The name Samuels meanders through American distilling history and lore beginning in the late 1700s. The first commercial distillery with the family’s name on it was built in the mid-1800s by Taylor Williams Samuels under the name T.W. Samuels Distillery. That distillery operated in Nelson County, Kentucky until, like nearly all distilleries of the day, it ceased operation because of Prohibition and was eventually dismantled for salvage.
Immediately following Prohibition the family started building the new T.W. Samuels Distillery about half a mile from the original location in Deatsville, Kentucky. It made its first drop of whiskey on April 28, 1934. The distillery continued to make bourbon whiskey but changed hands a few times and eventually discontinued distilling operations in 1952 as their brown spirits fell out of favor.
UPDATE: Sept 2021 – The Old Samuels Distillery has been renamed Old SteelHouse Distillery.
T.W. Samuels Distillery to Come Back to Life as ‘Old Samuels Distillery’
Today, the Nelson County Economic Development Agency has announced that Rick Puig a Georgia-based property developer and builder has announced plans to create an historic bourbon tourism experience at the shuttered T.W. Samuels Distillery. The revived destination that sits on approximately 45 acres will be called the Old Samuels Distillery in Deatsville, Kentucky. Unlike many Kentucky distillery revivals this one will start with an eye on tourism to compliment and accommodate distillery tourism with distilling to come at a future time.
The project is expected to unfold in phases, beginning with an intimate tour of the premises’ historic structures, followed by a retail gift shop. Around four-dozen private cottages will be available for overnight accommodations, and guests will find locally inspired food and drink at its restaurant, bar and tasting room. The multifaceted experience will serve the relaxation and tourism needs of everyone from individuals to groups hosting corporate parties and private events such as weddings.
Puig is well versed in this type of operation as he oversees the Sugarboo Farms destination in Blairsville, Georgia. Sugarboo Farms is a camping resort and organic farm situated on 19 acres in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Georgia. The location is known for specializes in hosting groups for corporate retreats, small events, club gatherings, birthday parties, weddings, reunions, and as an ideal place for a weekend retreat. This sounds like a wonderful compliment for the 1 million plus visitors that traverse in the Kentucky Bourbon Trail throughout the year.
Ready to Begin Historical Tours by the End of Summer 2020
“The historic significance of the property is so incredible, and to be able to be a part of its rebirth is an honor for me and my partners,” said Puig, who hopes to open for restoration tours as early as the end of summer 2020. “It is with that honor and gratitude that we hope to make the community proud of how we bring this historic relic back to life. Our goal is to create an amazing and wholly unique experience for Kentucky bourbon tourism.”
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Though the site hasn’t made whiskey in nearly 70 years the plant was used to bottle water for several decades afterward using the same Samuels limestone spring water that was used to make whiskey back in the day. Bourbon fans that have traveled a bit off the beaten path may have noticed some of the original Samuels bourbon aging warehouses along the way. They are one of a kind rickhouses that feature a gabled roof that was designed just for the T.W. Samuels Distillery. Those warehouse still hold bourbon whiskey today. The more than 170,000 gallon of bourbon whiskey in under those gables are owned by Heaven Hill Distillery and Maker’s Mark Distillery. Visitors to the new project will surely be able to smell the aging whiskey across the street as they walk around the grounds.
“One of many things will make touring Old Samuels so amazing is how much of what was used to make whiskey back then still remains,” Puig stated. “The first time we came here, the lab, where grain and new make and whiskey were analyzed for quality, we found beakers, test tubes and electronic devices from that time just left in place as if workers would return the next day. It’s this incredible snapshot in time, and that’s only part of what visitors will see.”
The distillery’s original coal operated powerplant, which generated steam energy and electricity, remains completely intact, as do its many of the 10,500 gallon steel outdoor fermentation tanks. The facility sits beside the Deatsville train depot, where Puig hopes future tourists will disembark from rail cars for tours to explore the site. The train depot played an important role in distilling back in the 30s as a source for coal and grain delivery. It also played an important role for shipping the finished bottled bourbon off the property and out to the world. Today there is a dinner train that starts in Bardstown and runs on these same tracks today.
Puig’s partnership team includes Ryan Mollenkopf, Paul Diorio and Laura Medley, all of whom bring a diverse array of skills and capital to the venture. Their collective investment is expected to approach $16 million. The Kentucky Tourism Development Finance Authority’s greenlighting of the project in mid-July helped clear the way for future tax incentives that could see the group recoup as much as 85 percent of its capital investment over time.
The Game is Changing in Bardstown and Nelson County
“Old Samuels Distilling will be much more than another new attraction in Bourbon Country,” said Kim Huston, President of the Nelson County Economic Development Agency. “This will be a destination with wholly unique lodging and event space that visitors really want. Having a restaurant and bar to compliment a museum showcasing the history of one of the original and authentic distillery sites in the U.S.—that’s what excites me and this community about its opening.
“This is going to be a great place to start the Kentucky Bourbon Trail here in Bardstown. There’s nothing like this destination here and it’s something that our visitors have asked for. If he had this up right now it would be full. People are wanting these types of experiences that have a lot of outdoor activities rather than a 300 room hotel. It feels a little bit smaller and safer. The Old Samuels Distillery will be totally different on the Bourbon Trail. We are adding something new and if you have been here before and think you don’t need to come back you do need to come back because this will be something that will be different for our visitors and our guests.
“The game is changing in Bardstown. We are finally becoming a place to eat and drink and we are open after 5 o’clock.”
The T.W. Samuels Distillery was designated as a National Historic Site in 1988.
Learn more about Old Samuels Distillery.
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