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.
Vendome’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.
History of Vendome Copper
Building 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.
Vendome’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!