Meet the two instrumental women behind this major distillery renovation
By Anna Byerley
Photos by Chris Humphreys, Heaven Hill Distillery
After a long, multi-year process, what was formerly known as the Heaven Hill Bourbon Heritage Center, is now the new Heaven Hill Bourbon Experience. The grand opening for the newly renovated, expanded and renamed space was held on June 14.
We spoke to the two women behind the Heaven Hill Bourbon Experience project, Susan Wahl and Anna Hibbs, to find out more about the project, their roles that made this project come to life and what it’s like to be a woman working in the bourbon industry.
The Heaven Hill Bourbon Experience provides visitors with an engaging and interactive American Whiskey experience unlike anything else seen on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail. Guests can expect three iconic tasting rooms, an entirely new and expanded retail center that includes a living room and kitchen vignette, the new 1935 distillery theater, the new You Do Bourbon lab where guests can taste, bottle and personalize their very own Heaven Hill bourbon. There’s also a self-guided tour component where guests can leisurely explore the galleries, special exhibits on Larceny and Elijah Craig, two of their premium brands, the new Five Brothers Bar & Kitchen and a rooftop deck.
“With the new grand opening, we are transitioning to being called The Heaven Hill Bourbon Experience which better encapsulates who we are as a company and allows people to find us more easily,” Vice President of American Whiskeys at Heaven Hill Distillery and lead over the entire project, Susan Wahl said. Wahl was able to get the project kick-started within the company and was also on the day-to-day team that oversaw the project.
Bourbon culture and tourism have gained a tremendous amount of momentum over the years, drawing attraction from all over the country. “We looked at our old Bourbon Heritage Center in Bardstown and realized we needed to provide our guests with a more immersive experience,” said Wahl. “We’ve seen bourbon culture explode and wanted to give people of all types a unique experience on the Bourbon Trail to tell the Heaven Hill story. It was important to appeal to all types, from the novice bourbon drinkers to the bourbon enthusiasts,” Wahl explained.
Marketing Manager for the Kentucky visitor experiences – which includes the Heaven Hill Bourbon Experience in Bardstown and the Evan Williams Bourbon Experience in Louisville – and Project Manager for the Heaven Hill Bourbon Experience, Anna Hibbs, explained the exciting opportunity to manage this new visitors center project day-to-day. “Often, especially with a construction project, Susan and I are the only women in the room. Or if it is with construction only, I am the only woman in the room,” Hibbs explained. “It’s been fun and exciting. I also had a baby in the time that we were building the Heaven Hill Bourbon Experience, so that was a world all on its own. We have so much support for female leaders in our company and Heaven Hill is second to none in terms of that.”
As a woman working in the bourbon industry, “We have a unique place. This whole project was very much Anna and me, and in the bourbon world, that’s a little unusual. Anna and I have the dual challenge of not only caring for these projects and stewarding the business, but also stewarding families as well,” Wahl said. “The unique part about working for Heaven Hill is that they have been very flexible when it comes to women in the workplace. In particular, we call it work-life flow because balance is tough and isn’t always easy. But when you have flow, you can go from personal to business and back.”
The new Heaven Hill Bourbon Experience is now open to the public and guests are encouraged to come to Bardstown and check out the newly opened visitors center. “There’s so much to learn and do. Even if you have been to our visitors center in the past, it is very different now,” Hibbs said. “We will be including rotating tours and tastings throughout the year, so an experience in the summer might be different than something we would offer in the fall. We’re proud of the work we’ve done and we really want people to come see what we at Heaven Hill are all about!”
Heaven Hill Distillery
1311 Gilkey Run Rd
Bardstown, KY 40004