Bourbon Reviews, Distillery News and Information
Angel’s Envy Distillery
500 E. Main St.
Louisville, KY 40202
Tour / Review
Please enjoy our Angel’s Envy Distillery Tour Review!
Angel’s Envy Distillery Began As A Family Business
Angel’s Envy began as a family business. The brand was the brain-child of Wes Henderson and his father, famed Master Distiller, Lincoln Henderson. Wes’ sons were also an integral part of the family business, working in various positions within the distillery when it opened. Father and son released their first products in 2011. Plans for a distillery soon followed, and in November 2016, Angel’s Envy became the first fully operational distillery back on Louisville’s Whiskey Row since prohibition.
Bacardi Limited Buys The Brand
An interesting twist, however, occurred in 2015. With the distillery not yet complete, the family sold the brand, as well as the distillery, to Bacardi Limited. The Henderson’s remained the face of Angel’s Envy as witnessed by our first visit back in 2019. However, on our most recent visit in early October 2023, no mention of the brand’s early days or its founders’ was discussed on the tour. The family and the company appear to have each gone their separate ways.
Angel’s Envy Whiskeys Are “Finished”
From the very beginning of the brand’s birth, the whiskeys were unique. Angel’s Envy bourbon and rye are both cask finished. This means that after aging in a new charred oak container, as is required for bourbon and rye, the spirit then spends additional time in port, rum, or other previously used barrels. This method allows the whiskey to acquire additional unique flavors, and thus sets Angel’s Envy apart from other Kentucky distilleries, since all of their spirits are finished. In today’s environment, this idea does not seem out of place by any means. However, in 2011, this sent quite the dismissive buzz for some time through the bourbon world in Kentucky.
Visitors Flock To Angel’s Envy Distillery
While the reception of Angel’s Envy finished whiskeys may have been frosty at first, visitors to the distillery were enjoying learning about the process and seeing first-hand what all the hub-bub was about. Tourism boomed at the distillery over the years, so much so that in June 2022, the company completed an $8.2 million expansion adding 13,000 square feet to its facility. The added space was designed specifically to accommodate and enhance the guest experience. It also would allow the distillery to double its annual visitor capacity. The addition included a larger retail area, new classroom style tasting rooms, an event space complete with an additional bar and full catering kitchen, and a dedicated room for the Bottle Your Own experience.
Angel’s Envy Tours, Tastings & Classes
Two walking tours continue to be the staple experiences offered at Angel’s Envy (as of October 2023): the Signature Tour, takes visitors through the distillery from grain to glass, while the Private Select Tour focuses on the barrel finishing process. Both tours conclude with a tasting. Other options when visiting the distillery are the educational tasting, Taste The Finish, as well as the Bottle Your Own Single Barrel (no tour, just the bottling experience). If the timing is right, visitors might opt for one of the monthly cocktail classes. Current classes (now through the end of the year) include the Manhattan Cocktail Class, the Rye Cocktail Class, and the Behind The Bar Cocktail Class. Tours (each tour has a maximum of 12 guests) and classes fill up quickly so reservations are HIGHLY recommended.
Our Tour Begins
Our tour began in a spacious reception area just off to the side of the welcome desk. We followed our guide, Dean, behind the double doors where our introduction to Anglel’s Envy began. A large muraled wall behind Dean recounts some history of the brand, including the Henderson name. However, Dean’s intro focused on 2 areas. First that which makes Angel’s Envy different, the finishing of their bourbon and rye, and second he quickly recapped the rules regarding the making of bourbon.
Onward To The Distillery
After the introduction, we proceeded into the distillery, starting first on the upper level, which is accessible by either stairs or elevator. Upon our arrival on the second floor, we were met by the tops of eight enormous fermenters, each having a 13,565 gallon capacity. Through the windows on the left Dean pointed out 4 grain silos and a large black metal container which houses the hammer mill.
Moving past the fermenters to the opposite end of the distillery, we reached a hands on display consisting of a large round trough containing corn, rye and malted barley. Dean explained the different grains used at Angel’s Envy as well as the percentages of each used (known as the mash bill). For the bourbon, this is 72% corn, 18% rye and 10% malted barley. Coincidentally this is the same mash bill used at Old Forester. Perhaps this is not too surprising since Lincoln Henderson retired after 40 years from Brown-Forman, the owner of Old Forester.
After learning that all grains are ground on-site with the hammer mill, our attention was then directed to the sole cooker or mash tun. Dean described the process very precisely. First 1800 gallons of backset from the previous batch is combined with 8500 gallons of water in the cooker. To this liquid, 22,000 lbs of corn is added and cooked at 210 degrees for approximately an hour and a half. This corn mash then is cooled down to 170 degrees in order to add the rye. Rye does not behave well at temperatures any higher. This blend is then cooked for another hour and a half where once again the mixture is cooled, this time to 150 degrees. Finally, the last grain, malted barley, is added to the cook. Total cook time per batch is about 8 hours. Angel’s Envy squeezes in 3 batches a day. That’s a lot of corn!
We then backtracked to the fermenters where a more in depth discussion of the fermentation process took place as well as some tasting of the fermenting mash. Dean explained that once the cook is complete and the mash cooled down to between 70-90 degrees, it’s transferred to the fermenter. Once there, 44lbs of yeast is then added. He further elaborated that the current fermentation time is 3 days. Surprisingly this is now a day less than our first visit in 2019, when fermentation time was 4 days.
When the yeast reaches a standstill converting the sugars in the mash to alcohol, it’s time for distillation. The fermented mash then heads to the beer well, its glorified holding tank, where it awaits its trip through the still. The still is a 35 foot tall, 28 inch diameter Vendome Copper & Brass Works column still, which spans the two floors of the distillery. Sitting next to it is the doubler, used to further increase the proof of the low wine coming off of the column still. On our visit, Angel Envy’s still was not in operation, however Dean briefly summarized how it works. A sample of the new make followed, accompanied by an interesting “clap and sniff” demonstration.
It’s Time To Fill Some Barrels
From the still, we headed back downstairs to the barrel fill room. Dean first pointed out the 2 impossible to miss 2500 gallon spirit gaging tanks. They hold the freshly distilled spirit (or “new make” as it is called) prior to barreling. On our previous visit we learned the feet on these tanks are on scales, allowing the distillers to know the exact amount contained in them at any time. Barreling takes place on the far side of this room. Around 120 barrels are filled each day with new make which is proofed down to just under 125 proof before it enters the barrel. Barrel aging takes place off-site at Angel’s Envy’s rickhouses in Henry County, KY.
The Dump Room
After barreling, our next stop was the dump room. Just as the name suggests, here barrels are emptied or “dumped”. Since bourbon (or rye) at Angel’s Envy spends time in two different barrels, each spirit will pass through this room twice. The first time, to be dumped from its original new oak container, after 4-6 years for the bourbon and after 6-7 years for the rye. The second time, to be dumped from the finishing barrel. The bourbon finishes in the ruby port barrel for approximately 6 months, while the rye finishes in the Caribbean rum barrels for 12-18 months. Once finishing is all said and done, 30-50 barrels are blended for each batch of Angel’s Envy bourbon.
The Angel’s Envy Distillery Bottling Line
So far we had seen the grain from its milling, to cooking, then fermentation, and of course distillation. Don’t forget the barreling, aging, then rebarreling for finishing. So how do we take it home? Yes, bottling was our final stop on the grain to glass Signature Tour. On the way from barreling to the dump room we had breezed by the automated bottling line. It moved at a mesmorizing speed and it was tempting to linger and soak it all in. Dean however promised we would have the chance to see it operate. We were not disappointed.
According to Dean, not that long ago, bottling at Angel’s Envy Distillery was done by hand. No more, however, as this Italian bottling line sports 3 stations to get the job done. Station 1 rinses each bottle with the product being bottled, not water. Station 2 fills each bottle. Lastly, Station 3 corks, caps, and labels each bottle. In addition, he pointed out that the bottles used by Angel’s Envy are produced in India. This is due to the uncommon practice of their bottles being joined with the seams along the side. Dean explained that not many companies can do this. Take a look at an Angel’s Envy bottle sometime. The seam on the side is certainly noticeable, once you know it’s there.
Time To Taste Angel’s Envy’s Whiskeys
With the grain to glass part of the tour complete, the time had come for the for the grain to our glass portion of the tour. Tastings for both the Signature Tour and the Private Select Tour take place back on the second floor in the one of new(er) tasting classrooms. A quiet nod to the founding family was acknowledged by the naming of each room, the Henderson, the Lincoln, and the Wes.
Here we sampled the Angel’s Envy Port Finished Bourbon, twice. First “neat” and then with ice, so that we could taste the difference between the two. The bourbon was followed by a sample of the Angel’s Envy Caribbean Rum Finished Rye. A tasty chocolate was provided with both the bourbon and the rye to elevate the tasting experience by helping to uncover more flavor nuances from each whiskey. Along the way, Dean provided various tasting tips and techniques to aid us in getting the most from each sample.
Now, It’s Time For A Cocktail
Empty glasses and savored chocolates signaled the end of our tour. Our time, however, was not quite finished, as we then stepped over to the area adjacent to the tasting rooms, called the Finishing Room. The Finishing Room is a very cool bar where each guest is allowed to purchase a cocktail and/or tastings of individual products. I enjoyed “The Henderson”, which is the distillery’s signature cocktail, and their take on an Old Fashioned. After our drinks, our visit ended as we headed back down to the beautiful gift shop area. There’s much to peruse, from clothing to whiskey to barware and more. Make sure there’s time left to shop!
Conclusion – Angel’s Envy Distillery Tour
While shopping at any distillery is always enjoyable, Angel’s Envy Distillery offers so much more. A world of distilling schooling as well as cocktail crafting lies waiting to be discovered. While Louisville’s urban bourbon trail has many choices, Angel’s Envy Distillery definitely stands at the top of the list!
We hope you have enjoyed our Angel’s Envy Distillery Tour review! Would you like to read about another nearby Louisville distillery? Then check out our Rabbit Hole Distillery Tour Review!
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