In fall of 2018, Heaven Hill Distillery proudly unveiled plans to renovate and expand the Bourbon Heritage Center, our visitor experience in Bardstown, Kentucky. This multi-year project will result in brand new, state-of-the-art immersive experiences, tours, and tastings that will help educate consumers on the rich heritage and culture of Kentucky Bourbon. The expansion is part of our ongoing effort to help grow whiskey tourism not only in Bardstown, but across Bourbon country.
One year in, and we’ve just completed phase one of the project. We’re especially proud that the Bourbon Heritage Center (BHC) has stayed open almost every day during construction and will continue to be open to visitors throughout the expansion process. So, fear not, whiskey fans—you’re welcome any time and we promise you will get the full Heaven Hill experience.
Over the last twelve months, our team and partners have been hard at work updating and improving the inside of the current space, creating three new tasting rooms and increasing our retail offerings. Phase two will expand the footprint to 30,000 sq. ft, more than triple the size of the original BHC. It will include new immersive experiences, such as “You Do Bourbon,” where guests will be able to participate in hands-on laboratory-style learning and bottle their own whiskey.
When the Bourbon Heritage Center opened in 2004, it was one of the first visitor center to share Bourbon knowledge with enthusiasts and help create better educated consumers. It became known across Bourbon country for its informative and high-quality tasting experiences, as well as showcasing the evolution of whiskey in America through the stories of pioneers such as Evan Williams, Elijah Craig, and John E. Fitzgerald. Since opening, it has won Whisky Magazine’s “Visitor Attraction of the Year” award multiple times and is regularly ranked as one of Bardstown’s top destinations. Today, it maintains its vital role as an official stop on The Kentucky Bourbon Trail®, welcoming more than 60,000 visitors each year.
What’s New at the BHC?
The most exciting outcome of phase one are three brand new tasting rooms, where visitors are invited to taste a variety of offerings from our award-winning portfolio. These guided tastings allow guests to enjoy many of our whiskeys side-by-side, discovering the nuances between our offerings, our different mashbills, and the impact of the barrel-aging process.
FITZGERALD TASTING ROOM
This space was named in honor of John E. Fitzgerald, who according to lore, built a distillery on the banks of the Kentucky River in the 1870s and sold his Bourbon to rail lines, steamships, and private clubs. The Old Fitzgerald brand was first registered in the 1880s by S.C. Herbst and became the first great Bourbon to use wheat as part of its recipe. The Old Fitz brand was eventually sold to Julian P. “Pappy” Van Winkle during Prohibition.
However, the Van Winkle family biography reveals that John E. Fitzgerald was not actually the man he has always been portrayed as. He was in fact a bonded treasury agent, who at the time were the only people legally allowed to carry the keys to the rickhouses.
Mr. Fitzgerald apparently had a particularly discerning palate for fine Bourbon and would use his rickhouse keys to gain access to the best barrels, which eventually became known around the distillery as the “Fitzgerald barrels”. Herbst, and then Pappy, immortalized the man who had both the keys and the fine taste by naming the brand Old Fitzgerald.
Today, Larceny Kentucky Straight Bourbon honors the superb taste of this lawless treasury agent with its wheated mashbill, as does Old Fitzgerald Bottled-in-Bond Collection, a very special small batch Bourbon released twice a year.
The tasting room is a complete transformation of what was here before. New wooden floors, bricks around the exterior, and lovely textured window panes were added for a warm, inviting atmosphere. Period correct architectural details like posts with corbels, Victorian trim detail, custom wallpaper, and chandeliers made from crystal whiskey decanters all set you in the time and place of John E. Fitzgerald, the Golden Era of Bourbon.
Classic and inspired, the library perfectly represents the man known as The Father of Bourbon, Elijah Craig.
Elijah Craig was an educator, inventor, builder, and a preacher in late 1700s Kentucky. But he is best remembered for his innovative techniques as a distiller, where he is credited for being the first to age his Bourbon in charred oak barrels. These complex layers of toasted, caramelized, and blackened wood give whiskey all of its rich amber color and about 60% of its flavor.
This welcoming space features a 26-foot-long, live-edge wooden table flanked by tufted leather chairs in the center of the room. The cozy patterned carpet, wood trimmed windows, and rolling ladder leading to a long bookshelf invite guests to feel as if they just stepped into Elijah Craig’s personal library. A one-of-a-kind barrel hoop art installation covers the ceiling, and above the table, custom barrel stave light fixtures complete the space. The large windows feature a premium view of our rickhouses just across the street.
THE FOUNDERS ROOM
This bright and clean space is inspired by Founders of Heaven Hill, the five Shapira brothers who took a gamble on the reemerging Bourbon industry following Prohibition and invested in a distillery… resulting in a quintessential family business and American success story. The principles they instilled in 1935 still guide our work today, and we have proudly stayed family owned and operated for over 80 years.
The smart, industrial design pays homage to our distillery operations, balancing metallic textures with warm wood, and transporting guests to the production facility without ever leaving Bardstown. New features include concrete tile floors, galvanized steel furniture, a stainless steel perimeter complete with the same stencils you would see on distillery equipment, and copper light fixtures reminiscent of our copper stills.
The top of the 20 foot bar and waterfall edges are made of reclaimed wood from ricks at one of our Glencoe Warehouses.
On the walls, black-and-white photos of the Founders, the Shapira family, images of the distillery, and old Heaven Hill ads complete the back bar.
BRAND NEW GIFT SHOP
Finally, phase one included a complete transformation of our retail space, which features Bourbon-inspired food, merchandise, seasonal items, and, especially important, our portfolio of award-winning American Whiskeys, including limited-release bottlings only available at the BHC and select Kentucky retailers.
Coming Soon in Phase Two
Over the next year, we will be transitioning our work to building new structures and expanding our square footage. This includes a variety of captivating educational and food and drink spaces, including:
- An immersive Bourbon barrel experience, where guests will join their host inside a larger-than-life oak barrel, complete with 270° video screen, to learn how barrels are made and their essential role in the process
- You Do Bourbon, which invites guests to interact with the ingredients and tools of making whiskey, and one-of-a-kind opportunity to bottle their own whiskey
- Educational spaces dedicated to Elijah Craig and Larceny, exploring the legacy of each namesake, as well as the unique details and special care given to these beloved Bourbons
- The Five Brothers Bar and Kitchen, featuring handcrafted cocktails that highlight the unique flavor profiles of each of our whiskeys, plus whiskey flights and a contemporary food menu inspired by local ingredients and Kentucky’s great culinary heritage
We would love to see you in Bardstown, and welcome you to check out these exciting updates. The Bourbon Heritage Center is fully open; please join us for a tour and some serious whiskey tasting.