant growth the company has seen since its inception. “As the bourbon and tourism industries in Kentucky have grown, so have we. It was time that we made a move that allowed us to continue to expand and grow. We’re extremely excited about this new space and can’t wait for the opportunities that will come along with it.”

The new location sits near the intersection of Mellwood and Frankfort Ave., right off the I-64 exit ramp and directly across from Apocalypse Brewery. Higgins said the new location is exactly what they were looking for. “We’re thrilled to have been able to find a location that both serves our needs as a business and also keeps us close to the downtown core. There is so much going on in that area and along Frankfort Ave., which makes this move all that much more exciting.”

MJT Location Map-01Mint Julep Tours was able to secure a Louisville Metropolitan Business Development Corp., (METCO) loan to assist in the expansion costs. These loans are focused on small businesses in the Louisville economy that are looking to expand and grow their business. WorK Architecture + Design is the lead design firm that will handle the project. The new space is projected to be complete by Spring-2016.

Tours will continue to depart from the MJT Gift Shop, located in the Galt House Hotel (Rivue Tower), 140 N. Fourth St., Louisville, Ky 40202.

ABOUT MINT JULEP TOURS
Mint Julep Tours is a recognized leader in Bourbon and Kentucky adventures as well as the only dedicated tour company focused on The Kentucky Bourbon Trail®.  Based in Louisville, Kentucky they offer Custom and Public Bourbon Distillery Tours as well as unique Exclusive Experiences, Horse Farm Tours, Culinary Tours, and Louisville City Tours. As a truly one-of-a-kind tour company, Mint Julep Tours also offers transportation and event planning services with a focus on Special Events, Corporate Outings and Bachelor/Bachelorette Parties. Specialty horse and bourbon-related gifts are available at the Mint Julep Tours retail store inside the Galt House on the third floor of the Rivue Tower at 140 North 4th Street Suite 326, Louisville, KY 40202.

For more information: visit www.mintjuleptours.com, call 502-583-1433, or email info@mintjuleptours.com