By Richard Thomas
When I went to explore the ruins of the Old Pepper Distillery on Manchester Street in Lexington, Kentucky, I was both pleased and surprised to discover that someone had opened a micro-distillery in what had been Old Pepper’s barrel house, appropriately named The Barrel House. Located only a few minutes drive from the Town Branch Distillery and provided with ample parking, The Barrel House is a must-see for whiskey-lovers on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail who want to see a place that really puts the “micro” in micro-distillery.
The Barrel House is a hobby project that has grown into a second career for co-founders Jeff Wiseman and Peter Wright, and that fact underlies the experience of visiting their distillery. At even the most scenic and picturesque distilleries, a tour always involves maneuvering in and around giant vats and machinery and traveling through what is at least a small complex of buildings. Don’t expect that at The Barrel House, which offers as intimate a whiskey-making experience as one might hope for.
The Old Pepper barrel house is divided into just two rooms. One is where Wiseman and Wright are making their bourbon, moonshine, rum, and vodka. This workshop side has a couple of walls lined with racked barrels, both small and full-sized, various bits of stored equipment, and a Hoga pot still. If you stop by at the right time, you might be lucky enough to find this still, about the size of a Smart car, in operation, a sight that reduces distillation from a big industrial process down to something of very human-sized proportions.
The other half of the Old Pepper barrel house is where the tasting room, shop, and sitting area. Visitors to The Barrel House are treated to an informal tour that explains distillation and Lexington’s distilling history, plus a tasting. The Barrel House is open for visitors Thursdays to Sundays.