Fans of Woodford Reserve bourbon know they have a lot of company. These days, it can be harder than ever to find special releases from the distillery.
But Brown-Forman is doing what it can to keep up with the demand. The Louisville-based spirits company announced plans in March to double the distilling capacity of its most popular Kentucky-made whiskey.
On Monday, master distillery Chris Morris and assistant master distiller Elizabeth McCall celebrated the brand’s 25th anniversary, topping up special barrels at the Woodford County distillery, which is in the midst of a $110 million expansion.
In March, Brown-Forman announced it is finally adding three new copper pot stills to the picturesque McCracken Pike site, as well as doubling the fermenting capacity. The more industrial distillery in Shively also is expanding to add to the amount of whiskey being made.
Altogether, the $110 million expansion will mean twice as much bourbon for fans. Construction began in the spring and was expected to be completed by summer 2022 but pandemic delays may push that back, McCall said.
“We will have the three new pot stills in by this coming spring,” she said. “That’s going to be the biggest visual change for us. It’s going to be huge.”
But will it be enough?
Is the bourbon boom slowing down?
Woodford Reserve already sells more than 1 million cases a year.
“Five years from now, we want to be at two and half million,” McCall said. “In order to do that, we have to make sure we’re building the capacity. If we don’t do that, we won’t be able to do it.”
The additional bourbon will mean more Double Oaked, as well, she said. But specialty releases such as the coveted Double Double Oaked are likely to remain scarce because the majority will go into the main brand.
“We are planning for the future as we see no signs that the bourbon boom is slowing down,” Morris said.
Woodford Reserve’s expansion in Midway
Squeezing three new pot stills and eight steel fermentation tanks into the historic site, which is on the National Historic Register, isn’t easy. Basically, all the unsexy bits like boilers are shifting to new buildings to make room. The new buildings will be landscaped and painted to blend with the limestone spring and rolling countryside to maintain the pastoral image.
Brown-Forman has already added four massive barrel warehouses nearby, with room for at least a dozen more on a warehouse campus in Midway. Each warehouse holds 55,000 barrels in heat-cycled comfort, Morris said.
It’s all a far cry from where the brand was when it began in 1996 with Brown-Forman created the new bourbon and renovated the historic Labrot and Graham site in the midst of Kentucky horse country.
“Back then, when bourbon was in decline and everything was in such rough shape in the industry, I just hoped we would survive, much less thrive,” Morris said Monday. “I had no idea the results we’re seeing today would come about ... it’s just amazing. And to think that Woodford Reserve would go from people going, ‘Who needs another bourbon?’ to fifth in the world now. Beam, Evan Williams, Maker’s, Bulleit, Woodford. Hard to believe.”