The Heaven Hill distillery is relativity young for a big whiskey distillery. It was founded two years after the prohibition ended. In 1935 the Old Heavenhill Springs was founded by a group of investors and the Shapira brothers. It was a great risk to invest in such a business and hard times lay ahead for the Heaven Hill distillery.
The Heaven Hill distillery has many brands and many different whiskeys in their range. The range goes from premium whiskeys like the Elijah Craig, Evan Williams or Parker's to more standard bottlings like the Old Fitzgerald or the brand Heaven Hill.
Overall the Heaven Hill whiskeys are quite old for Bourbons as you have Elijah Craig 18-year-old as a standard bottling or Parker's 27-year-old as one of the very old Bourbons. These old Bourbons are also very smooth in terms of spirit sharpness, but they also pick up a of the deeper and darker wood flavours.
The Heaven Hill distillery has two main places of production. The Louisville plant where the raw whiskey is produced and the Bardstown facilities. The Bardstown facilities include the warehouses and the bottling as well as a visitor centre. The Louisville plant is also known as the Bernheim distillery. The raw whiskey is produced at the Bernheim distillery and then shipped by street tankers to Bardstown for filling into the barrels.
Heaven Hill produces on two big beer (column) stills with two attached doublers. The column stills are not insulated and only the inside is made with copper. The stills are five stories tall and on the top half the beer is entered. From the bottom the steam is entered to heat up the mixture. The hot alcoholic vapours from the top are then led to the doublers for second distillation. At Heaven Hill this is different to the standard procedure. The process does not include a liquefying step. The doubler is then referred to as the thumper, due to the sound it does when the vapour enters the chamber in the doubler.
Due to the fact that the vapour from the column still is not liquefied you could argue that the thumper is only the extension of the column still and you only have one distillation process. So the Heaven Hill whiskey could be argued to be not a double distilled whiskey.
One speciality about the Heaven Hill distillery is the inclusion of wheat in their whiskey production. A wheat whiskey has a different character, than a corn whiskey. It is also smooth but not as sweet as most of the Bourbons on the market.
The grains are milled in three separate hammer mills. The wheat doesn't require its own hammer mill because it has very similar properties to rye.
Heaven Hill has a lot of warehouses. Most of them are in Bardstown right next to the Willet distillery. The warehouses are four to five stories high, not heated and not rotated. This means that you get different results for different maturation positions inside a warehouse. The whiskeys from the hotter spots on the upper floors of the warehouse tend to increase in alcohol content, while the whiskey and water evaporate. However the casks on the bottom loose alcohol percentages over the years. Heaven Hill has special places for their special brands of whiskey.
The Heaven Hill distillery is relativity young for a big whiskey distillery. It was founded two years after the prohibition ended. In 1935 the Old Heavenhill Springs was founded by a group of investors and the Shapira brothers. It was a great risk to invest in such a business and hard times lay ahead for the Heaven Hill distillery. The 1930s was the peak of the great depression and during the World War the grain shortages struck the whiskey industry hard. During the war the Heaven Hill distillery was forced to halt whiskey production and produce industrial alcohol for the war.
The Master distillers at Heaven Hill have always been from the Beam family. It started of with Joseph Beam, Jim Beam's cousin. The Master distiller linage ran trough this part of the Beam family line until today. It is now run by Parker Beam, who is already backed up by his son Craig Beam.
In 1996 the distillery was hit by a huge fire and was nearly completely destroyed. During the next years it was supplied by other Bourbon distilleries to keep the remaining warehouses filled. Later they bought the Bernheim distillery in Louisville and produced their own whiskey again.
Heaven Hill was never sold to one of the big spirit companies and is now the biggest privately owned whiskey company in the US.
The Heaven Hill distillery built a Bourbon Heritage Centre in Bardstown. It features tours with tastings and includes films and a hands-on museum. The tours only go through the warehouses and show the people how the Heaven Hill whiskey is matured. In the museum you learn about what is behind Bourbon and you can even smell very old whiskey in special evaporators.
Unfortunately the Louisville plant is not open to the public.