View Full Version : 1870 Society Event at Brown-Forman: Synopsis

03-06-2009, 19:30
Don't know if this should go in the Distillery tour section, but since it has already happened, decided to put it in the general discussion.

Went to the first annual 1870 Society Event at Brown-Forman (BF) yesterday (March 5, 2009). Didn't run into anyone from SB, but the attending group was fairly large at 50-60 people. My first thought was that the excellent efforts of the Four Roses marketing people are having an effect on other companies. Anyway, thought I would post a quick rundown of our experiences. I attended with my wife and another friend. Event was held at 850 Dixie Highway in Louisville under the giant Old Forester bottle. Secured parking was provided. Got there at 11:45 in the morning, quick registration including a notary with a form absolving Brown-Forman of all possible liability and an agreement to allow our likenesses to be used for BF promotional efforts.

Escorted across the street onto the gated grounds, guide provided a quick pointing tour of buildings along with a message about how wonderful it was to be employed by BF, seemed pretty sincere and was not the first time I had heard that. Went into the event hall for lunch and BF history lesson. Master distiller Chris Morris was the speaker (second generation BF employee) and was very personable. Lunch was white tablecloth, breadsticks and lavash, nice mixed green salad topped with a whole skinless sliced chicken breast and pesto dressing. Dessert was a chocolate cupcake with a chocolate cigarette topped with a rasberry - very cute. They were promoting the Old Forester brand and had three tasting glasses on a labeled placemat with glass covers. Old Forester 86 proof, OF Signature, and the 2008 OF Birthday Bourbon. I am personally fond of both the Signature and the Birthday Bourbon and both did not disappoint. There were 3 empty place settings at our table and we made sure that the extra tasting glasses were not wasted :grin:. We did a death by Powerpoint march, through the history of BF narrated by Chris. Not too bad actually, with some very nice photographs from the turn of the century. Chris talked a little about the repeal bourbon and BF's decision to move away from Bottled in Bond to "better maintain the flavor profile." He also said that George Garvin Brown was against the BIB act and framed it as a protest against Government interference in business. IMHO it seems more likely that George Garvin Brown was doing quite well selling a quality product in a time of unreliable and unscrupulous distillers and saw the BIB act as possibly cutting into his market share.

After lunch we were divided into two groups based on your centerpiece (OF, OFS, or OFBB) and put on buses for a tour of the distillery and Bluegrass Cooperage (being renamed to BF cooperage). Someone asked about the centerpieces, but we were not allowed to keep them :cry:. Our group went to the distillery further out Dixie highway for the first tour. Our guide was the production manager from Woodford Reserve (Kevin last name not remembered by dumn narrator). He and the production manager in Louisville were cross-training on both facilities. Kevin confirmed that the Louisville distillery provided most of the juice for Woodford. Tour started with the dumping room, which had already finished for the day, so no action observed nor any tasting offered (unlike Four Roses at Cox's Creek where they provided shots straight from the barrel). Then we watched a semi-trailer full of corn being tested by random sampling with a hollow core pole on an automated arm. They took about 6 profiles from front to back on the trailer and the core pole is long enough to get a top to bottom core reading on each sample. There is further testing done visually and by nose on random samples. The grain is also heated to check for off odors. The gross weight of the truck was about 47,000 pounds and it brought in about 32,000 pounds of corn. I talked to the driver and he said it was a light load.

We went to the control room for the grain and on the wall was a schedule for the week. I noticed that HH and Diageo were on the batch run for each day. i asked and was told that BF does a lot of contract work for other distillers. One of the workers said that Heaven Hill liked BF's juice because of the consistency and quality (anecdotal I know, but still interesting). We went to the mash room on the fourth floor and watched a tank being filled (50,000 gallons IIRC - I did not take notes so I'm guilty of guess-timation on some details). We tasted the sweet mash and then some fermenting mash. Kevin said they run about 72 percent corn for OF, northern rye, and malt (didn't give percentages). I think he said that they use two yeasts, one for bourbon and one for JD. Overall, it was a very open tour with photographs permitted and I don't think any questions were refused. The plant was mostly automated, but pretty tight quarters for touring. Very enjoyable, at least for me.

We got back on the bus and went to Bluegrass cooperage (which is owned by BF). I'm a wood guy so it was very interesting to me, but probably not to most. Not a tour friendly place (earplugs and safety glasses), lots of shouting and nodding of the head, but not much effective verbal communication. They started us off with nice DVD showing of the plant and the process before taking us onto the production floor. They produce about 500,000 barrels a year and even though there is a lot of automation, the barrels are still assembled by hand. All white oak: Eastern KY, West Va., the Ozarks, and Minnesota are the providing regions. They air dry on the yard, then into the dry kiln for a 7 day schedule to hit about 10-12 percent moisture content and then into a covered area. All wood blanks are quartersawn. They accept two standard lengths (barrel tops/bottoms and barrel staves). They use a wood "toasting" process with radiant heat to help caramelize the wood sugars and then run a 30 second char on the barrels. The tops/bottoms are charred separately, not sure about the time. Each barrel has a cost of about $120 depending on the oak market price. Top/bottom blanks are assembled with dowels. Bungs are yellow poplar. No adhesive or metal (other than the outside hoops) is used in assembly. After the bung hole is drilled :eek:, a large rubber bung is inserted and about 1/2 gallon of water is put in under about 15 pounds of pressure. The barrel is rolled down the line and and any leaks are identified by water squirting out. The barrel is then repaired if possible using dowels. Empty barrels weigh about 100 pounds. Good tour. Back on the bus.

Returned to BF about 5 in the afternoon and had drinks from the three OF representations and bourbon based hor d'oeuvres. Mingled with the group and many BF administrators. The "Just Add Bourbon" PR group was there with passports and huggies. Got a gift bag from BF with 2 personalized notepads and a nice wooden Cross pen engraved with "Old Forester" but none for the guests. Only for members of the 1870 society. Over at 6, no hanging around.

If you have somehow made the trek to the bottom of this post, thank you. Hope the information was useful.


03-06-2009, 19:36
That sounds like a lot of fun. I need to sign up!

03-06-2009, 19:43
That sounds like a lot of fun. I need to sign up!

The BF people said that they plan to have a second event next year. It was fun and worth my taking a vacation day to go. See you are from Louisville, I live in Floyds Knobs, work at UofL. Have you joined the Four Roses Mellow Moments club?

03-07-2009, 04:55
Yes, I am in the Mellow Moments Club and have done several of their events. I have missed a couple of dinners, but I have done a couple of lunches and a hay ride. I've certainly gotten my money's worth there.

03-07-2009, 17:38
I have attended several 1870 Society events at Lousville's Filson Historical Society over the last several years. They seem to have a couple of events every year. They're always in Louisville, but I know people who have traveled from Cincinnati and Lexington to attend. It's usually about 50-60 people.

I don't think they've ever done tours of the production facilities before. B-F really does need to let more people see the cooperage, as they are the only American whiskey-maker that makes its own barrels. I think that's a pretty big deal.

03-08-2009, 13:16
Yeah, I was there too and it was nice. But Four Roses has set the precident for hospitality. They make you feel like family. BF makes you feel like a privaliged tourist.