Between the mid 1800s until Prohibition Main Street in Louisville, Kentucky was home to many distilleries, barrel warehouses and distributors of distilled spirits. This stretch of the city became known as ‘Whiskey Row’. Unfortunately, even with the end of Prohibition in 1933 this once bustling area of distilleries and related businesses did not return to the city’s downtown district.
Nearly a century later that all began to change when in April 2012 cousins Harry J. Shapira and Max L. Shapira of Heaven Hill Distillery held a press conference and announced plans to build a fully functioning artisanal distillery on Louisville’s Main Street. Just over a year later in November of 2013 the Evan Williams Bourbon Experience opened its doors and started production of one barrel of whiskey a day. To put this in perspective, Heaven Hill’s main distillery, the Bernheim Distillery located just a couple miles across town is now producing 1,300 barrels per day.
That gargantuan difference almost makes the Evan Williams Bourbon Experience sound like a rounding error but that could not be any further from reality. The purpose of creating a new distillery wasn’t about volume it was about returning the Evan Williams whiskey making operation to its original home on Whiskey Row.
“It brings together a lot of important economic development, tourism and historical forces—an important new manufacturing and distillation facility, a major Louisville and Kentucky-themed attraction, and the history of Whiskey Row and Evan Williams as an important Louisville figure and early distiller,” said Executive Vice President Harry J. Shapira at that 2012 press conference. “122 years ago, when this building was first constructed, this area of Main Street was an important center of commerce for the Bourbon industry, and now Evan Williams, Kentucky’s first commercial distiller, is coming back home to his original locale.”
That was the beginning of what’s been a nearly 10 year distillery building boom in downtown Louisville. Since the Evan Williams Bourbon Experience opened on Whiskey Row at least 10 other distilleries and related attractions including the christening of the Frazier History Museum as the official starting point of the world famous Kentucky Bourbon Trail have opened along or near downtown Louisville. (See a list of nearby distilleries here.)
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Evan Williams (1755-1810) was a native of Wales. He came to Kentucky in 1780 and in 1783 built his first commercial distillery on the banks of the Ohio River distilling whiskey from corn (by law, bourbon must contain at least 51% corn) on the east side of what is now 5th Street in Louisville. According to Max Shapira that distillery was on the very site of what is the Evan Williams Bourbon Experience today.
Evan Williams Bourbon Experience Releases ‘Square 6’ its 1st Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey
Now, after eight years the first spirits from the Evan Williams artisanal distillery have been bottled and offered for sale. Ironically this first release is made up of a small batch of 15 barrels of five year old high rye bourbon whiskey rather than the early 2013 bourbon. Artisinal Master Distiller Jodie Filiatreau says not to worry, there are plenty of other small batch surprises that will be coming out with future releases.
‘Square 6’ designates the original plot of land where Evan Williams built Kentucky’s first commercial distillery in 1783, sharing the same Whiskey Row block where the Evan Williams Bourbon Experience now resides.
Square 6 is a high rye bourbon with a mashbill consisting of 52% corn, 35% rye and 13% malted barley. This is a new Bourbon recipe under the Heaven Hill Distillery portfolio. Artisanal Master Distiller Jodie Filiatreau said this is one of many experimental mashbills made over the years at the distillery as they continually craft innovative mashbills and tweak the hand-crafted process for each new recipe. During the eight years since the distillation began a team of master tasters samples each recipe at various stages until that specific mashbill has been deemed to have achieved a taste profile worthy of bottling. Square 6 High Rye Bourbon is the first result of this process and the first bottling from the Evan Williams Bourbon Experience stills.
“Today marks another milestone in the educational, interactive experiences offered at the Evan Williams Bourbon Experience as we can now experience the aroma and taste of this truly hand-crafted process from the grain to the glass,” said Max L. Shapira, Heaven Hill Distillery President.
“From the first day Artisanal Master Distiller Emeritus Charlie Downs turned on the stills nearly eight years ago to Artisanal Distiller Jodie Filiatreau patiently waiting years for this product to come of age in the barrel, today we celebrate Heaven Hill’s commitment to quality and attention to detail.”
To celebrate the occasion, a commemorative barrel was rolled down Louisville’s Main Street by Heaven Hill Distillery President Max Shapira, Artisanal Distiller Jodie Filiatreau, Artisanal Distiller Emeritus Charlie Downs, Louisville Tourism President & CEO Karen Williams, and Louisville Tourism Chief Operating Officer Cleo Battle. These representatives signified a pillar of the Evan Williams Bourbon Experience and Whiskey Row industry: family legacy, artisanal craft production, Bourbonism, and hospitality.
The facility offers guests a historical glimpse back in time to see Evan Williams’ original distillery through high definition video recreations of the Louisville wharf and Main Street in the late 18th Century, plus recreations of Whiskey Row building facades along Main Street from the 1890’s through the present. Meanwhile, visitors learn the essential differences between distilling during Evan Williams’ era and Heaven Hill’s modern Bernheim Distillery operations.
Square 6 Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey was aged for five years and bottled at 95 proof (42.5% ABV). Square 6 has a golden amber color, with notes of tobacco, fig and honey on the nose, earthy notes with cardamom and cinnamon to taste, and a short, dry finish.
Square 6 will be released in a 750ml squared off glass bottle with the face label depicting the original map where Evan Williams’ distillery was originally located. The packaging also includes Evan Williams’ signature and bourbons mashbill. The limited release of Square 6 High Rye Bourbon will be available in small quantities as a unique offering at the Evan Williams Bourbon Experience and at select Kentucky retailers with a suggested retail price of $89.99.