Lexington's Barrel House Distillery offers visitors a look at the smallest facility on the Kentucky Craft Bourbon Tour!
Lexington's semi-new Distillery District on Manchester Street keeps drawing us back time and time again for new explorations.
On one of our latest trips to this part of Lexington, we toured Barrel House Distilling Company, which opened in 2008.
Barrel House is a tiny distillery – the smallest on the Kentucky Craft Bourbon Tour!
Interested in checking out even more distilleries, including ones like Maker's Mark? See my guide to the original nine places on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail.
Here's a glimpse at our tour of Barrel House Distillery!
Booking a Tour
You can book a tour online.
Tours and tastings are $10 per person as of 2023, or $7 for only the tasting.
A Stop at Elkhorn Tavern
Elkhorn Tavern is the taproom connected to Barrel House.
If you get a cocktail here, you can bring it along for the tour.
We tried the Barrel House Breeze cocktail, made with bourbon, Ale-8 and pineapple juice.
There's also a moderately-sized food menu at Elkhorn Tavern with appetizers, soups, salads, charcuterie boards, and desserts.
Touring Barrel House Distillery
The building that now houses Barrel House Distillery was originally the barreling house for the larger James E. Pepper distillery next door. (Hence the name.)
Barrel House was one of the first businesses to breathe life back into this rather deserted corner of the city. Now, of course, it's bustling!
Here, they produce about 60 barrels a year, besides an amount of vodka, rum and moonshine. These other liquors, which are quicker to produce than bourbon, help fund this tiny operation.
Everything in this operation is done by hand! There are plastic mash tanks — five mash tanks for one barrel.
Interested in some extra reading on the distilling process? I recommend the book Bourbon Curious by Fred Minnick.
The grains are then filtered out by straining through a mesh sieve with a shovel.
We saw antique distilling equipment, including some from the original James E. Pepper distillery, which had a long history prior to its recent rehabilitation. There's also a copper gas-powered cooker.
There are plastic barrels for the high and low wine.
In many ways, this tour feels like you're getting a look at a bourbon operation from a DIY level. It's kind of interesting seeing the process handled on a very small scale.
(Just to be clear, bourbon is not something you can actually DIY: it requires getting licensed and meeting requirements. This may be a small facility, but these guys are masters of their craft!)
The bottles are filled and labeled by hand.
The tasting included one vodka, two moonshines, two rums, and one bourbon. We also got a ticket for $1 off a tasting of the pricier Rockcastle bourbon back at Elkhorn Tavern.
Tour time is estimated at about an hour, but save a little time afterwards for the gift shop!
If you're interested in the fast-increasing bourbon business in central Kentucky, don't forget to give the little guys on the Craft Trail some time! Places like Barrel House Distillery make for a fun afternoon out.