WHAS11 gets inside look at Louisville bourbon barrel factory

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WHAS11.com

Posted on August 15, 2009 at 6:41 PM

Updated Tuesday, Oct 13 at 3:16 PM

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(WHAS11) - Bourbon is a celebrated part of Kentucky's history, culture and commerce.

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One of the main ingredients in the bourbon recipe has been kept under wraps, until now.

As it turns out, the bourbon trial does not just wind through rural Kentucky.

A Louisville manufacturing plant will soon welcome visitors on the Kentucky bourbon trial.

A bourbon barrel is not just a tank where bourbon is stored, it's what gives the whiskey most of its flavor.

You can take a step back in time within a half mile of a Louisville International Airport runway.

For the first time, Brown-Forman is opening the Cooperage doors to the public.

Since Blue Grass Cooperage was founded in 1945, they have added as much technology as they can.

But it takes skilled hands to craft the white oak bourbon barrels.

Louisville based Brown-Forman is the only spirits company in the world that makes its own new barrels.

"We know that oak barrels were introduced to the world by the Romans more than 2,000 years ago. Now they didn't have all this equipment, but we are following the same processes today that they did 2,000 years ago," says Brown-Forman Master Distiller Chris Morris.

The Cooperage produces more than 1,200 barrels a day.

Until now, only industry insiders and their friends have been able to get inside to witness the ancient art, its intense sounds and the smell of burning oak, which is a key ingredient.

"By toasting and charring these barrels, we activate natural flavors and aromas that are in the wood," says Morris.

Beginning in March, a new visitor's center will welcome tourists on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail.

Though the tours were planned long before Kentucky lawmakers approved a 6% sales tax on all liquor sold in Kentucky, and long before the resulting protest, a Brown-Forman Vice-President says the tours will show the faces behind Kentucky's signature spirits.

"So people need to realize it's everybody that's involved. It's not just the retail package store that's going to be paying 6% tax come a couple weeks," says Brown-Forman Vice President Greg Roshkowski.

Huge crowds won't have to dodge the barrels as they roll off the line. Tours will be limited to a couple dozen people twice a week, exclusively through Mint Julep Tours.

"It's culture. It's history. It's tradition. Our motto is the purposed of fun is to have it, so we do it with a lot of education, but also a lot of fun," says Sean Higgins of Mint Julep Tours.

Brown-Forman also wants to show visitors that their efforts are environmentally friendly.

"Sustainability is very important to us. Our wood waste goes into a boiler that we use to dry the wood material and we partnered with UT to help when we can the forest," says Neil McElroy, Director of Operations at Brown-Forman Cooperages.

Nothing is wasted.

You may have heard about some barrels sold for trash receptacles or consumer use.

Those are the mistakes.

Mint Julep Tours can also include distilleries and horse farms.

The tours cost between $100 and $150 per person.

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Video of the process: |

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