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Spotlight on Danville: How Wilderness Trail Distillery is rapidly growing their bourbon business

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Posted at 3:45 PM, Nov 19, 2021
and last updated 2021-11-19 18:32:37-05

DANVILLE, Ky. (LEX 18) — Wilderness Trail Distillery in Danville is a growing bourbon distillery with an emphasis on tradition and technology.

"Two guys started it: Shane Baker and Pat Heist. And they met when they were students at the University of Kentucky, playing in a rock band together," says Emily Toadvine, who oversees brand marketing and guest experience for Wilderness Trail Distillery.

But the two went their separate ways after college. Shane Baker became a mechanical engineer, and Pat Heist, a microbiologist with a Ph.D. in plant pathology. Eventually, they teamed up again.

"They get back together in 2006 to start Ferm Solutions, which offers solutions to anyone's problems with fermentation," says Toadvine.

Now experts in optimizing the fermentation process, not long after the two science-minded guys were turning their sights to making their own bourbon.

"They definitely had the expertise and finally had the money to open Wilderness Trail," says Toadvine.

Heist and Baker started their craft distillery in downtown Danville in 2012, making one to two barrels of bourbon a day. Four years later, in 2016, they moved operations to their current location on Lebanon Road. They started on 20 acres of land, grew to 44, and recently they bought 124 acres across the road where they're building 11 more barrel houses.

"It's been a lot of growth in a short amount of time, but it's been a fun ride," Toadvine says.

So just how much growth? Wilderness Trail Distillery now rolls out 250 barrels of bourbon a day. They're the 14th largest distillery in the country.

Toadvine says their bourbon-making process sticks to tradition, but they do some things differently than most, like using a sweet mash instead of sour mash for fermenting. And they filter their bourbon differently before bottling it.

"A lot of people take your bourbon down below freezing, so you don't see any cloudiness, but we think the fatty oils that cause the cloudiness are flavor, that you spent all those years creating in the barrel house. So, we don't want to chill-filter those out. We just want to strain off the char and put it in the bottle, so it has more flavor," explains Toadvine.

It's these processes they think make the best bourbon.

"All that scientific background that Pat and Shane are bringing to the table, I think that makes a difference with the quality of our product," says Toadvine.

They say their product speaks for itself, but also that that Wilderness Trail Distillery has always felt embraced by the community.

"A lot of people will say, 'Oh, I knew you when you were downtown making the one to two barrels a day.' So they go way back with us," Toadvine says.

The ride has been a quick one, but they hope ultimately, it's a long one.

Wilderness Trail Distillery has an open house coming up in December where they will have a special pink label bottle for sale. They describe it as an unusual four-grain bourbon, and a portion of sales will go toward breast cancer awareness and research.