Evenings Upstairs – Forgotten Distilleries: An Introduction to Bourbon Archaeology
Led by Nicolas Laracuente, Bourbon Archaeologist.
The distilling industry is a critical piece of Kentucky’s history and its continued success. Nick will discuss the three tiers of distilleries (industrial, farm, and moonshine) and how they both influenced and were influenced by Kentucky’s economic and social movements. The talk will highlight the findings from archaeological investigations of two farm distilleries in Woodford County and how exploring these forgotten histories teach us more about distilling and life during the 1800’s in Kentucky.
Nick Laracuente is a Kentucky based archaeologist whose “day-job” is a manager at the Kentucky State Historic Preservation Office. Outside of his state work, he is the director of the Jack Jouett Archaeology Project, a community archaeology project, involving over 130 volunteers, focused on investigations of early whiskey distilleries in Central Kentucky. The project earned several awards including the Kentucky Historical Society Excellence in Preservation Education 2015 and the Ida Lee Willis Service to Preservation Award 2016. It was also recognized by First Lady, Michelle Obama, as Kentucky’s first Preserve America Steward for bringing a volunteer-based focus to sites in danger of disappearing that fall outside the realm of standard preservation safety nets. His archaeological research focuses exclusively on the distilling industry and most of his projects involve the public. The public has returned the favor giving Nick the title, “The Bourbon Archaeologist.”
Some of his work appeared in a chapter of the book Eating the Past: Archaeology of Foodways in the Southeastern United States edited by Tanya Peres Lemons and Aaron Deter-Wolf. In 2016, Nick got a call from Buffalo Trace who had ‘found something old’ during the renovation of the O.F.C. building on the distillery grounds. Over the next two years, he worked as an independent contractor with Buffalo Trace’s engineers and architects to unearth and document the remains of several distilleries that were buried beneath the floor of the present-day building. Collaborating with Joanna Hay Productions, he interpreted the archaeological remains and the story they contained as the team crafted the exhibit in what is affectionately known as Bourbon Pompeii. This effort was recognized with the Excellence in Cultural Heritage Tourism Award by Preservation Kentucky in 2017. In 2019, Buffalo Trace used information from the archaeology to reactivate one of the buried fermenting vats and began distilling the original O.F.C. Whiskey just as Col. E.H. Taylor did in 1882. In 2020, Nick joined Midway University’s Bourbon Studies Program teaching classes on the history and archaeology of Kentucky’s Distilling Industry.