In 2011, before any bourbon distillery could be found in downtown Louisville, Michter’s announced plans to invest in the historic but vacant Fort Nelson Building on West Main Street.
Eight years and millions of dollars later, Michter’s Fort Nelson Distillery is now open to the public after a grand opening ceremony Thursday morning attended by Michter’s staff, local and state politicians, media and industry representatives. Daily tours begin on Feb. 2.
At a ceremony held at the Frazier History Museum, just a block west of the distillery, Michter’s President Joseph J. Magliocco talked about the connection between his once retired bourbon brand and the restoration of the historic Louisville landmark that dates back to 1880.
“It’s only fitting that a once-abandoned, graveyarded brand found its home in a once-abandoned, graveyarded building,” he said to a crowd anxious to check out the new distillery.
The Michter’s whiskey brand traces its roots back to 1752 and was predominately distilled in Pennsylvania. However, in 1989, when whiskey was in the middle of its decadeslong slump, the brand was discarded.
Magliocco and his team acquired the brand’s name in the 1990s for a mere $245. Since then, he’s worked to build a brand based on quality over cost, and he’s built a distilling team that rivals any other.
“Michter’s was the first — let’s don’t forget — to place their bourbon flag proudly on Whiskey Row,” said Karen Williams, president and CEO of Louisville Tourism at the ceremony. She added that Whiskey Row and bourbon tourism wouldn’t be where it is today without the confidence of Michter’s stepping up to the plate first.
Mayor Greg Fischer and Governor Matt Bevin also spoke, both sharing the sentiment that Louisville — and Kentucky — are only in the beginning stages of what bourbonism could truly become.
After a few remarks by Michter’s Master Distiller Pam Heilmann, Master of Maturation Andrea Wilson and Distiller and Vice President of Production Dan McKee, it was time for the crowd to head over to the distillery for the official ribbon cutting and first distillery tour.
The 20,000-square-foot distillery is a mix of modern, state-of-the-art technology and old-school bourbon-making, as Michter’s recently acquired a pot still and cypress wood fermenters from the old Pennsylvania distillery. The tour is very hands-on, and the distillery will produce bourbon and whiskey on site, although the majority of its production will continue at its Shively distillery.
The second-floor bar is where most revelers ended up at because it was in business — expertly crafted cocktails were flying off the bar — and it also offered a comfy, cozy environment that lent itself to socializing. The extensive cocktail menu was designed with help from the cocktail historian and author David Wondrich, and the bar is led by Sevan Araneda, former general manager of San Francisco’s Bourbon & Branch, and bar manager Dante Wheat, formerly of Butchertown Social.
Public tours can be booked online and start at $20 per person, which includes tastings. There’s also a fairly large retail space right inside the door where you can pick up Michter’s bottles, including the new Fort Nelson Select, as well as merchandise like T-shirts and barware.
Below are more pictures from our experience at Michter’s Fort Nelson Distillery, located at 801 W. Main St.