Master Distillers never really retire they just pause, take a break and then someone convinces them it’s time to get back into the art and science of making whiskey. Sometimes it’s a competitor that comes calling dangling goodies to get them back in the game, sometimes it’s a small craft spirits distillery that comes calling and says let’s go small. Sometimes it works out and sometimes it doesn’t. But, when you’re sitting around the breakfast table on a Saturday morning and your son says he wants to start a distillery you listen. Such is the case with Henderson family and Angel’s Envy Distillery.
Master Distiller Lincoln Henderson worked at Brown-Forman for 39 years and helped build iconic distilled spirits brands like Early Times, Old Forester and Jack Daniel’s. He was instrumental in the launch of Woodford Reserve, Jack Daniel’s “Gentleman Jack” and Jack Daniel’s Single Barrel. He also participated in the launch of the historic George Washington Distillery reconstruction project at Mount Vernon, Virginia. His years of service to the industry were recognized as he became one of the inaugural members of the Kentucky Bourbon Hall of fame in 2001. The other recipients to this class included Parker Beam, Elmer T. Lee, Fred McMillen, Booker Noe, Jimmy Russell, Jim Rutledge and Bill Samuels, Jr. That’s quite a group of peers.
A Unique Spirit Safe of Copper, Stainless Steel, Glass & Angel’s Wings
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A Family Affair – Three Generations of Henderson’s
In 2006 Lincoln came out of retirement to create the Angel’s Envy brand with his son Wes Henderson and his grandson Kyle Henderson. Three generations were about to start a new whiskey brand. Fast forward a few years and the brand finally went to market in March 2011. In talking to Wes Henderson, Co-Founder and Chief Innovation Officer he says he’s spent about 80% of his time traveling to promote and build the brand over these last five years. Wes said, “In five years, we’ve managed to become one of the top ten selling small batch bourbons in the world.”
Groundbreaking – One of Lincoln’s Final Angel’s Envy Events
The Henderson’s were looking to build a home for their brand, a new distillery. After searching they came across a 1.5 acre tract of land with a dilapidated old brick and mortar building built in 1902. The building had basically been abandoned and left empty for more than 30 years. They bought the building from the state and held a ground breaking in July 2013 and shared their plans to build a new $12 million state of art distillery and visitor center to open in 2014. The event was attended by many dignitaries including investors, economic development people and the state’s governor. Their plan of a new family was about to take flight. As it turns out this was one of the last big public events for Master Distiller Lincoln Henderson as just a few short months later on September 10, 2013 he unexpectedly passed away.
“I lost my dad and best friend today, but I am blessed and grateful that together we created a brand that we’re both incredibly proud of,” said Wes Henderson, Chief Operating Officer, Angel’s Envy. “Dad is with the angels now, but we will proudly carry on his legacy and keep his memory alive.” ~ Wes Henderson, September 2013
One of the early investors in Angel’s Envy was another family that’s been in the distilled spirits business since 1862, Bacardi. Bacardi Limited is the largest privately held, family-owned spirits company in the world. Bacardi increased its investment in Angel’s Envy by acquiring the entire brand for an undisclosed amount in March 2015. This put Bacardi in the premium bourbon business with a young but established brand with lots of room for growth. Angel’s Envy would continue to operate as an independent brand. The Angel’s Envy Distillery plans were already laid but with a new partner the actual investment for the new distillery increased from $12 million to $27 million. After a two year delay, those plans have now come to fruition or would that be fermentation?
A Brief History of the Building – Four Generations of Henderson’s
Like all good whiskies, there’s always a story and this one is no different. The main building that is now Angel’s Envy Distillery was built in 1902 and was home to American Elevator Co. If you visit the building take a close look at the steel beams up in the rafters. If you see something painted in white with wheels (see photo below) that was part of the original equipment used to move heavy equipment around on the shop floor. It’s a very nice touch to call attention to the sites history. In 1947 the building became home to Vermont American. If you’ve ever used a Craftsman brand saw blade it’s possible it was built in this very building. As it turns out, Lincoln Henderson’s Dad used to work in this building and Lincoln used to visit him here as a young boy. Vermont American stayed at this location until 1986 when they outgrew the manufacturing space. The building has been vacant since then until now.
A Behind the Scenes Tour of the New Angel’s Envy Distillery
I recently had the opportunity to walk through this new urban distillery located on Louisville’s famous Whiskey Row with Co-Founder Wes Henderson. It’s a great location directly across the street from the Louisville Slugger Baseball Field. The actual Louisville Slugger Bat factory is nearby at the other end of Main Street.
The 90,000 square foot complex and property is a complete grain to bottle facility. With its current configuration the distillery will produce 36 barrels of bourbon a day. Annual production is expected to be about 65,000 cases of whiskey and will be able to produce about 1 million cases at full capacity. Click on the Angel’s Envy Distillery map to the right and you can see the layout of the entire distillery. This map is on the wall on the second floor and provides visitors with a layout of the entire facility.
Here’s a Photo Tour of New Angel’s Envy Distillery
After about a year and a half construction project the Angel’s Envy Distillery is now up and running. Production officially started on September 3, 2016 and the distillery opens for public tours on Saturday, November 19, 2016.
Click any image to enlarge.