(Bourbon) Experience Design on Louisville’s Whiskey Row

Bourbon has been a part of Louisville, Kentucky’s, heritage since Evan Williams first began marketing whiskey there in 1780. Today, the Kentucky Bourbon Trail and the revival of the city’s storied Whiskey Row are pouring new life and many, many tourist dollars into the region. The new Evan Williams Bourbon Experience (designed by Solid Light) is one of the latest destinations on the trail.

The Evan Williams Bourbon Experience transports visitors to the days of Kentucky’s first commercial distiller, who became the namesake of Heaven Hill Distilleries’ flagship bourbon brand. Located just a few hundred yards from the original site of Evan Williams’ historic distillery on Whiskey Row, the Evan Williams Bourbon Experience greets visitors with a five-story sculpture of the Evan Williams Bourbon bottle.

Inside, visitors celebrate this classic Kentucky product through immersive media experiences and bourbon tastings, which solidify the Evan Williams Bourbon Experience as a premier tourism destination and a cornerstone of the Kentucky Bourbon Trail. Whisky Magazine called the new center “a form of experiential storytelling that takes as its core the best of Walt Disney circa 1964, and then some” and named it the Visitor Attraction of the Year as part of its 2016 Icons of Whisky awards.

Solid Light provided space planning, content development, exhibit, retail, and set design, media design and production, and fabrication for the $10 million, 11,000-sq.-ft. experience, the first Louisville stop on the famed Kentucky Bourbon Trail.

Larry Kass, director of corporate communications for Heaven Hill Distilleries, has said the hybrid entertainment/retail space/tourist attraction is “a perfect storm” for the distiller. “We’ve owned this building for more than 70 years. This was always part of Whiskey Row. Evan Williams’s original distillery was one block away. And these four blocks along Main Street attract three million tourist visitors every year.”

It was Solid Light’s job to ensure the experience was interactive, engaging, and compelling enough to draw visitors into the story behind the brand. State-of-the-art digital projection technology, immersive media elements, and content-rich storytelling get the job done. The experience takes visitors on a time-travel tour starting in the 1780s, when Evan Williams served as Louisville’s wharf master, through prohibition and the Great Depression to the founding of Heaven Hill in 1934 by the five Shapira brothers.

At the heart of the $10 million experience is a working artisanal pot distillery that produces a barrel of bourbon a day. The tour concludes with a 20-minute tasting in one of two tasting rooms: a 1960s-era space or a room that recalls a pre-prohibition era distribution warehouse. From either, guests will leave with a warm glow thanks to two half-ounce sips of Evan Williams products (the legal limit).


Client: Heaven Hill Distilleries Inc.
Location: Louisville, Ky.
Design, Media Production, and Fabrication: Solid Light
Architect: Barnette Bagley Architects

Construction: Able Construction

Photos: Solid Light

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