Tuesday, October 19, 2021 marked a new mission for the men known throughout the United States simply as the ‘Horse Soldiers’. This was the day that the Horse Soldiers along with their families and loved ones gathered in Somerset, Pulaski County, Kentucky to break ground on their new venture aptly called Horse Solder Farms, the future home of Horse Soldier Bourbon .
It was on October 19, 2001, just over a month after terrorists flew two planes into New York City’s Twin Towers on 9/11, that a hand-selected detachment of 12 Green Berets from the 5th Special Forces Group entered Afghanistan on horseback. Later named the “Horse Soldiers,” their clandestine mission marked the first time U.S. troops rode to war on horseback since World War II. All 12 of these brave soldiers were warned that they may never come home but they went ahead with their mission anyway. Fortunately, they all made it back to serve another day.
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In 2015 some of these men began a new chapter in their lives as they launched Horse Soldier Bourbon. Now, six years later that bourbon has found a new 227-acre piece of land in Somerset, Kentucky to create a new home for their amber spirits.
Horse Soldier Bourbon is ‘Coming Home’ with New $200 Million Distillery Destination on Kentucky’s Lake Cumberland – Learn the story of how these men trained on the Cumberland River, 20 years earlier.
Horse Soldier Bourbon unveiled plans for Horse Soldier Farm Distillery that will consist of a 27,585-square-foot distillery visitor center; 4,600-square-foot activity center; 5,000-capacity amphitheater; 500-person outdoor event space; an adventure center, 3,200-square-foot wedding chapel; 60-key luxury lodge and 20 cabins, and a retail village.
The new $200 million distillery project will complement Lake Cumberland as the premier, off-the-water attraction in Somerset bringing nearly 400-plus new jobs, bourbon and tourism dollars to the Somerset community. Adding a bourbon distillery to Somerset’s thriving tourism industry is expected to have a major economic impact in the local community. Currently, the community’s tourism attractions welcome nearly 5 million visitors annually, generating $115 million in economic impact.
Renderings Show a Sustainable Distillery Inspired by the 12 Horse Soldiers
Visitors will discover 12 fermentation vats in perfect formation around the Vendome Copper & Brass Works 54’ tall by 42” copper column still created with metal from the Statue of Liberty. The distillery expects to operate six days a week producing approximately 3 million proof gallons of whiskey per year.
A recessed water feature and stillhouse pay homage to the Two Towers in New York City. And the water garden includes a replica of the America’s Response Monument located at Ground Zero, a statue that commemorates the Horse Soldiers’ mission.
The grounds also include a village that offers both spirits and non-spirits-based activities. Events, festivals and concerts will fill the family-friendly venue’s schedule while shops, community rooms, a chapel and event center, and health and wellness opportunities will be available to residents, visitors and veterans. Horse Soldier Farms will also include a luxury lodge, cabins and serve as a premier culinary destination.
A Stunning Kick Off for a Future Stop on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail
If the groundbreaking event is any indication of what is in store for this future Southern most stop on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail, then bourbon fans and their families are in for a real treat when this project is completed in about 36 months.
The day kicked off with the Presentation of Colors as Lt. Col. (Ret) Bill Markham and Master Sergeant (Ret) Billy Howell, Jr. stepped out of an airplane at 7,000 feet to soar through the sky like eagles frolicking in a summer thermal. The two Horse Soldiers landed gently back on earth to the cheers of about 300 fans in attendance for the groundbreaking. Once on the ground the American flag was properly folded by ROTC Cadets from Southwestern Highschool and Pulaski Highschool.
“The Green Beret’s are known as the quiet professionals, so I am in an awkward moment here to share these thoughts with you today,” said Horse Soldier Bourbon President & CEO John Koko. “And I wouldn’t be here alone for anything, I’m here with the people that got us here.
“Thank you…to the many organizations that helped to make this possible today…without your support and belief in our mission, our new mission, we would not be here standing. Also, to our small group of investors, who believed in guys that had no background, no resources, no training, I worry about them [laughs]. But they bet on people with character as I have done my whole life.
“We are very excited to present our vision today for what will become one of America’s leading distilleries and family experiences… I don’t want to lose sight of the fact that 20 years ago today, on a cold mountainside in Afghanistan, men landed and got out of a helicopter to answer our nations call. It is our anniversary today and I think it is only fitting that ODA 595 be here with us today. Many of them at least, we are missing some. We won’t forget them; we remember the 12. We live our lives for the day after and the day after tomorrow. 20 years ago, they were inserted with an almost impossible mission. That mission was difficult to say the least. They were told that they wouldn’t be coming home. I don’t want to get emotional, it must the allergies. But they still said, ‘Send me.’
“Our success teaches us something that guided our lives ever since. It’s the importance of believing that anything is possible. We were forged in fire, that anything is possible, anything. And that became the foundation for our brand. It’s about inspiring people of all ages, all backgrounds to believe that anything can be done if you put your mind to it and your heart into it. We all share a common sense of authenticity which is honesty, service, and integrity.
The Horse Soldiers are ‘Coming Home’ to Horse Soldier Farms
“It all began here in the beautiful nature, the surroundings, the river, the lake, you saw the landscape, the water, the cliffs. When we flew in it crept into our hearts and our souls. We just knew it was right, we knew we were home. It’s deeply embedded in who we are and what we will build here. We couldn’t imagine building this visionary project anywhere else in fact. And let’s be clear, this is more than a distillery for us, we are not a big company, this is it [signaling to the people on stage].
“We imagine a destination called Horse Soldier Farms. Which is the clear goal of increasing tourism to the Somerset-Pulaski County area, creating jobs, helping the economy, and building a new southern gateway to the Kentucky Bourbon Trail. We are looking to connect with the nearly 5 million visitors on the lake who come to enjoy this beautiful place with us.
“If there is one thing, we’ve learned in our time with Special Forces it’s that no one can do it alone. It takes a dedicated passionate team to do the things we imagine and to help us build a dream bigger than any dream we’ve ever had we are going to need you. We’ve handpicked a world-class team… we searched the world for the people that could help us dream but we are going to build it locally. That was just the right thing to do.”
Horse Soldier Farm Team is Made Up of Partners from Kentucky and All Over the World
Horse Soldier Bourbon assembled a design team that offers collective experience in projects across the globe. Roger Stirk Harbour + Partners (RSHP), an international architectural practice based in London, has prior distillery experience designing the world-renowned Macallan Distillery in Scotland . The design team’s portfolio also includes The Jameson and Absolut brand-homes and guest experiences in Europe, along with construction expertise with Kentucky distilleries Woodford Reserve Distillery, Bulleit Bourbon Distillery, Angel’s Envy Distillery and Wild Turkey Distillery.
“It is an honor to be chosen to work with the Horse Soldier Bourbon creators and partners to assist them in realizing their vision for Horse Soldier Farms,” said Senior Partner and Lead Architect of Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners Graham Stirk. “This will mark a new and exciting event within the Kentucky Bourbon Trail. We’ve begun to thread the Horse Soldier story into the wider landscape narrative and the emerging distillery design. This essentially will contain important symbolic features fundamental to what will be become the Horse Soldier Farm experience. We are encouraged and excited by Horse Soldier’s ambition to create an environmentally conscious bourbon facility, that will propel our team, Horse Soldier, and the bourbon industry into a new era of climate-conscious spirit production.”
In addition to RSHP, team members include California’s BRC Imagination Arts (experiential design); Kentucky firms EOP (architecture), VITOK (engineering), Brown + Kubican (structural engineering), CRM Companies (facilities management), D.W. Wilburn Inc. (construction) and Carman (landscape); as well as national firm CMTA (building science engineering).
“People come from all around the world to experience the sights, sounds, and tastes of the Kentucky Bourbon Trail,” said BRC Imagination Arts Chief Creative Officer Christian Lachel. “It is our profound honor to help the Horse Soldier Bourbon team add to that rich story and give whiskey fans and families an experience they will never forget. The plans we have in place are breathtaking and will stretch the boundaries of what people believe is possible.”
Values Built on Inclusion, Charity, Kindness, and Humility
“We intend to be here for a long time to create a distillery that will give more back than we’ll ever take,” commented Koko. “For the betterment of our community and the world we share together. As you saw in the video, we are daring ourselves and our team to dream big. Dream boldly, I want you to dream with us. We stand on the shoulders of pioneers, entrepreneurs, explorers, warriors who built this great nation. Our national DNA is deeply rooted in the pursuit of exceptional. Those who came before the challenge never settled for second best and strive to live to inspire others. And when we say legendary, it’s about the common person doing their best every day. It has very little to do with a medal.
“We all know in this fast-paced world there are demands on us. And sometimes we forget the values that animate the American dream amid the hustle of living. And those are inclusion, charity, kindness, and I hope humility. I want everyone to slow down a little bit and remember those values.
“We know that anything is possible if we do it together… I want to thank you; God bless you and God bless America.”
Horse Soldier Bourbon is a member of the Foley Family of Wines (FFW) portfolio. FFW President Shawn Schiffer said Horse Soldier’s authenticity shines through its story and the quality of its product, making it unlike any other bourbon brand in the industry.
“Horse Soldier Bourbon has solidified its place in American history and on shelves across the country through its civic contributions and its award-winning craft, both of which are equally impressive,” Schiffer said. “We have no doubt Horse Soldier Farms, and the Somerset community will be a can’t miss stop on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail tour, and we couldn’t be more proud to support this company as a top brand in the Foley Family brand portfolio.”
Horse Soldier Farms Puts Pulaski County on the Map
Congressman Hal Rogers, Kentucky’s longest serving member of Congress commented, “I’m telling you this is something. I’m reminded of the former hit that Eddie Arnold sang called, “Welcome to the World.” And we can say that here today, on this occasion. This is a big day for Somerset-Pulaski County but also for the whole region of Lake Cumberland, and the rest of our wonderful state and country. This puts Pulaski County on the map… This is a great day.”
Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear added, “It is an honor to be here today as we join the Somerset community and welcoming Horse Soldier Bourbon to Kentucky.
“It is truly and exciting time. And it’s one where we’re reminded today that the most important things in life aren’t red or blue, they’re not democrat or republican, they’re just good for our families and in this instance, they are brown and delicious. We appreciate you for your product.
“But we know that this business is so much more. It speaks to values that are so fundamental. It speaks to what it is being an American. And to be able to see these amazing individuals transition from the battlefield to being amazing business leaders. And investing right here is pretty special. It shows we are going to have an example of a way to truly live your lives for other people. First in serving your country and protecting our interest across the globe and then creating jobs. Creating investment. Creating hope and investing in our communities. It is really special. So, after 20 years the Horse Soldier team has returned to the Commonwealth to join our legendary bourbon industry. Bringing new jobs, award winning bourbon and tourism…”
How Did Somerset Land a $200 Million Distillery Project?
Somerset’s Mayor Alan Keck was elected in November 2018. One of the things he pitched during his campaign was to dream big for his hometown community. Part of that dream was to land a distillery in Somerset-Pulaski County. While many thought his idea was a pipe dream, Keck persevered. And his efforts paid off. Not only did he land a distillery, but he landed the largest single distillery project in the state. That is one of the reasons why Mayor Keck has been selected by the Kentucky League of Cities (KLC) as the 2021 City Elected Official of the Year, a statewide honor that recognizes city officials who take creative and dynamic approaches in their communities.
Somerset Mayor Alan Keck shared part of his story on how he landed Horse Soldier Bourbon.
“I’d like to share a little bit about the genesis of how Horse Soldier arrived in this small town of Somerset, Kentucky,” said Keck. “Back up three years ago plus a month and its September and for the first time I announce in a video, I was campaigning for this office, that I would like to bring a bourbon distillery to Somerset and Pulaski County. Many criticized that and said it wasn’t really good politics, but we did it anyway. And I felt that there could be a marriage that would be so beautiful between the tourism that’s been discussed, our southern shorelines of Lake Cumberland, that we are so proud of, and this booming industry of bourbon that brought people together in a unique way.
“We felt that we could light up our community with art, with music, and with this marriage. So, after I was fortunate to win the election, we set off on a way to promote Lake Cumberland that had never been done before. We called it our Bourbon Pitch Video. We sent it to anybody who would listen, many who would not. I got lots of pats on the head, ‘Good luck kid, that’ll be cute someday’. But we would email it, we would cold call. And we sent this video after hearing about American Freedom Distillery. A group of authentic warriors, a group of all American warriors, people that would build an award-winning brand. We heard about these folks and said ‘Wow, what perfect unity that would be in Somerset and Pulaski County.’ So, we sent them the video, little did I know, as earlier was referenced, that these men were training in the very river that we were promoting.
“Little did I know that as the journey would unfold that God would reveal many other moments and nuggets of synergy. That in fact we would become friends. And I’d like to tell you that the journey took us to Dallas, Texas, it took us multiple visits to Kentucky across the Commonwealth with these folks and finally it landed us to Ground Zero. Where these men have their monument. And they were launching their New York brand. A night I will never forget. We had plans; I was supposed to attend one of the events with the team. Mr. Koko called, and he said, ‘Mayor, cancel your plans.’ I said, ‘Well, your daughter expects me to be there.’ He said, ‘It doesn’t matter cancel your plans, you’re going to dinner Elizabeth and I tonight.’ Tiffany my wife was with us. I won’t forget it for two reasons, first because we opened the meal with prayer. And second because it was that night that he told me that, ‘We are coming home, and we are going to build our distillery in your hometown.’ And it’s something that I will always cherish.”
Somerset-Pulaski Economic Development Authority (SPEDA) is a city-county partnership that serves as an umbrella for workforce development, tourism, entrepreneurship, and industrial recruitment with the goal of elevating the function and visibility of economic development in the community.
Eric Gregory, President of the Kentucky Distillers’ Association, said the historic trade group is proud to welcome the Horse Soldier family to the commonwealth and thanked them for their service to our country, impressive investment and visionary tourism plans.
“With this endeavor, the team at Horse Soldier brings a bold sense of adventure and an all-American dedication to preserving Kentucky’s legacy as the one true and authentic home for Bourbon,” said Gregory. “We’re honored that they chose our beloved Bluegrass as their home, and we look forward to adding them to the Kentucky Distillers’ Association’s world-famous Kentucky Bourbon Trail experience.”
Renderings of Horse Soldier Bourbon’s ‘Horse Soldier Farms’
Click any image to enlarge.