So as I mentioned before, Jen and I had an amazing time at the second annual Bourbon Classic last year (for a recap of 2014, please read Part One and Part Two here), and decided to return to Downtown Louisville for the event again last week. Tickets were purchased, hotel reservations were made, and last Friday, we made the drive down from Detroit.
We arrived midday and, since the Classic doesn’t begin until 7pm, looked to enjoy a little more bourbon culture prior to the main event. We were staying at the 21c Museum Hotel close to the event, so we decided to stay close and check out the Evan Williams Bourbon Experience that opened in 2013 right on Main Street.
The Evan Williams Bourbon Experience is part of the official “Kentucky Bourbon Trail,” but it is not a distillery. Rather, it’s a sort of museum dedicated to the history of Evan Williams Bourbon – and whiskey in general – in Louisville.
A tour of the EWBE starts with a short film. Wall sized projection video is a very big part of the EWBE, and it starts with a bit of background about the bourbon namesake, Evan Williams, himself. Williams, as the legend goes, was the first commercial whiskey producer in Kentucky, settling in Louisville and starting there. Like so many of the ‘facts’ around the history of bourbon, the details of William’s life are less than clear, and they are presented in a less than canonical way.
Rather, the show sets the stage for a walk through ‘Louisville past.” The short film explaining the importance of Louisville as a port (and stopping point on the Ohio River) leads to a room showing what the small town of Louisville might have looked like in 1800, when the whiskey business was just starting in earnest.
This is the ‘experience” part alluded to in the title – Evan Williams Bourbon is actually made at Heaven Hill distillery nearby, before being bottled in Bardstown, KY. It is not actually made at this location – the Evan Williams Bourbon Experience is more of a beginner’s guide to bourbon.
That said they have created a very small micro distillery, that illustrates the wall-scale, step-by-step “How Bourbon is Made” multi media presentation. Approximately one barrel of whiskey is created there a day, and tour participants are encouraged to sign the guest book to be alerted when the whiskey of their visit day is matured.
Subsequent floors (exhibits) show the 1800’s distilling equipment and methods, which serve as a good intro primer to how bourbon is made.
The upper floors focus on Louisville, and Bourbon, through the eras. A nineteenth century saloon is recreated. The third floor showcases the “Bottled-In-Bond” Act and it’s importance at the time. Some Prohibition-era bottles are displayed, along with some recreated era-appropriate storefronts.
Finally, the tour resolves in a tasting of different Heaven Hill products – we had Evan Williams, Evan Williams Single Barrel, and the wheated bourbon Larceny – in the recreation of a 1960’s bar where we learned about the history of Heaven Hill, and by proxy, the Evan Williams brand. We exited through a gift shop, and our time at the Evan Williams Bourbon Experience was done.
All in all, it was a pleasant way to spend an hour – the cost wasn’t prohibitive, and it was fun. It certainly wasn’t as in-depth as an actual distillery tour, but in fairness, it didn’t claim to be. What it certainly did do was serve as the perfect primer for the main event – The Bourbon Classic!