Bourbon of the Day had the pleasure of recently touring the Evan Williams Bourbon Experience, Heaven Hill’s multi-million dollar artisan distillery tour. Heaven Hill is the first of several major bourbon experiences planned for Downtown Louisville in what we believe is a revival of Louisville’s old “Whiskey Row”.
the Dark Ages Prohibition, Louisville’s Whiskey Row was home to more than 83 whiskey-related industries on a 9 block row on Main Street. All but a small few of those companies were put out of business as the industry went into the woods (moonshining) and underground (bootlegging). Louisville is a nostalgic city, and so the historic facades of these grand old buildings were preserved even while the interiors were gutted or destroyed by fires over the years.
Luckily, the bourbon boom has brought new life these old facades. Amid mixed-use urban developments like Whiskey Row Lofts you now have immensely popular bars and restaurants like the Bristol Bar and Grille (614 W Main St), Sidebar at Whiskey Row (just off Main street at 129 N 2nd St), Down One Bourbon Bar (321 W Main St), and of course the Evan Williams Bourbon Experience (528 West Main St).
I had been eyeballing the work site for the distillery for months, and approached opening day with a little apprehension. As is often the case, when anything is experiencing a fad-like popularity all sorts of silly concepts start popping up to capitalize on the current wave. Not the case with the Evan Williams Bourbon Experience!
The team and I were greeted by Ally, a professional and enthusiastic tour guide whose love of all things bourbon can’t be faked. Ally walked us through a 30 minute tour of the multi-story operation that started with the story of Evan Williams, a local legend who is largely responsible for the success of the city of Louisville itself. Today, historical markers stand at the original site of Evan Williams bourbon operation near downtown Louisville’s Galt House Hotel.
Rather than just relying on a tour guide to tell the Evan Williams story, Heaven Hill built a high-definition interactive theater that took us back in time to Louisville in 1783, when Evan Williams crafted his first few barrels of bourbon as the city’s very first licensed producer. The theater was complete with replicas of the original distilling operation in front of and around the screens – a very nice touch.
Afterwards, the tour moved forward in time to current Evan Williams operations as the second largest-selling Kentucky bourbon with the fastest-growing market share among the top-volume American whiskey brands. Now we are no stranger to Evan Williams, but we were in for a surprise when Ally unveiled their artisanal distillery where they are actually distilling mystery batches of bourbon. No one knows how long these batches will be aged or what they will taste like, but getting a glimpse into their operation was like looking at the floor of Willie Wonka’s chocolate factory…if Willie Wonka were a distiller.
Once we have gotten a peek at how Evan Williams works its magic, we are taken upstairs to the first of several tasting rooms to sample Evan Williams Single Barrel and Elijah Craig 12-year-old back to back. The comparison is meant to demonstrate how much of an effect aging has on two bourbons made from the exact same mash bill.
While we enjoyed our free samples of bourbon (and bourbon balls!!), Ally talked a little about the effects of Prohibition on the bourbon industry – and the ways distillers were able to stay in business. If you are new to bourbon you may not know that distilleries were allowed to produce small amounts of bourbon during Prohibition to be used for medicinal purposes only, meaning you could only get a taste of Kentucky’s finest with a doctor’s prescription. A very interesting part of our tour consisted of re-created storefronts displaying some of the “medicines” that were in production during that time. It wasn’t unusual to see cocaine, beer, and julep concoctions on doctors shelves. (For pictures from this part of our tour, and tons of other pics, follow our Google Plus page!)
The Evan Williams Bourbon Experience ends with a tasting tour through the gift shop. Unfortunately, the Elijah Craig 22-year-old wasnt part of the tastings, but we did get the opportunity to try a wide variety of Evan Williams condiments and specialty items, including…
I couldn’t resist picking up a bottle of the Elijah Craig 22 year old, as EC is one of my favorite springtime bourbons, along with a few bottles of BBQ sauce just in time for my pre-Derby cookout!
If you are wondering whether or not to drop the $12 to take the tour, you have my promise that it will be worth every penny! Louisville is a great, family friendly tourist destination, so book a flight and get a room at our incredibly reasonable rates for your summer (or winter) vacation!
Tour & Gift Shop Hours
Monday – Saturday 10:00 AM – 5:00 PM EST
*Last tour at 4:00PM
Sunday 1:00 PM – 5:00 PM EST
*Last tour at 4:00PM
The only days the Evan Williams Bourbon Experience are closed are on Easter Sunday, Thanksgiving Day, Half-day on Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, and New Year’s Day, so whenever you are in the city you have a good chance of catching them on duty.
- Adult Admission (21+) $12
- Kids (11-20) $9
- Kids (10 and under) FREE
- Active Military Discount $9