Heaven Hill, located in Kentucky, is the world's largest tourable distillery. It is the seventh-largest supplier of alcohol in the United States and thanks to its massive warehouses, the second-largest holder of bourbon whiskey in the world. True to its roots, the distillery primarily produces Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey. The story of how it rose to prominence is a long and interesting one, intertwined with American history in multiple ways. For this reason, it is a site of North American cultural heritage.
Heaven Hill History
The prohibition era in America created an immense demand for booze. Shortly after the ban was lifted, in 1935, five investors came together to start Heaven Hill. The initial investors were members of the Shapira and Beam family.
The Beam family, who emigrated from Germany in the late 18th century, invented the Bourbon style of Whiskey. Jacob Beam began producing corn whiskey in 1795, and now, his legacy brand, Jim Beam, is one of the best-selling whiskeys in the world. Despite familial connections, today, Jim Beam is owned by the Japanese company Suntory, while Heaven Hill is independently owned by the Shapira family.
One of Beam's descendants, Joseph Beam, teamed up with the Shapira brothers and used his ancestral knowledge of bourbon distillation to capitalize on the surge in demand for whiskey. Heaven Hill was born, and it wouldn't be long before it become a major player on the world stage.
Touring Heaven Hill Distillery
Heaven Hill is the star of the Kentucky Bourbon Trail and any lover of history or whiskey should take a tour of the distillery. There are several tour options and all of them cannot be reproduced anywhere else. Some of the highlights include standing on the inside of the world's largest whiskey barrel, tasting a wide array of whiskeys - many of which cannot be bought or found anywhere else, exploring the hands-on lab, and learning about the distillation, aging, and storing process.
After the tour, there is a fully stocked bar where guests can put everything they learned together and enjoy fleets of special bourbons as well as other cocktails.
- Address: 1311 Gilkey Run Rd., Bardstown, KY, 40004
- Hours: Weekdays (11AM - 6PM); Weekends (10AM - 6PM); Sunday (1PM - 5PM)
- Price: $15 - $40
The most interesting tour available is the You Do Bourbon. It's the longest and most expensive tour, lasting for 90 minutes and costing $40.
In this tour, visitors are given free rein to try several kinds of bourbon from different mash bills, choose their favorite one, and personalize the taste and aroma in the lab. After customizing the bourbon of their choice, visitors bottle it themselves and buy it at an additional cost - thereby owning a one-of-a-kind bottle of Heaven Hill bourbon that is suited to their individual preference.
Visitors will learn the entire bottling process first hand, from rinsing and manning the bottling station, to filling out the label and placing it on the bottle.
In the lab, visitors can look at yeasts under a microscope, discern subtle differences at the nosing station, and gauge the alcohol proof of the whiskey.
- Fun Fact: A mash bill is the mix of grains used to make bourbon. These grains are cooked and fermented to begin the bourbon-making process. There are typically three grains in every bourbon mash bill: Corn, Rye or Wheat, and Malted Barley.
All of the tours include a visit to the distillery theatre, a 40-person cinema that showcases short films about Heaven Hill and bourbon.
Heaven Hill Distillation And Storage Capacity
Living up to its status as one of the largest alcohol suppliers in the country, the distillery can produce around 1,300 barrels of whiskey a day. Due to the sheer volume of production, as well as the fact that the whiskeys need to be aged, sometimes for decades, the massive Heaven Hill warehouses are a remarkable feat of engineering.
The barrels are stacked on ricks, which provide sturdy vertical storage over long periods of time without putting pressure on the barrels and allowing for easy extraction. The warehouses where bourbon whiskey is stored are called rickhouses. Heaven Hill owns some of the largest rickhouses in the world, so large that it's possible to get lost in the maze of barrels.
Each rickhouse needs to be calibrated in such a way that the bourbons are not affected by extreme temperatures, pests, earthquakes, and tornadoes.
- Fun Fact: The largest rickhouse holds around 55,000 barrels at full capacity.
Since its inception, Heaven Hill has utilized an almost ecclesiastical hierarchy. The Master Distiller is usually the most experienced leader who makes decisions regarding aging techniques, barrel selection, and other technical aspects of the production and storage process. Working with the Master are Artisanal Distillers, who are veterans of the industry and contribute unique experience and knowledge to the art of distillation.
The first Master Distiller was none other than Joseph Beam. Currently, the Master Distiller is Conor O'Driscoll.
After decades of commitment to quality bourbon and classic Americana values, Heaven Hill is a cornerstone of the bourbon industry and a shining example of American enterprise.