By Kakie Urch
The Town Branch bourbon distillery will be added to the Kentucky Bourbon Trail, becoming the first distillery in Lexington and the seventh in the state along the current route, Kentucky Distillers’ Association, state tourism officials and Alltech president Pearse Lyons announced this morning.
“Having a distillery here is something of a homecoming,” Lyons, originally of County Louth in Ireland, said, telling the tale of the Irish/Scots of Pennsylvania’s Whiskey Rebellion being granted 60 acres in Virginia (now Kentucky) on which to make their whiskey by Thomas Jefferson.
“And on my mom’s side for four generations there were barrelmakers — coopers– and they were proud to actually make barrels not for beer, but for whiskey,” Lyons said.
“When we are talking about the Kentucky Bourbon Trail, we are talking about Kentucky’s history,” Lyons said.
Situated in the cluster of Alltech buildings at the junction of West Maxwell Street, Versailles Road and Oliver Lewis Way, the new distillery produces Town Branch bourbon, named after the underground aquifer that runs through downtown Lexington and feeds some of the Lexington water supply.
After comments by Eric Gregory, president of the KDA, Jeff Conder, KDA chairman and vice president of Americas Operations for Beam, Inc., Vice Mayor Linda Gorton spoke, also citing Lexington’s history. “Lexington was a hub for bourbon distilleries,” she said. Now, with the Town Branch Distillery on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail in Lexington just adjacent to the Rupp Arena area for redevelopment and the home of the early Lexington distilleries, “We will pull tourists right into downtown,” she said.
Mike Mangeot, Kentucky’s new commissioner of travel and tourism praised Lyons for his “big thinking” and said “As we’re out selling Kentucky, we need something unique, and there’s nothing more Kentucky than bourbon,” Mangeot said.
Jim Browder, the new president of the Leixngton Convention and Visitors Bureau praised Lyons for all he and Alltech have done in Lexington. Browder commented on Lyons’ efforts that brought the National Horse Show to Kentucky after more than 100 years in New York City, and his contributions to the World Equestrian Games 2010. Browder also noted Alltech’s annual symposium, which brings 3,000 people from 23 countries to Lexington.
And then, at 10:25 a.m., with the advisory that it was after 5 p.m. somewhere, the Irishman raised a glass of the Town Branch and cleared his throat. “Here’s to Lexington and Here’s to Lexington coming back again” with a distillery, Lyons said, leading those in the room who could dare to toast the newest addition to the Kentucky Bourbon Trail with the craft bourbon from his distillery.
The other distilleries on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail are: Four Roses, Lawrenceburg; Heaven Hill, Bardstown; Jim Beam, Clermont; Maker’s Mark, Loretto; Wild Turkey, Lawrenceburg and Woodford Reserve, Versailles.
Tourists are encouraged to set aside at least two days to “do” the entire Kentucky Bourbon Trail. With the Kentucky Bourbon Trail “Passport” program, visitors collect stamps on a passport at each visit and receive a not-available-in-stores t-shirt that celebrates the achievement.
At the Town Branch announcement, KDA President Gregory presented Lyons with the revised Kentucky Bourbon Trail passport, turned to the Town Branch page, and had him issue the first Town Branch distillery stamp.
First articulated in 1999 by the KDA, the Kentucky Bourbon Trail has hosted more than two million visitors in one five-year period, according to its website.
With the rise of premium small batch and single barrel bourbons, production of the spirit increased more than 11.5% from 1999 to 2010, according to the KDA.
KDA figures show that 95 percent of the world’s supply of bourbon is made in Kentucky and that there are now more bourbon barrels in the state that there are people. (More than four million).
Bourbon was declared America’s only native spirit by Congress in 1964. It gets its name from Bourbon County, one of the original three counties that made up Kentucky when it was still part of Virginia. To be considered a bourbon, a spirit must be more than 51 percent corn and be stored in new oak barrels which are charred.
Town Branch, which some whiskey experts note is a spirit that, like Maker’s Mark, has wheat as its second grain, is 80 proof, is one of the products of Lyons Spirits, a company created by Alltech CEO Pearse Lyons. Lyons Spirits also produces Pearse Lyons Reserve whiskey and Bluegrass Sundown (an Irish coffee liqueur).
Town Branch Distillery was the first new distillery added to the Kentucky Distillers’ Association since 1880, according to the group. Historical documents show that scores of bourbon brands were once produced at Lexington distilleries.
The distillery, which is still under construction and will open next month, sits in something of an Alltech compound at the corner of West Maxwell Street and Versailles Road, at the gateway to the state TIF development area known as Lexington’s Distillery District, which mostly runs along Manchester Street nearby. The Icehouse, formerly an art and performance space in a historic distillery engine room, has been transformed into a visitors’ center for the concern and there is a pub facility and a banqueting hall in a separate building.
Lyons led the gathered officials and members of the press on a tour of the Visitors Center, with a central hall designed as a Dublin street with brightly colored pub fronts bearing names of Pearse and Deirdre Lyons’ ancestors. The Visitors Center was designed by Mrs. Lyons. The tour then continued into the distillery itself, with Lyons getting up on the platform supporting the two copper stills from Scotland, animated as he showed reporters how the system works.
Bourbon distilling royalty was on hand for the event as well. Jimmy Russell, 78, of Lawrenceburg, Master Distiller at Kentucky Bourbon Trail site Wild Turkey for approaching 58 years, was on hand for the toast and the tour. Russell, of course, has left his legacy. He has got his young son Eddie, 52, already trained should he need to step aside.
Lyons, a Ph.D. in biochemistry who was once part of the Guinness brewery team in his native Ireland, built Alltech, now a diversified $700 million revenue international concern based in Lexington, from a small shed operation in Nicholasville. The company founded in 1980 now employs 2,800 people and operates in 128 countries. In addition to its agricultural products, Alltech produces the Kentucky Ale line of beer. The company was the major sponsor of the Alltech World Equestrian Games held in Lexington in 2010 and is a major cultural donor in the city.
In early 2010, the New Orleans-based company that owns the Buffalo Trace distillery in Frankfort and the Tom Moore Distillery in Bardstown resigned from the KDA. Its distilleries were removed from the Kentucky Bourbon Trail promotion.
On September 28 at the Alltech site Coach Calipari will sign a special blue label edition of Town Branch Bourbon, commemorating UK’s NCAA title.
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