Bluegrass Distillers - Owners Nathan Brown, Ben Franzini and Sam Rock Announce $3 Million Expansion

Bluegrass Distillers a grain to glass craft distillery in Lexington, Kentucky has announced a major investment and expansion of their business. Founded in 2013 the distillery is owned by Sam Rock, Nathan Brown, and Ben Franzini. The trio has been working on finding a new location to expand their current 4,000 square foot operation and create a true craft distillery destination. After an exhaustive three search they just signed on the dotted line for a new home for their distillery.

The 61 Acre Elkwood Farm and Mansion Built Circa 1835

The distillery will be moving about a dozen miles away from its current home to a 61 acre farm in Midway, Woodford County, Kentucky. The new location is conveniently located just off of Interstate 64 on the corner of Leestown Road and Georgetown Road. It’s an easy on and off location for bourbon fans as it sits a dozen miles or less from Barrel House Distillery, Buffalo Trace Distillery, Castle & Key Distillery, Glenns Creek Distilling, James E. Pepper Distillery, Town Branch Distillery, Wild Turkey Distillery and Woodford Reserve Distillery.

Bluegrass Distillers - The Elkwood Mansion, Front of House Bluegrass Distillers - The Elkwood Mansion, Front of House Rendering

We reached out to Bluegrass Distillers and spoke with Nathan Brown to get some background on the early days of the business and insight on this exciting new project.

“We started distilling in our current location in Lexington in 2013,” said Bluegrass Distillers Co-Owner Nathan Brown. “We are currently in about 4,000 square feet of space on the backside of a craft brewery. For the last few years we’ve been looking for the right spot to move, to have a true destination. We’ve been looking for a place where we can have our own distillery and grow our own crops. From the beginning we haven’t bought any bourbon and re-bottled it. Everything we have available for sale we’ve made ourselves from start to finish. We’ve just been looking for the right spot and the city of Midway and Woodford County has been recruiting us for the last few years so we’ve been looking far and wide for the right space and we finally found the right spot.

“It was a long arduous journey to get to the point where we could strike the right deal and the farm that we bought and the historic property that we bought and we couldn’t be more happy. It’s a really great farm, the whole property has a rich history in distilling. It has road frontage on I-64 so anyone that is looking to come to Kentucky to do a true distillery tour of a small craft farm distillery we think we can be a great option for that. And we are hoping to create a synergistic agri-tourism destination with the city of Midway which has been an amazing blessing to be so welcomed, wanted and supported through the whole process. We are really excited about the synergy of the place to bring your family, a place whether you like bourbon or spirits it will be a place for everyone to come have a great experience and spend time on a beautiful piece of Kentucky land with rich history to see how a distillery functions from start to finish.”

The Elkwood Mansion is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Here is an excerpt of how the documents describe the home.

“The main house at Elkwood is an impressive, five-bay, two-story, double pile, brick masonry, center passage residence with hip roof and limestone foundation built circa 1835 and often attributed to noted Kentucky architect, Gideon Shryock (Kentucky’s first professional architect, known for his work in the Greek Revival style)… Although the exterior of Elkwood strongly resembles these Federal period homes, the interior woodwork design suggests an early Greek Revival influence. The front facade is built of Flemish bond with Queens closers, and is divided into five regular recessed bays by four brick wall piers that are joined by a wood eave/cornice… The roof is pierced with four chimneys that project slightly from the exterior wall plane and have corbelled caps.” See photos below.

One of Shryock’s most famous buildings is Kentucky’s Old State Capital in Frankfort. In 1824 Kentucky’s state house burned down. In 1827 the state legislature chose Gideon Shryock to design a new state capital. The building still stands today and is known as the Old State Capital.

“The Elkwood Mansion will be the tasting room and starting place for tours. It will have a small museum of sorts for Woodford County, Kentucky bourbon and the property. Right there we’ll be able to show people how our blue corn is grown and then the distillery itself will be about 50 yards away from the Mansion. There are two massive barns that are 100 years old that we’ll be retrofitting to be event venues for weddings and things like that. There is also an 8,000 square foot barn that we are going to be converting into a pavilion of sorts for a farmers market and equine events. We are also going to have on the West side of the property a pretty substantial area a place where we can host Polo matches on down to children’s pony rides. We are really excited about the versatility the property affords with agritourism and the Kentucky experience.”

A $3.9 Million Investment – Going from 1/2 to 20+ Barrels Per Day

Bluegrass Distillers are making a big move from rented space in the back of a brewery to a large scale craft distillery with multiple stills. The new distillery plan has been approved by the Kentucky Economic Development Finance Authority for a $3,100,000 investment and related tax incentives. The funds break down into $1,400,000 for land, $976,000 for building construction, $689,000 for equipment and $35,000 for startup costs.

Bluegrass Distillers - Owners Nathan Brown, Ben Franzini and Sam Rock
Bluegrass Distillers owners Nathan Brown, Ben Franzini and Sam Rock (L to R).

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The new location will include an expanded distillery, barrel warehouses, tasting room, visitor center, restaurant and event space. The new production space is designed to facilitate contract distilling and a bottling operation. Today’s operation is run on a 250 gallon Hoga copper pot still. The new distillery will get an upgrade to a new 500 gallon copper pot still by the company that makes the Hoga stills plus a 24 inch diameter by 50 foot tall copper column still. This will increase production capacity from a little less than one barrel a day to approximately 20 barrels per 8 hour shift with the ability to add multiple shifts in the future.

Brown added, “It will be a substantial increase in terms of our scale but we’ll never lose sight of where we came from where we learned to make bourbon from scratch.”

Bluegrass Distillers has always distilled their own products from day one. One of the unique things about Bluegrass Distillers is their use of an heirloom blue corn to make their bourbon whiskey mash. Their new property will allow them space to grow 40-45 acres of their own blue and yellow corn for a true farm to glass distilling process.

The grounds will include a new one-story barrel warehouse that will be able to hold approximately 10,000 53 gallons barrels. The grounds will also have space for the construction of future barrel warehouses.

“We are thrilled to be moving our operations to Elkwood Farm in Midway, Kentucky,” added Woodford County native Sam Rock. “We have been looking in Midway for over three years, and at this particular location for most of that time. So it was the date we always wanted. The layout of the farm and the history of the structures make for a perfect venue to demonstrate grain to glass bourbon production. We can now grow blue corn on our own land, and will have spent grains for local farmers.”

“Midway has a rich distilling tradition and the town has been extremely gracious and welcoming,” said Franzini. “The Midway Mayor and Economic Development Authority have been with us every step of the way and we could not have pulled it together without their help. We could not ask for a better location or town to build our future.”

Following construction and renovations, distilling operations will begin and the grounds will open for visitor tours as well as family-friendly, community events and concerts in the summer of 2021.

Bluegrass Distillers say they are a community-focused business and regularly give back through their Philanthropy Barrel Program. In 2020, the company raised and donated over $45,000 to local nonprofits through the Philanthropy Barrel Program.

Once the new distillery is established Brown said, “We also are going to offer small community garden lots for people to have small gardens in the spring and summer on the farm. We’ll also have family friendly fire pit areas for people to come and hang out and enjoy the beautiful piece of property.” Sounds like something to put on the Bourbon bucket list!

Photos of the Historic Elkwood Mansion & Farm

Click any image to enlarge.

Elkwood home and aerial photos courtesy of Matt Huber.  

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