Log Still Distillery - Ground Breaking August 18, 2020 at the old J.W. Dant Distillery

The Dant family has been a part of distilling lore since the early 1800s. Family history has it that when J.W. Dant first started distilling he could not afford the copper necessary to build a still. That did not deter the young frontiersman as he constructed his first still out of a hollowed-out log with a copper pipe running up the middle of the still, a process often referred to as a log still distilling. As he perfected his craft and the popularity of his bourbon whiskey grew he was able to not only purchase a proper still but Joseph Washington Dant founded the first Dant family distillery in 1836.

Seven generations later the distillery and legacy that went dark in 1961 is now steaming back to life with a familiar name at the helm.

It was a beautiful sunny day on National Bourbon Day on June 14, 2019 when J.W. ‘Wally’ Dant III stepped up to the podium to announce he had purchased the long defunct Dant & Head Distillery that was most recently called the Gethsemane Distillery, a location that has not produced a (legal) drop of whiskey in nearly 60 years. About the only thing left today that resembles a distillery are rusted out rings of fermentation tanks that sit next to a long ago abandoned railroad track. The remnants of the distillery and one-time train depot are well guarded by about six feet of poison ivy on all sides.

Restarting the Family Distillery 184 Years Later

Last June Dant announced he was investing $12 million into the distillery project. Like many of these old distillery restarts plans change along the way and generally that means the investment only goes one way and that’s up. In this case the investment has gone up about 2x. What was originally about a dozen acres that encompassed the distillery area soon expanded as the surrounding property including 18 tracts and 460 acres went up for auction. By the end of the auction and a few horse trades later the distillery now sits on about 325 contiguous acres including what will be about a 12 acre spring fed lake.

Picking up where his Great-great-great-grandfather left off Wally Dant has named his startup Log Still Distillery in homage to the method that got it all started. (Click any image to enlarge.)

Log Still Distillery - The Original Head and Dant Distillery along the Railroad Tracks Panoramic
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Ruins of the Dant & Head Distillery along the railroad tracks.

Log Still Distillery Officially Breaks Ground

Construction is well under way and Wally Dant’s dream of restarting the family business is becoming a reality. The distillery officially celebrated a public groundbreaking on August 18 and the transformation to a world class distillery destination is well under way.

Log Still Distillery - Ground Breaking August 18, 2020
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Donald Blincoe – President of Buzick Construction, Dick Heaton – Mayor of Bardstown, Thomas Blincoe – Board Chairman of Buzick Construction, Tessie Cecil – Mayor of New Haven, John Dant Architect – Dean and Dean Associates/ Architects, Charles Dant – Vice President of Operations/Distiller, J.W. “Wally” Dant – President/Distiller, Lynne Dant – Chief Operating Officer/Distiller, Kim Huston – President of Nelson County Economic Development, Keith Metcalfe – District 1 Magistrate(L to R).

If you have ever done a major renovation project you know that things don’t always go as planned. This project is no exception. The original idea was to keep and renovate the Quonset huts that Schenley Distillers built in the 50s. The plan was to raise the roof to accommodate modern day fermentation tanks, a beer well and an 18″ column still. With the 1950 schematic drawings in hand they had a plan. They knew where everything was above ground but it turns out they had no drawings to let them know where power, water and waste lines were buried under the concrete. The decision was made to shift from raising the roof to razing the entire building. Time to start with a clean slate.

“As we…take out all the old foundation we’ll use it to build a road. The road that will take visitors to the amphitheater and the rickhouses. All of this foundation will be utilized for this road which will be called the Dant-Head Road after the old distillery.”

The one big thing that remains is the 135,000 gallon landmark water tower that was built in the 1930s. The tower can be seen from miles around. As I was wandering through the countryside the water tower was the telltale sign to let me know I was on the path to finding the distillery. It’s a great landmark. 

We recently got to spend a ‘Day on the Trail’ with Wally Dant and quickly learned that the dude with the salt and pepper hair that looks like you might find him on a beach in LA is totally at home in New Haven, Kentucky. In fact Dant is literally back home as the house that his father grew up in sits on this 325 acre plot of land.

“My dad was raised in the house on this property,” explained Dant. “My mom was from New Hope down the road. For me, coming back here and this whole thing just kind of happened and my grandfather worked at the distillery. It was just one of those things where you just feel the hand of folks that have gone before you on your back that day and it was one of those feelings. It was something else.”

02a Log Still Distillery - Water Tower, Dant Family Owned Log Still Distillery 2
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02a Log Still Distillery - Water Tower, J.W. Dant Distillery
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135,000 gallon water tower. Drag the arrows to the see the after and before renovation results.
Log Still Distillery - 10 Acre Lake, Panorama
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Log Still Distillery 10 acre lake. Once the dam is blocked the six springs will fill this lake.

What is Planned for the Log Still Distillery Campus?

Everyone approaches a new or reborn distillery in different ways. In Dant’s case he really hopes to give back and make a difference in this community. Yes, he’s definitely building a distillery and selling spirits but he’s also building a destination to introduce this small town to the world and to give back to the community that gave so much to his family over the last 100+ years.

“We are doing this in phases. The first phase is getting the tasting room up including the amphitheater and train depot because we want that to go together to create a destination. The 12 acre lake should be done at the same time. From a walking trail perspective people can walk, bring their family out. We are trying to make it really family friendly. While I want people to come out and taste and buy, I’m not creating this whole thing just for older adults. If you want to bring your family out here, come out here by train, something that not a whole lot of people can say they have a working distillery at the end of the train line.

“Visitors can come out, have a good meal, walk around and fish in the lake. J.W. Dant had 10 kids. For every bench that we’ll have out here we’ll have a bench dedicated to each one of the kids. For each of the kids, we’ll have information about the family tree as far as we can go. And there are a lot of people related around here. And we’ll see how many degrees of separation we’ll have from the Dant family. That will kind of be the theme of the lake.”

Another way that Dant is keeping it all in the family is by using Dean and Dean Associates/Architects where Wally’s cousin John M. Dant is the architect on the project. You can see the firms work in all of the renderings.

The plan is to get the new 4,000 square foot tasting room with a small still up and running sometime around Christmas of this year. The tasting room will be home to a 50 gallon Vendome Copper & Brass Works hybrid still and a lineup of Log Still branded products distilled by some of their distilling partners. Dant said they’ve actually been distilling bourbon at another Kentucky distillery with their own recipe for just over a year now. The plan is to keep that aging until it hits the four-year mark. That said they will have distilled spirits for sale for visitors from day one. There will also be an amphitheater here for outdoor entertainment.

“We are working right now with a Kentucky distillery and they are making our bourbon with our mash bill and yeast. Three years from now we’ll have distillate that will be ready to go into a bottle – that will be a bottled-in-bond bourbon whiskey. We’ll also source between now and then with some Kentucky bourbon or some Tennessee whiskies. When our tasting room is open we’ll have some aged product for sale when it opens. And we’ll tell everybody it’s sourced but it will be our brand.”

Oh and let’s not forget there will be a train depot. This may very well be the only distillery in the nation that can boast its own active train station. Guests will eventually be able to make their way from Boston (Kentucky) to New Haven to Gethsemane and Log Still Distillery. I stopped in to the Kentucky Train Museum in New Haven, Kentucky while I was in the neighborhood and they are super excited to have the distillery as a new neighbor and destination. There is already talk of a dinner ride, cocktails, train robbery re-enactments, a Presidential car and lots more. Perhaps Thomas the Tank Engine will make a family friendly visit as well.

“We are going to put in two new rail lines to be able to provide for switching the engine back and forth from the front to the back,” said Dant. “That allows the engine to always be in a pull situation. We are working with the Kentucky Railway Museum on perhaps some overnight cars that could hook up to our depot, stay overnight in an old Presidential car. We want to create this different experience where you can take a 40 minute ride from Boston (Kentucky) on a train, get off be at the distillery depot.”

In addition to the distillery the family friendly campus will include the 12 acre lake with a walking path around the perimeter. There is a rental property that overlooks the lake and a five bedroom Bed & Breakfast that was built in the 1890s that was under renovation while we were there. Locally this is known as the “Bethany Springs” for the Sisters of Nazareth. Each bedroom will have its own private bath with several common areas where guests can enjoy a nice bourbon (and a cigar if you are outdoors) overlooking the lake. The B&B is expected to be accepting reservations for guests in November of this year.

350 Seat Entertainment Venue

The other thing that will help to make this distillery a year around destination is a 350-seat entertainment venue. It will be able to accommodate parties, corporate events, weddings and more. The venue will be anchored by the Pottinger family home that is also under renovation. This pre-Civil War home was completed in the 1840s using brick made on property and stone that was quarried on property. It is a replica of the same home made for Sam Pottinger a soldier in the Revolution War, who first saw this land in 1778 when he came from Maryland with the troops of Capt. James Harrod.

And since we like to connect the dots, Charles Dant who is the distillery’s VP of Operations and Distiller actually grew up in this home for many years. He always called it the Big House, so chances are the nickname for this house has already been picked. It’s in amazing condition for a house of this vintage.

Six Degrees of Separation

We shared the story of how Wally Dant felt the hand of folks that have gone before him surrounding this project. Here’s another story that just makes a you say, “Huh”.

When Wally Dant was working through the trials and tribulations of the auction process there was another man who was also interested in bidding on the land that now makes up Log Still Distillery. Here’s the story in Wally’s own words.

“As we were parting ways and exchanging phone numbers, I experienced one of those crazy made-for-tv-movie moments. The last four digits of John’s phone number matched mine, which also matched my parents’ home phone number. It really felt like a divine intervention telling me that I was on the right path. I walked out of there feeling like my dad and grandfather’s hands were on my shoulders saying this is what needs to happen.”

We’ll keep you posted as progress continues. 

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