Whisky Advocate: New Distillery Is A Homecoming For Heaven Hill In BardstownJune 17, 2022
Old Heaven Hill Springs Distillery was nestled at the base of a hill that slopes down to peaceful Gilkey Run Road in Bardstown, Kentucky, not far from owner Heaven Hill’s main offices. The distillery was built in 1935, the year of the company’s founding. The old warhorse was the nerve center of the operation—until the afternoon of November 7, 1996, when disaster struck.
A fire broke out in a rackhouse at the top of the hill, and within minutes it was burning to the ground. Its flaming Bourbon barrels were turned into rivers of fire, flowing forth to ignite six more warehouses. Fueled by stormy weather and high winds, the fires raged throughout the night. Witnesses saw barrels explode into the night sky, and the flames reached hundreds of feet into the air. The streams of flaming Bourbon eventually made their way down the hill to the distillery, which was also consumed by the flames. Miraculously, no one was killed or seriously injured, and 37 warehouses managed to survive. But the fire destroyed some 90,000 barrels, equal to 2% of the world’s Bourbon supply at the time.
The distillery was never rebuilt. Instead, Heaven Hill entered into talks with United Distillers (UD), a Diageo predecessor company, which was looking to exit the Bourbon business at the time. In 1999 an agreement was struck for Heaven Hill to acquire UD’s giant Bernheim Distillery in Louisville, in what proved to be one of the great Bourbon deals of all time. Bernheim has been Heaven Hill’s distilling home ever since, though the warehouses and bottling operations remain in Bardstown. The footprint of the Old Heaven Hill Springs Distillery became a grain-receiving and storage area and is still used for that purpose today—meaning that at least part of the production process remains at that site after all these years.
In a symbolic closing of the circle, Heaven Hill recently broke ground on a new $135-million distillery in Bardstown, to be named Heaven Hill Springs Distillery in honor of the original place. Of perhaps even greater symbolism, the project will mark Heaven Hill’s return to distilling in Bardstown after a gap of nearly 30 years. Whisky Advocate has the full story.—David FlemingSubscribe to Shanken News Daily’s Email Newsletter, delivered to your inbox each morning.