A Tour of the Woodford Reserve Distillery

The Woodford Reserve Distillery in Versailles, Kentucky

We’ve discussed rewarding your rock star employees several times. It’s obviously good for morale and building trust but it’s also a great way to retain these rock stars. One excellent reward that we discussed recently is bringing your best and brightest to the Nightclub & Bar Show in Las Vegas, which we’ve made even easier by rolling back to our Early Bird pricing until February 21. This form of reward is mutually beneficial as you can divide and conquer to explore the Expo Floor, build relationships with suppliers, distributors and brand ambassadors, network with owners, operators, managers and other rock star workers, and take home a slew of valuable information.

As it turns out, there’s another reward that delivers a healthy dose of information. It also builds brand and product loyalty, and encourages the rewarded employee(s) to engage your guests with their newfound knowledge. That reward is a visit to a distillery.

This past Christmas I had the opportunity to visit the Woodford Reserve Distillery with my father. The day after Christmas, while others were running around hunting for sales, I was looking for product knowledge. Brown-Forman graciously set my father and me up with a VIP tour of Woodford Reserve. I did no research prior to my visit because I wanted to go in without any preconceived notions and I was hoping to be impressed by their location.

I was not disappointed.

Woodford Reserve is beautiful, and somehow the overcast, mildly rainy day made the buildings and grounds that much more stunning. Traveling from Lexington, Kentucky to Versailles we passed farms and ranches. After all, Kentucky is known for more than just bourbon, it’s also renowned globally for high-dollar horses. We passed a few of the legendary ranches on our way to the distillery, so we were able to admire 2 things for which Kentucky is so famous. When we turned off the main thoroughfare onto a twisting, sometimes single lane road surrounded by horses, ancient trees and endlessly lush green (living in Las Vegas I appreciate seeing healthy grass), I knew we were going to be rewarded with an outstanding experience.

People have been distilling on the site since 1780 when it was first known as the Old Oscar Pepper Distillery. It is the oldest of the 11 currently active bourbon distilleries in Kentucky and is 1 of just 3 American distilleries that has been designated a national landmark. When our tour guide Russell mentioned that hundreds of distilleries were lost during the Civil War, my father asked why Woodford managed to stay standing. Whether true or not, Russell’s answer was fantastic and I hope it’s fact: Both sides of the war liked the bourbon so much they made sure to not damage the property. I’m certain all of the guides are brilliant but ask for Russell; he’s awesome.

Stills from Scotland - Woodford Reserve Distillery

It’s that sort of anecdote that makes a distillery visit so worthwhile. An engaging, entertaining tour guide imparted something to us that I have now told other family members, friends, bartenders, and even some strangers I’ve sat next to at bars. Russell also told us that the reason Kentucky’s whiskey isn’t bitter is the state’s water. The limestone in The Bluegrass State is devoid of iron so it makes 2 things: really strong horses and bourbon that isn’t bitter. See? More information I’ve passed along in the 2 months since I’ve visited Woodford.

Bourbon mash bill - Woodford Reserve Distillery

We learned that Woodford Reserve’s mash bill consists of 72% corn, 18% rye and 10% malted barley, and that their fermentation stills are made of reclaimed cypress. Their stills were made in Scotland and shipped over to the distillery site, and they are absolutely breathtaking to behold. It doesn’t matter how many distilleries you visit, to see the apparatus that at work is always a treat. The distillery is unique for many reasons but one thing makes them stand out from other bourbons: they’re the only bourbon producer that does a triple distillation, and it comes out of that third still at 157 proof.

Barrels and cooperage - Woodford Reserve Distillery

Woodford has their own hammer mill and cooperage on site, the bourbon is bottled, labeled and boxed at the distillery, and I can attest to the fact that the bottles available in the on-site store take a very short trip to get there. I made certain to purchase a limited edition 2015 Holiday Bottle of Distiller’s Select (along with both their mint julep and bourbon balls, among other souvenirs) which was made even more special to me since I knew where it had been bottled and labeled.

If you’re a serious whiskey bar, a devoted gin venue, a committed tequila destination, known for being the place to be in your community for expertly crafted cocktails, or famous (maybe even infamous) for your spirits collection, reward your rock stars with a visit to a distillery that will bring them closer to a specific brand. In fact, reward them with a tour of several distilleries and go with them. You won’t regret it.


You'll have the opportunity to learn the history behind several brands on the Expo Floor at the 2016 Nightclub & Bar Show in Las Vegas. Register now using code SAVE30BARNEWS to receive a discount of $30 on your pass!

Suggested Articles

The latest $2.2 trillion stimulus package from the House includes the Restaurants Act, a $120 billion industry targeted relief package.

Research from the latest National Restaurant Association and Yelp Show the Latest Rate in Closures

Six-month sales, education and networking virtual event series offers a brand-new approach for the industry to connect with owners, operators and supp