With some essential history covered, the tour then moves into the fermentation area. One of the interesting facets of Old Forester’s return to Whiskey Row, is that it did so without a mash cooker. According to our tour guide, Sarah, the issue was space. Instead, the mash is trucked to the distillery from the very nearby Brown-Forman Distillery in Shively, KY. In the fermentation area there are four open fermenters, each with a capacity of 4500 gallons. While the massive fermenters are indeed eye-catching, equally so are the enormous wall graphics that accompany the line of fermenters. For those visual learners, the graphics are a great method to help explain a few of the specifics of the fermentation process.
After fermentation comes distillation. Next we proceed up the elevator to the second floor. It’s an engaging ride up because the elevator has a glass front and is directly behind the beautiful Big Penny This is the distillery’s affectionate name for the previously mentioned 44 foot copper column still. It’s quite the treat to see the still in action from its top section. Immediately outside the elevator is a wall of Old Forester print ads along with a few photos from the original time period of Old Forester’s home on Main St. A quick look here, and then it’s off around the corner to view distillation in action. On the right is the spirits safe and to the left is Big Penny. Sarah gives a quick tutorial on distillation and then we head into a very exciting yet very unusual stop on the tour, the cooperage. Exciting, because barrel making is showcased step by step, and highly unusual as Old Forester is the only Kentucky distillery to have its own operational cooperage on site. Whether it’s proper stave selection, barrel toasting and charring, or checking the new barrel for leaks, this stop on the tour offers a rarely seen part of the bourbon making process. Yet it is the barrel that performs a most crucial role in the final product. This is a must see.
Having been schooled in barrel making 101, the next stop on the tour is through the barrel aging warehouse. This eye-catching area is unique due to a slanted walkway that was built along side of the ricks. Visitors get a bird’s eye view of the barrels from beginning to end as the tour meanders down the walkway. Another rare feature, is that there are no seasonal temperatures here. The warehouse, which can house 900 barrels, is climate controlled, ranging in temperature from 65-85 degrees fahrenheit. When at capacity, remaining barrels are aged at the Brown-Forman Distillery. The warehouse area wraps up with a brief discussion of the angel’s share. The final stop before the tasting, is the bottling line. With just a capacity of 2400 bottles a day, this line bottles the four different Old Forester’s Whiskey Row series bourbons. Makes perfect sense given the distillery’s return to the historic Whiskey Row. With the quick walk through the bottling line complete, the final destination is the tasting area.
The tasting is held in a classroom style event space. Three bourbons are offered on our tour: the Old Forester 100, the Old Forester 1910, and the Old Forester Prohibition Style 1920. Water is provided both for drinking/clearing the palate, and in small eye dropper bottles in order to proof down each sample if desired. With the tasting finished, the tour then disbands into the gift shop. On the way down, visitors are afforded a second good look at Big Penny. And of course there are ample purchase opportunities in the gift shop from bourbon to baseball caps. As a quick final note, George’s Bar is just past the front desk toward the back of the building, and can be visited for cocktails and/or tastings. It’s open to the public, whether you are taking a tour or not. Seasonal cocktails are offered as well as the opportunity to do a tasting. Hours are a little different than the distillery’s hours so be sure to call or check online ahead of your visit.
A tour of Old Forester is time and money well spent. From the charm of its original historic home to its carefully planned visitor experience, this newcomer to Louisville’s historic Whiskey Row hits its mark. Old Forester ensures its visitors a unique citified distillery tour. Still a pioneer after 150 years.