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The Littlest Distillery

October 07, 1998|CHARLES PERRY

Just outside Frankfort stands the historic Labrot & Graham distillery, which dates to 1812. It wasn't the first Bourbon distillery, but it's the oldest working distillery in the country, thanks to the $7 million that Brown-Forman spent on restoring it in 1995-96.

It's also the smallest distillery, turning out a meager 11 barrels a day, rather less than 1% as much as Jim Beam. Plant manager Dave Scheurich likes to jest, "We work very hard at being inefficient." With its placid pond and antique stone warehouses, the whole operation is wonderfully bucolic and well worth a visit.

Instead of a high-volume column still, such as every other Bourbon distillery uses, L&G has three old-fashioned copper pot stills made for it in Scotland. One had to be specially designed, because Scottish stills use a liquid "wash" extracted from the fermented grain, but Bourbon is always distilled from the porridge-like grain mash itself. L&G had a tricky problem devising a way to clear out the grain solids from the still.

L&G is making a premium 6-year-old Bourbon named Woodford Reserve. Now, Woodford Reserve is already being sold in stores, so obviously, since L&G didn't fill its first barrel until 1996, today's Woodford Reserve wasn't made at L&G. It was made at the Brown-Forman Distillery in Louisville according to the same recipe. In 2002, we'll see whether Labrot & Graham's retro methods produce a whiskey that is better, worse or the same as what Louisville makes.

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