How Amerlux Made the Timeless Old Forester Distillery Experience More Colorful
During the economic boom following the Civil War, a block-long stretch of cast iron-framed buildings on Louisville’s Main Street—famously known as Whiskey Row—became the hub of Bourbon Country and big business in Kentucky.
A block from the Ohio River, the West Main Street Historic District was originally the city’s business thoroughfare and once home to nearly 90 bourbon distilling companies.
Today, only one can proudly say they have operated continuously from then to now: Brown-Forman and its founding brand, Old Forester, America’s first bourbon to be sold in sealed glass bottles to ensure quality.
Located at 119 W. Main Street, Old Forester Distillery is housed in the same building that the brand initially called home before Prohibition. The company returned to the 70,000-square-foot facility following a $45 million renovation that now highlights the sights and smells of bourbon making—from fermentation and distillation to barrel-making, aging and bottling—all under one roof. The revamped space today functions as a working distillery and an immersive guest experience.
But after the architectural challenges of renovating the building to meet the facility’s desired functions were met, another task remained: how to best light the multipurpose facility.
“Our client’s goal was to weave the guest experience into the distilling processes and create a contemporary perspective on Old Forester’s time-honored art of making bourbon,” says Justin Keenan Miller, Senior Lighting Designer at Focus Lighting.
Keenan Miller’s firm worked with Bravura Architects and experience designers at Imagination to continuously integrate best practice lighting principles from retail, hospitality, museum, and industrial design.
“The new design required thoughtful consideration of architecture, history, branding and storytelling, but the real challenge was staying true to these creative considerations while providing the functional light required for a working production facility,” Keenan Miller says.
The lighting team responded by conducting extensive research to understand the optimal lighting conditions for showcasing the bourbon and the process of creating it, including tours of other operating distilleries. Through their research, the designers discovered the need for a clean, 2,700K background when observing the bourbon during tasting sessions.
Enter Amerlux. More than 1,000 of the award-winning LED manufacturer’s fixtures were installed throughout the facility for focused illumination and dramatic ambient effects:
- 155 Hornet adjustable downlights were used in hallways, lobbies, galleries, event spaces and for barrel-aging illuminating purposes.
- 277 Hornet fixed downlights were installed in hallways, restrooms, events spaces and the bottling plant.
- 575 Hornet track heads for used for orientation, barrel aging, cooperage and fermentation lighting. They were also installed throughout the welcome area, museum, bottling plant, atrium, elevator lobbies and gallery.
- Four Cylindrix III mini LEDs were mounted to illuminate the facility’s barrel conveyor.
“The Amerlux products provided the exceptional dimming required to shape a comfortable experience for visitors,” Keenan Miller says, adding that the Hornet recessed fixtures accent the tasting rooms’ brick and wood walls, wood tables and flooring, highlighting the materials’ warm tones. “Additionally, the fixtures’ crisp 2,700K color does a wonderful job of showcasing the colors and textures in Old Forester’s bourbon.”
Another design challenge, Keenan Miller says, was illuminating the tank-shaped, copper-colored doubler at the foot of a 44-foot-tall column still that brings the distillation process to life and serves as the building’s you-have-to-see-it-to-believe-it centerpiece. Amerlux Hornet track head family were used to accentuate the color of the doubler. “The product’s ability to hold up to three accessories was also a major benefit,” he said.
By upgrading the project’s fixtures to LED, the Old Forester team has not needed to replace or adjust any of their lighting since the venue opened, maintaining the look of the design, Keenan Miller said.
“Together, with the architecture of this historic building and the contemporary presentation of the distilling process, lighting for this immersive experience helps tell the rich story of this beloved Kentucky brand,” he added.
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