Bourbon Reviews, Distillery News and Information
Neeley Family Distillery Tour
Sparta, Kentucky 41086
Tour / Review
Please enjoy our Neeley Family Distillery Tour review!
Watch our video tour from 2019
(It may be a little dated, but it still gives you the feeling for NFD)
Time For A Return Visit
In May of 2019, Bourbon Obsessed made our first visit to Neeley Family Distillery. Some four years later with many visits in between, an update is long overdue. Kentucky’s bourbon industry has continued to grow and expand, and Neeley Family Distillery is no exception. From building a new rickhouse and fermenter room, and expanding their visitor center, to their growing array of distilling equipment, let’s take another look.
There’s More At The Kentucky Speedway Than Just Racing
One mile north of I-71 at exit 55 and just a stone’s throw from the Kentucky Speedway sets the home of the Neeley Family Distillery in Sparta, Kentucky. Family says it all for this distillery. The Neeley’s distilling tradition is 11 generations strong, much of it illegal. From James John Neeley, who emigrated from Ireland to Philadelphia in 1740 with his own copper pot still, to the current and now legally distilling, 31 year old Royce Neeley, co-owner and lead distiller at Neeley Family Distillery, their lineage is wildly colorful. The Neeley’s story provides a fascinating glimpse into some our country’s earliest moonshining history.
Neeley Family Distillery Was Established In 2015
Established in 2015, Neeley Family Distillery opened to the public in July of 2017. Tours are offered daily at 11:30, 1:30, and 3:30, Monday-Saturday, and 1:30 and 3:30 on Sunday. The distillery is currently (as of August 2023) open Mon-Sat, 11am-6pm and Sunday, 1pm-6pm. The building, reminiscent of an old-school style cabin, is part museum, part bar, and part distillery. For a tour, just step over to the retail counter and pay the $20 fee. Tours last approximately an hour to an hour and a half and finish up with a tasting of your choice of 8 Neeley spirits. Neeley’s premium spirits can be added on for just $5 a taste. For those wanting to skip the tour, tastings are offered every half hour for $15. And at NFD, children, as well as dogs, are welcome.
It All Starts In The Visitor Center
The experience begins in the visitor center, located adjacent to the gift shop, with a short video narrated by Royce detailing a fact-filled history of their family’s moonshining heritage, complete with several news-making re-enactments. These eye-popping narratives would make this family’s story a great made for tv movie. As Royce points out, the Neeley’s have as much illegal whiskey making heritage as the Beam Family has a legal one.
On To The Distillery
After the video, visitors head to the “back of the house” which is the distillery area proper. Neeley Family Distillery produces moonshine, bourbon whiskey, rye whiskey, and now, absinthe. The family proudly uses the same moonshine recipe that was well-known and highly regarded in their former home of Owsley County, located in the mountains of eastern Kentucky. On our 2019 visit, the Neeley Family Distillery operated with a 700 gallon mash tun, 4 cypress fermenters, and 3 pot stills producing about two 53 gallon barrels of moonshine or whiskey daily. However, today’s distillery operation includes a second 700 gallon mash tun as well as 16 total fermenters (8 of which have just been added and are awaiting their first fills). A fourth 600 gallon pot still has also been added. Needless to say, capacity at the Neeley Family Distillery has grown.
Triple Pot Distilled
Neeley’s whiskey continues to be triple pot distilled, and so does their moonshine. Quality is of the highest priority at Neeley Family Distillery. All ingredients are locally sourced. In addition, local limestone water is used. Also, surprising for a distillery of its size, Neeley maintains and propagates its very own yeast strain. However, due to their increase in distillation capacity, they are no longer able to meet 100 percent of their yeast needs.
Although its size is underwhelming, Neeley Family Distillery still manages to pack a considerable amount of equipment into its distillery. While the aforementioned items are standard for most distilleries, Neeley has a few especially interesting items that are definitely not.
First is their use of thumpers and “worms tubs” instead of the more commonly used doublers and condensers (take the tour for the full explanation). The second is a 10 gallon experimental still. Perfectly positioned right on the counter in the distillery, this allows for test batches to be run with greater ease. And lastly, the most unique piece of equipment in any distillery we’ve ever visited, is an 1890’s absinthe still. Built in France, the still was used in distilleries in Switzerland and Belgium until 1990. After sitting in storage for almost 30 years, it made its way to Indiana in 2021. Finally, the vintage still was brought up to the Neeleys in Sparta. It was recently completely refurbished and is now fully functional and used to make Neeley’s award winning absinthe.
Barreling And Bottling Take Place On-Site
While Neeley’s moonshine and absinthe are (mostly) not aged and therefore not barreled, their whiskeys are barreled on-site and aged in rickhouses out back in barn type structures. Bottling also takes place on the property. Before the arrival of the absinthe still, all bottling took place in the distillery proper. Now largely relocated to another outbuilding, bottling continues to be done by hand.
Back To The Visitor Center
The tour wraps up in the same visitor center where it began. This space was added on after the distillery opened. With success comes the need for increased hosting capacity. As with the original building, Royce’s dad, Roy built this event type space. It serves multiple functions, but most frequently to accommodate those taking the tour. The second bar area provides plenty of elbow room and seating for tasting all the various Neeley spirits. The room also does double duty serving as a museum for all the amazing artifacts and family heirlooms. The back wall is lined with pictures of the Neeley clan and their detailed family tree, along with numerous old newspaper clippings documenting the family’s colorful history in eastern Kentucky.
Everything Is For Sale Back In The Gift Shop
Once you’ve picked you favorite spirit, head back out to the gift shop where all of Neeley Family Distillery’s spirits, along with souvenir and logo items, are available for purchase. There’s even the opportunity to fill your own bottle directly from the barrel. The gift shop bar also offers a selection of cocktails such as an Old Fashioned, a Blackberry Moonshine Mule, and a Bourbon Slush (warm weather only). The gift shop, too, has seating for those enjoying their libation. Seating is also available outside. Take a peek at the botanicals grown in the “absinthe garden” out front, then grab a rocking chair or picnic table, relax, and enjoy the country setting.
Always Worth A Visit
Whether you’re following the Kentucky Bourbon Trail Craft Tour or perhaps Northern Kentucky’s The B Line, or maybe you’re just at the Kentucky Speedway, don’t miss The Neeley Family Distillery. Now legal and fully licensed some 250+ years later, they look forward to sharing their story and their spirits with you!
We hope you have enjoyed our Neeley Family Distillery Tour Review! Would you like to learn more about Neeley Family Distillery Whiskeys? Then you’ll want to read our Neeley Sweet Thumped Rye Review, and our The Old Jett Brothers Bourbon Review!
Bourbon Obsessed would like to express our sincerest thanks to Beka Sue Neeley for her always exceptional hospitality. And while her official title is Single Barrel Coordinator, she wears many hats at Neeley Family Distillery. Thanks, Beka, you’re the BEST.
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!