It’s hard to believe but Wilderness Trail Distillery in Danville, Kentucky is celebrating its 10th anniversary. This young distillery is led by Co-Founders Shane Baker and Dr. Pat Heist. The two met in college and did what talented college students do, they started a band together. Their band may not be playing at the Super Bowl anytime soon but if there was a Super Bowl for whiskey they would certainly be in the playoffs.
When Baker and Heist started their distillery, they started on a 3-gallon pot still and eventually worked their way up to an electric 250-gallon Vendome Copper & Brass Works copper pot hybrid still. Producing one barrel required a 12-hour day. Their Bourbon was the first known sweet mash, bottled-in-bond wheated Bourbon made in the state since Prohibition.
The Maxima Years and the Road from 100 ml to 50 Gallons Per Minute Runs
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“In 2006, roughly six years before the official beginning of Wilderness Trail Distillery, our team of three – Pat, myself and my wife, Melissa — started up Ferm Solutions to offer yeast and technical services to the alcohol industry,” explained Baker.
“Pat and I traveled around the world, mostly in a 1997 Maxima, working with alcohol producers. Melissa was holding down the office and handling everything we threw at her. We grew our core team and Ferm Solutions thrived, providing a fresh take on real problem solving, new advanced products, and an unbelievable knowledge set on making high quality spirits. This ultimately led to us starting and self-funding our distillery journey.
“Guests in our Visitor Center in Danville can see the 3-gallon pot still, which is the first still with doubler I ran in the supply room at Ferm Solutions. While we worked on fine-tuning our recipes, everyone knew when it was running because the building filled with the smell of biscuits. I used (non-buttered) biscuits from a can as my pipe seal around the various connections on the little still to keep it from leaking. Amazingly, we went from that 100 mL run to three stills today flowing over 50 gallons a minute and nearly 5 million proof gallons per year.
“We did not have it easy in either of our businesses. There were times very early on that could have been the end of the ventures, but we problem-solved, built the best teams in the industry and kept forging ahead with complete confidence in ourselves.”
The Move to on the Edge of Town
Wilderness Trail eventually outgrew their downtown Danville location and in 2016 they purchased some land on the outskirts of town and turned a corn field into one of the most advanced distilleries in the U.S. Almost before the first 18” by 40’ tall copper column still and 250-gallon doubler was installed they started planning their next expansion. In 2017 that next still included a 36” wide by 40’ tall copper column and 500-gallon doubler.
Today, Wilderness Trail is producing 215 barrels of bourbon whiskey per day and are in the process of adding more fermentation tanks to expand production again.
Wilderness Trail Releasing Barrel No. 2 on December 8, 2023
To celebrate their 10-year anniversary Wilderness Trail Distillery has bottled a very special barrel, Barrel No. 2. Yes, this is the second barrel of whiskey that Wilderness Trail ever made.
The barreling of this special barrel coincides with of the 80th anniversary of the repeal of Prohibition. And now, 10 years later, the release commemorates the 90th anniversary of Repeal Day.
Bottles from barrel number two go on sale Friday, December 8 at 10am at the distillery. This flagship wheated bourbon’s mashbill is 64% corn, 24% wheat and 12% malted barley. The 10-year bourbon is Bottled-in-Bond at 100 proof and the bottle is housed in a rustic cedar box inspired by the smugglers’ crates of the Prohibition era. The cost of the bottle and cedar box engraved with Wilderness Trail is $280 plus tax. The barrel is expected to yield a stingy 115 bottles. Sales will be on a first-come, first-serve basis.
In addition to the 10-year barrel, the distillery will offer a 6-year expression of its high-rye Bourbon at 113 proof. Bottles will be $69.
A Toast to Everyone Along for The Ride
“We toast to the decade and celebrate our 10-year-old Wilderness Trail Bourbon,” added Baker. “I see so many lives that have been positively impacted and changed throughout our venture. I can remember a lot of amazing people that we have lost along the way that I wish were still here with us. I feel the joy of accomplishment from starting from nothing and watching our baby grow. I am excited to see what the future brings and how more lives are impacted by this legacy started by our families chasing a dream.”
Holiday Open House at Wilderness Trail
The releases take place during Wilderness Trail’s Holiday Open House. The distillery plans a two-fold celebration Dec. 8 with bottle sales beginning at 10am in the morning and a party that evening. Music by Kings of Freon and food sales by Dunn’s BBQ will be 6 to 9 p.m. Kings of Freon Trio + One will offer fans of Americana, N’awlins tonk and original country-fried tales of one-night stands, shady deals and the odd vampire. The band features keyboard ace Keith Hubbard, drummer extraordinaire Sherri McGee and guitar/ bass journeyman Pat Morley back together with sax great John Richardson.
The open house will also feature gift shop specials where customers can select one item and purchase a second item of equal or lesser value for 50% off (excluding alcohol) and bourbon cocktails for $10 each as a nod to the 10-year anniversary.
Wilderness Trail Distillery is located at 4095 Lebanon Road, Danville, Kentucky.
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Order Wilderness Trail Bourbon and Rye whiskey online here.
Wilderness Trail Distillery Sells 70% Majority Stake to Campari Group for $420 Million – Oct. 2022
In 2022, Baker and Heist’s perseverance paid off when they announced they sold a 70% majority interest to Campari Group for $420 million. Campari has an option to buy the additional 30% by 2031 valuing the entire transaction at $600 million. The $600 million valuation makes it the second biggest acquisition for the Italian group after it bought Grand Marnier in 2016.