Kentucky has been all about bourbon since the Commonwealth was established just over 226 years ago. Everyone is familiar with the large brands on and off The Kentucky Bourbon Trail ®. You know names that dominate the landscape such as Wild Turkey, Buffalo Trace, Maker’s Mark and more. And while these distillers have rich histories of their own, hundreds of other bourbon producers have come and gone as the whiskey industry has endured cycles of boom and bust.
But all it takes is a little bit of curiosity, a good map, and a willingness to get lost on a few back roads to find long abandoned distilleries and warehouses. Recently, we’ve uncovered three spots that we thought were worth sharing. Here’s our guide to the abandoned distilleries Glenn Springs Distillery, James M Stone Distillery and The Old Tub Distillery.
Discovering Abandoned Distilleries
Glenn Springs Distillery
A decade before the Civil War started, the Glenn Springs Distillery opened its doors for business on the banks of Glenns Creek in the heart of Woodford County. The distillery took advantage of the same limestone filtered water source that would also be used by more well-known distilleries like Old Crow and Old Taylor.
The distillery was owned, in part, by Colonel Edmund Taylor whose name still graces a popular line of bourbons today. The business was a good size operation for its time. It boasted a single bonded warehouse with a capacity of roughly 8,000 barrels. In operation between roughly 1850 and 1899, the distillery was home to popular but long-defunct products like The Belle of Anderson and Arlington bourbon whiskies.
Tour one of Col. Taylor’s other distillery relics on Mint Julep’s Bourbon Rocks & Ruins elevated experience. The behind the scenes experience visits the ruins of the O.F.C. Distillery. On the current grounds of Buffalo Trace Distillery, this excavated, formerly abandoned Kentucky bourbon distillery is a fascinating piece of history. BOOK NOW
The remaining façade sits quietly a couple of miles down the road from massive new barrel houses built for Woodford Reserve. Considering that Glenn Springs ended all whiskey production nearly 120 years ago, it’s a minor miracle that a small part of the original structure remains intact at all. The short driveway off McCracken Pike is ridiculously easy to miss on this old and windy road. But just between sections of four-board fence and stone wall, you can spot a small sign welcoming you to “The Ruin.”
The Ruin Bed & Breakfast
Glenn Springs Distillery lives on as a two-room bed and breakfast that’s quite unlike any other. Owners Ron and Elise Wallace spent years salvaging stone walls and re-purposing old lumber before opening to visitors in 2015. Along with the guest house, the couple also built a main house that incorporates elements of the original distillery.
Smack dab in the middle of Kentucky’s indisputably beautiful horse county, The Ruin is right across the street from a back entrance to the Ashford Stud horse farm.
The eight-acre property is stunning with gardens, manicured lawns and walking trails. Today, this long abandoned distillery is a hideaway open to all guests looking to discover a secluded section of the state.
James M. Stone Distillery
Scott County exists today as a dry county prohibiting all alcohol sales outside of the city of Georgetown. This is a far cry from the business climate of the 19th century. Then, distilleries operating in the county ranked among some of the largest in the state.
Sitting along the South Elkhorn Creek, the James M. Stone Distillery was Scott County’s largest bourbon maker during the late 1800’s. The company distilled an impressive 8,000 gallons of whiskey a year and filled nearly 30 fresh barrels daily.
Eventually, the business folded under the pressure of rising whiskey taxes, a nationwide recession and The Whiskey Crash. The property was sold at auction on the courthouse steps in 1874. The original distillery building is long gone and today just a solitary structure survives. You’ll find a beautiful four-story brick warehouse believed to be the oldest of its kind in Kentucky.
The best part about this hidden gem is that with a keen eye, you can view the gorgeous warehouse without even getting off the highway. The building can be easily seen from the west-bound lanes of I-64 around the 65-mile marker just before the Midway exit. Overall, the 9,000-barrel warehouse is in remarkable shape for an empty building that’s nearly 175 years old. The structure has clearly had a bit of work done over the years by various owners, but the vast majority of the building is original.
Aside from the condition of the warehouse, the most fascinating feature might be the location. It’s a mile north of the Equus Run Winery on the very edge of Scott County and smack dab in the middle of the Glencrest Thoroughbred Horse Farm.
Glencrest Horse Barn
For many years, the James M Stone Distillery warehouse enjoyed a second life as a horse barn for the 800-acre Glencrest Farm. A quarter mile down from the breeding shed off a tiny no-lane road, the warehouse-turned-barn was home to scores of stallions, mares and colts for most of the 20th century. But as the support timbers started to weather and crack, the owners of the farm eventually moved the horses, supplies and just about everything else out of the building.
The warehouse is completely empty now and sits like a stoic giant somewhat out-of-place in a field filled with bales of hay. The wooden ricking that once held barrels was replaced with now equally abandoned horse stalls.
Looking up through the second and third floor, you can still see the lattice work of wooden planks once used for bourbon storage. Today, the final remains of Scott County’s bustling bourbon trade sits well-preserved and largely ignored. There’s an ancient creek on one side and a modern interstate on the other.
The Old Tub Distillery
Every day, hundreds of people visit the Jim Beam Distillery in Clermont to see one of Kentucky’s largest and most well-known bourbon facilities up close. What few people realize is that long before Jim established his namesake brand, he spent years producing bourbon at another spot known as The Old Tub Distillery.
The operation located just north of Bardstown, had been producing for nearly 20 years when Jim joined his father in the family business in 1873. Over the next several decades, Jim mastered the trade and served in the role of distiller and plant manager at Old Tub.
Everything was going exactly as planned until a major speed bump known as prohibition. It forced Old Tub, which was also known for a time as the Beam & Hart Distillery, out of business virtually overnight in 1920. After prohibition ended in 1933, a nearly 70-year-old Jim Beam decided to follow his passion and relaunched his bourbon business twelve miles down the road at its current home in Bullitt County.
The Old Tub Distillery sits just outside the city limits of Bardstown, the Bourbon Capital of The World. This is just the kind of place you might expect to find an abandoned distillery or two if you know where to look. A county road follows an old rail line that was used by most distilleries for transporting goods in an era that long predates modern eighteen-wheelers.
Surprisingly, the facility is nestled between a 1980’s housing subdivision and the Sisters of Charity of Nazereth campus. The Old Tub distillery is well known around the area and, unlike the other two abandoned distilleries, it is still bustling with activity today.
Heaven Hill Brands Warehouses
Today, Old Tub is owned by Heaven Hill Brands who uses the facility as one of their warehousing locations. Old Tub is easily one of the most intact former distilleries around. A half dozen buildings are still very much in operation. An imposing barbed wire fence keeps valuable barrels safe while large “no trespassing” signs discourage any late-night visitors.
From the road, the familiar thundering booms of 500-pound barrels full of bourbon rolling through the warehouse can be heard, along with the smell of angel’s share wafting across the distillery ground. While the tall warehouses are in use, the distillery buildings have long since been cleared out and now sit as empty shells that have been overgrown with weeds, vines and bushes.
Unlike many other long deserted distilleries, The Old Tub bourbon brand lives on. The bottle is actually still available for sale today. You’ll often find a modern version available with an update recipe for sales as a distillery exclusive at the Jim Beam American Stillhouse.
The bottle often catches the eye of visitor in part due to its unusual name and throwback label that mimics the original bottle from the 1878. Old Tub bourbon is a tip of the hat for times long past and Jim’s first true whiskey love.