By James Natsis
I visited the Barton 1792 Distillery in Bardstown, Ky., twice in the past two years as a mere observer curious about all distilleries in Bourbon Country. During the most recent visit, I was impressed with the grandeur of its grounds and operations, yet intrigued by its aloofness toward the Bourbon Trail, its humble website, its non-interest in limited-product editions, and a very modest marketing campaign. Also, Barton doesn’t charge admission for its various tours — nada, gratis, niente! Let’s just say Barton dances to the beat of its own barrel drum.
First established as Mattingly & Moore on part of the grounds that is now a parking lot, one of the partners, Tom Moore, built the first true distillery bearing his name in 1879 but did not register his operation with the commonwealth of Kentucky until 1889.
Closed during Prohibition, the distillery was reopened and operated by Moore until his death in 1937. The distillery was sold in 1943 to Oscar Getz, who changed the name to Barton Distillery.
The Sazerac Company purchased the operations in 2009. After a brief stint under the original Tom Moore appellation, the company settled on the current Barton 1792 Distillery as a marketing tie-in to its top-shelf 1792 bourbon named after the year Kentucky became the 15th state to join the Union.
Although Barton is not exactly a household name — even in casual bourbon circles — the expansive presence and capacity of this operation is impressive, to say the least.
The distillery is located on 192 acres of hilly, rolling grounds just a mile or so southwest of the distinguished Welcome Center towering over the city of Bardstown’s center round point. It is endowed by 28 barrel warehouses spread throughout the property and a bottling plant equipped with seven lines that operate at various capacities with a 24-hour, seven-day-a-week flow of bottling, packaging and local truck transfers to the distribution center set on its own 8-acre parcel a few miles down the road.
Barton bottles and distributes vodka, tequila, rum, brandy, scotch and Canadian whiskies, and just about anything else Sazerac produces or handles via contract with other companies.
Barton offers three tours that begin in the Visitor Center, which was the original home of the Oscar Getz History Museum. The hourly 45-minute “Traditional Tour” covers the distillery, warehouse and tasting. The twice daily “Bushel to Bottle Tour” adds the bottling plant. The “1792 Estate Tour” is conducted once a day and lasts two hours. It’s limited to five people since it tours the grounds extensively by golf cart. As I stated earlier, each of the three tours are free to the general public.
My most recent tour took place on a cool, damp mid-week morning. This worked to my advantage, since I was basically the only person there as the doors opened at 9 a.m. My tour guide, Jamie, was knowledgeable and willing to tailor the tour to my specific interests and needs.
“I’m sorry I don’t make for a good story for your article, but I just needed some extra work when I started here almost three years ago,” she said when I inquired about her background and interest in bourbon. She said her most rewarding moments are meeting people from all over the world who traveled specifically to Kentucky to indulge in their passion for bourbon.
“Some of them even know more than me,” she confessed with a smile.
Although 1792 is Barton’s top-shelf brand, Very Old Barton is its top seller. These two products are available for tasting at the end of the tours. The company produces six other brands: Kentucky Tavern, Kentucky Gentleman, Ten High, Colonel Lee, Zachariah Harris, and Tom Moore. They also produced a bourbon eggnog during the past three holiday seasons and have an in-house bourbon liqueur that has not yet been distributed.
The Barton 1792 Distillery is located near the city center in Bardstown. For more information on tours and hours, visit their website.