By Richard Thomas
Whether you call it Town Branch Distillery, Lyons Spirits, or Alltech Brewing and Distilling, it’s the place that put Lexington back on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail. The world’s thoroughbred horse capital hadn’t had a bourbon distillery since the closure of the James E. Pepper plant in 1958, but now horse racing enthusiasts, traveling whiskey-lovers, and Lexington residents alike now have a bourbon tour to all their own.
The proper address for Town Branch is on 401 Cross Street, but it’s better to look at it as being on the intersection of Versailles Road and West Maxwell Streets, nestled into a plot on the western outskirts of downtown Lexington. Although Town Branch is owned by a major animal nutrition corporation, the distillery and associated brewery are a small operation, so expect micro-distillery scale.
Tours of Town Branch start at the Welcome Center, which is designed to look like a classical Irish high street and doubles as a gift shop. After an introductory film featuring Alltech founder Dr. Pearse Lyons, the tour visits the brewhouse, distillery, and bottling plant. Whereas most distillery tours are either of the industrial type or of the historic variety, Town Branch is a unique animal. The still and vats are located in a gigantic chamber with high floor-to-ceiling windows, providing plenty of natural light, and dominated by a spacious floor. Instead of being a manufacturing plant or a place dripping with tradition, Town Branch’s distillery is a grand reception hall.
As a “brewstillery,” Town Branch’s tour offers something that other distillery tours do not: a clear illustration of the relationship between beer and whiskey. When you get to it, take note of the beer bottling machinery, the oldest piece of hardware in the plant and something straight out of Laverne and Shirley.
Town Branch runs tours every day, usually departing on the hour, but with the last tour of the day starting at quarter-til. There is a modest fee, and only whiskey samples are available at the end of the tour. Sadly, local law prevents them from serving samples of their lovely Bourbon Barrel Ale, but they are working on fixing that problem