O.Z. Tyler now on Kentucky Bourbon Trail

Toasting the ‘cathedral of American whiskey’

When Earl Hewlette, CEO of the Terressentia Corp., first visited the old Charles Medley Distillers Kentucky facility at 10 Distillery Road five years ago, he gave little thought to the Kentucky Bourbon Trail.

“I did not think that it being 150 miles from the epicenter of the Kentucky Bourbon Trail that the Trail would have much relevance to us,” he told a crowd of well-wishers Monday afternoon.

But Hewlette said he was wrong.

At 2 p.m. Monday, Terressentia ‘s O.Z. Tyler Distillery celebrated its being named the 11th distillery on the Trail.

Last year, nearly 1.2 million people visited the 10 distilleries on Trail and the 13 on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail Craft Tour.

Of that, 940,780 visited the 10 distilleries on the Trail.

Eric Gregory, executive director of the Kentucky Distillers’ Association, said that of that number, from 18,000 to 20,000 visited every single distillery.

Hewlette said it wasn’t long after Terressentia bought the distillery in 2014 that he realized that Owensboro was strategically located to capture travelers coming from the west or going west from the other distilleries.

“We look forward to being part of the Trail,” he said.

Mark Calitri, president of the Owensboro-Daviess County Convention & Visitors Bureau, said Owensboro is known for three B’s — bluegrass, barbecue and bourbon.

People driving the Kentucky Bourbon Trail can start in Owensboro or finish in Owensboro, he said.

“But we want them to stay in Owensboro,” Calitri said.

Gregory called the distillery, which was originally built in 1885, burned in 1918 and was rebuilt in 1936 as the Medley Distillery, “a true cathedral of American whiskey.”

Bourbon is an $8.5 billion industry in Kentucky, he said, with 17,500 employees and a payroll of $800 million.

Seventy percent of those who drive the Trail are between 25 and 54 years old and make between $75,000 and $100,000 a year, Gregory said.

Seventy-five percent say in hotels while on the trail and the average person spends between $400 and $1,200 while they traveling the Trail, he said.

“This is the golden age of Kentucky bourbon,” Gregory said.

But, he said later, distillers are a little nervous now with foreign countries threatening to increase tariffs on bourbon if the U.S. imposes tariffs on their goods.

More than half of the whiskey made at O.Z. Tyler goes overseas.

“We’re cautiously optimistic” that a trade war can be averted, Gregory said. “Nobody wins a trade war.”

O.Z. Tyler has a capacity of producing 72,000 barrels of bourbon a year and plans to increase that to 100,000.

The company ages its bourbon a year and a day.

Then, it uses its fast-filter patented TerrePURE technology to create in a matter of hours a bourbon that it says is comparable to one that has been aged four to five years.

An American white oak was planted at the distillery during the opening ceremony.

Bourbon is aged in charred white oak barrels.

On the bourbon trail: O.Z. Tyler expecting 30,000 visitors

A tall totem pole of four stacked bourbon barrels at O.Z. Tyler Distillery features signs with the names of 10 other distileries and the mileage to each.

All the signs point east.

That’s because O.Z. Tyler Distillery just became the western gateway to the Kentucky Bourbon Trail, an experience that attracts more than 1 million people a year.

And local officials expect it to become a major tourist attraction.

How many people will follow the Trail to Owensboro?

“They told us to expect about 30,000 the first year,” Jacob Call, O.Z. Tyler’s master distiller, said recently.

Eric Gregory, executive director of the Kentucky Distillers Association, says the Trail’s passport program, which features stamps from each distillery on the Trail, usually sees 18,000 to 20,000 people a year visiting each of the distilleries.

And then, there are those who just visit a few.

Those who get all 11 stamps this year will receive an official Kentucky Bourbon Trail tasting glass and be allowed to buy a Kentucky Bourbon Trail T-shirt that is only available to those who complete the entire trail.

Daniel Hewlette, the distillery’s director of visitor experience, said, “We had over 2,600 people take the official tour and over 5,000 attend an event of some kind last year. By the end of this week, we will have exceeded 1,000 tour guests and 5,000 event guests for the 2018 year.”

He said, “Becoming the westernmost experience along the Kentucky Bourbon Trail is very exciting, but a little different than most existing experiences. We are not quite sure what to expect, but think our visitor volume will continue to grow for the majority of this year as it has thus far, then get a boost from the Bourbon Trail after about six to 12 months.”

“We believe this is a game changer for Owensboro,” Mark Calitri, president of the Owensboro-Daviess County Convention & Visitors Bureau, said recently. “When it comes to leisure travel, O.Z. Tyler will increase hotel nights and visitation being that it is located 100 miles from the closest distillery on the Bourbon Trail.”

‘Start here. Stay here.’

He said, “Owensboro is the western gateway to the Bourbon Trail. ‘Start here. Stay here.’ That’s our message. Because more than 1 million people visit the Bourbon Trail a year, the CVB has made O.Z. Tyler a focal point of our marketing efforts. We are encouraging strategic alliances with the new bluegrass museum and O.Z. Tyler to give people more than one reason to come here.”

“Owensboro’s brand is ‘Bluegrass, Bourbon & Barbecue’,” said Chris Joslin, executive director of the new Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame & Museum, which opens in October.

“So linking the Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame & Museum to O.Z. Tyler makes a lot of sense,” he said. “It helps that there are strong relationships between our organizations, and we could not be happier for their success. With O.Z. Tyler launching their brand of Kentucky bourbon this year as well as joining the Kentucky Bourbon Trail combined with ROMP and the opening of the new Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame & Museum in October, the momentum and energy in Owensboro is undeniable. That combined with all the other great tourism drivers translates into economic impact. Owensboro is definitely open for business.”

Hewlette said the distillery will be sending its van to ROMP — June 27-30 — to bring bluegrass festival-goers at Yellow Creek Park into town for a distillery tour during the day.

Gregory said people who drive the Bourbon Trail are relatively young and affluent.

Seventy percent are between 25 and 54 years old and make between $75,000 and $100,000 a year, he said.

Seventy-five percent say in hotels while on the trail and the average person spends between $400 and $1,200 while traveling the Trail, Gregory said.

The distillery tour costs $10, but it includes tastings of O.Z. Tyler bourbon, rye and honey bourbon at the end.

Call said visitors to the distillery, which is off River Road and Chesterfield Drive in northwestern Owensboro, stop to check in with the guard as they enter the 28-acre grounds.

“He will direct them to the main parking lot,” Call said. “New brick sidewalks are being built throughout the grounds. Visitors go back to the gift shop and sign in. We have lots of old pictures and new signage to enhance the experience.”

750,000 bushels of corn

First stop is the grain operations.

“We use 750,000 bushels of Kentucky corn a year,” Call said.

Then, the tour moves to the distillery to see the process of mashing the grain, fermentation and distillation.

Then, it’s on to the barrel house “to show how we age bourbon,” Call said.

O.Z. Tyler bourbon is aged a year and a day in charred oak barrels.

Charring — burning the inside of the barrel — is done to open the wood up, making it easier for bourbon to extract flavors.

Old char is sold in the gift shop.

O.Z. Tyler is the only distillery in Kentucky that uses its patented TerrePURE process of quick-aging bourbon, which it says, “creates in a matter of hours a bourbon that is comparable to one that has been aged four to five years.”

Visitors meet “Rosie,” the TerrePURE machine that resembles the robotic maid on the old “Jetsons” animated TV series.

Then, it’s on to the tasting room.

It all takes about an hour, Call said.

“We should see people from St. Louis, Evansville, Nashville,” he said. “We’ll be the first stop or the last for people doing the Trail. That will probably be a lot of overnight stays since we’re not near the other distilleries.”

O.Z. Tyler isn’t just counting on people who drive the Trail.

“We’ll also be something else to do for people who are in town for other reasons,” Call said. “A lot of people bring family members when they are in town visiting.”

The distillery is adding items to its gift shop almost weekly.

Call said, “We’re running wide open 24/7, shipping tankers of bourbon all over the world — Japan, China, Europe, New Zealand, Australia. The O.Z. Tyler brand represents less than 1 percent of our production.”

70,000 barrels a year

Production capacity is now at 70,000 barrels a year and plans call for expanding that to 100,000.

The distillery does private label bottling for big chain stores.

“We also make a lot for other distilleries, which I can’t name,” Call said.

Employment has grown to about 65 employees, counting temps, he said.

A new Kentucky law will allow O.Z. Tyler to ship bourbon home for visitors — in they live in a state that allows it.

The first distillery on the site was built in 1885, burned in 1918 and was rebuilt in the late 1930s.

“We’ve blended tradition with technology,” Call said. “We have new bourbon technology in an historic setting.”

The distillery — and its bourbon — are named for the late Orville Zelotes “Ty” Tyler III, “a courtly Southern gentleman,” who invented the TerrePURE process to speed the aging of bourbon.

For more information about the distillery and tours, go to www.oztylerdistillery.com.

Messenger-Inquirer articles written by Keith Lawrence, 270-691-7301, [email protected]