When Bardstown Bourbon Company was founded in 2014, its founders knew they wanted to revolutionize bourbon production. The founders — Peter Loftin, David Mandell, Daniel Linde, and Garnett Black — began the Bardstown, Ky., operation with the idea of offering a “destination experience” for bourbon lovers and building a custom distilling program that now creates over 50 unique mash bills for more than 30 spirits brands in the industry. The idea was so revolutionary that the distillery had sold out of its custom capacity before it had even started producing any bourbon, which didn’t begin until 2016.
Today, Bardstown is one of the largest distilleries in America, boasting 100 acres of active farmland and a 37,000-square-foot distillery and bottling line that allows it to produce over 110,000 barrels of whiskey per year. In 2023 — after eight years of partnering with producers across the industry for custom mash bills, distilling, and blending purposes — the company finally released the Origin Series collection, a whiskey lineup entirely of its own creation.
Now that you know the basics, here are nine more things you should know about Bardstown Bourbon Company.
Bardstown’s collaborative distilling program is one of a kind.
A major pillar of Bardstown’s mission is to promote collaboration and transparency within the spirits industry. The collaborative distilling program allows Bardstown to team up with distillers across the trade in order to develop custom mash bills, aging techniques, and flavor profiles depending on the client’s exact wishes. Within the program, Bardstown is able to offer customizable distilling, barrelling, aging, blending, bottling, and consultation. For those who custom distill, whiskeys are produced with the company’s unique software programming called Ignition. The software allows for specialized code to be written that controls all aspects of the distilling process and tracks and displays data points for distillers to analyze in real time, streamlining operations. The software is the first of its kind to be used in the spirits space, and is used to produce bourbons for recognizable names like Jefferson’s High West, Belle Meade, Hirsch, Calumet, James E. Pepper, and Cyrus Noble, among many others.
There’s a big name behind the bourbons at Bardstown.
Serving as master distiller for Bardstown is Steve Nally, the company’s first full-time employee. As one half of the only living husband-and-wife couple in the Bourbon Hall of Fame, Steve Nally has an impressive 50 years of experience under his belt, starting at Maker’s Mark in 1972 before working his way up to become master distiller in 1988. In the early aughts, Nally left Maker’s Mark to start his own distilling consultancy, which landed him in Jackson, Wyo., where he was hired by three attorneys to oversee the building of the state’s first legal distillery. Nally spent the next six and a half years building Wyoming Whiskey from the ground up before returning to Kentucky to join the team at Bardstown. There, he’s headed projects like the Fusion Series, which blends Bardstown’s whiskey with more mature selections from around the country, as well as the Origin Series.
In 2019, the distillery’s whiskeys hit markets for the first time.
As all bourbon is required to age for a minimum of two years, in the first few years of Bardstown’s existence, it had no whiskey of its own to sell. That all changed in 2019 with the launch of Fusion Series #1, which was a blend of Bardstown’s two-year-old estate-made bourbon and rye with an 11-year, 7-month-old bourbon sourced from a fellow Kentucky distillery. The Fusion Series, which now features nine expressions, is designed to celebrate the marriage of Bardstown’s newer bourbons with older hand-selected, local Kentucky bourbons. As the years progress and Bardstown’s spirits continue to age, each bottle expresses slightly differently, playing with the more mellowed aged bourbons in new ways. Each year, roughly 50 blends are blind tasted by Bardstown’s expert team before the final spirit is chosen.
Through the Collaborative Series, the brand has partnered with several notable names.
With collaboration at the crux of Bardstown’s business model, it’s no surprise that the distillery sought out barrels other than new American oak from across the beverage alcohol industry. And thus, the Collaborative Series was born, a series of whiskeys created in partnership with producers across wine and spirits. Notable past releases include Plantation Rum Finish, a 10-year-old Tennessee bourbon finished for 22 months in Plantation Rum barrels, The Prisoner Wine Co. Finish, a 9-year-old Tennessee bourbon finished in The Prisoner Wine Company’s French oak red wine barrels, and Finish II, a 10-year-old Tennessee Bourbon finished in the same barrels for 18 months. In November 2022, the distillery partnered with a cooperage for the first time, with the release of West Virginia Great Barrel Co., a blended rye aged in cherry wood barrels toasted with infrared technology in collaboration with the cooperage of the same name,
This year, Bardstown released its first self-produced bourbon expression.
Nearly a decade after its founding, Bardstown released its flagship whiskey label — the Origin Series — at the start of 2023. Including a bourbon, a bottled-in-bond bourbon, and a rye, the Origin Series marks the first spirits releases to be 100 percent distilled for Bardstown by Nally. The bourbon is distilled from a 36 percent high-rye mash bill, aged for six years, and bottled at 96 proof. The bottled-in-bond, also aged for six years, is high-corn and lower-rye — only 20 percent — and bottled at 100 proof. The brand’s pioneering rye, coming in at 48 percent ABV, is finished in a combination of cherry wood and American oak barrels, imparting fruity undertones on the spiced whiskey’s profile.
At Bardstown, bourbon is all about the art of the blend.
Within the Discovery Series, which now includes 10 expressions, Bardstown combines rare whiskeys sourced from all over the world in order to create “exciting expressions that together are greater than the sum of its parts,” according to the brand. The series is designed to highlight the science and craftsmanship of blending whiskey, and aims to create a completely new flavor profile with each new release. Every spirit blended for the Discovery Series is tasted by team members from every level at the distillery, analyzed, and voted on.
Bardstown offers a unique dining option on the Bourbon trail…
In June 2018, the company opened Bottle & Bond Kitchen and Bar, now known simply as Kitchen & Bar. The kitchen offers Southern comfort food with an international spin as the first full-service restaurant on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail, and offers guests the ability to dine with a full view of the functional distillery. Many in the trade cite the company as revolutionizing trip-worthy destinations in the bourbon industry.
“Bardstown Bourbon Company wasn’t just doing bourbon. They were focused on restaurants, the visitor experience, making it a whole package,” Kim Huston, president of the Nelson County Economic Development Agency, told VinePair. “That had not been done, that full experience.”
…and education is everything.
Those who visit Bardstown’s Kentucky campus aren’t limited to a simple distillery tour. In fact, the company is renowned for its 10-plus educational and visitor experiences. In the Distillate to Barrel experience, bourbon lovers can observe how Bardstown’s distillers create, age, develop, and finish whiskeys, while the Art of Blending experience provides a chance to take a deep dive into the sensory characteristics of four bourbons. Its participants even get to create their own personalized blend.
The company also offers cocktail-making classes and food-pairing experiences such as Bourbon & Bites, which pairs three blends with light snacks created by Kitchen & Bar’s executive chef Stu Plush. In perhaps the most in-depth distillery experience, bourbon lovers are welcome to take a two-hour tour with Steve Nally himself, who walks visitors through the operation and his career before concluding with a tasting of his favorite mash bills.
The whiskey company is set to open a new visitor experience in Louisville this fall.
As the bourbon boom expands to Louisville, a number of prominent players in the whiskey industry have announced plans to open tasting rooms and visitor experiences in the city in the coming years, and Bardstown is among them. Opening in September 2023, Bardstown’s Louisville location will live on the historic Whiskey Row and will feature “highly interactive bourbon and whiskey education, innovative craft cocktails, augmented reality and immersive digital elements, and retail merchandise and exclusive bottles,” according to the company’s website.