Thursday, May 23, 2013
Rumor Mill Identifies Site of Long-Rumored Angel's Envy Distillery
Last summer, part of the former Vermont American Corp. complex in downtown Louisville was razed to make way for the downtown portion of the Ohio River Bridges Project. At the time, Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear announced that the remainder of the complex would be redeveloped and that negotiations with a prospective developer were underway.
The site is just south of Louisville Slugger Field, home of the Louisville Bats, a minor league (AAA) baseball affiliate of the Cincinnati Reds. It is at the easternmost end of the Whiskey Row district that Louisville has been trying to revive.
The Vermont American property has been vacant for decades. The site is heavily contaminated. Vermont American's parent company, Robert Bosch Tool Corp., has agreed to pay for environmental cleanup of the grounds and courtyard.
Meanwhile, Louisville Distilling Company has been talking about opening a distillery in downtown Louisville since before it launched its Angel's Envy brand two years ago. The bourbon whiskey for Angel's Envy is made by an undisclosed distillery, then finished in port casks by Louisville Distilling. The company is owned by Chicago entrepreneur Mark Bushala but Lincoln Henderson, former master distiller at Brown-Forman, is responsible for the whiskey. His son, Wes, and grandson, Kyle, run the day-to-day operation.
Rumors swirling around Louisville are now connecting Louisville Distilling to the Vermont American site. A few blocks west, Heaven Hill is nearing completion of its Evan Williams Experience and another non-distiller producer, Michter's, is trying to develop another old building into a micro-distillery and brand homeplace.
Earlier this week, the rumors gained credence by being reported at Insider Louisville. Asked about the rumors, Kyle Henderson did not confirm the Vermont American site but did announce which Louisville architects won the redevelopment job. He also hinted that an official announcement about the company's future plans would be made by the end of the month. Other sources at Angel's Envy/Louisville Distilling are making no effort to distance themselves from the rumors.
The Angel's Envy brand is doing well and doesn't need the buzz, but the distillery project has increasingly seemed like a pipedream. Since several recently announced new distilleries, including Michter's, have failed to materialize, the Hendersons need to manage expectations.
Even if the location is announced next week, realization of the distillery dream is still a long way off. Environmental remediation of the site has yet to begin. Construction will take about a year. Finally, the distillery equipment will need to be built, installed, and tested.
Louisville's Vendome Copper and Brass, which is nearby, will no doubt make the equipment. Vendome recently increased its estimated time from order to delivery to nine months.
Assuming distillation begins by the end of 2014, an optimistic projection, nothing will be ready to sell before 2019. It's also not known what Louisville Distilling intends in terms of scale. Will it be a small, demonstration distillery like Evan Williams is planning, or large enough to allow the company to stop relying on bulk whiskey purchases? Transitioning a bulk-based brand to home made has never been accomplished but if anyone can do it, Lincoln Henderson can.
Louisville city boosters praise the idea of a craft distillery on the Vermont American site because it will provide another tourism-friendly business across from the ballpark, as well as anchoring the Whiskey Row redevelopment with a whiskey-oriented attraction. Coincidentally, the western end of Whiskey Row is anchored by the Louisville Slugger Museum. The Michter's site is right across the street.
The recently-opened Yum Center arena is also on Main Street, in the approximate center of the redevelopment area, which is also adjacent to the Ohio River. During Louisville's recent Kentucky Derby festivities, Angel's Envy hosted a temporary 'pop-up' bar close to the Vermont American property at 400 E. Main. The neighborhood recently has become home to several popular new bars and restaurants.
We should know more in a week or so.