Bourbon Reviews, Distillery News and Information
501 W 6Th St
Lexington, Ky, 40508
Tour / Review
(updated Dec 2023)
Please enjoy our Bluegrass Distillers Tour Review!
Note: Bluegrass Distillers’ new visitor center at Elkwood Farm is now open! (158 W. Leestown Rd, Midway, KY 40347) They can be contacted at 859-217-2377. Currently there is a gift shop & bar, and guided tastings are available. The Elkwood Farm distillery is under construction (anticipated completion in March 2024) and distilling currently takes place at the Lexington location.
Bluegrass Distillers: An Overview
Bluegrass Distillers is located in the historic Northside neighborhood of Lexington, KY. The distillery is one of numerous tenants housed in the Bread Box (the former home of the Rainbo Bread Factory) at the corner of Jefferson and West Sixth Streets. While West Sixth Brewing occupies a majority of the 90,000 square foot space, Bluegrass Distillers can be found tucked around the southeast corner of the Bread Box on the Legacy Trail just north of where it crosses West Sixth St. A small sign at the corner points the way to the distillery entrance.
The nondescript entrance leads directly into the gift shop and tasting bar area. Like so many small distilleries, Bluegrass encompasses two main areas, the distillery proper in the back of the house and the gift shop/tasting bar in the front. The distillery opened in 2013 and began welcoming visitors 2 years later. We first toured the Bluegrass Distillers back in March 2020. Two years having passed and with the bourbon boom still in full swing, it was time to see what Bluegrass Distillers was cooking these days.
The Tasting Experience
This go round, our tour commenced with a 5 sample tasting of Bluegrass Distillers’ products. The tasting took place outside, in front of the distillery under the COVID friendly canopy. Our friend and tour guide, Steve, led us on the guided tasting by introducing the triple-sip method. The first sip is the shock sip. This first taste helps the palate get past the alcohol punch. Sip number two is the Kentucky chew. Here the liquid moves around in the mouth as though chewing, reaching every nook and cranny and allowing for some flavor appreciation. The third and final sip is the tasting sip. With the palate now acclimated, the flavors come alive rewarding the palate with the truest flavor profile.
The Whiskey Selection
The 5 samples included in our tasting were the Bluegrass Distillers High Rye Bourbon, the (limited release) Bluegrass Distillers Blue Corn Bottled-in-Bond Bourbon, the Midway Distilling Company Rye Whiskey finished in Rum barrels, the Midway Distilling Company Rye Whiskey finished in Vermouth barrels, and Bluegrass Distillers Bourbon finished in Maple Syrup barrels. The Midway Distilling Company is a newer line for Bluegrass Distillers. It starts with Indiana sourced 95/5 rye whiskey which is then finished in a variety of different barrels by Bluegrass Distillers. As we moved through each sample, Steve also discussed the importance of the new charred oak barrel. First as it related to the rules of bourbon, all bourbon must be aged in a new charred oak barrel and second, its significant influence in the creation of the flavors in each whiskey.
The Bluegrass Distillers Distillery Tour
With the tasting wrapped up, we then proceeded into the distillery via the barrel area. The components of Bluegrass Distilling are essentially all contained within one large room. From our vantage point just inside the barrel area entrance, we could see the cooker (mash tun) and both pot stills. Steve pointed out that only 10% of Blue Grass Distillers’ barrels were aging onsite. Due to space limitations, the remaining barrels make their home in Danville, KY where Bluegrass leases space at the Wilderness Trail Distillery. With space a constant issue, Steve also shared that in fact, Bluegrass Distillers would be relocating to Midway, KY later in the year. Some time ago the company had purchased a historic 62 acre property in Midway. They are currently building a new distillery on it and have already renovated the pre-existing historic homestead to be used as the visitor center.
Bluegrass Distillers’ Cooker
From the barrel area we made our way past the large sacks of milled grain and over to the cooker area. Because of space, Bluegrass has its grain milled and bagged by Woodford Feed. Steve then explained the unusual cooker. We learned that it originally began its life as a large mixer for a bakery in California. The folks at Bluegrass Distillers ingeniously converted it into a mash tun. Bread (at least cornbread) and bourbon have a lot in common, so it makes perfect sense. The cooker is used to heat the grains to different temperatures allowing for various enzymatic reactions to occur which ultimately convert the starches in the grains into fermentable sugars.
Once the mash is complete, it is cooled and then transferred to large plastic fermenters. When the appropriate temperature is reached, the yeast is then added. The fermenters are housed in a small separate room kept at 78 degrees Fahrenheit which allows the yeast to do its work for 3-6 days. Then it is off to the still.
The original 250 gallon copper pot still used at Bluegrass Distillers was crafted in Portugal by Castelo de Paiva. Nathan, our tour guide in March 2020, explained that it was originally wood fired. However, this was not exactly a practical method for the small enclosed space of the distillery and so the copper still was converted to utilize steam. Distillation at Bluegrass Distillers takes place in two stages. First, the contents of a single fermenter are distilled with the heads, hearts, and tails separated based on taste. The hearts and tails are then stored in a large plastic tub called ST2. Because Bluegrass is a very small distillery, it takes several fermenters to fill the ST2. Once full, the second stage begins. This “low wine” will be distilled a second time resulting in a “high wine” which then will be ready for barreling.
Expansion and Growth
With demand being high and production needs growing, in July 2021, Bluegrass Distillers added a second still. In keeping with their tradition of Portuguese pot stills, this new still was obtained from another Portuguese alembic still maker, Coppercrafts.
Aging and Bottling
After barreling, it is time for the whiskey to age. The barrels aged onsite are stored standing on their ends to save space, rather than on their sides in “racks” or “ricks” as in many other distilleries. Interestingly, when Bluegrass Distillers initially began production in 2013, it was illegal to store barrels onsite, but the law has since changed.
After the bourbon has aged to its maturity, the barrels are dumped and bottled onsite. The bottling area is at the opposite end of the distillery from the barrel room. The bottle filler can fill 5 bottles at a time. The entire process, from filling to corking to labeling, is all done by hand.
The Gift Shop and Visitor Center
With our tour of the production area complete, we ended our visit in the gift shop. Although space is at a premium at Bluegrass Distillers, the visitor center and gift shop had a surprising amount of offerings. Cocktails were available for purchase and could be enjoyed at the micro-sized bar inside the gift shop. There is also space to enjoy drinks out in front of the distillery where used bourbon barrels now find a new purpose. Some limited drink offerings are sold outside as well. Bottle sales are permitted, and the distillery also offers a nice selection of its own swag. Don’t miss their bourbon barreled maple syrup and bourbon barreled honey! Samples are free, but will certainly leave your wallet a little lighter!
The Future of Bluegrass Distillers
It’s worth a visit to Bluegrass Distillers while they are in their original home, since its days are numbered. The plan is for the new Elkwood Farm Distillery in Midway, KY to have a large continuous column still, so things are about to get completely different. You’ll be kicking yourself if you miss your opportunity to see this cool craft distillery before it makes its transformation! Go and check them out today!
We hope you have enjoyed our Bluegrass Distillers Tour Review! Would you like to learn more about some of their whiskeys? Then check out our Bluegrass Distillers Blue Corn Bottled In Bond Bourbon Review and our Midway Distilling Rum Finished Rye Review.
Original Visit: March 2020 Updated: April 2022, Dec 2023
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!