Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Bourbon Distilleries, Ranked by Capacity

To understand this post, it is a good idea to read the two previous ones. Last Monday, we learned that the area of a beer still is the critical metric for determining capacity, that is the area of one of its plates. Although many factors contribute to a distillery's actual capacity, beer still area is something that can be compared across distilleries that use column stills for their first distillation, as virtually all large bourbon distilleries do.

Until last week, I was under the impression that still diameter was the key metric. It is when comparing still to still; larger diameter, more capacity. But since the largest distilleries use more than one beer still, you have to use area to compare them. You can't just add up the diameters. I know this is elementary to many of you, but math has never been my strong suit.

The other post, from September 6, was the announcement that one of Kentucky's newest bourbon distilleries, Bardstown Bourbon Company (BBC), is planning a major capacity increase. In their press release, they claimed it would make them "one of the largest bourbon distilleries in the world." I did some back-of-the-envelope calculations and decided they were about sixth. At an event during last week's Kentucky Bourbon Festival, they picked up on that number.

Based on what I subsequently learned about still area, I decided to revisit the numbers and do better calculations. BBC may be disappointed by what I found.

Since BBC made its claim based on planned future capacity, I have done the same, using stills I know about that should be in operation by the end of 2018.

So here is how America's whiskey distilleries rank, by the capacity of their beer still or stills. I did it by distillery, not company, although Brown-Forman, which owns Jack Daniel's as well as some Kentucky plants, ranks first either way. These are the kinds of choices, though arbitrary, that you have to make with this sort of thing. One could consider Beam's Booker Noe and Clermont plants as a single facility, since they operate under the same registration number (DSP-KY-230) and make the same products, but they are autonomous, and ten miles apart, so I count them separately.

Coming in at No. 1, then, is the Jack Daniel Distillery in Lynchburg, Tennessee. It has six beer stills, two at 72 inches (diameter) and four at 54 inches. That gives them more than twice the capacity of any other U.S. whiskey distillery.

No. 2 is Heaven Hill in Louisville, with three 60 inch stills.

No. 3 is Beam's Booker Noe plant in Boston, Kentucky, which has two 72 inch stills.

No. 4 is Buffalo Trace in Frankfort. They have just the one still, but it's a monster at 84 inches.

No. 5 is the Brown-Forman Distillery in Shively. 

No. 6 is a tie between the Jim Beam Distillery in Clermont and the Barton 1792 Distillery in Bardstown.

No. 7 is Four Roses in Lawrenceburg.

No. 8 is Maker's Mark in Loretto.

No. 9 is Wild Turkey in Lawrenceburg.

No. 10 is O. Z. Tyler in Owensboro.

No. 11 is Bardstown Bourbon Company in Bardstown. They're 11th, not 6th, but they are the largest new bourbon distillery in the world.

No. 12 is MGP in Lawrenceburg Indiana. This is an estimate. I have seen their still, but they refuse to tell me its size, so I estimate that it is 48 inches. (They are the only whiskey distillery in America keeping that information secret.)

No. 13 is a tie between the two Diageo distilleries, George Dickel in Tullahoma, Tennessee and Bulleit in Shelbyville, Kentucky.

No. 14 is Wilderness Trail in Danville.

No. 15 is Lux Row in Bardstown.

No. 16 is Michter's in Shively.

No. 17 is Angel's Envy in Louisville

No. 18 is where we will end this list. It is a six-way tie among Old Forester (Louisville), Castle & Key (Frankfort), Willett (Bardstown), New Riff (Newport), Rabbit Hole (Louisville) and Fulton County (Hickman). Of these only two, Willett and New Riff, are actually producing now. 

So what? Mostly it is just interesting. I was surprised that, figured this way, Heaven Hill is second only to Jack Daniel's but I guess I shouldn't be. Heaven Hill's top bourbon, Evan Williams Black Label, ranks third behind Jack Daniel's Old No. 7 and Jim Beam White Label.

This list should be good for the next year or so, since all of the construction underway or on the books is factored in. After that, who knows? These are crazy but exhilarating times to be a bourbon enthusiast. 


Zeke said...


Can you list the diameters of all the stills? Please and thank you.

Wade said...

I heard Castle and Key is operational.

Wade said...

What about the TN moonshine distillery that Sazerac recently purchased? Any idea of their still size?

Shane Baker said...

Chuck I sent you an email but Wilderness Trail Distillery would actually be in the 14th slot! Wilderness Trail Distillery consist of three stills, 250 gal pot still, 18" beer still and a new 36" beer still. But as I noted, beer stills do not really determine the running capacity of the distillery, its the fermenters.

Sam Komlenic said...

Crazy but exhilarating...that about nails it. Nice work, and thanks!

Anonymous said...

The more I read about these idiots rushing to put each out of business, the more I wonder who can possibly believe this is a good thing, 1% money on capital equipment and carrying costs for aged spirits that will sit out back unsold till the end of time seems to have driven people insane. As a DSP I get emails at least once a week from brokers trying to sell us barrels of "special blend, Tennessee, bourbon, rye, blah, blah, blah,etc... The current going rate per barrel of the wonderful product you all seem so anxious to buy from these companies pretending to make "craft spirits" , $1100- per 120p 53g barrel. With all this excess capacity coming on line,this should drop to the $800- range within 2 years. By then there will be so much unwanted whiskey floating around the system they will probably be marketing "Old Horsewhip" to directly burn in diesel trucks.

By the time Big Gulp is done, this will make even the tulip crash seem small in comparison. I can just hear the penny pushers in the boardrooms, "if you make it, and age it out-back for 8 years, it will be worth ...... So pay me my bonus now, because I made you all this future profit".


Crown Point Marc said...

Someone doesn't like free market capitalism.

Erik Fish said...

The problem is not the "free market". You find comments like this all over the whiskey blogosphere, always anonymous and full of predicting doom and gloom for the large producer. The problem for people like this is that the current expansion is very convincingly disproving the narrative that the "craft" proponents have been trying to push with increasing desperation: that people will desert Big Ethanol with its deep experience and great whiskeys in droves and move to the often too young and not always very good craft whiskeys made by people with passion and heart. Nice story, but it isn't happening, and it won't happen. The expansion plans of the majors make that clear. That's where the petulant tone comes from.

Anonymous said...

Erik - I think you doth protest too much. The spirits flooding the market at cheaper and cheaper prices are from the large producers to the "craft" industry, most of which is now aged to "perfection" at BG. They are literally dumping it to the very "craft producers" that they and many industry shills then berate as having inferiors products. Big Gulp is already at over capacity selling their tired old brands, and a few new names on the same old stuff will mean virtually nothing once the price points start falling.

Sure they can pretend it isn't really over supply, because they are "aging it out back" , but NAS can only cover so much deception.

Brian McDaniel said...

Which one is BG? I'm confused. Is that like MGP? And if a microdistiller actually distills and ages their own whiskey out back, does that always make for a better whiskey? Is it always worth $40 for a fifth? Really? Don't get me wrong - my local distiller Stillwright's distills and ages their own wheated bourbon and it's just fine as far as I can tell. But will it ever really compare to Weller Antique? I have no way to tell.

Doctor Tarr said...

An easy way to understand why area matters more than diameter is that a 12 inch pizza is 12.5% larger than two 8 inch pizzas (and has less crust). At least for me.

mwanning said...

What about the capacity of a pot still? It has been a while since I took the tour but I don't remember a column still at Woodford Reserve. Yes - a lot of Woodford is from the Brown-Foreman Early Time distillery in Shivley, but it seems that it is a blend of column still aged barrels from Shivley and Pot Still aged barrels from Versailles. So where would Woodford and Alltech be in the list since Pot Stills are not counted? (I think).

Chuck Cowdery said...

I don't have an easy way to compare pot still and column still capacity, but you're right that there is no column at the Woodford distillery. I do have a rough idea of Woodford's output that would probably put it at number 17 or 18, pretty far down the list.

Calflyer said...


Chuck Cowdery said...

Not much has changed since this was posted.

Anonymous said...

Very cool to read! Just toured Buffalo Trace and they will be doubling up with another still in the near future.

Chuck Cowdery said...

Folks interested in this subject probably should read this. There is an up-to-date analysis of this data in the new issue of The Bourbon Country Reader.