I think I've posted a similar list before, but I thought I'd do another piece about Bourbon and where it comes from because I need a template for in-store customers. There are also many emails in my inbox that could be cleared up pretty fast were I able to refer them towards a hard copy of this list. With single malt, it's usually pretty easy to see where the whisky is coming from. Talisker comes from Talisker. Macallan is made by Macallan. Bourbon isn't so easy, however, because there are a lot of brands that don't match up with the distillery name. With Scotch, it seems that many customers enjoy trying another product by the same producer after they find one they like, i.e. getting a Springbank 15 after some success with the 10 year. I'm hoping this cheat sheet will help some blossoming Bourbon fans navigate the minefield that is American whiskey. (NOTE: I'm only including whiskies that we carry, so it's not a complete list by any means). While I know the Scottish distilleries like the back of my hand, I still trip all over the Kentucky facilities (and there are far less of them!).
Here we go.
Four Roses Distillery - Lawrenceberg, KY - Owned by the Japanese company Kirin, obviously they make Four Roses Bourbon. They're one of the easier distilleries to remember because they only have one brand. However, Diageo contracts them to make Bulleit Bourbon, so add that to the list.
Buffalo Trace Distillery - Frankfort, KY - Perhaps the most diverse portfolio of any distillery around, these guys make a ton of different expressions:
Buffalo Trace, Elmer T Lee, Eagle Rare, Weller, Rock Hill Farms, Blanton's, George T Stagg, Handy Rye, Sazerac Rye, and many other experimental or limited edition releases.
Heaven Hill (Bernheim) Distillery - Louisville, KY - Heaven Hill used to be located in Bardstown, which you'll see references to all the time when people distinguish between the two. However, that facility was gutted by a huge fire back in 1996, forcing the company to look elsewhere for production. In 2000, they began distilling at the Bernheim distillery in Louisville after purchasing the site from Diageo. Elijah Craig, Evan Williams, and Parker's Heritage are the most popular HH expressions we carry. Rittenhouse Rye is also part of their collection, however it's been distilled at Brown-Forman over the past few years. I'm pretty sure that it's being made at Bernheim again, but I'll have to check on that.
1792 Ridgemont Reserve Distillery (Barton) - Bardstown, KY - Also known as the Tom Moore distillery, Sazerac purchased the site in 2009 (I believe) and renamed it for their new 1792 Brand. We bought our own single cask from them earlier this year and we currently carry both the regular and K&L expressions.
Wild Turkey Distilery - Lawrenceburg, KY - Owned by the Campari group (who bought it from Pernod-Ricard in 2009), Wild Turkey is another straight forward brand. They make Wild Turkey and Russell's Reserve, named after their legendary master distiller Jimmy Russell.
Maker's Mark Distillery - Loretto, KY - Maker's Mark was the only product made at the facility until Maker's 46 came out a few years back. Pretty straight forward, easy to remember.
Brown-Forman (Early Times) Distillery - Shively, KY - Old Forester is the main brand coming out of Shively, but I believe some of Woodford Reserve is made here as well, then brought over the Woodford Reserve distillery (also owned by Brown-Forman) and married with the other whiskey.
Woodford Reserve Distillery - Versailles, KY - Woodford Reserve makes Woodford Reserve - pretty simple.
Jim Beam Distilleries - Boston, KY and Clermont, KY - From what I understand, it's not really possible to designate which Beam whiskies come from which distillery, so you can only narrow it down to Beam in general. Beam produces Jim Beam, Knob Creek, Booker's, Baker's, Old Overholt Rye and Old Grand Dad to name a few.
Lawrenceburg Distillers Indiana (LDI) - Lawrenceburg, IN - Formerly owned by Seagram's, this until-recently independent distillery (purchased just recently by MGP Ingredients) is probably the most popular distillery you've never heard of. Their aged stocks of rye dominate the market at the moment, even though you probably didn't know you were drinking their booze. High West Rye, Redemption Rye, Willett Rye, Templeton Rye, Bulleit Rye, and a few other Bourbons were all made from LDI stock. They happened to have a ton of rye just sitting there for the taking, while other distilleries were caught with their pants down. Many companies jumped at the chance to fill the market gap while Rittenhouse, Wild Turkey and Sazerac reloaded.
So where does everything else come from?
Kentucky Bourbon Distillers - Bardstown, KY - While the Willett distillery is finally up and running again, nothing from the KBD portfolio was distilled there. Noah's Mill, Rowan's Creek, Pure Kentucky, Willett, Johnny Drum, Black Maple Hill, Michter's, and a slew of other independent labels are all mixed from various whiskies at KBD headquarters. They buy Bourbon from every distillery except for Maker's Mark, so your guess is as good as mine as to which whiskies comprise their many fine selections.
Other brands like Hooker's House, Hirsch Small Batch Reserve, and Big Bottom are smaller versions of KBD - independent labels that have purchased Bourbon from somewhere and repackaged it. Then there are new, smaller distilleries like Stranahan's, Breckenridge, and others that make their own whiskies in house.
By no means a complete list, this should get you started if you're looking for some way to wrap your head around the Bourbon game. If you need more info you should pick up Chuck Cowdery's book - Bourbon, Straight. Everything I've talked about here (with a few updated exceptions) can be explored in more detail within its pages.