Bourbon Reviews, Distillery News and Information
Green River Distilling Co.
10 Distillery Road
Owensboro, KY 42301
Please enjoy our Green River Distilling Distillery Tour Review!
Green River Distilling Co Began In 1885
The story of Green River Distilling Co. began back in 1885 when J.W. McCulloch first distilled his Green River Whiskey. Interestingly, his slogan was “The Whiskey Without A Headache”. For obvious reasons, the use of this spurious slogan was not allowed to stand, and so today’s version is “Whiskey without Regrets”. Although one could dispute this as well; it sort of reminds me of “What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas”. Let’s hope it’s true!
A Brief But Complex History
The complex history of the Green River Distillery began with its virtual destruction by fire in 1918. Rebuilt after Prohibition, the five brothers of the Medley family purchased the property in 1940 and operated it as the Medley Distilling Company. In 1959 the family sold the business to Renfield Importers, LTD although the Medleys continued to run the distillery. From 1978 to 2007, the property sold 5 more times. Finally, in 2014, the defunct distillery, now weatherworn, was purchased by the Terressentia Corporation. The revitalization process began and the company named its new distillery the O.Z. Tyler Distillery in honor of the company founder.
Since then it has come full circle. In September 2020, the distillery rebranded when it was able to procure the rights to the Green River Distilling Company brand from Rob McCulloch, the great-grandson of J.W. McCulloch. Thereafter, Green River Distilling Co. found life once again under its original name and at its ancestral home while claiming its original Distilled Spirits Plant number, DSP-KY 10. The final transition for the company occurred in 2022 when Bardstown Bourbon Company purchased Green River Distilling and its brand.
A Variety of Tours & Experiences Are Offered At Green River Distillery
Green River Distilling offers several visitor experiences at its distillery, with some similarities to the types that are offered at Bardstown Bourbon Company. As of January 2024, the Distillery Tour is offered Tuesdays through Saturdays at 9a, 11a, 1p & 3p Central Time. On Saturdays, there is no 3 pm tour. Cocktail Classes are offered Mondays through Fridays at 3p, and on Saturdays at 2p, Central Time. A Barrel Thieving Experience, which includes a take-home Glencairn glass, is offered Tuesdays through Fridays at 2 pm Central Time. Last but not least, the Sit & Sip experience, which is a tasting with a history lesson, is offered Mondays at the bottom of every hour from 9a to 3p and Tuesdays through Saturdays at 10:30a & and 1:30p Central Time. (Times and Dates for Tours, Tastings & Experiences May Vary, So Always Check Directly With The Green River Distillery or The Green River Distilling Web Site.)
Industrial Yet Historic
Green River Distilling is located in Owensboro, KY, a short distance from downtown. As we approached the main gate of the campus, the view was most certainly industrial yet there was also a strong historic feel. We soaked in a wide-angle view of the spacious grounds. There were barrelhouses off to the right and the main production buildings were easily recognized straight ahead in the distance. After clearing the main gate, we headed down the lengthy drive to the visitor center, which is located at the back of the campus. The very helpful gentleman in the guardhouse at the main gate made sure we headed in the correct direction.
The Green River Distilling Visitor Center
We arrived at the visitor center just before our tour’s start time. The building originally was home to the historic Green River bottling facility. The space is quite large and today houses visitor check-in, a gift shop, and a cocktail bar. It also serves as Green River’s event space. Had we been a little earlier, we would have had time for a drink at the cocktail bar. Drinks are allowed on the tour, so there’s no need to rush to finish it. We met our tour guide, Caryn (now the National Brand Ambassador for Green River Distilling), in the large entry area, and promptly headed back with the rest of our group to the modest-sized historical room. Here old Green River memorabilia along with storytelling barrel heads help to tell its story.
First, Some Green River History, Then On With The Tour
Once we were had all arrived in the room, Caryn regaled us with the colorful history of the distillery and the people involved. The barrel heads help to provide an easy-to-follow timeline while the numerous old bottles and newspaper stories offered a great feel for the Green River Distillery of long ago. With some distillery insight under our belts, we headed outside the visitor’s center for the start of the walking portion of the tour. Our first stop was directly in front of the visitor center doors. Caryn pointed out the retired coal smokestack, which was a remnant from the Old Medley Distillery. This stack along with a second (no longer standing) provided the power that the distillery needed to operate. She then moved on to describe the role of the large tower standing before us. The tower houses the hammer mill and the grain hopper, with both being elevated so that gravity can help move those grains along.
Let’s Head Into The Distillery
Our next stop brought us inside the distillery. We headed up a short flight of stairs, where we could look down on the three 12,000-gallon cookers. Although the area imparts an older industrial feel, the distillery has unquestionably entered the 21st century. At one time, a large control panel with knobs and dials, looking like it came out of a 1950’s sci-fi movie, lived in the middle of the room. It has since been removed, and today operations are controlled via a high-tech computer system. The 41 foot tall, 54 inch diameter Vendome column still is immediately adjacent to the cookers and panel. Also on this platform is the doubler, which is the original from the Medley Distillery and one item still in use today. It’s very close quarters in here!
Moving on to the fermentation room, we learned that to keep the giant still supplied with “distiller’s beer”, Green River Distilling has 27 fermenters, each just shy of 16,000-gallon capacity. Fermentation takes 3 days to reach the desired 8% ABV. Once fermentation is complete, the distiller’s beer is then transferred to the beer well, where it awaits distillation. The first distillation takes place in the large column still, with the “low wine” coming out at 120 proof. Then it is off to the doubler to reach a final proof of 138. This “high wine” heads to the spirit tanks where the proof is brought back down to 120 for barreling.
Green River Distilling Has Two Types Of Rickhouses
With stops at Rickhouse A and barrel dumping, we learn something unique about Green River Distilling’s process. They use both side-fill and end-fill barrels. The side-fill barrels are stored on their sides in traditional ricks. The 28-acre distillery campus has 5 clay tile rickhouses and 1 wood frame rickhouse with metal siding, all with traditional ricks. The end-fill barrels are stored vertically on pallets and stored in metal-sided rickhouses. Currently, Green River has 19 metal palletized warehouses in nearby Beaver Dam, KY. Two new traditional 58,000 barrel rickhouses are also in the works in Hartford, KY. After aging, regardless of their storage method, the barrels are transported to Bardstown, KY. There they are dumped and the bourbon is bottled on the state of the art bottling at the Bardstown Bourbon Company. It is then packaged, and sent off for distribution.
Let’s Taste Some Whiskey!
Time for the tasting! We headed back to the visitor center and into a different small room where 3 tasting glasses were set out for each of us who were tasting. At the time, this distillery was one of the few that offered a Designated Driver option, so not everyone was partaking. Green River contract distills for many different brands, and some of those were included in our tasting. On our 2021 visit we tried Kentucky 10, a wheated bourbon; Yellow Banks, a rye bourbon; and Quarter Horse Rye, a rye whiskey. We were also offered our choice of a fourth pour and were able to select either Bradshaw Bourbon, Humble Bee, or Ladder Nine. Caryn led the tasting with skill, describing each taste, and inquiring about tasters’ thoughts on the samples. This wrapped up the tour and we were then free to visit the gift shop to buy some swag, and of course, whiskey.
Today, the tasting takes place in a nicely appointed tasting room along the right side of the visitor center, and the whiskeys samples are more reflective of Green River’s current offerings. The current tasting line up includes: Green River Wheated Bourbon, Green River High-Rye Bourbon, Green River Rye Whiskey and a Single Barrel.
We very much enjoyed our visit to Green River Distilling Company. From the old-school clay tile brick buildings to the cold industrial look of the grain system, the distillery’s setting is unique and yet quite pleasing to the eye. It’s exciting to see a long ago forgotten piece of Kentucky distilling history brought back to life! Add them to your list for when you are in the Owensboro area! They are a must for bourbon and history enthusiasts alike. Cheers!🥃
We hope you have enjoyed our Green River Distilling Distillery Tour Review! Next, why not learn about Green River Distilling’s sister distillery in our Bardstown Bourbon Company Tour Review!
Original Green River Distilling Co visit, April 2021. Updated October 2023.
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