By BRUCE SCHREINER
Heaven Hill Distillery, one of the world’s largest bourbon producers, plans to revive its whiskey production in its Kentucky hometown — more than a quarter century after a devastating fire destroyed a previous production facility.
The family-owned and operated spirits company announced plans Wednesday to build a $135 million distillery expected to open by 2024 at Bardstown — in the heart of the state’s bourbon country.
It’s the latest sign that Bluegrass State whiskey producers — both large and small — are bullish on future demand for their spirits. Kentucky’s bourbon sector is in the midst of an expansion phase totaling billions of dollars in projects. Bourbon production in Kentucky has skyrocketed 435% since the turn of the century, according to the Kentucky Distillers’ Association.
Heaven Hill said its new distillery is needed to help meet growing global demand for the company’s whiskeys. Heaven Hill produces Evan Williams, one of the world’s top-selling bourbons.
It also marks Heaven Hill’s return to distilling in Bardstown — where the company lost its onsite distillery, seven storage warehouses and almost 100,000 barrels of whiskey in the 1996 fire.
Afterward, Heaven Hill’s distilling moved to the Bernheim Distillery in Louisville, while bottling, storage of aging whiskey and other functions continued in the Bardstown area, where those operations still remain. Bardstown is about 40 miles (65 kilometers) south of Louisville.
The new distillery builds on the company’s longtime roots in Bardstown, said Heaven Hill President Max Shapira. It’s been nine decades since Heaven Hill first operated a distillery in Bardstown.
“The people of Bardstown have helped us create and build our brands over all these many years, so it’s a special homecoming to bring distilling back to this community,” said Heaven Hill President Max Shapira. “Our new distillery will honor our long-time Bardstown roots while applying state-of-the-art equipment and processes to produce the highest quality American whiskey.”
The distillery is expected to employ about 30 people initially, but the workforce could reach about 90 once full production is reached in coming years, the company said. The state Economic Development Finance Authority approved up to $1.5 million in economic incentives for the project.
The distillery will be built on a vacant 61-acre (25-hectare) site, a couple of miles (kilometers) from where the previous production facility stood, the company said. Construction is expected to begin this spring. Initial production is pegged at 10 million proof gallons a year, or 150,000 barrels, and the distillery will have capacity to ramp up production to 30 million proof gallons, or 450,000 barrels, over time.
Heaven Hill said it will continue to age bourbon at existing locations and the Bernheim distillery in Louisville will continue operating at full capacity. The Bernheim distillery produces more than 420,000 barrels of whiskey per year.
Other Heaven Hill brands include Elijah Craig, Old Fitzgerald, Larceny and Parker’s Heritage Collection.
Kentucky distilleries produce 95% of the world’s bourbon supply, according to the Kentucky Distillers’ Association. Kentucky’s booming bourbon industry is in the midst of a $5.2 billion expansion, with $3.3 billion of that coming in the next three years, KDA said. The growth includes new distilleries, storage warehouses, bottling lines and visitors’ centers.