Just west of downtown Louisville sits Heaven
Hill’s Bernheim Distillery,
the largest independent,
family-owned Bourbon Distillery in the world.
The craft of making exquisite American Whiskey
begins here—the only
heritage distillery to
produce every style and type of American
with five signature mashbills.
Expert knowledge is combined with grain, water, and yeast to create our American Whiskey.
A 24/7 Distillery
Bernheim produces around 73,000 gallons of “new make” whiskey per day. That equates to around 1,500 53-gallon barrels.
A Handshake Relationship With Our Grain Farmers
All of our corn is grown within a 50 mile radius of our distillery.
20-22 truckloads of grain are unloaded into the center of our distillery each day.
8 Grain Silos
The grain is stored in one of our 8 storage containers: 4 for corn, 2 for malted barley, and 2 for either rye or wheat.
The Mill Room Houses
Three hammer mills grind each grain to a coarse meal, similar in texture to cornmeal.
Each of our 3 cookers, or mash tubs, cooks 12 batches per day. First, we add Kentucky limestone water, an essential element to creating quality Bourbon.
1. the process of cooking the grain to break down complex carbohydrates into simple sugars the yeast can digest
The Sour Mash Process
Next, we add the backset—the liquid leftover from the bottom of the still after distillation. This helps create the ideal environment for the yeast and provides consistency of flavor from batch to batch.
We add 21,000 lbs of milled corn, and bring the mixture to a boil. It’s cooled slightly to 180° F, before we add the rye or wheat, cook it some more, and then cool the mash to 150° F before we add the malted barley.
The Mash Cooler
Once the mash has finished cooking, it’s cooled to the proper temperature that will let the yeast thrive by running it through a heat exchanger that chills the mash until it reaches a temperature of about 80° F.
The mash is quality tested, then combined with our yeast and added to one of our 17 fermenters. The mixture is now quite sweet, filled with the bold cereal flavors of corn, malt, rye, or wheat.
Our Signature Flavor
Our proprietary yeast strain dates back to the end of prohibition, when it was brought to our distillery via the Jim Beam family. The yeast gives our whiskeys their distinct character.
We fill 4 fermenters a day, and each batch takes four days to complete its cycle at a temperature of 78°- 83° F. Over that period, the yeast feeds on the sugars from the grains, producing alcohol, carbon dioxide, and a wide array of additional compounds that become the building blocks of the whiskey's rich flavor.
By the time the fermentation is complete, the yeast cells have reproduced to over 40 times their original weight.
The result is known as "distiller's beer." It is rich with the terroir of the grain and contains about 10% alcohol, as well as fruit and floral flavors from the fermentation.
Bernheim Distillery has three column copper stills. Each is 6 ft in diameter and 70 ft tall. Column stills are efficient to operate and produce high quality, consistent spirits.
1. the action of purifying a liquid by a process of heating and cooling
2. the extraction of the essential meaning or most important aspects of something
The distiller’s beer is pumped to each still at approximately 115 gallons per minute, entering about one third of the way down from the top. The beer flows down through perforated metal plates as steam is added at the bottom of the still.
The steam bubbles up through the beer as it works its way down, capturing the alcohol and the flavor components developed during fermentation. The proof increases as the alcohol rises up through the still.
Alcohol vapors coming off the top of the still travel down into a thumper.
The thumper, whose name comes from the sounds made when the hot steam meets cool air, increases the overall alcohol content of the distillate.
The vapors pass into a condenser, which cools them into a 140 proof liquid. The spirit coming off each still goes into a “try box” where we monitor the flavor quality.
Ready for Barrel Aging
The crystal clear new make spirit is sent to the cistern room, to be loaded onto a truck headed to Bardstown, KY.
There, we lower the proof to 125 by adding more limestone water, place it into 53-gallon charred oak barrels, and roll it into one of our rickhouses where it will age to perfection.
Now that you’ve toured our Bernheim Distillery, you can explore the process even further. Dive deeper into grain sourcing, fermentation, and distillation on Our Whiskey page with our "Making America's Whiskey" video.