The Evan Williams Aged 12 Years used to be sold only in Japan as an export-only product. However, you can now find the bourbon at the Evan Williams Bourbon Experience in Louisville, the only place in the country that makes the 12-year available. It’s an easy drinker that I wish was more widely available. Read our review to learn more!
Join us as we chat with Jodie Filiatreau, Artisanal Distiller at the Evan Williams Bourbon Experience in Louisville, Kentucky. In 1981 a young Jodie Filiatreau strode into the offices of the Heaven Hill Distillery in Bardstown, KY. Acting on the advice of his uncle, the 20 year old headed straight for the office of Max Shapira, then Vice-President of Heaven Hill. Max was not in charge of hiring and Jodie had no appointment, nonetheless, he introduced himself and inquired about work at the distillery. Max listened to his appeal and sent him off to Human Resources. The rest, as they say, is history.
Evan Williams Bourbon Experience 528 West Main St Louisville, KY 40202 Phone: (502) 272-2623
The Evan Williams Bourbon Experience has been welcoming visitors to Louisville’s Whiskey Row since November 2013. The Shapira family, owners of Heaven Hill Distillery in Bardstown, had wanted to bring a visitor experience to Louisville. The company’s first foray into bourbon tourism was the Bourbon Heritage Center which opened at their Bardstown facility in 2006. Surprisingly, to find a space in Louisville they had to look no further than their own backyard, so to speak. It turns out that 528 Main St. had been under their proprietorship since 1945.
The property even had its own whiskey history. Built in 1871, the tall townhome measures out a mere 27 feet in width, however the 5 stories, in addition to the basement, ensured adequate space. The Phil. Hollenbach Co moved its cooperate office to this location in 1911. Hollenbach juggled numerous occupations from whiskey blender, rectifier, and distributor to wine merchant and importer. He was even the first to distribute Anheuser-Busch in Louisville. A storefront on “whiskey row” helped to assure his company’s continued success.
Prohibition Brings Unwelcome Change To Louisville
Prohibition, along with the Great Depression, however brought unwelcome change. While the Hollenbach Company survived, “whiskey row” mostly disappeared after prohibition. According to bourbon historian Michael Veach, American lifestyles were changing. For example, with the increased availability of the automobile along with drivable roads, it no longer was important for a business to have an office in downtown Louisville. As a result, by 1945, the former home of the Phil. Hollenbach Co. had a new owner.
Long before their dabbling in whiskey making however, these new owners had been in the dry goods business. The Shapira family had purchased the Louisville building to serve as a warehouse, distribution hub, and office space for their chain of junior department stores. Fast forward 75 years or so and while the junior department stores have ceased to exist, Heaven Hill Distillery continues to thrive, remaining family owned and operated.
Who Is This Evan Williams Anyway?
So who exactly was Evan Williams? He was a colonial distiller, of course. The former native of Wales relocated to Louisville in the early 1780’s and according to the Evan Williams Bourbon Experience, by the late 1780’s Williams had set up and began operating Kentucky’s first commercial distillery in downtown Louisville. Furthermore, It turns out that distilling was just one of his many occupations. Williams served as wharf master of the bustling Louisville docks, an elected trustee for the city of Louisville, and as a master stone mason he oversaw the construction of the first jail and courthouse in Jefferson County.
Evan Williams Bourbon Introduced
Heaven Hill introduced his namesake bourbon brand in 1957. The Evan Williams brand would go on to become Heaven Hill’s top selling flagship bourbon. So it should be no shock that the company would choose to name their Louisville experience after this well-known whiskey making Louisvillian who set up shop near the banks of the Ohio River over 200 years ago.
The Evan Williams Bourbon Experience Becomes Louisville’s First Bourbon Tourist Attraction
The Evan Williams Bourbon Experience ushered in bourbon tourism to downtown Louisville by becoming the city’s first major bourbon tourist attraction. Three unique experiences are offered: The Traditional Tour & Tasting, The Speakeasy Tasting Experience, and The Ideal Bartender Experience. While the Traditional Tour & Tasting is offered daily with the exception of Mondays (the Experience is closed), The Ideal Bartender and The Speakeasy Tasting Experiences are much more limited, each being offered only Thursdays & Fridays and Saturdays & Sundays, respectively. All 3 experiences include a tasting. The Tours and Experiences generally last 45 minutes to an hour. The cost runs from $18 to $35.
Online reservations are definitely recommended and really are a must during the busy summer months. The Evan Williams Bourbon Experience is open Tuesday-Thursday from 11-5, Friday and Saturday from 10-5, and Sunday from 1-5. If a tour is not in the cards, check out the ON3 Bar. Yes, it’s ON the 3rd floor. ON3 serves up cocktails, individual pours and tasting flights from Heaven Hill’s vast lineup of bourbons. Talented mixologists, ours was Micah, create a varying array of delicious daily specialty cocktails. Micah and company are ready for your pour Tuesday-Sunday. ON3 follows the same operating hours as the Evan Williams Bourbon Experience, but closes 30 minutes prior to the Experience at 4:30.
It’s All About History
All of the experiences at the Evan Williams Bourbon Experience, but in particular The Traditional Tour and Tasting, focus on the past. In fact, history hogs much of the glory in this story. After all Evan Williams was a historical figure from the colonial days of Louisville. The tour tells the story of Williams and his namesake (the bourbon). Visitors also get a peek into the history of Louisville and how bourbon helped to shape the city through re-creations of the colonial riverfront and whiskey row spanning from the late 1800’s through prohibition.
But Wait! There’s An Artisanal Distillery Too!
And while history may be the star of the show, there is of course the discussion of bourbon. As the explanation of the bourbon making process takes place on the tour, a screen slowly rises unmasking its glass wall and revealing the Evan Williams’s artisianal distillery. Two Vendome copper hybrid pot stills stand proudly, gleaming as though they are only for show.
Rest assured, they are not just for show. We got a closer look at this amazing artisianal set up thanks to Assistant Artisanal Distillery Manager, James Cox. Our first stop was in the basement at the back of the building. The quarters were fairly tight, and housed the mash tun (cooker) and two closed fermenters. James explained that the lack of adequate space prohibits the use of an in-house mill, so as a result, the grains arrive in recyclable plastic tubs, milled and ready for duty. They are stored on the floor above and are transported down to the mash tun via a chute. The mash tun then cooks 750 gallon batches of grain and water once a day. When the cook is complete, it is then transferred to 1 of 4 fermenters, 2 in this room and 2 with the stills.
The Evan Williams Bourbon Experience Stills
Once fermentation is completed, in 3-5 days, the distillers beer moves on to those two lustrous looking hybrid pot stills. We made our way back to their location on the first floor. Here James shared that before his days as Assistant Artisanal Distillery Manager, it was his responsibility to keep those stills shining. Every week, he hand polished all that copper. Needless to say, James certainly does not seem to miss that chore.
Next we learned more about these 2 copper beauties. Both stills are hybrid stills, part pot and part column. The larger still is the stripping still. The process begins here. Once the mash moves through this first distillation , the liquid heads to the smaller finishing still and its final proof of 135-140. The new make is proofed down (water added) to 120-125 and barreled. All barrels are then transported to one of Heaven Hill’s many rickhouses in and around the Bardstown area.
As we wrapped up our time in the distillery, James left us with a few interesting facts. First, the stills operate 5 days a week and produce 1 barrel each day. Second, due to the small scale of each mash, the distillery has experimented with about 20 different mashbills. Lastly, in May of 2021, the Evan Williams distillery released its first bourbon produced onsite. Square 6 was a high rye bourbon and was sold almost exclusively at the Evan Williams Bourbon Experience gift shop. It’s safe to say there will certainly more to follow.
The Tour Concludes
Although the Traditional Tour & Tasting does not actually go through the distillery, if the timing is right, it’s possible to see the stills in action. The tour finishes up on the second floor and ends with the tasting in the 1950’s style bar, Max and Harry’s. Once the tasting is finished, the exit conveniently leads tour guests into the gift shop. The shop is well stocked with a variety of Evan Williams products and memorabilia.
Check Out The Evan Williams Bourbon Experience For Yourself!
Clearly the Evan Williams Bourbon Experience is more than just a history lesson. It’s history with a sizable pour of bourbon. The Shapira family’s trailblazing effort successfully introduced bourbon tourism to the city of Louisville. The building at 528 Main St. reminds us that history and bourbon had already been long acquainted in this riverside town. This experience will delight history and bourbon fans alike.
Would you like to learn more about distilleries and bourbon? Are you planning a trip to Kentucky Distilleries? Maybe you would like to live the bourbon life vicariously through us?🙂 If any of these are true, then check out BourbonObsessed.com today!
Evan Williams Bourbon, also known as Evan Williams Black Label was introduced in 1957. Originally a 7 year 90 proof bourbon in a flashy bottle, it has made some changes over the years. EW Black is made from Heaven Hill’s standard bourbon mash bill: 78% corn, 10% rye, 12% malted barley. It’s non-age stated, but I have it on reasonably good authority that this bourbon is around 5 to 5 1/2 years old.
A month or so ago, Heaven Hill released Square 6 Bourbon which is sold only at the Evan Williams Bourbon Experience. It was the first bourbon to ever be released to the public that was distilled in the artisanal distillery at the Evan Williams Bourbon Experience. Next, it was the newly renamed and renovated Heaven Hill Bourbon Experience’s turn to get its own bourbon. At the time of the grand opening of the new visitor center, Five Brothers Bourbon made its first appearance. It is sold only at the Heaven Hill Bourbon Experience and initially was in short supply, although now it seems to be more readily available.