Distillery Visits May Be Paused, but Old Forester Continues to Evolve
2020 marks Old Forester’s 150th anniversary, but what was intended as a year of exciting celebrations and reflections has instead, amid COVID-19, turned into another opportunity for the resilient company to evolve and grow.
May 2020Written by Brian WrightPhotography by Terrance Campbell and Brown-Forman
On March 15, 2020, Old Forester made the difficult decision to close its Whiskey Row distillery in downtown Louisville to the public. The team was hopeful that by doing so it would keep its guests, employees, their families, and the community safe from the spread of the COVID-19 virus.
A week later, on March 24, Old Forester joined thousands of other business, homes, and landmarks across the state of Kentucky and illuminated its distillery with green lights to honor those who have passed away from COVID-19.
This was not how 2020 was supposed to unfold for Old Forester. After all, there was much to celebrate:
The 150th Anniversary of the brand and its parent company, Brown-Forman.
The Old Forester distillery and Erik Brown, the distillery’s visitor experience manager, were honored by Whiskey Magazine as the 2020 Sustainable Distillery and Visitor Attraction Manager of the Year, respectively.
Plus, the company had a year’s worth of consumer advertising in place, including a contest to bring a fortunate few down to the distillery and house them in the recently renovated Old Forester apartment adjacent to the building.
In the two-and-a-half years that have passed since Old Forester opened it doors to the public, the distillery has planted deep roots within the local community and in the bourbon industry at large. The distillery has played host to fan-filled product launches, housed intimate family celebrations, and earned the respect of the nation’s top bartenders at Camp Runamok.
Now, however, the distillery and the community it supports have been forced to hit pause due to COVID-19.
“All this momentum that we’ve spent the last two years building towards in the city has come to a complete stop,” said Brown. “To see downtown Louisville as a ghost town, it just doesn’t feel right.”
Jackie Zykan, Old Forester’s Master Taster, has also had to find new ways to do her role from her home, including barrel selections.
“As much as I would love to get out of my house and go into the distillery and work there, we all understand the most important thing to do right now is to stay away and to protect our production crew,” Zykan said. “Those working the bottling line and labeling bottles are the heart that’s pumping blood through the company and we must do everything we can to keep them safe.”
While life in quarantine has posed challenges for the Old Forester team, it has also brought an opportunity to re-evaluate what’s been done in the past and to look for new ways to improve both the distillery and the customer experience once the doors swing open again.
Brown and his team are already working on new customer experiences while making sure that the layout and flow of the tour will continue to be welcoming, comfortable, and safe for guests.
“Our focus now is that when we do get to open those doors, let's open them with authority and be ready to go,” said Old Forester President, Campbell Brown.
“We're going to get back to it. We're going to be the best experience that there is. When people come back into that building, they're going to say, ‘This is what we missed. We missed Old Forester.’"
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