Kentucky Bourbon Production Plant Reopens
Mon, 02/04/2008 - 5:00am
OWENSBORO, Ky. (AP) — Bourbon's roots run two centuries deep in Daviess County. But for the past 16 years, no bourbon has been distilled there.
That will change this year when Trinidad-based Angostura Limited reopens the Charles Medley Distillers Kentucky plant in northwestern Owensboro after a $10 million renovation.
Angostura, best known for its rum, also plans to build whiskey barrels here for the first time in decades.
The combination of distilling and barrel making should create 30 to 40 jobs by fall, Patrick Patel, the company's group executive director, said during a visit to the distillery in late January.
Employment should grow as production increases to meet the world demand the company is banking on, he said.
''Barrel making is a skilled job,'' Patel said. ''But anyone trained to work in wood can make barrels, and we'll have training here. We'll be paying competitive rates.''
Nick Brake, president of the Greater Owensboro Economic Development Corp., praised the project.
''The wage and benefits levels are high,'' Brake said. ''These are great jobs. It's exciting to see an industry that has been dormant for years being revived. We have a rich heritage of distilling in Owensboro. I'm thrilled to death.''
Patel said he didn't know if the plant will be unionized.
''That's up to the workers,'' he said. ''You must treat people well. We have good relations with our labor union in Lawrenceburg, Ind. But if people are happy, there is no need for labor unions.''
About half of the Owensboro jobs will be in the distillery and half in barrel manufacturing, Patel said.
The distillery has a capacity of producing 1.5 million ''proof gallons'' of bourbon a year, he said. The company plans to increase that to between 2.5 million and 3 million proof gallons with this year's renovations.
A ''proof gallon'' is a gallon of whiskey at 50 percent alcohol. It takes one half gallon of alcohol to make up one proof gallon.
Once it's distilled, the bourbon will be aged for four years in new charred white oak barrels that will be made on site, Patel said.
He's expecting to need 20,000 barrels a year.
''We're expecting a total investment here of $25 million,'' Patel said. ''And it will be more than four years before we can start to sell our bourbon. But bourbon is liquid gold. The market is in Europe and the Far East. They pay high prices for Kentucky bourbon there.''
In the United States, he said, ''the market is flooded with whiskeys, but you must be known in your home market. So, we'll be marketing it here as well.''
The $3 million purchase price for the distillery included 23 acres, five warehouses and the stillhouse. But not Charles Medley's private label — Wathen's Kentucky Bourbon — a label his late father, R. Wathen Medley, once owned.
Medley will continue to bottle that brand himself, he said.
Patel said Angostura will create a new Charles Medley Kentucky Bourbon label.
The company bought the former Seagram's distillery in Lawrenceburg, Ind., last year and will make that facility its North American headquarters.
''We're trying to harmonize both operations,'' Patel said. ''It makes no sense to reinvent the wheel.''
To be called bourbon, a whiskey must be made up of at least 51 percent corn and aged a minimum of two years in new charred white oak barrels.
While bourbon can be made anywhere in the United States, Kentucky is the only state allowed to put its name on the bottle.
And Kentucky bourbon brings premium prices around the world, Patel said.
That's why Angostura is investing $25 million in Owensboro, he said.
''They're telling me we should be able to start production in six to nine months,'' Patel said. ''I'm hoping for six. But we have to rehabilitate the plant because it hasn't been used for 15 years.
We have to see what equipment needs to be replaced.''
Medley, a seventh-generation distiller from a family whose whiskey roots date back more than 250 years, opened the distillery that bears his name in 1997 on property that once housed Medley Distilling Co., a company started by his father and uncles in 1940.