A Covington whiskey blending company is expanding its operations within the city, including transforming the vacant Bilz Insurance building into a distillery.
Founded in 2022, Wenzel Whiskey operates out of the Pickle Factory Hotel in Covington’s Tobacco Alley. The Bilz Insurance building is next door, located along Madison Avenue.
Since its founding, Wenzel has not produced its own whiskey; they have offered blends of whiskeys that were combined, changing the flavor palates into something new. That’s now slated to change.
In May, Wenzel announced they purchased over $5 million worth of distilling equipment from the now-shuttered Ghost Coast Distillery in Savannah, Georgia. The purchase included a 500-gallon Vendome pot still and cooker manufactured by Vendome Copper and Brass Works in Louisville. Wenzel has since transported the equipment from Savannah to Covington.
“We had aspirations of expanding into production, but this will allow us to speed up that timeline by a few years,” Wenzel Whiskey Brand Ambassador Bill Whitlow said in a May press release.
On Thursday, the Covington Business Council hosted a Hardhat Tour of the Bilz Insurance building, where founder Tony Milburn outlined Wenzel’s renovation plans. With their newly acquired equipment, Milburn and his business partners Austin Dunbar, Todd McMurtry and Nick Manning decided the time was right to begin branching out their business.
“We wound up getting into the distillery business really big, a lot quicker than we thought,” Milburn said during the tour.
Milburn acquired the vacant building for approximately $1.2 million in February 2022. The nearly 10,000-square-foot building was built in 1916 and was formerly a Packard car dealership and garage. After that, it served as an office space for Bilz Insurance which has since relocated to Fort Wright.
Milburn said the facility will house a distillery, restaurant, gift shop and private tasting room. Newport-based PCA Architecture designed the distillery’s conceptual renderings.
“We hope to start construction in the next month and be done in about 12 months,” Milburn said.
During the tour, Dunbar said the interior décor of the distillery will be primarily themed around Wenzel’s branding while acknowledging the building’s past life as a car dealership.
“I like to have a feather in the cap and nod to the past to certain things, but I don’t want to hit it on the head,” Dunbar said. “For this corner of Covington, I think this needs to be a new chapter.”
In addition to the equipment, Wenzel also purchased nearly 500 barrels of aged bourbon and rum from Ghost Coast. Much of that bourbon has been aged over seven years. Wenzel’s stock now includes barrels from Georgia, Kentucky, Indiana and Louisiana.
Wenzel is already a member of the Kentucky Distillers Association. Their business currently revolves around giving bourbon tours and allowing customers to blend samples together from different stored barrels.