Construction to begin of Old Forester Distillery on Whiskey Row
LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) - Sixteen days ago Old Forester President Campbell Brown could do little more than watch the fire raging in the three facades at the south end of Whiskey Row.
In reality, only one wall, four-bricks thick, away.
"There were anxious moments for all of us at Brown-Forman," he said of the Louisville-based worldwide distiller and distributor of spirits that his great-great grandfather, George Garvin Brown, helped found almost a century and a half ago.
At risk? Brown-Forman's $45 million investment to renovate and build a full-service distillery and visitors center that promises visitors a bourbon experience "from barrel to bottle."
"We'd still planned to do this," Brown said. "But as soon as firefighters gave us a green light to hang that banner, that was the point where we said, 'we're gonna go ahead and do this.'"
At 11:53 a.m. Wednesday, a sheet dropped to reveal a banner two stories wide and two stories tall: "Old Forester Distillery, opening in 2017."
"They still have some work to do In terms of structural integrity," Brown said. "Checking and just making sure that things are in working order, especially in the buildings next to us."
"After a 92 year hiatus, the production of Old Forester is coming home," Brown-Forman master distiller Chris Morris announced to a crowd of dignitaries, including five generations of George Garvin Brown's descendants.
The 55,000 square foot facility offers an opportunity to double production of "the only bourbon brand on the market that was made before during and after Prohibition," company literature proclaims.
"This is the heart of it all," Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer said. "When you think of how bourbon flowed through the city, literally."
"At one time, 89 Bourbon companies that were headquartered along Main Street," Morris said. "Only one remains, Brown-Forman."
Two lanes of traffic remained blocked on West Main Street. The construction won't be any worse, according to Bruce Rosenblatt, whose Mannie & Merle restaurant and bar faces the project.
"We're actually bumping our shop out the next couple of months, taking over the barber shop next door," Rosenblatt said. "Everything construction-wise will be on the other (Washington Street) side of the building, so we're just excited to have the influx of people coming through."
A return to West Main represents a full-circle for the mid-shelf label nicknamed "Louisville's Bourbon."
"Millennials have found it," Brown said. "It represents an authenticity, a history. It's price-attractive. Woodford Reserve became Brown-Forman's premium bourbon with its introduction in 1996, the signature product of the Labrot & Graham division.
Manny & Merle catered Old Forester's construction kickoff, which paid homage to the brand by filling a ceremonial barrel with water; spirits to be added at the Shively distillery hours later.
Woodford Reserve and Old Forester have ridden the wave of a Bourbon Boom that provides more than 15,000 jobs and more than $707 million payroll to the Commonwealth, Gov. Steve Beshear told the crowd.
"(In two years) the industry has nearly doubled its workforce, tripled its number of distilleries and set new modern records for exports and barrel inventories," Beshear said.
Brown-Forman is eligible for $900,000 in incentives through the Kentucky Business Investment Program, by meeting construction, wage and hiring targets. It also is eligible for another $410,000 through the Kentucky Enterprise Initiative Act, to recoup sales and use tax from building costs, fixtures and equipment used in research and development.
"It will be a big part of 'Bourbonism,'" Mayor Fischer said. "I'd say we're in the second inning, maybe of the game right now. We've got a long ride in front of us."
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