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.

Welcoming Louisville’s Angel’s Envy Distillery to The Kentucky Bourbon Trail ®

Welcoming Louisville’s Angel’s Envy Distillery to The Kentucky Bourbon Trail ®

On a recent Monday afternoon, reporters, camera crews, politicians and members of Kentucky’s bourbon industry all gathered on Main Street in downtown Louisville across the street from Slugger Field to celebrate another bourbon milestone. The excitement was palpable. For many, this was the first visit to the Angel’s Envy Distillery since it had opened for operation and tours late last year. It was hard to believe that this gorgeous distillery, the result of a $27 million dollar multi-year project, was the same massive building that had housed the empty shell of The Vermont American Tool Company for decades. The big news of the day was that Angel’s Envy had officially joined The Kentucky Bourbon Trail ® becoming the 10th member distillery to join since 1999.

Mayor Greg Fischer took the podium and spoke enthusiastically of continuing to strengthen Louisville’s place as the gateway to The Kentucky Bourbon Trail ®. The distillery is the first new bourbon brand to join the program in over two years since The Bulleit Frontier Whiskey Experience came onboard in 2014. The announcement comes on the heels of yet another record year for attendance for distilleries. In 2016, visitors eager to take part in the modern bourbon boom logged over 1,000,000 stops at distilleries along the Kentucky Bourbon Trail ® and Kentucky Bourbon Trail Craft Tour ®. With the addition of an Angel’s Envy (and the expansion of the Bourbon Trail Passports to include another page eager for a stamp) that number that is likely to increase.

The excitement for a permanent home for Angel’s Envy has been building for years. The massive facility underwent a long, enormous transformation that started with a groundbreaking by then Governor Steve Beshear in September 2013. But before that, the brand itself captured the attention of whiskey aficionados and casual sippers in 2011 when Angel’s Envy entered the market offering an intriguing industry first: Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey that had been finished in port wine barrels for several weeks. The stunning glass bottle curved like a pair of angel’s wings certainly helped capture some eyeballs as well. Today the distillery offers tours, tastings, a gift shop and a chance to take home a bottle of their Angel’s Envy Bourbon, Rye (uniquely finished in rum barrels) and Cask Strength Bourbon. As an added bonus, guests can even personalize their bourbon with a date, message or name engraved on the bottle. Finally, a whiskey named after you!

A tour of Angel’s Envy takes you through a distillery that is modern, industrial and beautiful in its simplicity. Knowledgeable guides, many of whom have extensive experience with bourbon, proudly show off every step of the distilling process from the mash tanks, to the gorgeous Vendome still and the unique finishing room. Along the way, century-old walls are adorned with graphics regarding the art and science of distilling. The distillery is open for tours Wednesday through Monday from 10:00 AM (1:00 PM on Sundays) with the last tour at 4:00 PM. Note that tour groups are usually limited to a smaller size than other distilleries, so booking online in advance is requested. Like other stops on The Kentucky Bourbon Trail ®, Angel’s Envy offers their own signature experience and unique take on America’s native spirit. And, of course, each tour ends with a guided tasting on the second-floor bar area. After all, what would a bourbon tour be without a bourbon tasting? As we enter a new era for Louisville distilleries not seen in over 95 years since the days before prohibition, Co-Founder and Chief Innovation Officer Wes Henderson summed up his new home on Main Street best: “I think we have a special place…as one of the only full production facilities downtown. But we’re just one piece of an incredible pie.”

As one of Kentucky’s top destination management company, Mint Julep Tours can create the perfect itinerary for your bourbon Adventure. A stop to Angel’s Envy can be added to any personal custom tour Call 502-583-1433 or visit us online today to begin planning your adventure and get more information on custom experiences

Written by Phil Kollin – Mint Julep Tours Driver & Guide 

A further look at The Kentucky Bourbon Trail Craft Tour® and Bourbon County’s Hartfield & Co Distillery

A further look at The Kentucky Bourbon Trail Craft Tour® and Bourbon County’s Hartfield & Co Distillery 

As you cruise down Paris, Kentucky’s Main Street, you quickly realize that the bourbon distillery you’ve come to visit is actually right in the heart of horse country. Paris has earned their motto of “Thoroughbred Capital of the World” due to the town’s proximity to world class horse farms such as Claiborne, Normandy, Adena Springs and more. And despite the fact that Paris sits smack dab in the middle of Bourbon County, the county itself wasn’t the home to an operational distillery for nearly 100 years. But that changed in July of 2014 when the government awarded a license to Hartfield & Co. to distill whiskey. Situated in a modest downtown store front, just around the corner from Kentucky’s own replica Eiffel Tower, Hartfield & Co. is now open for business and welcoming tourists. The new whiskey producer is also the latest addition to the ever expanding list of distilleries that make up The Kentucky Bourbon Trail Craft Tour.

1.28.16 Photo 1Many distilleries on the Craft Trail have chosen a similar approach to Hartfield & Co. when it comes to location. Often independently owned, these businesses opt for cozy spaces rather than the sprawling and historic campuses typical of more established distilleries. Location, however, is about all they have in common. A noble goal for any bourbon aficionado, the voyage to hit all 10 stops on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail Craft Tour will definitely add some miles to your odometer. For example, the trek between the furthest two stops (The Old Pogue Distillery in Maysville, KY and MB Roland Distillery in Pembroke, KY) will take about four and a half hours of driving down highways and country roads. But remote locations reward visitors with small and intimate experiences. Not only will you enjoy a tour that tends to showcase every single step of the bourbon making process, but you’ll often find yourself chatting up a co-owner or lead distiller. That’s an experience that’s nearly impossible to replicate at the larger distilleries.

Hartfield & Co. (known for a brief spell as The Gentleman) is the first distillery in Bourbon County since 1919. At the turn of the last century, small whiskey distilleries littered the region. But Prohibition shuttered them all; not a single location in the county reopened once the so-called Noble Experiment was repealed in 1933. Fast forward to today where Hartfield & Co. is quickly making waves. Co-owners Andrew Buchanan and Curtis Mackley saw the ironic lack of Bourbon in Bourbon County as both a problem and an opportunity. Neither had a background in alcohol production, distribution, chemistry or even a stint behind the counter at a local liquor store. But the distillery’s small size provided the pair the opportunity to learn on the job and be nimble with their operations. Since opening, they have tweaked everything from their whiskey product mash bill to the company’s name. The distillery officially joined The Kentucky Bourbon Trail Craft Distillery Tour on October 19th, 2015. But the real celebration at Hartfield & Co. came in December when updated Bourbon Trail Passports, which included their location as an official stop, arrived in the mail.

1.28.16 Photo 2Hartfield & Co. focuses on their small batch whiskey and craft spirits. They embrace a simple design on their labels and bottle. The distillery is confident that the contents inside the bottle will win over drinkers without colorful marketing on the outside. While the bourbon at Hartfield & Co. is aging to maturity in racks, the company continues to distill whiskey, white whiskey, gin, and Apple Pie Rum with plenty of samples to go around. The staff’s warmth and enthusiasm to guests who drop in matches their demeanor towards long lost relatives. The friendly, passionate and welcoming atmosphere makes a trip to Hartfield & Co. feel more like meeting up with a group of old friends who also happen to be running a bourbon distillery. But beware—this is a primary hazard of the Craft Distillery Tour: after a few stops coupled with a few sips of liquid inspiration, you might decide that you and your friends have the time, resources, and know-how to start your own distillery.

1.28.16 Photo 3It seems that every few weeks, another announcement of plans for a new distillery makes the news. Press releases come from everywhere in the state ranging from the tiny town of Franklin, KY to Shelby County. Coming off a record year of visitors, The Kentucky Bourbon Trail Craft Distillery Tour certainly has the promise of continued growth and perhaps even the potential to double in size within a few years. But if you need one more reason to start planning your adventure now, then consider the one-of-a-kind keepsake you will receive once you complete the trail. After celebrating your visit with a stamp in your bourbon passport at all 10 locations, you’ll be the new owner of a beautifully engraved julep cup—a collectible that is more trophy than drinking vessel. Each and every distillery on the craft trail offers a unique history, a beautiful space to view, and of course, a delicious spirit to taste. With a little ambition and a little gas in the tank, you can visit all the locations in no time. Your new favorite bottle of bourbon (or moonshine) may be just around the bend. So, you better get started. That bourbon trail passport isn’t going to stamp itself.

Hartfield & Co., A Bourbon County Distillery, is located at 718 Main St. Paris, KY 40361. The distillery offers both a short “City Tour” Tuesdays through Fridays and an hour long “Country Tour” Saturdays at 6:00 PM. Call 859-559-3494to make reservations and for more info. Mint Julep Tours is an official sponsor of both The Kentucky Bourbon Trail and The Kentucky Bourbon Trail Craft Tour®. Stops at almost any of the 10 distilleries on the craft tour can be included on a personalized, custom tour with Mint Julep Tours. Hours vary at many of the locations and availability may sometimes be limited. Call 502-583-1433 or e-mail info@MintJulepTours.com 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

The Unsung Hero of Bourbon – The Barrel

The Unsung Hero of Bourbon – The Barrel
November 11, 2015 

As most avid bourbon fans know, there are a number of strict requirements that any distillery must meet before their precious distilled spirit can legally be labeled and sold in America as “Bourbon.” Of all those requirements, perhaps the most intriguing and complicated benchmark involves a product that you’ll likely never see on the store shelf or at the bar – the bourbon barrel. By law, bourbon must be aged in charred, American oak barrels that are used once and never again for bourbon. Yup, that’s right. Every last ounce of bourbon must be aged in a fresh, new barrel. Cumbersome and costly? Perhaps. But generations of Master Distillers have agreed time and time again that it’s worth it. Many argue that the barrel and subsequent aging have the biggest impact on bourbon’s signature flavor.

When you consider that over 19 million cases of bourbon were sold in 2014, it’s pretty easy to see how the demand for an endless amount of new barrels starts adding up quickly. While this unique requirement gives the bourbon industry a specific set of challenges, it also creates some incredibly unique visitor experiences for those adventurous aficionados eager to see a different side of bourbon. While bourbon distilleries on and off the Kentucky Bourbon Trail® have soared in popularity over the years, many are making time to visit cooperages – factories where bourbon barrels are made. Today, two major cooperages provide the vast number of barrels to bourbon makers throughout Kentucky and beyond: Independent Stave Company in Lebanon, KY and The Brown-Forman Cooperage in Louisville. And for a fascinating look into the detailed and meticulous process of making a vessel in which bourbon spends years maturing, each one is worth a visit.

10.29 Photo 1The Independent Stave Company knows a thing or two about crafting the perfect barrel – they’ve been at it for over 105 years. TW Boswell (a name that for many has become just as synonymous with bourbon as the name Beam) started milling in the Missouri Ozarks in the heart of White Oak Country in 1912. These days, Independent Stave Company Trucks, which roll out of the Kentucky Cooperage location, are a common site roaming the highways and byways in counties throughout the state. After all, ISC provides thousands and thousands of new barrels to several major distilleries every year. The company offers an eye-opening detailed, industrial factory tour. Visitors here have the opportunity on twice daily tours to see the manual shaping of the staves, the fire that chars the inside of each barrel, the manual placement of the metal hoop and, most importantly, watching coopers make sure that each container is liquid-tight without any nails, glue or other manmade sealers. Any visit to ISC’s Kentucky Cooperage will provide fascinating insights into how those endless ricks of barrels you see in storage are created.

10.29 Photo 3Paying a visit to the Brown-Forman Cooperage is a quite different experience. Located less than 1,000 feet from an active runway near Louisville International Airport, the cooperage is hard to find, but full of amazing history. Brown-Forman started the Cooperage in this location back in 1945. Many modern updates have been added to the facility, but the majority of the process has remained unchanged for decades. Most notably, Brown-Forman has bragging rights as the world’s only major distiller which both owns and manufactures its own barrels. The cooperage makes more than 600,000 barrels solely for brands under the Brown-Forman umbrella such as Old Forrester, Woodford Reserve and Jack Daniels. (Hey, even Tennessee Whiskeys need barrels, too.) Each barrel in this cooperage is made exclusively of white oak and holds exactly 53.4 gallons. Once complete, the empty vessels weigh more than 120 pounds. Being a cooper is hard, hot work in the summer and tough, cold work in the winter.

So, next time you raise a glass, make sure that you save a toast for the beloved and often overlooked barrel. Your drink has earned that moniker of bourbon in no small part to the effort of those charred staves adding 100% of the color and upwards of 60% of the flavor of your beverage. Never discount the role that this unsung oak hero plays in America’s native spirit. After all, bourbon is only as good as the barrel from which it was once poured!

The Independent Stave Company’s Kentucky Cooperage is located at 712 East Main Street and offers complimentary factory tours at 9:30 AM and 1:30 PM Monday-Friday. A stop at the Kentucky Cooperage can be included on a personalized, custom tour with Mint Julep Tours. The Brown-Forman Cooperage is not open for public tours, but private tours can booked exclusively through Mint Julep Tours. Call 502-583-1433 or e-mail info@MintJulepTours.com to book a tour today.