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Kentucky Gets Lucky

by Gavin D Smith

In recent years the number of working distilleries in the Bourbon 'capital' of Kentucky has fallen significantly, due to mergers and programmes of rationalisation that have seen once famous names such the Old Crow, Old Grand-Dad and Old Taylor distilleries shutting down their stills.

Now, however, there are welcome signs of new entrepreneurialism within the state's whiskey-making sector. Firstly, as reported on 'whisky-pages' last autumn, Angustora purchased the former Charles Medley distillery in Owensboro, with the intention of bringing it back into production, and now no fewer than three micro-distilleries have been established in Kentucky.

Corsair Artisan distillery

Corsair (www.corsairartisan.com) has just hosted its official opening and is located in the historic town square of Bowling Green, just north of the Tennessee state line. It occupies the warehouse space of the town's original department store, and offers a shop and tasting room in addition to the actual distillery itself.

"While we'd intended to just set up a production facility in an out-of-the-way area, advice from established distillers at the 2008 American Distillers Institute conference really clued us in - we needed to plan on visitors," says distillery co-founder Andrew Webber.
  

Corsair boasts a 240-gallon antique copper pot still, which is used as a whiskey wash still for the company's rye and Bourbon whiskeys, while a second, 50-gallon pot still which was custom-made for the distillery, 'finishes' the whiskey and is used for Corsair's other products. These include 'vapour-basket' gin, vanilla vodka, and spiced rum. The first whiskey expression on offer is an unaged rye whiskey, and the distillery is also producing and laying down rye and Bourbon for maturation.

Lexington Brewing and Distilling Company


   Meanwhile, to the north-east in Lexington, Alltech's Lexington Brewing and Distilling Company (www.alltech.com) is the first to make whiskey in the town since the James E Pepper distillery closed almost half a century ago.

Alltech is distilling Pearse Lyons Reserve, which is claimed to be the first malt whiskey produced in the state of Kentucky. The whiskey is made in a pair of Scottish-built copper pot stills and is named after the company's founder and president, Dr Pearse Lyons, who has aspired to run his own distilling operations since starting to work in the Irish distilling industry during the 1970s.

"Coming from a family where, at least on my mother's side, they were involved in cooperages, you could say the 'juice' was in my blood," says Lyons. "We are delighted to have a role in resurrecting Lexington's distillery operations with a malt whiskey product that is completely unique to Kentucky and even to the United States."

Mark Coffman, director of projects and engineering, notes that "…the collection of barrels used for the maturation of the whiskey will include those which have recently held Bourbon whiskey. This should result in a very unique flavour that is indigenous to the Bluegrass."

Pearse Lyons Reserve is expected to be available in time for the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games, due to be held at the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington in 2010.

The distillery is located in the same building where Kentucky Ale is produced, and is adjacent to the former 'Distillery District,' where the Old Tarr and James E Pepper distilleries formerly made Bourbon.

The Barrel House Distilling Co

Indeed, Lexington's second revivalist whiskey-making operation is actually situated within the former 'barrel house' of the old Pepper distillery, on Manchester Street.

The Barrel House Distilling Co (www.barrelhousedistillery.com) expects to be distilling premium Bourbon in the not too distant future. For now, Pure Blue Vodka is providing an income stream, with Bourbon likely to be on the market in four or five years' time.
  

The Barrel House is the brainchild of partners Jeff Wiseman, Frank Marino and Pete Wright, and master distiller Marino notes that the intention is to produce a "honey rum," aged in Bourbon barrels, followed by Bourbon "when it's ready. We need people to buy the vodka to support the other products."

Ambitious plans are in hand to develop Lexington's old 'Distillery District' in the Manchester Street area, with the intention of creating a museum, retail outlets and even a Bourbon tasting bar.

The period of Prohibition from 1919 to 1933 led to the demise of many distilleries in Central Kentucky, but ventures such as Alltech and Barrel House are helping to restore Lexington to its rightful place as a hub of Bourbon production.

  

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