Without a doubt Kentucky knows, understands, and absolutely loves its distilling history. The distillers of KY stand on the shoulders of giants and they have no problem paying tribute to them in many ways not only limited to the production of traditional Kentucky style Bourbon Whiskey but also through events, songs, plays, documentaries, and even demonstrations.
This past weekend Locust Grove Farm held the grand opening of the newest addition to the estate; an on site farm distillery. Although the distillery does not actually produce any alcohol it is a very good representation of what an Estate (for me Farm/Farmer describes someone with much less money to invest in a “home” distillery or any of the other trades represented on this Estate) distillery looked like and how it would have been operated.
The distillery represents the still that William Croghan bought in 1808 to accompany his gristmill and which would have ran only seasonally and would have produced whiskey (although not Bourbon as that had not yet been “born”) as well as apple and peach brandy for the home as well as for local trade and barter. It is important to note that this was in no way an industrial facility or a production facility unlike some of the other early distilleries we have and will continue to explore on this blog. This was a facility viewed more as a simple addition to the farm itself and a necessary one at that as it allowed the Miller and farmer to preserve crops (and subsequently wealth) in a way that wouldn’t allow spoilage and created a value added product.
Locust Grove received the help of many donors to this project and they should all be extremely proud of what they have accomplished as it is a great representation of the history of distillation in the state. There is a 70 gallon all copper Vendome pot still modeled after those seen at George Washington’s Estate known as Mount Vernon, as well there is a Vendome built 50 Gallon (that’s my estimate, I don’t know the capacity for sure) copper boiler. Both pieces are set in some beautifully designed and put together brick furnaces in the lean-to section of what was once an old garden shed.
One of the highlights of the experience IMO and one that is often overlooked is that Locust Grove fully intends to explore the role of women and enslaved distillers. Not nearly enough research has happened in regard to either of those subjects (something we hope to highlight in the near future) and this is a good starting point.
Locust Grove also brought into the fold the expertise of my good friend Steve Bashore, the Millwright and Distiller at George Washington’s Mount Vernon Mill and Distillery. I’ve heard much of Steve and know him through my good friend and Limestone Branch/Huber’s/Preservation distiller Lisa Roper Wicker. I myself had never met Steve in person until this past Sunday. Steve presented a short PowerPoint on early distillation and the associated archaeology and history of the east coast and Kentucky which was very informative and which covered a lot of ground. It was nice to be able to compare and contrast what he knew of the distillation happening on the east coast with what I know of happening in the mid-west and south.
As a short notation of the differences in distilling at that time, before I introduce my two videos of Steve talking about the distillery, it should be noted that what Washington had was a commercial distillery and what you see here is an estate distillery, and yet both are different and would have been set up a bit differently from the local Hoosier “Farm” distilleries for commercial and home use.