The 4,700 Lb. Heart of the New Old Forester Distillery is in the House

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In September 2014, Brown-Forman announced they were reviving the original brand – Old Forester. The brand dates back to 1870 when founder George Garvin Brown first started to seal, sign and bottle his own bourbon.

That announcement three years ago included a commitment to invest $30 million to build a brand new Old Forester Distillery on “Whiskey Row” in Louisville, Kentucky. A few months later that number ballooned 50% to $45 million. Around the same time, they also announced they had promoted Campbell Brown, a fifth generation descendant of the company’s founder, to the new position of President of Old Forester.

Over the weekend, we had our first chance to tour the distillery with Project Manager Mike Beach to get a glimpse at what this new whiskey distillery and tourist destination will look like.

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A Brand with a History of Survival

First off, this brand is a survivor. It started prior to Prohibition as the first bottled bourbon, was granted a permit to continue distilling during Prohibition and 147 years later, it’s still produced by the same family.

Soon after Brown-Forman announced they had purchased the property to house the new distillery another nearby historic property under renovation caught fire. The massive blaze was eventually extinguished but it left an uncertain future for the historic buildings. Would some of the historic buildings need to be torn down or could they be saved? As it turns out, the two Brown-Forman buildings had little damage but it slowed down renovation on the entire block.  After many delays, the distillery building permit was finally approved on January 19, 2016 and construction finally began.

The 44′ Tall Copper Column Still Signed by George G. Brown

This weekend, the 4,700 lb. heart of the new distillery was delivered and installed. The centerpiece for most modern distilleries is the still. Some are pot stills, some are column stills and some are hybrid stills depending on what type of spirit and volume being made. The still’s key role in bourbon making is the separation of the fermented mash (corn, rye, malt and barley) to create ‘new spirit,’ essentially serving as the heart of the distillery. The new Old Forester column still made by Vendome Copper and Brass Works is no exception; it will be the heart of the new distillery. It’s a copper column still measuring 24″ in diameter, 44′ tall with 22 plates and weighs in at 4,700 lbs.

The still made the one mile trek via flatbed truck from Vendome down Whiskey Row wrapped in shrink wrap to get ready to make the four story flight via crane to be gently lowered and placed into its permanent home. As the still slowly descended from the sky on to the steel I-beams that sit atop a steel staircase, I couldn’t help but hum ‘Stairway to Heaven’ as it made its way to its final resting place atop the stairs. Though the still was wrapped on delivery day, we were able to get a few shop photos so you can see this newest piece of craftsmanship from Vendome.

“We are very excited for the installation of the column still – the focal point of our facility,” said Old Forester President Campbell Brown. “This turning point brings us to a new chapter in the construction of the Old Forester Distillery allowing us to envision the future of this long term project more and more every day.”

The Old Forester Distillery is expected to open late spring of 2018.

The Still that Sits Atop a Stairway to Bourbon Heaven

Click any image to enlarge.

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