Ghosts and Spirits of Bourbon Distilleries

Ghosts and Spirits of Bourbon Distilleries

The Kentucky Bourbon Industry has been around a long time. Many distilleries and brands have storied pasts that include both failures and successes, and the folks who have worked at them over the decades may have found their work so ingrained into their personalities it was hard to leave behind. In the Bourbon Industry there are often whispers of a different kind of spirits – the other worldly kind.

Plenty of people have had encounters of the other-worldly kind at distilleries and former offices and residences of industry folk, but not all of them are willing to share. A recent call on social media for distillery ghost stories generated an unexpected response from Whiskey Women and Bourbon Curious author Fred Minnick: “Many, but too horrified to share and won't. Seriously.”

Louisville’s Whiskey Row Is A Hotbed Of Paranormal Activity

Fortunately Old Forester Master Taster Jackie Zykan was willing to share a treasure trove of ghost stories from Louisville’s Whiskey Row on Main Street.

This was once the business center of the Bourbon Industry, home to J.T.S. Brown and Sons, Brown-Forman, and more, and today the Old Forester Distillery and Visitor’s Center is under construction and slated to open in a matter of months.

Old Forester Old Fine Whisky robust small batch created on Whiskey Row - Photo: Old Forester

Whether ghost activities have been responsible for construction delays is mere speculation, but according to these stories from the restaurants in this block of historic buildings it could be a possibility.

Before Zykan was Old Forester’s Master Taster she was the Beverage Director at Doc Crow’s, formerly the Bonnie Brothers Rye Company.

“At Doc's, the area near the service well, above the computer, is well known for being a place of flying glassware. Things would literally launch off the shelf above the computer for absolutely no reason. Menus would place themselves on tables at night when no one was in the building.”

“The biggest item, and this is on security tapes, was one morning the manager came to open the store and the middle door in the front of the building was wide open, with a giant, SUPER HEAVY solid wood table in the middle of it. Reviewing the tape from the night before revealed that in the middle of the night the table literally thrust the locked door open! No one was around! We assumed the front area of Doc Crow's to be the site of General Nelson's death, or possibly the street right in front of the building. But whatever the case, there is something in that building.”

General Nelson, a Union General during the Civil War, was murdered at the original Galt House Hotel by a subordinate officer and has been suspected as the responsible party for much of the paranormal activity in the building, though there are others.

Fanciful depiction of General William "Bull" Nelson being shot by fellow Union General Jefferson C. Davis at the Galt House in Louisville, Kentucky on September 27, 1862 - Photo: Wikipedia

According to Zykan, Next door at O’Sheas Irish Pub a ghost named Willy, who was believed to have been killed by a Bourbon barrel, has been spotted by numerous employees over the years. In the basement shared between Doc Crow’s and Troll Pub employees of both restaurants have spotted a nun, believed to have perished during the Galt House fire in 1865.

Want To Take A Bourbon Ghost Distillery Tour?

Buffalo Trace is one of the distilleries that proudly parades their ghosts right out in the open. In fact, the stories are so numerous and so public that the distillery was featured on an episode of Ghost Hunters a few years ago.

The spookiest experience I’ve had there personally involved being on a tour bus when I suddenly found myself sitting next to one of the local ghost hunters. But this month’s issue of Kentucky Monthly Magazine outlines several of the most notable incidents, including a story of an entire tour group witnessing a man who had been writing on a clipboard in a rick house suddenly vanishing into a barrel as everyone watched.

Buffalo Trace Distillery - Photo: Flickr / Dave Kern

Ghost tours are available on weekend evenings at Buffalo Trace Distillery, but not surprisingly they are already completely booked for the remainder of October.

Former Distillers’ Homes Are Also Hotspots Of Haunting Activity

Just down the road the town of Tyrone was a pre-Prohibtion distillery town that has been all but wiped off the map. There brands like T.W. Ripy, which would later become Wild Turkey, and Mary Dowling’s Waterfill & Frazier got their start.

Prohibition sent Dowling to Juarez, Mexico while the Ripy family waited it out. Today both of their historic homes in nearby Lawrenceburg are considered to be some of the most haunted sites in Kentucky, included on the Lawrenceburg Ghost Walk, and Wild Turkey Distillery is rumored to have paranormal activity.

Do you have a distillery ghost story to share?

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