Back in the early 1930s, everyone knew Prohibition was going to end. The Great Experiment had failed – spectacularly – and its days were numbered.
The thought process behind Prohibition was well-intentioned, but not especially thorough. Temperance workers believed that alcohol was the cause of such societal evils as poverty and domestic abuse, and that eliminating it altogether would eradicate these other evils. Like I said, well-intentioned. However, as we know today, alcohol is more often than not a symptom of these other evils, not the root cause – they do often go hand-in-hand, just not in the way that people like Carrie Nation thought.
In fact, during Prohibition, crime escalated. Obviously, organized crime was big business – think of Al Capone and his bootleggers running rum across the Detroit River from Canada – but other crimes increased as well. Not only that, the economy in places like Kentucky, which had been built around the alcohol industry, completely tanked, and we all know what that does for crime rates. People started drinking things which had not been intended for regular consumption, like medicines. It got to the point where most people were longing for the good old days of drunks in bars.
So, as Prohibition began to lose popular support in the early ‘30s, people were ready to pounce. When Prohibition was finally revoked in 1933, the bourbon business wasted no time in getting their buildings, facilities, and distillations back up to snuff.
In 1935, a group of people approached a shop owner in Bardstown, asking if he’d invest in their distillery. They had everything they needed except money. When he agreed, they got to work, and they very soon had bourbon aging in oak barrels. Four years later, they had their first product: Old Heaven Hill Bottled-in-Bond Bourbon.
This bourbon, produced by a rag-tag group of former distillers who were working from fifteen-year-old memories, ended up becoming the best-selling bourbon in Kentucky. Today, they’re the 6th-largest producers of whiskey in the US.
To this day, the family of that original investor runs the distillery. His son, Max Shapira, is the current president of Heaven Hill Distillery. Other members of the family are also involved in the management of the company. And from what we heard when we visited, the employees at the company just love them.
Heaven Hill Distillery now distills, bottles, and sells bourbon, whiskey, and rye until a slew of brands, including Evan Williams, which was one of our favorites in Louisville. When you do the tasting session, you get to try four different kinds of spirits made by the Heaven Hill Distillery, led by a resident expert from the distillery.
The main takeaway from this bourbon tasting: If you care about your people, they’ll care about your product, and good things will happen.
Visiting Heaven Hill Distillery:
Getting there: The address for the showroom, where you can purchase tickets for tours and tastings, is the same as the Bourbon Heritage Center address: 1311 Gilkey Run Road, Bardstown, KY 40004.
Admission: Entry prices depend on which experience you choose.
- The Mashbill Tour and Tasting: $10
- Whiskey Connoisseur Experience: $20
- Stay Bonded: $15
- Monday to Saturday: 10AM to 5:30PM
- Sunday: Noon to 4PM
- The last tour is offered one hour before closing
Website: You can visit the Heaven Hill Distillery website here.
Good to know:
- Take your passport! This is a stop of the Kentucky Bourbon Trail, and they will be more than happy to add a stamp to your passport.
- As of July 2019, the Bourbon Heritage Center was undergoing remodeling; however, it’s still open, and if you didn’t know it was under construction, you wouldn’t know it was under construction. They’ve done a brilliant job keeping the facility looking spic-and-span throughout the process.
- If you’re there on a weekday during business hours, you might bump into one of the Shapira family! From what we’ve been told, they’re happy to speak with you, but you’ll have to take the initiative and start the conversation.