Wilderness Trail Distillery, an authentic Kentucky distillery
By Co-Founders Shane Baker and Pat Heist
In 2006, our journey began with a passion for creating the finest whiskeys in the world. We are fortunate to be nestled in the rolling hills of Historically Bold Danville, Kentucky, the birthplace of Kentucky, and also being exposed to the Kentucky Bourbon industry for generations while growing up.
With strong backgrounds in several sciences and more than 20 years of industry experience, we started our Bourbon path with a premium selection of seed grade corn, wheat and rye varietals grown just a few miles from the distillery on Caverndale Farms. We also source rye from Walnut Grove Farms in Adairville, Ky. Our malted barley, grown in the northern states, arrives at the distillery from a grain elevator in Louisville. Our water comes from Kentucky’s natural limestone springs and we use our own yeast strains we have collected. We primarily produce two varieties of Bourbon Whiskey and a Rye Whiskey, all of which are made with 100 percent KY Proud®-sourced ingredients.
A noticeable distinction in our process and the flavor of our whiskeys comes from our proprietary Infusion Mashing Process, a process where we use the exact amount of heat to gelatinize starches without derogation of the quality of the grains. We find this process yields to a much softer and flavorful distillate. Another important distinction is that our steam is chemical-free because we use a clean steam boiler, the first Kentucky Bourbon distillery to do so. With this process, we avoid using boiler chemicals or off flavors. Only pure steam goes into to our cooker and into our beer column.
Another unique distinction our whiskeys have is that we make a Sweet Mash instead of the Sour Mash technique. Again, we were the first of Kentucky’s distillers to embrace the sweet mash process as our sole mashing technique. One of the several things that make our world class whiskeys unique is our mashing process. Many distilleries use high heat (above boiling) to mash in their grains and use leftovers from a previous distillation called “stillage” or “backset,” known as “sour mash,” as part of their recipe. Our philosophy is to keep things as consistent as possible from one batch to the next, so we opted for a “sweet mash” process, where we start with 100% high quality Kentucky limestone water instead of adding backset. We also believe that each grain has a unique cooking temperature, so we hone in on specific temperature ranges while infusing our grains into the mash during the cooking process.
By not acidifying the mash, we are able to bring more flavors forward from the grains with a softer finish, just as in preparing a fine meal.
When we move the mash to the fermentation tanks, it’s time for our proprietary yeast strains to shine. We operate Ferm Solutions, Inc. on the site of our distillery and Ferm Solutions houses arguably the largest collection of microorganisms, including yeast, from distilleries all over the world. We incorporate these well-known, and in some cases, novel yeast strains for consistent fermentation and to add extra special flavor and aroma to our spirits.
All of our whiskeys are distilled, aged and bottled here at Wilderness Trail Distillery in a rich traditional Kentucky environment. You can trust what you are enjoying with our name on the bottle. Our whiskeys are double-distilled in keeping with Kentucky tradition and we have several stills. Our 250 gallon Vendome Pot Hybrid Still produced the very first Bourbons we made. We use that still now primarily to distill our Harvest Rum and to finish our third distillation of our Blue Heron Vodka. Since 2016 all of our whiskeys have been distilled through a Vendome 40 foot tall, 18-inch beer column still and then double distilled continuously through our 250 gallon copper doubler. We just received a new 40 foot tall, 36-inch beer still and 500 gallon doubler to increase our production output.
We proof our whiskeys down with limestone-filtered spring water to enter the Independent Stave Company 53-gallon toasted and #4 charred barrels at 110 proof for our Bourbons and 100 proof for our Rye Whiskeys. Another more notable distinction of Wilderness Trail is that we have aging Rickhouses onsite and we have chosen to mature our Bourbons to a minimal of four years (plus) old before releasing any Bourbon. Our goal is to age our whiskeys an average age of 6-8 years.
We have three Stills, all from Vendome. They are: our original 250 gallon hybrid Pot Still and 16 plate rectification columns, and 18-inch and 36-inch continuous column stills.
Our Continuous Bourbon columns make all of our whiskeys and our Pot Still produces our Harvest Rum and completes the final distillations for our Blue Heron Vodka, which is first double distilled as our Wheated Bourbon off our 18-inch column still.
The Pot still offers a more floral expression in distillation for whiskeys and ultimately after aging, whereas whiskey off the columns are lighter in body and more consistent, not to mention more efficient and able to produce more.
Our columns and doubler distills our Whiskeys at 135 proof. Our 18-inch Bourbon column gives us a 12 barrel small batch and our 36-inch still cranks out 60 barrels per fermenter. We use both column stills for flexibility of different mash bills, batch sizes and being able to run a stronger mix of Wheated and Rye based whiskeys at the same time, off two separate systems for a total of 150 barrels per day.