The Woodford Reserve Distillery in Versailles, Woodford County, Kentucky is celebrating 25 years of making Kentucky Bourbon Whiskey. We had the pleasure of spending a Day on the Trail this week at the historic distillery as Master Distiller Chris Morris and Assistant Master Distiller Elizabeth McCall topped off a commemorative 25th Anniversary barrel of its super-premium American whiskey.
The Woodford Reserve brand may only be a quarter century old, but distilling has been taking place on this National Historic Landmark site since 1812. It was more than two centuries ago that farmer distiller Elijah Pepper built a small log-cabin for his distillery on the south bank of Glenn’s Creek, the source of the limestone water used to make Woodford. And the rest as they say is history. Distilling has started, stopped and restarted several times at this location. In fact, did you know that Brown-Forman bought this property twice? Check out the complete timeline below.
Woodford Reserve Celebrates its 25th Anniversary
The celebration was kicked off when VP & Group Brand Director for Woodford Reserve Tracy Johnson harkened back to the words of the late Owsley Brown from the 1996 opening of the distillery.
“This project has been a labor of love for everyone involved. A love of this place, a love of history and a love of making superb whiskey.”
Brown-Forman Chairman Owsley Brown II
“Looking back 25 years ago you could almost count the number of cases we were selling on two hands,” said Master Distiller Chris Morris. “And now look at us, 25 years later we are selling over a million cases a year globally. And because of that, we have to expand. Demand for Woodford is growing to such a degree that we are going to double our production capacity here at the Woodford Reserve Distillery.”
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“Our distillery building is a National Historic Landmark so we cannot change that building. We can change the interior, but not the exterior… Our iconic pot stills will double from three to six, our fermenters will double from eight to sixteen. We will also include new barrel and grain unloading facilities, storage capacity and new training and conference rooms for our employees.
“We are planning for the future. We see no signs that the global demand for bourbon will diminish. More and more consumers around the world have discovered that Kentucky’s best export is bourbon.
“These 25 barrels we are filling today will be used many years from now in a special product to allow consumers to celebrate the day with us… 110 proof Kentucky’s best.”
To conserve this National Historic Landmark, where many whiskey innovations occurred in the 1800s and 1900s, Woodford Reserve collaborated with historic preservation leaders in Frankfort and Washington so the design of this latest building will complement the older structures.
“25 years ago today, Woodford Reserve shook up the bourbon industry,” said Assistant Master Distiller Elizabeth McCall. “Join me as we raise a glass and toast to the next 25 years of continuing to push the envelope and bring the great flavors of Woodford Reserve to the world. Cheers!”
The Woodford Reserve family of brands now includes five permanent expressions — bourbon, rye, double oaked, malt and wheat — along with limited-edition expressions, including the Master’s Collection and Double Double Oaked.
Through the month of October the distillery will host a series of commemorative experiences open to the public. Customers will be able to participate in special tastings, enjoy bespoke cocktails and discover unique products for sale at the Woodford Reserve Distillery gift shop.
The History of Woodford Reserve Distillery
The Woodford Reserve bourbon brand was launched in 1996 in Versailles, Kentucky but this location has been making Kentucky whiskey for more than two centuries. Here’s a brief history of the journey from 1812 to today.
1812: Farmer distiller Elijah Pepper built a small log-cabin for his distillery on the south bank of Glenns Creek, the source of the now famous Limestone water.
1838: The current Woodford Reserve limestone distillery was built by Elijah Pepper’s son, Oscar Pepper. This marked the transition from farm distillery to commercial distillation. The team was lead by Oscar Pepper and Master Distiller James C. Crow. The distillery was known as the Oscar Pepper Distillery
1878: The Pepper family sold the distillery to Leopold Labrot and James Graham. If you look close at the photos of the stacks rising above the distillery you’ll see the initials L & G.
1941: Brown-Forman Corporation purchased the Labrot & Graham Distillery.
1971: Brown-Forman operated the distillery until 1968 until it was mothballed and later sold to a neighboring farmer and returned to a farm property.
1994: History Repeats Itself – Brown-Forman buys the distillery back to start the Woodford Reserve brand to compete directly with Maker’s Mark. Brown-Forman invests multi-millions of dollars to restore the distillery to its former glory and create a destination for tourists, a place that Brown-Forman calls the “Kentucky Bourbon Homeplace.”
1995: The property is listed on the National Register of Historic places
1996: Woodford Reserve Kentucky Straight Bourbon brand is launched.
2000: The property is designated a National Historic Landmark
2003: Labrot & Graham Distillery’s name is changed to Woodford Reserve Distillery.
2006: Master Distiller Lincoln Henderson retires and Chris Morris is introduced as the new Woodford Reserve Master Distiller
2016: Woodford Reserve Distillery celebrates 20th Anniversary
2018: Woodford Reserve Distillery promotes Elizabeth McCall to Assistant Master Distiller
2019: Woodford Reserve Distillery opens new visitor center to accommodate growth in tourism
2021 March: Woodford Reserve announces plans to double bourbon whiskey production capacity
2021 October: Woodford Reserve celebrates its 25th Anniversary