Bourbon is back in Bourbon County
By Arthur H. Trickett-Wile

Hospitality associate Lindsey Banks strains an aged spirit through a cheesecloth in the bottling room of Hartfield & Co. distillery in downtown Paris. The fine mesh of the cheesecloth filters out particles of wood-barrel char, which accumulate in the liquor during aging.

Brown gold in the glass coats the mouth like honey. For those who can do the Kentucky Chew, who can taste through the burn, they may find notes of earth, chocolate or spice.

Though the occupants of the building are recent, the brick walls and wood floors carry the patina of decades and decades of warehousing grain. You can smell it in the air, hanging over the cacophony of whirring mixer-motors.

This is more than a business. This is a homecoming. Bourbon has returned to Bourbon County.

After the National Prohibition Act of 1919, many distilleries were forced to close, including all 26 of those in Bourbon County. After Prohibition was repealed in 1933, none re-opened. Founded by Jeremy Buchanan in 2014, Hartfield & Co. was the first distillery to return to Bourbon County and is still the only one.

Located at 320 Pleasant St. – in the former building of Prichard & Bale, which used to be a grain factory for many of the distilleries – the four-person operation takes the raw components for making various kinds of liquor, with a little grit and passion, to distill spirits that are greater than the sum of their parts.

“I’m there from the first to the last drop,” production assistant Austin Nevitt says.

Most days, he moves pound after pound of mash made from corn, barley and rye into tanks on the third floor to be mixed before they are piped down to the floor below for fermentation.

As the mash ferments in tanks on the second floor, down on the ground level Tyler Holloway, the head of production, monitors distillation in a large still tank, intermittently checking the alcohol by taste and controlling elements of the process using computers.

“The cool thing about it is you see something go from a 2,000-pound sack of grain into a spirit from the still,” he says. “You put that in a barrel and within a couple months’ time, you’ll see changes, get new flavors and watch them develop.”

In the front showroom, hospitality associate Lindsey Banks greets guests in a room lined with bottles on shelves and other rustic, bourbon-themed décor. Throughout the week, she’ll lead several tours of the facility, which all end in tastings at the bar.

Lindsey used to work in finance, but says she prefers her new job at the distillery. “It’s a lot better than working in a cubicle,” she says. “I really like the small-town feel.”

Each member of the team takes turns bottling and labeling. Everyone has a specialty, but many parts of the process are shared, tasting included. “It’s like a family,” Lindsey says.

Even Jeremy, the owner, founder and CEO, jumps in to help with the labor. He may be the big boss, but there are no stars in this show – except, perhaps, for the bourbon. Or maybe the third-floor rickhouse cats, Barley and Rye, weaving in and out between rows and rows of spirits aging in barrels, and awaiting food, attention and petting from the next gaggle of tourists.

Lindsey serves a flight of house-made bourbons to Marcia Bourque Moreno (left) and Maureen Shea to cap off their tour of the distillery. Lindsey began working at the distillery about 10 months ago, and primarily handles tours and tastings.

Production assistant Austin Nevitt pours mash into a large mixing tank on the third floor. From here, the mix will be gravity-drained to the second floor for fermentation.

Head of production Tyler Holloway (left) uses a pallet jack to move a large tank of distiller's mash across the fermentation room, with help from Austin. Once the mash is removed from what is sent to the still, they give the mix to farmers, who use it for feed, then clean and return the tanks.

Lindsey uses a cart to move supplies on the first floor of the distillery. Behind her, the grain elevator is essential for transporting heavy or bulk-quantity materials throughout the production area.

Austin and Tyler taste a freshly-distilled spirit. Tasting and smelling the product is critical once it is distilled.

Barley, one of two rickhouse cats living on the third floor, sizes up a guest on a tour of Hartfield & Co. Cats are commonplace at distilleries, where they often are kept for pest-control. Barley is usually more elusive and skittish than his brother, Rye (not pictured), and camouflages well among the white-oak barrels.