8 Years In – Michter’s Celebrates Grand Opening of Historic Michter’s Fort Nelson Distillery on Whiskey Row [Video]

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The Cambridge Dictionary defines “The Patience of Job” as, “The ability to remain patient and to do what you think you should do despite having many problems.” In the case of Chatham Imports, the parent company of the Michter’s bourbon brand, this could pass for their mantra. Just like making a fine bourbon takes patience, restoring a dilapidated but historically important century old building takes patience as well.

Michter's Trademark - Courtesy of the United States Patent and Trademark Office

On March 21, 1997, Joseph J. Magliocco, President and Founder of Chatham Imports applied for and eventually acquired the abandoned Michter’s whiskey brand for $245. Acquiring dead whiskey brands is nothing new in the distilled spirits world when you consider that there were once thousands of distilleries and brands throughout the United States until Prohibition shut down the entire industry. It’s hard to understand today but it wasn’t that long ago that we saw many famous whiskey distilleries like the Old Crow Distillery and the Old Taylor Distillery shut down in the 70s and 80s when brown spirits were out of favor. Fast forward to today and the industry has flipped where you are more likely to hear about shortages or allocations when it comes to getting your hands on a bottle of America’s Native Spirit – Bourbon.

Michter’s was the First to Plant it’s Bourbon Flag on Whiskey Row

Back in 2011 as President of Michter’s Distillery, Magliocco announced plans to build not one but two distilleries. They purchased two pieces of property, both in Kentucky. One in an industrial zone that would produce the bulk of Michter’s bourbon and rye and another smack dab on Main Street in Louisville that would focus on tourism.

At that time, it was reported that Michter’s had acquired the historic Fort Nelson building downtown on “Museum Row.” You may know this stretch of Main Street as it’s more commonly referred to today as “Whiskey Row.” When Prohibition hit in the 1920s and as transportation and commerce methods changed the distilleries left downtown and didn’t return. In 2011 there were zero operating distilleries in downtown Louisville but Michter’s changed all that when they were the first to announce plans to build a downtown distillery that started the Whiskey Row revival.

Michter’s original plan was to be operational at the downtown distillery and offer tours by the spring of 2013. This is where the Patience of Job was tested. The devil is in the details and as they started renovation work on the historic Fort Nelson building built in 1890, they discovered some serious issues. The building had been vacant for many years and was basically a shell inside. Most of the interior had deteriorated beyond repair or had been salvaged and sold as reclaimed wood. The four floors were basically gone and all that was left was some floor joists and a brick shell of a building held together by steel rods.

What they discovered was a portion of the exterior brick was leaning 23” into the side street. Just imagine that you are driving along following your GPS for directions then you miss a turn and hear “re-calibrating.” That’s what Michter’s must have felt many times as they worked to save this historic beauty that represents one of the anchors of the last remaining groupings of 19th century cast-iron commercial storefronts in the country. The condition of the building was so bad that Michter’s had to install 400,000 lbs of steel beams inside the brick walls. It’s basically a building inside of a building. Wherever you see a star with a bolt through it on the outside of the building that rod is tied directory into the steel beams inside the building. It’s quite an engineering feat.

This section of Main Street was so important that the entire block was listed on the National Register of Historic places.

National Register of Historic Places Inventory – Verified 1974

Governor William Nelson Jr. of Yorktown, Virginia 1883

Governor William Nelson Jr. of Yorktown, Virginia. c~1883.

Encompassing 178 buildings and one historic site, the West Main Street Historic District includes both the north and south sides of West Main Street in the 600, 700 and 800 blocks. The District’s historic site is the original site of Fort Nelson, first permanent fort established by the settlers of Louisville. The 3-block section of Louisville’s riverfront cast-iron storefronts includes a majority of the buildings constructed between 1870 and 1890, in their original state. Between 3 and 5 stories in height, the buildings are pure, cast-iron construction, stone construction and strange combinations of both.

Although a few buildings are known to be architect-designed, a majority of the facades reflect builder-owner design, from catalogues of cast iron elements and stone details. Most of the cast iron used in Louisville’s commercial facades was manufactured across the Ohio River in southern Indiana foundries. Architectural style ranges through the various revival periods and Victorian. The facades constructed entirely of cast iron are primarily high Victorian-gothic and Italianate in detail, while those building combining first-level cast iron with upper floors of stone tend toward Italian Villa, Romanesque Revival, and Renaissance Revival – both North Italian and Roman-Tuscan modes.

Mahan Products Co. Factory, 801 W. Main St. in 1929, Know Today as the Fort Nelson Building, Courtesy of University of Louisville Photographic Archives

A fine example of combining east iron and stone construction is the Fort Nelson building, located at the western third of the district. This building, constructed in 1890, is one of the few examples of Richardsonian influence on Main. Its first level is a custom-designed series of cast iron columns, representing arrowheads, which continues three buildings west from the Fort Nelson building. Its upper floors are rusticated limestone with Richardsonian-Romanesque windows and details. The turret, turning the building corner north to the Ohio River, is constructed of stone for its lower two-thirds and sports a cast iron hat extending some 15 feet above the building. (Information courtesy of Mike Radeke, Kentucky Heritage Council.)

Michter’s Fort Nelson Distillery Grand Opening Celebration

Watch the video above to enjoy highlights from the grand opening celebration.

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After many years of re-calibration and construction, the day has finally arrived and Michter’s Fort Nelson Distillery on Whiskey Row is officially open to the public. The project that started in 2011 and has finally come to fruition in 2019.

The grand opening celebration took place at the Frazier History Museum, the official starting point of the Kentucky Bourbon Trail and was attended by hundreds of people including Michter’s employees from New York and Kentucky. The event was hosted by Michter’s Master of Maturation, EVP & General Manager Andrea Wilson with keynote presentations by Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer, Kentucky Speaker of the House David Osbourne, Kentucky Senate Majority Leader Julie Raque Adams, Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin, Michter’s Master Distiller Pam Heilmann, Michter’s Distiller Dan McKee, President & CEO of Louisville Tourism Karen Williams and of course Michter’s President Joseph J. (Joe) Magliocco.

Karen Williams, President and CEO of the Louisville Tourism described the importance of Michter’s early commitment to downtown Louisville. Williams said, “Louisville Tourism is truly indebted to Joe and his family because of his vision eight years ago to make a Homeplace in our city for Michter’s Distillery. Thank you for that. Though it’s just opening today, we have been marketing this since 2011. Michter’s was the first, let’s don’t forget, the first, to place their bourbon flag, proudly on Whiskey Row.”

When it came time for Joe Magliocco to speak he started by expressing his thanks and gratitude to all the people that helped in this eight year journey. He kicked off his remarks right on point saying, “It’s only fitting that a once abandoned great American brand found its home in a once abandoned great American building.”

“In the 1990s, we were able to acquire the abandoned Michter’s brand for $245 because it was virtually worthless and absolutely nobody else wanted it. It’s taken a lot of work by a lot of people on our team to bring it back. First off I want to thank my dear friend the late Dick Newman (former President of Austin Nichols, the maker of Wild Turkey) who was there for me as an adviser at the start. Our Master Distiller Emeritus Willie Pratt is here today and we thank him for all his fantastic work and all his tremendous contributions. We’ve heard from Andrea Wilson (Michter’s Master of Maturation) today, I’m very fortunate to work with Andrea, she’s so unbelievably talented and she’s also a phenomenal person. Andrea, Pam Heilmann (Michter’s Master Distiller) and Dan McKee (Michter’s Distiller), the three of them have consistently provided great leadership. They’ve made Michter’s the operation that it is today.”

In closing the ceremony Magliocco said, “As all of us at Michter’s today say our thank you’s to the most important ones are our loyal customers. The bars, the restaurants, the hotels and the retail partners that support us around the U.S. and around world. Our distributors and our importers and most of the people who drink Michter’s and make all of you possible. We love each and every one of you. Please come visit us and please come visit the other really great distilleries in Kentucky. At Michter’s we are deeply honored to be a part of an American industry making truly world class products at the highest quality. We are so grateful to be a part of Louisville, Shively, Springfield and the Kentucky community and we thank you all. Thank you so much.”

Michter’s Fort Nelson Distillery is now fully operational and open for retail sales, tours and tastings.

A Photo Tour of Micther’s Fort Nelson Distillery

Click any image to enlarge.

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Resources
– National Register of Historic Place information provided by Mike Radeke of the Kentucky Heritage Council.
– Portrait of Hon. William Nelson of Yorktown, Virginia, Colonial Governor of Virginia, from a watercolor by C. H. Sherman of New York (1883) from the original portrait by an unknown artist. Engraved illustration from “Genealogy of the Page Family in Virginia,” by Richard Channing Moore Page, published by The Publishers’ Printing Company, New York, N. Y., 1893.
– Cambridge Dictionary

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