A Kentucky man resurrects his ancestor’s bourbon & revitalizes an abandoned quarry

Back in 1879, C.M. Dedman founded Kentucky Owl Bourbon.

Today, the brand is created by Master Blender Dixon Dedman, who resurrected the brand and released his first batch in 2014, nearly 100 years after prohibition ended his great-great-grandfather’s original endeavor.

But it’s not just a bourbon brand that is being brought back to life here in Bardstown, Kentucky.

Kentucky Owl Bourbon’s new home is in an abandoned 420-acre limestone quarry. The revitalized site will include rickhouses for aging product, and a bottling center will house operations for the newly created American Whiskey Division of Stoli Group.

The Eden Project.
Photo by Storm Cunningham.

It will bring that scarred landscape—and local economy—back to life in much the same way as the Eden Project did in County Cornwall, England.

It will feature a freshwater lake, a gourmet restaurant, a convention center, a vintage passenger train, and a refurbished train station. They hoped that it would bring up to 57 jobs to the struggling area.

On November 15, 2018, Stoli® Group announced that Shigeru Ban Architects has been chosen to oversee the project’s plans and development. This international architectural practice was founded in 1985 by Pritzker Prize-winning architect Shigeru Ban.

The firm has offices in Tokyo, Paris, and New York, and has constructed over 100 projects across six continents.

With pioneering work in both paper tube and mass timber construction, they are known for their structural and material innovations as well as their commitment to humanitarian relief projects worldwide.

Bardstown Mayor Dick Heaton said the company has found the perfect home in Nelson County. “We are extremely happy to have Stoli Group’s American Whiskey Distillery join our growing family of distilleries in Bardstown and Nelson County,” he said.

Bardstown is known as the Bourbon Capital of the World. This new investment is a testament that there is no better place to make bourbon, educate and entertain visitors than Bardstown, Kentucky. The announcement comes as a result of much hard work by many people in the public and private sector here. The City of Bardstown is proud to be a part of this exciting project,” he continued.

Shigeru Ban Architects will design and build-out the quarry site at Cedar Creek Quarry to include rickhouses for aging, a bottling center, a state-of-the-art distillery and offices for the American Whiskey Division of Stoli® Group.

With plans for a vintage dinner train to stop on the property, Kentucky Owl Park is intended to become a must-see destination, connecting to other distilleries along the Kentucky Bourbon Trail and creating a tourist experience unlike any other.

Kentucky Owl Park will be a collection of one-of-a-kind buildings that are rooted in industrial vernacular design, each of which will be carefully sited within the natural rustic landscape.

Shigeru Ban’s vision for the site hearkens back to the 19th century with long-span steel structures that have been reinterpreted with the use of mass timber. Each building will have a distinct structural form that incorporates visual elements of the local bourbon-making process. The existing quarry pits will be turned into beautiful lakes with crystal-clear, limestone-filtered water.

When evaluating architectural firms for Kentucky Owl Park, it was imperative that the selected group boasted a strong portfolio of work, but also that their plans for this initiative truly pushed the boundaries within the design world and along the Bourbon Trail,” said Yuri Shefler, Owner of SPI Group, the parent company of Stoli Group and the Kentucky Owl brand.

We are looking forward to Kentucky Owl Park being the next masterpiece from Shigeru Ban Architects, who bring an unparalleled background of more than 100 innovative and environmentally sustainable projects completed to-date. I am energized by Kentucky Owl’s early success in the category and am committed to building a fitting home for this brand along with expanding our presence in whiskies overall,” he continued.

It was just a year earlier, on November 9, 2017, that Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin and Stoli Group together announced their intention to create Kentucky Owl Park. Their vision was to build “a state-of-the-art distillery and unprecedented visitor center experience at Cedar Creek Quarry in Bardstown.”

Global demand for bourbon continues to bring significant economic impact to Kentucky through jobs, investment and tourism,” said Governor Bevin at the time. “This new project by Stoli Group in the heart of bourbon country will serve to accelerate this trend. Stoli Group will offer numerous employment opportunities and support many families in and around Nelson County. I congratulate the company and look forward to seeing this concept come to life over the coming years.

Stoli Group will put great resources into these endeavors – both the distillery experience and the growth of this very important category for our company. As master blender, Dixon Dedman will continue to manage the production of Kentucky Owl – the crown jewel of the new division, which will remain a small batch offering,” said Dmitry Efimov, Head of Stoli Group’s American Whiskey Division at the 2017 announcement.

Senator Jimmy Higdon, of Lebanon, Kentucky said Stoli Group promises to grow the state’s strong reputation in the bourbon industry. “I am so pleased to hear Stoli Group has chosen this Bardstown location to be Kentucky’s newest bourbon-based economic development project,” he said. “Kentucky’s signature bourbon industry has showed no sign of slowing, and with this huge investment in the region and the creation of new Kentucky jobs, I have no doubt that Stoli Group will join the ranks of great distillers.

Representative Chad McCoy of Bardstown, said the project will have a substantial impact on the already thriving local bourbon industry. “Stoli Group understands the rich tradition of bourbon in the commonwealth, and we are thrilled the company is expanding a recently acquired family business to Bardstown,” he said.

The distillery is a boon for our community and will cement Bardstown’s transformation into the premiere bourbon destination for Kentuckians and people from all over the world,” McCoy added

Dean Maltz, Managing Partner of Shigeru Ban Architects, added, “We are honored to have been chosen to build Kentucky Owl Park and are eager to bring the joint vision of Stoli Group and Shigeru Ban to life. This is an opportunity for us to challenge ourselves like never before, as these plans serve as our first Kentucky distillery and incorporate unique highlights and nods to the industry and its history, while prioritizing light and a connection to nature, features the architectural world has come to expect from our firm.

See Kentucky Owl Bourbon website.

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