A Pilgrimage To A Legendary Louisville Distillery

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What better way to celebrate the repeal of Prohibition, on Dec. 5, 1933, than to drink some of the world’s best whiskey?
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A distillery where you can drink great whiskey AND learn history. It’s a win-win.

Just visit the Bulleit Frontier Whiskey Experience at the historical Stitzel-Weller Distillery, located just a few minutes outside Louisville, Ky.

The most recent addition to the famed Kentucky Bourbon Trail celebrates America’s right to drink legal spirits and recently invited award-winning bartenders and mixologists to try their hand at blending their own bourbons.

It was an eye-opening and mouth-watering experience as a dozen of the best behind the bar used Pyrex beakers, test tubes, and small eyedroppers to “mingle” brand-new, unaged bourbon with other spirits that have rested in Stitzel-Weller casks between 18 months and 22 years. 

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David Handschuh

Mixologists try their hand at blending bourbon.

Each of the spirits had a different nose and taste, depending on the blend of grain that made the bourbon, where in the rick house it was aged, and how long it slept.

On the hot upper floors, the bourbon aged quicker to a higher percentage of alcohol. On lower, cooler floors, the aging process was slower and the bourbon had less alcohol.

And there’s an awful lot of bourbon sleeping here. Stitzel-Weller closed the distillery in 1992, but the 18 seven-story rick houses, with their weather-tinted corrugated aluminum sides, were jam packed with 350,000 barrels of bourbon that were aging gracefully. 

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David Handschuh

The rick houses at Stitzel-Weller stand out with their corrugated aluminum sides.

That’s brand-new, charred American Oak barrels. Not bottles. 

These barrels, which hold about 240 bottles each, have been the source and inspiration for many a fine bourbon including Blade and Bow Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey.

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A few of the 350,000 barrels stored at the distillery.

Under Diageo’s Orphan Barrel project, which “discovers” allegedly lost whiskeys, the project has produced many fine small batches. Some of the brands to hit the street include Rhetoric 21 – the most recent release – Lost Prophet, Barterhouse, Forged Oak, and the much sought-after Old Blowhard, a 26-year aged bourbon  

Extremely rare, expensive, and in great demand, these bourbons have received remarkable reviews and stores have long waiting lists for those craving a bottle.

There’s also a lot of history to experience during the tour at Stitzel-Weller. Old bottles, labels, and ads line the walls. Be sure to check out the visitor’s guestbook, signed by Pope Paul VI during a visit to Louisville. 

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Blade and Bow is among the fine whiskeys produced here.

The distillery was opened by the Van Winkle family in 1933, originally producing Old Fitzgerald brand bourbon. Stitzel-Weller’s flagship bourbon still has its name on the tall smokestack, surrounded by the old distillery. A brand-new experimental still opened here on Kentucky Derby Day 2015, 80 years to the day the Stitzel-Weller site originally opened.  

The Bulleit Frontier Whiskey Experience at Stitzel-Weller is open to the public for tours from Wednesday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., with the last tour beginning at 2 p.m. On Sunday, hours are 1p.m. to 3 p.m. Admission, which includes a tasting, costs $10 for adults of legal drinking age. Tours are free for those under 21.

Make sure to explore the food and drink scene while you’re here in Louisville.  There are many bars and restaurants that offer access to sips and cocktails from many of those hard-to-find bourbons and whiskies. 

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David Handschuh

While in Louisville, visit the legendary Haymarket Whiskey Bar, dating to 1885.

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This article was originally published by David Handschuh

 

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