Angel’s Envy Distillery Breaks GroundJuly 11th, 2013
Whisky Advocate contributor Fred Minnick reports on the new Angel’s Envy distillery.
Louisville Distilling Company, the maker’s of Angel’s Envy, is turning a former hobo hangout into a $12 million distillery in downtown Louisville. Kentucky governor Steve Beshear, Louisville mayor Greg Fischer, spirits executives, and dozens of reporters attended the Angel’s Envy distillery groundbreaking on July 9 at the former Vermont American building, which had been vacant since 1986.
“Four years ago, we started looking for a distillery and kicked every piece of dirt in area,” said Wes Henderson, the company’s chief operating officer.
In May, InsiderLouisville.com broke the news about a downtown location with social media rumors circling around the Vermont building, a stone’s throw away from the city’s minor league baseball park, Slugger Field. “This was the worst-kept secret in the history of urban development,” Fischer said.
The planned opening is December 2014, and there’s a lot of work to do. When Angel’s Envy selected the building, public officials kicked out 30 homeless people, who, along with gang members, had shattered glass, cracked floors, busted brick walls, and marked their territory with spray cans. In the future stillroom, artists from the “Hole in the Wall Gang” and the “Living Dead” gang painted wolf’s heads and hypnotizing owls. On the second floor, where future fermenters will stand, gorgeous city and Ohio river views are marred by tacky markings.
Despite a few soft floors with holes, and busted brick façades, the foundation is in good shape. Nonetheless, standing water and yellow caution tape make the future distillery appear more like a CSI scene.
But the architects, Joseph & Joseph, are accustomed with distillery fixer-uppers. Since 1908, the firm has built dozens of distilleries, including Four Roses, Stitzel-Weller, and Brown-Forman facilities. Joseph & Joseph is also turning downtown Louisville’s Fort Nelson building into the Michter’s distillery.
The building actually carries a historical significance to the brand. Master distiller Lincoln Henderson’s father built equipment for the Vermont building; Lincoln remembers hanging out at the building as a kid. Now the legendary Henderson, a member of the Bourbon Hall of Fame and former Brown-Forman master distiller, works alongside his son, Wes, and grandson, Kyle, to create one of the fastest-growing spirits in the U.S. market.
The new distillery will eventually have the capacity to create roughly 31 barrels of whiskey a day from a column still made by the Louisville-based Vendome Copper & Brass Works.
Since launching its first product in 2010, Angel’s Envy has become a lightning rod of sorts in the bourbon industry. The first non-extension bourbon product line finished in port casks made Angel’s Envy a “love it or hate it” whiskey. Purists denied its bourbon ties…while fans quickly bought up as much as they could.
One fan of Angel’s Envy is the Kentucky governor. Thanks to the Kentucky Economic Finance Authority, Angel’s Envy is eligible for $800,000 in state tax incentives and another $72,000 through the Kentucky Enterprise Initiative Act.
“This is another great development for our international industry of bourbon,” Beshear said. “Kentucky produces 95 percent of the world’s bourbon. And quite frankly, the other 5 percent is counterfeit.”
Louisville was once the American whiskey Wall Street. Hundreds of rectifiers and distillers were headquartered along Main Street, an area known as Whiskey Row. Today, developers are calling the area Bourbon Row and are trying to resurrect a forgotten piece of American history.
In the past year, Michter’s, Evan Williams and the Peerless Distillery have broken ground on Main Street distilleries. I’m also aware of another very famous bourbon name working on a Main Street distillery location, while Louisville’s Stitzel-Weller distillery may be the most highly anticipated distillery reopening in history.
Of all these, Wes Henderson believes Angel’s Envy “will bring bourbon back to Whiskey Row.”