It took four years and $27 million to convert a near-derelict tool factory and fabric plant into the new Angel’s Envy distillery at 500 E. Main St. The result of that mix of millions and manpower is a 100,000 square-foot, sleek and ultramodern plant that’s one of the finest examples of a fully operational tourist distillery in the United States. From its well-appointed gift shop to its fully computerized distilling operation, the space is operating room clean and clubhouse classy.

The tasting room at Angel's Envy Distillery. | Photo by Steve Coomes
The tasting room at Angel’s Envy Distillery. | Photo by Steve Coomes

Some 200 guests were invited to a sneak peek of the distillery, which will open officially Saturday, Nov. 19. Of the half dozen people who spoke at the event, nearly all praised Angel’s Envy co-founder Lincoln Henderson, who died three years ago at age 75. The legendary Brown-Forman master distiller who helped develop Woodford Reserve, created Angel’s Envy by finishing sourced bourbon in port barrels.

His son, Wes Henderson, co-founder and chief innovation officer of its parent company, Louisville Distilling Co., praised his late father’s passion for whiskey making.

“Dad would be, without question, proud” of the new distillery, said Henderson. “Dad was always a guy who’d give others credit. He’d say it was a job well done. But I’d say to him, ‘We did it together.’”

Angel's Envy CIO, Wes Henderson, looks into a mash fermenter. | Photo by Steve Coomes
Angel’s Envy CIO, Wes Henderson, looks into a mash fermenter. | Photo by Steve Coomes

Originally home to Vermont American Tools and later, Baer Fabrics, the building stretches from Main to Market Streets. Its distillery portion includes a single cooker, four fermenters and a 35-foot-tall copper column still and doubler made by Louisville’s Vendome Brass & Copper Works. According to Henderson, the facility, which will be operated by manager Kevin Curtis, can produce enough distillate to fill 80, 53-gallon barrels per day.

We can eventually do “about a million cases a year out of this building,” he said. “This year we’ll go 120,000 cases, give or take.” Its onsite bottling machinery has not been installed.

Angel’s Envy will be aged in an existing 18,000-barrel rickhouse in Shively, and Henderson said others are under construction in the area.

The distillery currently makes two products from two mashbills: bourbon that’ll be aged four to six years in new oak and six months in port barrels (one is 86-proof, another is cask strength); and an 8-year-old rye in new oak followed by 18 months in rum barrels.

(Its whiskey we’ve been drinking for years is made under contract by an undisclosed distiller. That means we’ll not drink whiskey made at the new plant until 2022. )

As the operation finds its groove, Henderson envisions new products will emerge.

A tribute to Angel's Envy co-founder, Lincoln Henderson. | Photo by Steve Coomes
A tribute to Angel’s Envy co-founder, Lincoln Henderson. | Photo by Steve Coomes

“Opening a new distillery gives us a lot of options on creativity: different mashbills, barrel-entry proofs, historic recipes we’re looking to replicate,” he said. “It’s going to be a while before we do those, but we’ve definitely got some things cooking in R&D.”

Henderson said about 70 percent of his time is spent on the road promoting the brand, but that he hopes having a distillery for clients and consumers to visit will reduce his travel commitment.

“Once we’re open and running I hope to get people to come here and see me rather than going out everywhere!” he joked. “It’s an open invitation—come see me, please, so I can stay home more!”

Following Saturday’s grand opening, the distillery and visitors center will open for tours every Monday and Wednesday-Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and every Sunday, from 1 to 5 p.m. No tours on Tuesdays.

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Steve Coomes is a restaurant veteran turned award-winning food, spirits and travel writer. In his 25-year career, he has edited and written for multiple national trade and consumer publications including Nation's Restaurant News and Southern Living. He is a feature writer for Edible Louisville & The Bluegrass, Whisky Magazine, and The Bourbon Review. The author of two books, "Country Ham: A Southern Tradition of Hogs, Salt & Smoke," and the "Home Distiller's Guide to Spirits," he also serves as a ghostwriter for multiple clients.