Heaven Hill Distillery today celebrated the grand opening of the Heaven Hill Bourbon Experience in Bardstown, Ky. The expansion, renovation and renaming are the culmination of a multi-year $125 million investment in Kentucky’s signature industry and model for the future of tourism since 2018. The state-of-the-art visitor center received a $19 million upgrade to become an interactive, educational space offering signature exhibits unique to the Heaven Hill Bourbon Experience. Heaven Hill also invested $106 million across American Whiskey production including new barrel warehousing, bottling line and equipment upgrades, increased holdings of Bourbon Whiskey, and distillery enhancements. Heaven Hill President Max L. Shapira and Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear presided over the ribbon cutting to commemorate the occasion, silhouetted against the new 1935 distillery replica exterior. Gov. Beshear also presented Shapira and Kentucky Distillers’ Association President Eric Gregory with a proclamation to henceforth name June 14 as “National Bourbon Day” in Kentucky.
First opened on October 15, 2004 as the Bourbon Heritage Center under the guidance of the late Harry Shapira, Heaven Hill’s presence as one of the first visitor centers on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail has played an instrumental role in establishing Kentucky as a top tourist destination. The new Heaven Hill Bourbon Experience triples the previous footprint with more than 30,000 square feet, capable of welcoming over 900 American Whiskey enthusiasts or newcomers at any given time to witness history brought to life. From the 85-year history of Heaven Hill Distillery as nurturers of America’s spirit to the quintessential American success story of the Shapira family, the full breadth of whiskey splendor is on display including a new product unique to the Heaven Hill Bourbon Experience and select Kentucky retailers. Five Brothers Bourbon is a small batch blending of five ages of Bourbon ranging from five- to nine-years-old, paying homage to the courage, dedication and solidarity of the five Shapira brothers who started it all in 1935 (more details to be released later this week). The new experience also added 13 new staff positions to ensure every guest receives that quality experience for which Heaven Hill is known.
“In the heart of Bourbon country, we welcome fans back to experience America’s Native Spirit, immerse themselves in the long history of Heaven Hill, and learn about the award-winning portfolio of storied brands now told on these walls,” said Heaven Hill President Max L. Shapira. “We honor the vision held by my father and his four brothers, celebrating the people who built the foundation upon which we stand today. The Heaven Hill Bourbon Experience is an innovative, state-of-the-art tourism model, grounded in history, and developed to entice fans for generations to come.”
Breaking ground in November 2018 in partnership with Solid Light and Abel Construction, Heaven Hill first unveiled the renovation phase of the new experience in November 2019 featuring three beautiful tasting rooms, each representing a pivotal Heaven Hill brand or story. Positioned around a larger-than-life barrel, the iconic tasting rooms overlook Heaven Hill’s main campus of rickhouses for spectacular views of Bourbon country. Prior to completing their designated tours, guests will join their bourbon host in the barrel for a wide-screen video about how barrels are made and their importance to the bourbon production process.
“I am proud to be in the heart of bourbon country to proclaim today National Kentucky Bourbon Day and I am thrilled to be here to congratulate the Shapira family and the Heaven Hill team on another successful project investing millions in Kentucky and our people,” Gov. Beshear said at the grand opening. “As we emerge from this pandemic with our economy booming, we are announcing more jobs and investment in the commonwealth every week, and the bourbon industry is no exception. This state-of-the-art visitor center will give people one more great reason to visit Kentucky and experience the Kentucky Bourbon Trail, creating even more jobs and opportunity.”
The innovative exhibits at the Heaven Hill Bourbon Experience offer an in-depth perspective not yet told on the Bourbon Trail, as a multi-sensory showcase of stories weaves the key turning points in history that brought to bear the legendary brands on the market today.
The “You Do Bourbon” immersive space invites guests into a classroom style tasting room where a host will guide them through a tasting of unique products. To commemorate their visit, they will have the opportunity to bottle their favorite Bourbon or whiskey from their tasting through the custom-designed filling machines, apply the label and personalize it in the adjacent Bottling Room. Finally, guests will experience a day in the life of a quality technician in the You Do Bourbon lab. Quality technicians ensure the consistency, quality, and integrity of all Heaven Hill products. Step into their shoes, inspecting through microscopes, gauging the proof of whiskey, and testing your sense of smell at the nosing station. At any given time, there will be three to four mashbills available to choose from: Heaven Hill Bourbon, Heaven Hill Wheat Whiskey, Heaven Hill Wheated Bourbon, and a fourth option on rotation. Guests will be able to select a commemorative mashbill and label in honor of the grand opening while supplies last.
The 1935 Distillery Theater invites up to 40 guests to experience an immersive 11-minute show put on display by seven custom screens that fly in and out using DMX technology at various moments throughout the story of the Shapira family and Heaven Hill Distillery. The high-speed roll down system is equipped with vinyl mesh so the theatrical lighting system can bring the full show to life with special effects lights and custom panel lights designed to look like the windows of the original 1935 Distillery. The projection system consists of three Panasonic projectors that showcase a seamless display just shy of a true 4K resolution. With the addition of 5.1 surround sound audio, the visitor is truly immersed into the story of Heaven Hill.
After walking through the Family Gallery, which details important people behind Heaven Hill’s rise within distilled spirits, visitors will enter three new self-guided, interactive exhibition spaces dedicated to integral players and movements within American Whiskey:
The Elijah Craig exhibit immediately immerses guests in a charred barrel, the “Father of Bourbon’s” claim to fame. Walls made of charred oak, curved in a barrel shape, enclose a fabricated ring of fire where guests can learn how the char on the inside of a barrel affects the aging process and flavor development of a whiskey and understand the nuances of each product in the Elijah Craig family.
The Larceny space takes guests behind lock and key into Treasury Agent John E. Fitzgerald’s room where he kept the registry comprised of his “Fitzgerald” barrels. Guests are invited to learn how to properly thieve whiskey from a barrel, interact with talking decanters detailing Fitzgerald’s ability to choose only the best barrels, and understand the key differences between Wheated Bourbon, like Larceny, and Rye Bourbon.
The Bottled-in-Bond exhibit showcases Heaven Hill Distillery’s leading portfolio of bonded products, the most available on the market today. The Bottled-in-Bond Act of 1897 was an important turning point in the history of Bourbon as exacting standards set forth offered consumers a guarantee of quality and transparency. Today, this designation continues to offer those same guarantees, which guests will take a deep dive into through the exhibit.
The new Five Brothers Bar & Kitchen located on the second floor boasts an upscale, approximately 25-foot bar fully equipped to serve craft cocktails and Bourbon tastings, a lounge area and dining space for the soon-to-be-opened restaurant. Guests can also take their cocktails to the rooftop area connected to the lounge space to enjoy views of Heaven Hill’s rickhouses. Tucked in the corner of the lounge is the unicorn case, where rare, historic bottles seldom available today and other Kentucky Bourbon artifacts will be on display. Just off the bar, the Generation Loft is the space perfect for corporate meetings, intimate dinners, and small celebrations.
Guests are welcomed onto the Heaven Hill campus by several rickhouses, filled with up to 52,000 barrels each. The exterior of the new visitor center showcases a replica of how the distillery looked in 1935, an authentic, vintage barrel truck representative of what the Shapira brothers may have driven in the 1940s, and an updated sign celebrating the new name. The newest rickhouse on site features a bird’s eye view into the resting barrels with a glass window corner spanning the seven floors and new Heaven Hill sign. The new rickhouse will host single barrel selections and accommodate future tours soon to be launched at Heaven Hill Bourbon Experience.
The Heaven Hill Bourbon Experience, which officially open its doors to the public at 11:00 a.m. Tuesday, June 15, will be open Mondays through Thursdays from 11:00 am to 6:00 p.m., Fridays and Saturdays from 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m., and Sundays from 1:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. The Five Brothers Bar will be open for cocktails Monday through Saturday from 11:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. and Sunday from 1:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. Tour reservations can be made online here and initial tour offerings will include:
Magic of the Mashbill: Heaven Hill is the only heritage distillery that features every major category of American Whiskey – and it all begins with the grain. Guests will enjoy five nationally acclaimed American Whiskeys, each from a different mashbill, in one of the iconic tasting rooms. Learn about both the fascinating history of Bourbon as well as the story behind Heaven Hill Distillery, family owned and operated since 1935 in the 1935 Distillery Theater. Immerse yourself in Bourbon history through the educational, self-guided galleries. The Magic of the Mashbill is a 45-minute tasting offered daily on the hour and costs $15.00.
Whiskey Connoisseur: A Bourbon Host will discuss the unique characteristics of five of Heaven Hill’s premium or limited release American Whiskeys, focusing on the color, aroma, taste and finish. Learn about both the fascinating history of Bourbon as well as the story behind Heaven Hill Distillery, family owned and operated since 1935 in the 1935 Distillery Theater. Immerse yourself in Bourbon history through the educational, self-guided galleries. The Whiskey Connoisseur experience is a 45-minute tasting offered daily on the half hour and costs $20.00.
You Do Bourbon: As previously mentioned, the You Do Bourbon invites guests for a hands-on lab experience as they learn mashbills, bottling, labeling and quality control. The one-hour experience costs $40, which does not include the price of the personalized bottle. A donation of $5 per bottle will be made to a rotating charitable cause, with Bernheim Forest receiving the donations for the first six months. The You Do Bourbon tour will be open for reservations at the beginning of July.
Heaven Hill’s investment in the future of American Whiskey is also focused on the communities that lift up the industry. Bernheim Forest Executive Director Dr. Mark Wourms joined Shapira and Gov. Beshear on stage to celebrate Heaven Hill’s corporate partnership with Bernheim, as well as the commitment to donate $5 per bottle from the “You Do Bourbon” experience to Bernheim Forest for six months up to $10,000. Heaven Hill previously committed $10,000 to the new Rites of Passage program at Bernheim, which includes immersive experiences in nature as part of nurturing a new generation of young Black men and women during a critical phase of development.
The former Bourbon Heritage Center is a multiple past winner of Whisky Magazine’s “Visitor Attraction of the Year” award at the magazine’s annual “Icons of Whisky” Awards, consistently ranked as one of the top tours in the Bardstown area, drawing 60,000 visitors per year. In Louisville, the Evan Williams Bourbon Experience is dedicated to the story of Kentucky’s First Distiller and the world’s 2nd largest Bourbon brand also under the Heaven Hill Distillery umbrella, Evan Williams. Typically hosting 100,000 visitors annually, it was the first distillery back on Whiskey Row in Downtown Louisville. The Kentucky Bourbon Trail (www.kybourbontrail.com), takes visitors through the heart of the Bluegrass and a stop in on the state’s distilleries. More than 1.3 million people visited the Kentucky Bourbon Trail distilleries in 2019, with 38+ tourism experience across the state.