January 8, 2018
Remembering the Past, Embracing the Future: Bernheim Distillery Expands
Amid this golden age of American whiskey, growth is inevitable. With the latest expansion of Heaven Hill’s Bernheim Distillery, that’s clearer than ever. In fact, the expansion will officially make it the largest independent, family-owned Bourbon distillery in the U.S., increasing daily new barrel fills from 970 to 1,270
In 1996, Heaven Hill suffered one of the greatest losses in whiskey history, as a fire tore through the Bardstown, Kentucky campus, burning several warehouses and, eventually, the Heaven Hill Springs distillery itself.
Nearly three years after the devastating fire, Heaven Hill purchased the idled Bernheim Distillery. The site had been the home of distilling operations since 1881, when Max Selliger and his business partners built the Astor and Belmont distilleries and sold these Bourbons across the nation. In 1897, Isaac Bernheim came from Paducah, Kentucky, and built his distillery in Louisville at 7th Street and Bernheim Lane. At the end of prohibition in 1933, Chicago businessmen Leo Gerngross and Emil Schwarzhaupt acquired both Issac Bernheim’s and Selliger’s distilleries, moving all operations to its current day location, Bernheim Distillery. During the subsequent years, iconic brands such as I.W. Harper and Heaven Hill’s own Old Fitzgerald were produced at the site.
PURCHASE OF THE BERNHEIM DISTILLERY
When Heaven Hill purchased the Bernheim Distillery in 1999 it was a modern distillery with an annual capacity of 100,000 barrels. Parker Beam, Heaven Hill’s Master Distiller at the time, then added his own touches, including the addition of copper to the top of the stills and copper mesh inside the doublers, which binds sulfur notes in the distillate to improve taste
- The distillery requires 23,000 acres, or 3.9 million bushels, or 36 square miles of locally grown corn every year.
- The corn is grown by local farmers within a 100 mile radius of the facility.
The 2017 expansion increased barrel fills from 970 to 1,270 everyday the distillery is in operation.
- Bernheim’s reopening will officially make it the largest single-site Bourbon distillery in the U.S.
Yet only a handful of years after that acquisition, surging demand for brown spirits led Heaven Hill to expand again. Fortunately, the facility had room to grow.
In 2007, by doubling fermentation capacity and adding a second shift, output at Bernheim jumped by 100,000 barrels. Seven years later, it was rinse and repeat: add four more fermentation tanks, a third shift and watch barrel fills increase by another 100,000.
Yet with American whiskey demand still soaring, Heaven Hill planned its third upgrade in 10 years-and one more dramatic than all before it. This included replacing the distillery’s outdated computer system, adding a new boiler for the entire facility, a new distilling set (column still and doubler), and upgrades to its grain handling, mashing and cooling systems.
The latest expansion began in 2016 and has just completed. Perhaps the hardest part, says Master Distiller Denny Potter, has been growing without sacrificing a drop of whiskey while you’re expanding. “We’re trying to stay ahead of the curve without falling off it,” explains Potter.
The Bernheim Distillery expansion officially re-opened Oct. 16th as Congressman John Yarmuth (KY-03) and Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer joined Heaven Hill President Max L. Shapira for a press event. See the Facebook live of the event here..