Barrels of Fun

Kentucky Artisan Distillery
in Crestwood, Ky., has found it niche

The facility continues to grow since its opening in 2013

CRESTWOOD, Ky. (January 2017) – Since officially opening its doors in 2013, the Kentucky Artisan Distillery has continued to expand and become a viable business in Oldham County. This craft distillery’s future looks bright with even more options on the horizon.
“We opened in April 2013, and it has grown more every month since then,” said one of the owners, Steve Thompson. Along with Chris Miller and Mike Loring, Thompson shared a common dream to produce an opportunity for entrepreneurs to learn and experience the craft of spirit production.
Before establishing the Kentucky Artisan Distillery in Crestwood, Thompson led distilling operations for Louisville-based Brown-Forman Corp between 1987 and 1996. He has also built two distilleries in Hawaii.

Photo provided

The tasting room at the Kentucky Artisan Distillery in Crestwood, Ky., is a popular place for visitors.

The trio met in 2005 during the dismantling of the former Brown-Forman bottling operation on 18th Street in Louisville when it was moving to a newer facility at the same location. Thompson was not working there at the time, but he later asked Miller and Loring for help in obtaining some equipment he needed for another distillery.
It wasn’t long before Thompson, Miller and Loring leased property at 6230 Old La Grange Rd. for their own distillery. Located next to Yew Dell Botanical Gardens, it contained an approximately 12,000-square-foot building that they began to remodel the very next day. As a former an ice cream distribution center with large insulated rooms, the building was perfect for conversion into a distillery.
Their efforts soon paid off. Even in the beginning, “It surpassed what I thought it would do,” said Thompson
David Bizianes, executive director for Oldham Chamber & Economic Development, said, “The Kentucky Artisan Distillery is an important asset to our community. In addition to the facility providing jobs, tax revenue and serving as a destination for tourists, perhaps the most significant contribution the business provides is its ability to attract complementary projects.”
As a result of the Kentucky Artisan Distillery’s influence on other businesses, “Our office is managing multiple inquiries from developers who are considering Oldham County for wineries, tasting rooms and microbreweries,” Bizianes said.
“These types of amenities make it possible to create synergies with local businesses and other tourism assets, which will increase the amount of opportunities for our citizens to spend their dollars locally.”
Three major brands are produced at Kentucky Artisan Distillery: Whiskey Row Bourbon (Thompson’s own brand), Jefferson’s Brands (owned by Castle Brands) and Highspire Whiskey, which is made with 100 percent rye grain.
In addition to producing its own brands, the Kentucky Artisan Distillery functions as a cooperative for guest distillers who need assistance with production, bottling and barrel storage. Thompson provides consulting work for prospective distilleries, aiding them with up-to-date sales and marketing information. “We have an in-house training program where we bring people in for a one-week program and go through the whole process with them.” 
Bizianes said he believes Thompson chose Oldham County for his distillery because he was “attracted to the vacant facility and also the fact that he could sense that Oldham County’s growth was imminent. He knew he would be the first distillery in an affluent community that was poised for development.”
Thompson said future goals for the Kentucky Artisan Distillery includes expansion. “We’ve doubled our capacity right now.” He would also like to put in a new still and malting operation for malting barley. The latter would be the first in Kentucky for a distiller, he said.
A new warehouse was built in 2015 that holds 8,000 barrels.
An additional 10,000-square-foot warehouse is in the works. Barley and rye are grown on the nearby Waldeck Farm.
The distillery has increased its “production due to the new wet status of Oldham County,” said Bizianes. In turn, “this produces jobs and tax revenue for our local economy. Additionally, the owner of the distillery is a generous corporate citizen who supports local causes.”
Recently expanded liquor sales in Oldham County have kept the Kentucky Artisan Distillery within the county. Before the passage of the vote, “the distillery was unable to sell alcohol and offer tastings to tourists who pulled off of the interstate,” Bizianes said. “Not passing the wet vote would have likely forced the distillery out.”
Fortunately for Oldham County, that did not happen. Thompson and his business partners have decided that they made the right decision in locating in Oldham County. “The passing of the wet vote certainly helped,” he said.
The facility not only manufactures whiskey but contains a gift shop and offers tours. “Our tours are neat,” Thompson said. At the close of 2016, he said 3,500 people had toured the distillery. He guessed about 65 percent of tourists are from out of state.
The facility contains an event room that can be rented. Groups such as the Whisky Chicks and Pinot’s Palette (an art group) have rented the space for special programs.
The future looks bright for the Kentucky Artisan Distillery. “We will continue to be the best we can be for a small craft distillery,” Thompson said.
In the works are a couple of new products, including a new gin named after Camden Springs in Oldham County, he said.
The distillery in 2012 became the 18th member of the Kentucky Distillers Association. The association has been the Commonwealth’s leading voice on bourbon and spirits issues since 1880.

• For more information, call the Kentucky Artisan Distillery at (502) 822-3042 or visit: www.KentuckyArtisanDistillery.com.

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