Wilderness Trail

Location: Danville, Kentucky
Founded: 2006
Master Distiller: Shane Baker
Grains: Corn, Wheat ad Rye from Caverndale Farms, Kentucky. Other Rye, Walnut Grove Farm, Kentucky. Malted Barley, Various North America.
Mash bills: Bourbon: 64% Corn, 24% Rye and 12% Malted Barley. Rye: 56% Rye 33% Corn and 11% Malted Barley

The story

In the late ‘90s, founders Shane Baker and Pat Heist were in a rock band together and quickly realized that they needed to chase another dream. In 2006, their journey began with a mission to create the finest whiskeys in the world. Wilerness Trail is nestled in the rolling hills of Danville, the birthplace of Kentucky. Shane’s family has been distilling in Kentucky since the 1940s when his grandmother Doris Ballard met his grandfather Hubert Ballard at the Kentucky River Distillery. They were 14 and 16 years old. Doris Ballard went on to retire from Stitzel-Weller after a carer of more than 50 years in the industry. This type of family history provides a lot of their influences today, including some special yeast strains.

With strong backgrounds in several sciences and more than 20 years of industry experience, Shane and Pat set out on their Bourbon path with a number of yeast strains, collected over the years. They combined those proprietary yeasts with a selection of premium seed grade corn, wheat and rye varieties all grown at Caverndale Farms just a few miles from the distillery and from from Walnut Grove Farms in Adairville, Kentucky.

Their malted barley, grown in the northern states, arrives at the distillery from a grain elevator in Louisville, their water comes from Kentucky’s natural limestone springs.

Wilderness Trail primarily produces two varieties of Bourbon Whiskey and a Rye Whiskey, all of which are made with 100 percent Kentucky sourced ingredients.

A noticeable distinction in Wilderness Trail’s process, and the flavor of their whiskeys, comes from their proprietary Infusion Mashing Process, a process where they use the exact amount of heat to gelatinize starches without suffering any degradation in the quality of the grains. They find this process yields a much softer and flavorful distillate when married with their unique yeast strains. Wilderness Trail is the first Kentucky Distillery to use a clean steam boiler meaning that they avoid using boiler chemicals or off flavors. Only pure steam goes into their cooker and into the beer column.

Wilderness Trail Distillery now is a Heritage Member of the Kentucky Distillers Association. The Heritage Level is the highest level in the non-profit group that unites and leads the state’s signature Bourbon and distilled spirits industry.

To qualify as a Heritage Member, a distillery must have 25,000 barrels of distilled spirits aging in its warehouses. Wilderness Trail’s 168-acre campus has more than 100,000 barrels aging in its six rickhouses.

A unique distinction that Wilderness Trail whiskeys have is that they utilise a Sweet Mash technique over the traditional sour mash. Widerness Trail were the first of Kentucky’s distillers to embrace the sweet mash process as their sole mashing technique. By not acidifying the mash, they are able to bring more flavors forward from the grains with a softer finish, just as in preparing a fine meal.

All of their whiskeys are distilled, aged and bottled at Wilderness Trail’s Distillery in a rich traditional Kentucky environment. Their whiskeys are double-distilled in keeping with Kentucky tradition. Their 250-gallon Vendome Pot Hybrid Still produced the very first Bourbons they made. Since 2016 all of the whiskeys have been distilled through a Vendome 40 foot tall, 18-inch beer column still and then double distilled continuously through a 250 gallon copper doubler. Production has been expanded to include a new 40 foot tall, 36-inch continuous beer still and 500 gallon doubler producing up to 216 barrels per day.

All Wilderness Trail whiskeys are proofed down with local limestone-filtered spring water before entering the, Independent Stave Company made, 53-gallon toasted and, #4 charred barrels, at 110 proof for the Bourbons and 100 proof for their Rye Whiskeys. 100 proof entry into the barrel is the lowest in Kentucky for Rye Whiskey but Wilderness Trail believe it tastes better. All Wildernes Trail Bourbons are aged to a minimal of 4 plus years old before release and the ultimate goal is to age their whiskeys to an average age of 6-8 years for standard releases.