Luca Mariano Distillery

Bottling Family Values, Tradition & History

Mariano Viola was a man of many talents, including making pasta, winemaking, distilling whiskey and brandy and gardening. He shared these talents with his family, dreaming that one day, they would have a successful life and a lasting legacy in the United States. That dream started to materialize in 2010 in the garage of his grandson, Francesco S. Viola. Francesco was distilling whiskey in his garage as a hobby, using the methods he learned under the guidance of his grandfather. Then, in 2013, he was encouraged to obtain a federal basic permit officially licensing him to produce bourbon. When he received that permit on the last day of 2013, the Luca Mariano Distillery, LLC, was established, named in recognition of Francesco Viola’s son and grandfather. The dream and vision materialized further when the small garage distillery grew to become known as a producer of supreme, small-batch Kentucky straight bourbon whiskey, the foundation of the Luca Mariano distillery in Danville, Kentucky, distillers of bourbon and ryes aged no less than four years.

  While his distilled bourbon and rye were still young, Viola partnered with an established distillery in Kentucky to produce a young whiskey. But a test launch of 60 cases proved unacceptable to Viola’s standards and further intensified his focus and desire to create only high-quality Kentucky straight bourbon and straight rye whiskey. To start building the needed inventory, Luca Mariano Distillery partnered with another distillery to produce 240 barrels for aging in 2015. The following year brought another 240 barrels into the stock, with 480 added the year after, in 2017. Luca Mariano Distillery added 750 barrels in 2018 and 1000 more in 2019, the same year that Viola was preparing to release his Old Americana Bourbon and his Luca Mariano Rye Whiskey. It was time for Viola to find a permanent location for his distillery legacy.

  “It had to be perfect for his vision,” said Jennifer Brandt, master blender for Luca Mariano Distillery. “Francesco wants to operate a premium destination distillery that combines his family values, bourbon history, and the qualities of life recognized and cherished in Italy, a place where friends and family can visit, enjoy great food and drink, and listen to beautiful music without feeling rushed. It had to be a property that can host memorable events with great experiences, not simply a place that offered the traditional tastings and gift shops. And more importantly, it had to honor his family and lifestyle values along with the bourbon tradition.”

  With the help of realtor Dan Campbell, Viola found that property in Danville, Kentucky, a 557-acre historic site rich in distilling and moonshining history. It is also home to the William Crow house, built in the 1770s and recognized as the oldest stone house and the oldest free-standing house in the state of Kentucky.

  “It was in shambles,” said Brandt. “Some of the stones were collapsing in on themselves, but there are now plans to restore the historic home to its original condition. Also on the property is a silo made famous by a local moonshiner named Guy Jones. He was a barnstormer that also found his plane and flying skills useful to fly his moonshine that he distilled in the on-site silo, to his customers. As a barnstormer by trade, being able to land his plane directly in the fields became a convenient way to peddle his shine.”

  Jones’ meticulous and detailed moonshining methods gave him notoriety and set him apart from other moonshiners at that time. Luca Mariano Distillery uses a similar process in its distilling methods, including detailed and constant attention. Restoration will also take place on the underground tunnel system that was in place for the moonshiners to have an escape route when necessary, as well as all of the buildings on the property to restore them to their natural and historically accurate state.

Viola is committed to using only the finest ingredients in his farm-to-bottle philosophy, and when he can do that locally, all the better. Viola promotes Kentucky as having some of the best distilling grains available and passionate farmers that share his determination and drive.

  “The property is also a fully functioning farm,” said Brandt. “Luca Mariano Distillery grows its own corn and wheat, farmed by the talented and well-known local farmers of Caverndale Farms. Barley and rye are best suited for cooler climates, so we choose to have them grown elsewhere. All our oak barrels are aged for 18 months before being assembled and expertly charred to a number four char for our use by Independent Stave Company.”

  Luca Mariano Distillery just broke ground on the property for a new craft distillery to be completed next year, in 2023. Original plans called for a larger footprint, but barrel shortages called for a smaller design now, with plans for a larger distillery in the future. The craft distillery will feature an 18-inch column, while the larger distillery will house three 36-inch columns. When the larger distillery begins production, the smaller craft distillery will remain in place for small-batch distilling and experimental or test batches.

  “Our rickhouses are uniquely designed as well,” said Brandt. “After a lot of research, a state-of-the-art, custom-designed rickhouse was constructed called a “Torta A Tre” or three-layered cake, with three floors on levels one and two with the third level remaining as an attic-type space. The idea behind this design is that smaller, three-floor rickhouses are best to age the barrels while removing the need for rotation. Floors one through three on the bottom level hold 13 barrels on each side. As you go up the cake tiers, floors four through six on the second level hold seven barrels on each side. The seventh floor is attic space, and this last tier allows the proper airflow to push through and penetrate the entire rickhouse.”

  Viola’s future building plans include 13 “Torta A Tre” rickhouses on the distillery property. The first completed rickhouse is named the Dan Campbell Rickhouse, after the real estate broker that worked tirelessly to help Viola acquire this unique property. Being ever thankful to Campbell, Viola dedicated his first signature rickhouse to him.

  In addition to a larger distillery footprint with corresponding rickhouses, Viola plans to make his Danville property a visitor’s paradise. His plans include a coffee shop, restaurants, a chocolate shop and a rooftop bar providing amazing panoramic farm views. Boutique hotel rooms are positioned on the second floor of these buildings so families and friends can stay a little longer to enjoy all of the amenities his distillery will offer. In addition, a music pavilion will be a centerpiece for visitors to stay and get together to enjoy great food, music and bourbon while creating lasting memories. Brandt estimates this development only to take up about 15 percent of the total property acreage.

The Goods

  Luca Mariano Distillery first released Old Americana Bourbon and Luca Mariano Rye Whiskey in 2019. “The Old Americana name pays homage to the American Dream,” said Brandt. “The Luca Mariano name is crafted for his son and grandfather. In 2020, we released our Luca Mariano Single Barrel Bourbon with a strong vanilla and caramel nose and a limited-edition Francesco S. Viola Single Barrel Bourbon with a mild cherry and brown sugar nose. Our Gianna Lorén Single Barrel Rye is named after the owner’s daughter and is a tribute and honor to all women in the distilling industry. It is a three-year, wheated bourbon.”

  Luca Mariano Distillery’s Old Americana Rye is a five-year, 5bbl, 89-proof offering. The Luca Mariano bourbon and rye are both seven-year, 103-proof, and the Gianna Lorén Rye is a six-year, 97-proof perfectly balanced blend of rye spiciness and rich, sweet, green apple, chocolate and brown sugar. Viola’s signature line boasts a seven-year, 113-proof bourbon.

  A distinguishing aspect of the Lucas Mariano Distillery brand is the inclusiveness and connectivity of music within their distillery operations. Their individual batches have correlating playlists performed by The Old Americana Band. Often those tracks offer insight into the batch creation or backstory. Other performances may provide insights into family history and traditions, distillery history and information, or additional backstories related to that particular batch or time. The Old Americana Band also provides distillery-sponsored music and entertainment at promotional events. It features a rotation of professional voices ranging from American Idol contestants to well-known Nashville music celebrities. A complete list and batch-numbered selections are available on the Luca Mariano website, along with videos of important moments.

  Viola is also in the process of producing his own signature recipe, which will have bourbon and scotch notes but without the peat flavor. Current plans are for a once-a-year release on his birthday, which coincidentally occurs on the anniversary of prohibition. Eventually, as the new distillery comes to fruition and production ramps up, he hopes to have this signature recipe offered year-round, along with unique blends and selections that will honor and keep alive the history and people of the property, including William Crow and Guy Jones.

  To help his vision become a reality, Viola hired industry veteran David Phillips as his master distiller, charged with overseeing all distillery operations from the current groundbreaking through distillery completion and startup. Phillips adds tremendous industry knowledge to the Luca Mariano vision through 18 years of experience with two of Kentucky’s leading distilleries. Trained under Jim Beam’s Master Distillers Jerry Dalton and Fred Noe, as well as under his mentor Larry Walker, Phillips previously led operations at the Clermont and Booker Noe distilleries. He also worked as Team Lead for Bulleitt Bourbon Distillery, responsible for all distilling and dry house operations.

  Until the completion of further construction, the Luca Mariano Distillery has limited public access and is only open to those customers and clients that have arranged for custom barrel picks.

  You can learn more about and follow Viola’s vision and the progress of Luca Mariano Distillery at https://www.lucamariano.com

https://www.lucamariano.com

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