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A Bourbon History Lesson That Could Make You Thirsty for Bourbon

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A Bourbon History Lesson That Could Make You Thirsty for Bourbon
Photo courtesy of the Preservation Society of Louisville

Chris Morris is a specific kind of Louisville historian. As the head distiller for Brown- Forman’s Old Forester and Woodford Reserve bourbons, he’s responsible for interpreting generations of Kentucky whiskey making in modern barrels and bottles. He is also a steward of the legacy of Brown-Forman, including the revitalization of the historic downtown Whiskey Row.

Main Street in Louisville used to be called River Street, back when it was lined with warehouses full of barrels of whiskey that would be rolled down to the boat landing along the Ohio River for distribution across the country. Raw materials for making the lovely brown elixir would also make their way up those same ramps and on to distilleries that would perform the miraculous alchemy of fermentation.

In the 19th century, scores of small distilleries depended on distributors such as Brown-Forman to bottle and sell their products. At its peak before Prohibition, 89 companies did business from buildings along the riverfront. Brown-Forman occupied three different addresses on Main Street for their facilities, and is the only spirits company to maintain a continuous presence on Whiskey Row since 1870.

Brown-Forman’s Old Forester brand is already imbued with history, but Morris has developed, in conjunction with Master Taster Marianne Barnes, a new homage to the company’s past. The two have selected specific barrels from three different warehouses that have unique dates of production and barrel entry proofs. Different from blending, which involves different whiskeys, this batching process relies on the talents of the distiller as well as the palate of the tasters.

Although the Old Forester 1870 Original Batch will be a limited release, Brown- Forman intends for it to be a permanent part of their product line. They also already have other specialty batches/runs in the works that will be similarly reverential and referential of historic epochs throughout the company’s history.

Like those historic barrels, the once dilapidated buildings of Whiskey Row are also receiving some much-needed attention. Distilleries such as Michter’s and Angel’s Envy have set up shop along old “River Street.” Favorites like Proof on MainDoc Crow’s Southern Smokehouse and Raw BarSt. Charles Exchange, and The Old Seelbach Bar are all downtown destinations. You don’t need rolling barrels to know Bourbon Row is back.