As Wes Henderson, owner and founder of Angel’s Envy, approached the podium at the opening celebration of the highly anticipated distillery in downtown Louisville on Wednesday, emotions overcame him. What once started as a dream 12 years ago between three generations of the Hendersons had now become a reality.
The $27 million state-of-the-art facility that goes by the name of Louisville Distilling Company — at the former site of Vermont American Corporation across from Slugger Field — officially opens its doors to the public on Saturday. It joins one of nine distilleries either open or in production in Louisville, no doubt increasing the number of tourists (already at 22 million a year) to the city that coined the term “bourbonism.”
Henderson started his commentary by asking the audience to recall a favorite family memory of Grandma baking apple pie to be transported back to fond childhood memories of family feasts around the dining room table. Those apple pie scents, for him, were the exact same aromas that were present inside the distillery Wednesday morning, as the ceremony was held among five large fermenters working toward producing 80 barrels a day.
Angel’s Envy was first created and envisioned by Wes, his father and bourbon legend, Lincoln Henderson, and his oldest son, Kyle Henderson. Lincoln worked for more than 40 years at Brown-Forman, where he earned his master distiller status and helped develop brands like Woodford Reserve and Jack Daniel’s Gentlemen Jack. A legend and mentor in the industry, Lincoln died in 2013, seven years after coming out of retirement to create Angel’s Envy.
It was with gratitude to his father and his father’s legacy that Wes Henderson ended his speech with and unveiled the distillery’s stunning 40-foot-tall copper still that glistens in front of floor-to-ceiling windows in the new facility. “This is for you, Dad,” he uttered, wiping tears from behind his glasses.
Insider got a chance to talk with Wes Henderson before the day’s ceremonies, and though he appeared cool, calm and collected, what seeped out of the conversation was anything but.
“I feel like I’m getting married today, giving birth to my first child, sending one off to college, first day of school — all those things combined,” he said. “I have an enormous sense of pride, sense of accomplishment, sense of honor. I’m thinking a lot about my dad today and thinking about his presence here today.”
Henderson said he’s most excited to finally open the distillery doors to everyone who has supported the endeavor since Day 1, including business partners, government officials and, last but not least, fans of the whiskey.
“It’s nice to be able to say, ‘Come on in, let’s celebrate this together,'” he said.
Currently, Angel’s Envy has three products on store shelves and in the gift shop: the standard Angel’s Envy that is finished in port wine barrels, the Angel’s Envy Rye that is finished in rum casks, and the Angel’s Envy Cask Strength. So now that a working distillery and home base is in place, IL wondered if there might be more expressions on the horizon.
“With the new distillery, it gives me a lot of options,” Henderson said. “I’m really big on experimental releases that maybe you can get just here at the distillery and a few other places. We have a lot of tricks still in the bag, so it’s just finding the right time to start working on those.”
After the ceremony and unveiling of the huge still made by Louisville’s Vendome Copper & Brass Works, guests joined Henderson and his family for a toast, followed by a meet-and-greet reception. Several bars throughout the tent area offered up an original cocktail that will be available at the distillery. Aptly called The Henderson, it’s a take on the Old-Fashioned that includes ruby port syrup and Angostura and orange bitters.
Henderson also gave some members of the media a private tour to get a feel of what visitors can expect come Saturday. The hands-on, behind-the-scenes tour gives bourbon aficionados exactly what they want — selfies with the still, a glimpse into day-old sour mash bubbling away in fermenters, a look at the bottling line, seeing how and where they dump and fill barrels, and even a view of the grain coming by the truckload.
For anyone accustomed to seeing such massive distillery infrastructure splayed out in Kentucky’s countryside — at major distilleries like Buffalo Trace, Four Roses or Maker’s Mark — it’s impressive to see all the moving parts and pieces assembled right here within one block in downtown Louisville.
Angel’s Envy will be open Mondays and Wednesdays through Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Sundays from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m., beginning Saturday, Nov. 19. Tours are $15 a person, which includes a tasting, and can be booked online.
Below are more behind-the-scenes images from the opening celebration: