Focus Lighting worked with Bravura Architects and the experience designers at Imagination to design the newly renovated Old Forester Distillery in Louisville, Kentucky. Returning to the city’s historic Whiskey Row – the site of Old Forester’s founding in 1870 – the revamped space functions both as a working distillery and an immersive guest experience.
The new design required thoughtful consideration of architecture, history, branding, and storytelling, but the real challenge was staying true to these creative considerations while also providing the functional light required for a working production facility. The lighting team achieved this through a seamless integration of lighting principles from retail, hospitality, museum and industrial design. The result weaves the guest experience into the distilling processes to create a contemporary perspective on Old Forester’s time-honored art of making Bourbon.
The building’s centerpiece is an imposing 44-foot-tall copper column still. The still’s vibrant color is accentuated by 7-color LED framing projectors from above, and RGBA floodlights from below. As natural light changes through the central atrium’s skylight, LED lighting adjusts from cool to warm, maintaining a visually pleasing balance.
Visitors begin their tour in the basement level where 4500gal vats hold the bourbon mash for up to 4-days. LED track accents dramatically light the mash from above, while additional accents mounted one level below allow guests to appreciate the vastness of the tanks through the glass and grate floor. Pulling inspiration whenever possible from the distilling process, circular LED pendants in the cooperage evoke the metal hoops used to bind the barrels’ wooden staves. This provides the room with a glowing layer of light – a cost-effective approach that adds an element of warmth and comfort within an otherwise industrial work environment.
The designers also had to contend with several areas designated as hazardous zones due to the risk of explosive alcohol vapors. Here, the lighting team made creative use of industrial explosion-proof LED floodlights, masking their glare with custom shrouds made of steel pipe.
The lighting team conducted 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, 2700K background when observing the bourbon during tasting sessions. This prompted the team to integrate large circular backlit panels into tasting room ceilings. The circles allow guests to lift their glass to a clean, illuminated surface so they can clearly see and appreciate the bourbon’s colors and density.
Retail displays in the atrium’s lower level were required to have movable shelving to provide flexibility. The lighting designer worked with millworkers to integrate LED strips driven by low voltage power conducted through the metal shelf support standards. This allows the lit shelves to be fully adjustable without hardwired electrical connections.
Together with the architecture of this historic building, and the contemporary presentation of the distilling process, the lighting for this immersive experience helps tell the rich story of this beloved Kentucky brand.
Photo Credits: Ryan Fischer
Brett Andersen, Lighting Designer
Joshua Spitzig, Lighting Designer
Justin Keenan Miller, Lighting Designer
David Kinkade, Project Manager