Jim Beam expanded its Kentucky footprint with the opening of its namesake Urban Stillhouse attraction in downtown Louisville on Oct. 1. The 4,300-square-foot operation is its first outside Bullitt County, where the world’s largest bourbon producer runs two massive distilleries in Clermont and Boston, Ky.
Following the usual gubernatorial, mayoral and Beam official back-slapping and handshaking, crowd favorite and seventh-generation master distiller, Fred Noe, III, raised a bourbon toast to the sun-splashed crowd of about 150 gathered outside the Stillhouse. And as the canon-shot confetti flew and the massive red curtain concealing the storefront dropped, the crowd filed in to the unique attraction, which was built within a former Border’s bookstore at a breakneck pace of less than six months.
The interior of the new Jim Beam Urban Stillhouse (image via Beam)
This is the second Stillhouse attraction created by the company. Its American Stillhouse was opened on its Clermont, Ky., campus two years ago, and serves mostly as an events space a gift shop.
The Urban Stillhouse, however, contains a fully functional distillery and bottling line.
The distilling system, located in the Stillhouse’s front window, combines a copper pot still with a unique rectifying column that includes a see-through glass vapor condenser. Low wine that is brought from Beam’s Boston, Ky., distillery is rectified at the Urban Stillhouse and returned to the larger distillery for aging.
The Beam Stillhouse’s distilling equipment (image courtesy of Stephen Coomes and copyright The Whiskey Wash)
Beam vice president Kevin Smith said it’s possible that that rectified whiskey could be sold at the Urban Stillhouse, but that the small quantities it’s producing now would fall short of guest demand.
“That’s something that’s been talked about for sure,” Smith said. “But when you consider that the low wine has to be transported here, then distilled, put into barrels and aged in Boston, logistically it’s challenging. … But that doesn’t mean it’ll never happen. That would really be unique, though.”
Unlike the traditional and historical look of its American Stillhouse, the Urban Stillhouse is a bit more whimsical. Near the center of the space is an oak tree sculpture whose trunk is made from layers of charred barrel staves; its leaves are hundreds of origami-like Beam White labels.
The Jim Beam Stillhouse interior once again, complete with, at right, an oak tree sculpture whose trunk is made from layers of charred barrel staves (image courtesy of Stephen Coomes and copyright The Whiskey Wash)
Dangling from the ceiling is a conveyor system that moves filled bottles of Jim Beam around the space, including bottles filled by guests. Yes, you get to label and fill your own bottle of Urban Stillhouse Select ($29.95 for a 375ml, $45.99 for a 750ml) and watch it move by conveyor from the filling station to the checkout counter.
At the rear of the space is an expansive tasting bar featuring not only the 100-proof, non-chill filtered Stillhouse select (which is quite tasty, and a review will follow), but nearly every bourbon (traditional and flavored) in the Jim Beam line.
At all points in between are countless shelves of Beam clothing, glassware and trinkets of every manner.
The Urban Stillhouse joins The Evan Williams Experience and Kentucky Peerless Distilling as the city’s third, tourism-centered bourbon distillery in downtown Louisville. Peerless is the largest of the three, and it ages hundreds of barrels on its downtown campus. Michter’s and Old Forester are also constructing urban distilleries in the area.
Steve Coomes is an award-winning journalist and book author specializing in whiskey and food. In his 30-year career, he has edited and written for national trade and consumer publications including USA Today, Southern Living, Delta Sky Magazine, Nation’s Restaurant News, Pizza Today, Restaurant Business, Bourbon + and American Whiskey magazine....