Heaven Hill Distillery has been an industry leader when it comes to distillery visitor center experiences for nearly two decades. The company opened the Heaven Hill Heritage Center in Bardstown, Kentucky back in 2004. That was just five years after the Kentucky Distillers’ Association along with its half a dozen members created the now world famous Kentucky Bourbon Trail. Back then distillery tours were generally free and included a free sampling of what today we might consider hard to find bourbons. Take a look at this quote from a 2007 article in the New York Times.
“Saturday was devoted to touring distilleries, tracing a bourbon trail that several readers had enthusiastically endorsed. The first was Heaven Hill Distilleries Bourbon Heritage Center which offers free tours of a seven-story warehouse, where rack upon rack of barrels perfume the air with a luscious scent known as the “angels’ share.” The highlight, of course, was the tasting, held in a domed, light-filled room. We sampled two single-barrel bourbons, including a rich 18-year Elijah Craig.”
Matt Gross, NY Times, June 2007
In addition to its Bardstown location Heaven Hill was also the first distillery since Prohibition to build a fully functioning distillery and immersive tourist destination on Whiskey Row on Louisville’s Main Street in 2013. Bourbon fans will know that destination as the Evan Williams Bourbon Experience. You can’t miss it as you drive through town and see a five story pour of bourbon falling from above into a 1,500 gallon rocks glass.
Though the days of free samples of 18 Year Old Elijah Craig bourbon may be history that doesn’t mean there aren’t plenty of other great surprises for visitors to discover.
Heaven Hill Cuts the Ribbon for the Grand Opening of its New $19 Million Visitor Center Expansion
In 2018 Heaven Hill announced a multi-year $125 million expansion and renovation of its operations and visitor center. $106 million of that included whiskey production expansion including new barrel warehousing, bottling line and equipment upgrades and distillery enhancements. The additional $19 million included the expansion and state-of-the-art renovation of its visitor center making it an interactive, educational space offering signature exhibits unique to the Bardstown tourist destination. Part of that renovation includes the renaming this location from the Heaven Hill Bourbon Heritage Center to the Heaven Hill Bourbon Experience. Anyone that has ever had to name anything will appreciate the fact that its urban distillery in Louisville and its larger Bardstown location now have complimentary names.
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The grand opening and ribbon cutting ceremony took place on National Bourbon Day and was hosted by Heaven Hill President Max L. Shapira and Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear.
“Let me say a few words about this new Heaven Hill Bourbon Experience,” declared Max Shapira. “This all started about two decades ago when my cousin Harry Shapira, who passed away, had the vision to create a site in which to engage visitors and tell the story of bourbon and Heaven Hill to visitors from all around the country. This finally culminated in 2004 with the opening of the Bourbon Heritage Center. Today, we find ourselves in the midst of a continual robust expansion that has occurred over the last two decades and which appears to be on the cusp of even more growth not only around the United States but around the world.
“Our family has been involved in this iconic business since the very early part of the modern inception in 1935, now some 85 years ago. That was when my dad and his brothers in the middle of the great depression with no production facility, no inventory, no brands, no knowledge of how to operate a distillery, made a very speculative investment in what was a struggling and fledgling enterprise.
“Fast forwarding, it’s been a long time since those early days with numerous starts and stops along the way. But I know how genuinely proud they would be of what we have been presenting today. I’m actually so sure that they would be so interested in having their faces on a new brand called Five Brothers. But actually deep down inside I think they would understand knowing the path that they went on to establish a platform for a company that has contributed so much to this great industry.
“Since breaking ground on the renovation and expansion in 2018 our company, industry and community have all been tested in ways that we never had anticipated. Today we honor those values of patience and perseverance as we turn the page to the next chapter of Heaven Hill’s story and officially welcome you to our new visitor center.”
The new Heaven Hill Bourbon Experience triples the previous footprint with more than 30,000 square feet, capable of welcoming over 900 whiskey enthusiasts or newcomers at any given time to witness history brought to life.
Breaking ground in November 2018 in partnership with Solid Light and Abel Construction, Heaven Hill first unveiled the renovation phase of the new experience in November 2019 featuring three beautiful tasting rooms, each representing a pivotal Heaven Hill brand or story. Positioned around a larger-than-life barrel, the iconic tasting rooms overlook Heaven Hill’s main campus of rickhouses for spectacular views of Bourbon country. Prior to completing their designated tours, guests will join their bourbon host in the barrel for a wide-screen video about how barrels are made and their importance to the bourbon production process.
Heaven Hill Introduces a New Whiskey – Five Brothers Small Batch Bourbon
As a part of the days festivities and announcements Heaven Hill introduced a new bourbon celebrating the history of the brand and its founders.
“We honor the vision held by my father and his four brothers, celebrating the people who built the foundation upon which we stand today,” said Shapira.
He then introduced Five Brothers Bourbon, a small batch blending of five ages of Bourbon ranging from five- to nine-years-old, paying homage to the courage, dedication and solidarity of the five Shapira brothers who started it all in 1935. The new bourbon is available at the visitor center and select Kentucky retailers.
After introducing the new bourbon Shapira then introduced Kentucky’s Governor.
In a shout-out to history and family legacy’s Shapira called out the fact that Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear is the second Beshear to attend a Heaven Hill grand opening as Steve Beshear, Andy’s father served as the 61st governor of Kentucky from 2007 to 2015.
“Gov. Beshear, thank you for being here today I know how busy you are and to take time out of your busy schedule is most sincerely appreciated. Now, you should know though, that you are not the first Gov. Beshear to actually dedicate a facility for us. Your dad did this about a decade ago, in fact, a picture that we have of that dedication is in this visitor center.”
Beshear jumps in and quips, “But this one is bigger right?” to cheers from the crowd. “This one is quite a bit bigger,” replied Shapira to more applause.
“I am thrilled to be here today to speak with you and cut the ribbon on Heaven Hill’s stunning new visitor center, the Heaven Hill Bourbon Experience,” said Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear.
“I am proud to be in the heart of bourbon country to proclaim today National Kentucky Bourbon Day and I am thrilled to be here to congratulate the Shapira family and the Heaven Hill team on another successful project investing millions in Kentucky and our people. As we emerge from this pandemic with our economy booming, or as Moody’s like to say ‘With gusto’, we are announcing more jobs and investment in the commonwealth every week, and the bourbon industry is no exception. This state-of-the-art visitor center will give people one more great reason to visit Kentucky to see what an amazing community that this is and to encourage them to not just to visit but to come on down and locate their business right here. The Kentucky Bourbon Trail has never been stronger and just looking around today shows where we are going.”
The Toast for the Official Ribbon Cutting
“It’s a bourbon event and now it’s time for a toast,” said Shapira. “Today we celebrate an industry built upon family and legends. A company built on patience and perseverance and Kentucky bourbon. Made with quality, made with heritage, all interwoven at each step of the process. Today we toast to welcoming American Whiskey fans back to the Commonwealth of Kentucky and to the new Heaven Hill Bourbon Experience. Cheers!”
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What to Expect When You Visit the Heaven Hill Bourbon Experience
The innovative exhibits at the Heaven Hill Bourbon Experience offer an in-depth perspective told as a multi-sensory showcase of stories that weave the key turning points in history that brought to bear the legendary brands on the market today.
- “You Do Bourbon” – This immersive space invites guests into a classroom style tasting room where a host will guide them through a tasting of unique products. To commemorate their visit, they will have the opportunity to bottle their favorite Bourbon or whiskey from their tasting through the custom-designed filling machines, apply the label and personalize it in the adjacent Bottling Room. Finally, guests will experience a day in the life of a quality technician in the You Do Bourbon lab. Quality technicians ensure the consistency, quality, and integrity of all Heaven Hill products. Step into their shoes, inspecting through microscopes, gauging the proof of whiskey, and testing your sense of smell at the nosing station. At any given time, there will be three to four mashbills available to choose from: Heaven Hill Bourbon, Heaven Hill Wheat Whiskey, Heaven Hill Wheated Bourbon, and a fourth option on rotation. Guests will be able to select a commemorative mashbill and label in honor of the grand opening while supplies last.
- 1935 Distillery Theater – The theater invites up to 40 guests to experience an immersive 11-minute show put on display by seven custom screens that fly in and out using DMX technology at various moments throughout the story of the Shapira family and Heaven Hill Distillery. The high-speed roll down system is equipped with vinyl mesh so the theatrical lighting system can bring the full show to life with special effects lights and custom panel lights designed to look like the windows of the original 1935 Distillery. The projection system consists of three Panasonic projectors that showcase a seamless display just shy of a true 4K resolution. With the addition of 5.1 surround sound audio, the visitor is truly immersed into the story of Heaven Hill.
- The Family Gallery – Visitor can walk through the gallery which details important people behind Heaven Hill’s rise within distilled spirits. Visitors will enter three new self-guided, interactive exhibition spaces dedicated to integral players and movements within American Whiskey:
- The Elijah Craig exhibit immediately immerses guests in a charred barrel, the “Father of Bourbon’s” claim to fame. Walls made of charred oak, curved in a barrel shape, enclose a fabricated ring of fire where guests can learn how the char on the inside of a barrel affects the aging process and flavor development of a whiskey and understand the nuances of each product in the Elijah Craig family.
- The Larceny space takes guests behind lock and key into Treasury Agent John E. Fitzgerald’s room where he kept the registry comprised of his “Fitzgerald” barrels. Guests are invited to learn how to properly thieve whiskey from a barrel, interact with talking decanters detailing Fitzgerald’s ability to choose only the best barrels, and understand the key differences between Wheated Bourbon, like Larceny, and Rye Bourbon.
- The Bottled-in-Bond exhibit showcases Heaven Hill Distillery’s leading portfolio of bonded products, the most available on the market today. The Bottled-in-Bond Act of 1897 was an important turning point in the history of Bourbon as exacting standards set forth offered consumers a guarantee of quality and transparency. Today, this designation continues to offer those same guarantees, which guests will take a deep dive into through the exhibit.
- The new Five Brothers Bar & Kitchen located on the second floor boasts an upscale, approximately 25-foot bar fully equipped to serve craft cocktails and Bourbon tastings, a lounge area and dining space for the soon-to-be-opened restaurant. Guests can also take their cocktails to the rooftop area connected to the lounge space to enjoy views of Heaven Hill’s rickhouses. Tucked in the corner of the lounge is the unicorn case, where rare, historic bottles seldom available today and other Kentucky Bourbon artifacts will be on display. Just off the bar, the Generation Loft is the space perfect for corporate meetings, intimate dinners, and small celebrations.
- Guests are welcomed onto the Heaven Hill campus by several rickhouses, filled with up to 52,000 barrels each. The exterior of the new visitor center showcases a replica of how the distillery looked in 1935, an authentic, vintage barrel truck representative of what the Shapira brothers may have driven in the 1940s, and an updated sign celebrating the new name. The newest rickhouse on site features a bird’s eye view into the resting barrels with a glass window corner spanning the seven floors and new Heaven Hill sign. The new rickhouse will host single barrel selections and accommodate future tours soon to be launched at Heaven Hill Bourbon Experience.
Heaven Hill Distillery maintains over 1.8 million barrels aging in 63 warehouses throughout Nelson and Jefferson Counties. It is home to an award-winning collection of American Whiskeys including Elijah Craig Bourbon, Larceny Bourbon, Evan Williams Bourbon, Pikesville Rye Whiskey, Rittenhouse Rye Whisky, Parker’s Heritage Collection, and Old Fitzgerald along with its extensive Bottled-in-Bond label collection.
The Heaven Hill Bourbon Experience is consistently ranked as one of the top tours in the Bardstown, Kentucky area. This Kentucky Bourbon Trail stop draws more than 60,000 visitors per year and is now officially open to the public.
Learn more about Heaven Hill Bourbon Experience.
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Learn more about Evan Williams Bourbon Experience.
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View all Kentucky Distilleries.