Last Sunday evening Prohibition Craft Spirits of Louisville KY held their first “sneak peek” of the new distillery located on Baxter Avenue at the base of historic Phoenix Hill. The event was advertised as an Industry Night designed to preview their line of new white spirits to both workers inside the industry and to potential distributors and spirits buyers. I was lucky enough and happy to receive and invitation and knew I couldn’t pass up as I have been following this little distillery since my time at Copper and Kings when the location was known as Derby City Shine, an enterprise which unfortunately fell apart due to the misdeeds of a well-versed con-man, the details of which have been well covered elsewhere. It is important to note that this new operation has nothing in common with that previous operation short of the talents of a few key players who were taken advantage of by said conman.
Harrison Hyden, who I have kept in contact with since those times, is the consulting distiller on the project and comes from a background in home distillation. A concept obviously dear to my heart and a distilling philosophy that comes free of the binding strings of Kentucky distillation in general. The only real distilling rules in the world are to never make anyone sick and to make good product honestly, as long as you live up to those tenants you have my respect regardless of the path you take to get there and Harrison certainly holds to those tenants.
The building is in a prime location between the bustling “New Lou” (a term I fucking despise, it’s Butchertown assholes!) and Bardstown road which should be well able to draw attention to the millennials bustling about the place and comes complete with its own Spirits Tasting Bar with a well-designed and painted lobby as well as a secondary Bar with Baxter Ave. entry which will be called the Irish Pub Pharmacy. My interest in this business is peaked because they aren’t starting off with sourced or aged spirit and everyone is very upfront about the turmoil of their past with an emphasis on the optimism of the future. Of course, I’m also a sucker for the fact that as of yet they are not making Bourbon (though they plan too) as I think it’s time for new distillers to start filling the voids in the other categories, particularly in Indiana and Kentucky. The aesthetic of the building was nice as it doesn’t fold perfectly into the tripe hipster shit trap that New Lou has become known for in recent years. Sure, there is a “hip” and “trendy” feel to the place but it is balanced with the use of old barn metal and silk screen paint images of Popcorn Sutton, Old Pot Stills, and Blockade running trucks. To boot they played a cure song in the lobby during the event so they may have hit all of my eclectic bases. The artist of the murals Is Louisville Kentucky’s own Vinnie Kochert of Twisted Images who I spent a good time speaking with as well and whom I plan to interview for the Alchemist Cabinet in the coming days. He’s a great artist with something to say!
I tried all three new make spirits Sunday, neat and in cocktails, and was highly impressed. Of particular interest to me were the Baxter’s Rum and the Phoenix Hill Vodka (I did enjoy very much the Highlands Gin as well but since there is a lot of Gin out there I put less focus on it although it did hold up well in a tonic). The rum was very rich, heavy bodied, and congeneric with a ton of vanilla on the palate and the finish which lasted forever. Harrison is doing a fine job with the equipment he has in crafting this product, particularly given the lack of temperature control in fermentation, adversity often breeds innovation and what most distillers may consider a limitation on production Harrison has turned into an advantageous ground for heavy bodied Caribbean style rum in Louisville KY. It also held up well in Coke-A-Cola (I know, gasp, huff, sigh, not a $3.00 Hipster centric Butchertown Cola! I like it though you fuckers!) I am interested to see what a barrel rested, aged, or finished version of this spirit would do, my suggestion would be a Tequila barrel rest, but then with white spirits it usually is!
The Vodka is a cane distillate, the fermentation of which uses a few old home distiller’s tricks, so of course I’m gonna go for it, but also because unlike 95% of “Craft” Rectifiers out there Harrison is not starting off with pre-purchased column distilled GNS but is building a spirit from the ground up and I have immense respect for that. The spirits is certainly not 100% neutral but then for my tastes I don’t expect a good vodka to be neutral, I like having a few congeners, acids, and esters hanging around in the matrix to spice things up a bit. It’s much lighter than some of the Craft Distilled vodkas on the market which could really be considered light whiskey in my mind but has more than enough character to assert itself while not being overpowering over the rocks of its own accord.
Harrison and Ketih Hazelbaker were kind enough to show me their production area and the two stills used to distill these products. I got to spend a little time talking with Harrison about distillation and methodology and really enjoyed seeing the set up. We plan to interview Harrison in the near future as well for this blog.
I also had the opportunity to meet brand manager Carson Hazelbaker and the owner of PCS; Keith Hazelbaker. Both were very courteous and open to conversation about the past, present, and future of their company. Overall, I was impressed with both the facility as well as the spirits and I hope Louisville will give these guys a chance as I think the spirits hold up very well and speak for themselves. When you get a chance to check them out and pick up a bottle!