BARDSTOWN, Ky. — Heaven Hill executives broke ground on a project they hope continues the bourbon distilling legacy in Bardstown, Kentucky.
On Monday, company president Max Shapira announced the new distillery coming to the city will be called Heaven Hill Springs Distillery, paying tribute to what was once a staple in the community before fires destroyed several warehouses in 1996.
The huge, family-owned distillery is headquartered in Bardstown, but solely its bottling services have remained in the city for more than 25 years.
Former long-time employee Bill Osborne, who retired in 2013, said it's a long awaited return and he's bullish on the project coming to fruition.
"People in this town have waited for years to see this come back to Bardstown," he said.
Osborne would know. He witnessed it all during the fires of '96, and understands just how much was lost.
"A young employee came to me and said, 'I'm not sure, but I think I see smoke,'" Osborne said. "The rest is history."
The $135 million investment was announced in April, with the project set to be completed in 2024. Shapira said production will start at 150,000 barrels a year, and the goal is eventually to ramp up 450,000 barrels annually.
"We're betting on bourbon for the long term [and] decades to come," Heaven Hill Master Distiller Conor O'Driscoll said.
Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear joined alongside company executives during the groundbreaking ceremony, citing the immense economic impact he sees this distillery having on local business and tourism.
"They call this project Phoenix, which is something really positive. [It's] new life rising from the ashes, so we're really excited for the community," said Gov. Beshear, who also spoke about the nearly 40 jobs this would add immediately.
Executives also said there will be an environmentally-friendly focus, bringing in newer production techniques to minimize water use, and emphasis re-use if and when possible.
Shapira said they're working to tie-in the company's strong Bardstown roots into the new distillery.
"So we can assure its story lives on in the Bardstown community," he said.
In late 2021, Heaven Hill and its workers union came to an agreement on a new contract after employees spent weeks on strike outside the Bardstown bottling location, picketing just off property. One employee's family tells WHAS 11 it's skeptical about whether the new distillery will prioritize worker pay and schedules.
Construction will happen on 61 acres of vacant land at 1015 Old Bloomfield Pike.