O.Z. Tyler is growing quickly with 2019 expansion plans that include 10 new bourbon storage facilities to be built in Ohio County and an additional warehouse at their Owensboro distillery. The new facilities must be completed by the end of June to meet the demand of bourbon production. Jacob Call, who was tapped as the company’s master distiller in 2016, has moved the distillery out of the old-school, traditional methods of producing bourbon by introducing a new wave of automation and technology.
The new age of bourbon
When O.Z. Tyler decided to rehab the old Medley Distillery in 2014, they had to turn deterioration, from the 25 years the facility sat vacant, into what is set to become the world’s fourth-largest independent bourbon distillery.
Call said the $25 million renovation not only allowed for new electrical, plumbing and piping systems, but also gave the distillery a chance to modernize and automate the centuries-old bourbon craft.
A new grain system was installed in 2015 after the existing equipment was found to have water damage making it unusable. That system, Call said, is equipped with sensors that monitor grain storage totals and a mill, which allows O.Z. to convert the grain into a flour-like consistency.
“We buy all local Kentucky corn from Kentucky farmers,” Call said, adding that O.Z. Tyler’s main ingredients are corn, rye and malted barley.
Every process throughout the distillery is run through a more than $1 million touch-screen operating system installed by ECS Solutions out of Evansville. One touch can open a grain bin, turn on the hammer mill, control the bourbon recipe and operate the cooker where grain is mashed.
Call said, while competitors have a similar technology setup, generally each distillery has its own custom process. And, he said, at O.Z. Tyler, each operating center has a whiteboard where information is tracked by hand in case of a technology malfunction.
Last week a crane lowered a new mash cooker into what was once an unusable wooden grain bin storage tower as a part of O.Z. Tyler’s 2019 expansion plans.
In 2016, O.Z. Tyler produced 18,000 barrels of bourbon, but Call said the distillery was “fermentor locked,” meaning the facility didn’t have enough fermenters to keep up with their still. In 2017, they added more fermenters, allowing them to produce 70,000 barrels annually.
“Our still is a very big still, and we still needed more fermentation capacity,” Call said.
In July, O.Z. Tyler will bring another cooker and seven more fermenters online, allowing the distillery to produce an expected 95,000 barrels in 2019.
That still, Call said, can produce 300 barrels of bourbon a day. Until the expansion is complete, he said production is dialed back to 225 barrels per day, but will soon be “full-throttle.”
The science behind the distilling process, including the time and temperature of cooking the mash, is also run by modern technology. One man operates the 54-inch still, cookers and fermenters, from a screen that looks much like a video game, Call said.
Processes, which Call said would have taken two or three employees, now only takes one because of the technology advances. Medley Distilling Company once employed around 300, compared to the 90 employees O.Z. Tyler now has. But the automation O.Z. Tyler has invested in provides efficiency and accuracy to their bourbon production, Call said.
Possibly some of the most advanced technology located in the smallest space can be found in the O.Z. Tyler laboratory, where staff analyze the bourbon with proofing machines, pH meters, gas chromatograph to measure alcohol levels.
“Even though we have all of these machines that measure in parts per million, the human nose still does parts per billion, so we still taste and smell everything before we bottle it and ship it out,” Call said.
Probably the least automated feature on the 26-acre distillery property, Call said, is the bourbon storage warehouses. Currently, seven warehouses are storing bourbon, one of which was just renovated a few weeks ago from weather damage.
TerrePURE: What makes O.Z. Tyler different
Affectionately called “Rosie,” after the robot maid from the famous TV show “The Jetsons,” the TerrePURE bourbon processing machine is unique to O.Z. Tyler.
Ultrasonic energy replicates the aging process in a barrel that takes around four years, reducing that time to 12 hours. Staves are placed inside the machine to provide the traditional bourbon flavor.
The patented process, Terrepure, was invented by Orville Zelotes “Ty” Tyler III — or O.Z. Tyler — and eventually led to the formation of Terressentia in 2007. Tyler is also credited with inventing a coating that eliminates the metallic taste of canned soft drinks, indoor-outdoor carpeting, washable wallpaper and outdoor latex paint.
Call said one of the reasons bourbon ages so well in Kentucky is the dramatic temperature swings, with cool nights and warm days. When the barrel heats up, it acts as a filter for the bourbon, as it moves in and out of the charred wooden staves. TerrePURE replicates that natural process, in a smaller amount of time and without the 20 percent evaporation — or angel’s share — that occurs in barrel aging.
With the 10 machines running, Call said O.Z. Tyler can process a 6,000-gallon tanker in about 12 hours.
“We don’t do this on all of our products,” Call said. “And we can’t make a 1-year-old taste like Pappy Van Winkle, but we can make a 1-year-old taste like a 4-year-old.”
It was TerrePURE technology that allowed O.Z. Tyler to invest in the Medley Distillery.
“There were a lot of distilleries that looked at this place and it sat vacant for a long time,” Call said. “I think a lot of other distilleries were kind of scared of how much money it would take to bring this place back to life. With the traditional aging process of four to five years, they would have to wait that long to get back their investment.”
Call said the TerrePURE process allowed O.Z. Tyler to turn over profits much sooner.
O.Z. Tyler’s mark on the bourbon industry and what’s next
O.Z. Tyler became the 11th stop on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail in 2018. While not centered in the heart of Kentucky bourbon country, Call said he considers O.Z. Tyler as the “gateway from the West,” noting that Owensboro is typically the first or last stop for bourbon enthusiasts traveling the trail.
“It always amazes me where these people come from,” Call said as he looked through the guest book in the gift shop. One of the latest entries in the book was a visitor from South Korea.
“That’s why the City of Owensboro and Visit Owensboro are so pumped about us being on the Bourbon Trail because all of these people are coming,” Call said.
Many would say that coveted spot on the trail was warranted, considering O.Z. Tyler is the 10th oldest permitted distillery in the country, thanks to the Medley family maintaining their permit even though they weren’t operational. By comparison, newer brands like Bulleit fall in the 20,000s of permitted distilleries.
O.Z. Tyler has 135,000 barrels in storage, outnumbering the citizens of Daviess County. But that is on track with state statistics, that boast more stored barrels of bourbon in the Commonwealth than there are Kentuckians
Call said what makes O.Z. Tyler unique from other Kentucky distilleries is that a vast majority of their product is sold in 6,000-gallon tankers, sold and shipped to other bottlers across the globe, who put their own label on the bourbon.
“We also do a lot of production for other distilleries,” Call said, unable to disclose specific brands.
O.Z. Tyler also produces private-label bourbon for liquor store chains across the U.S., including Quarter Horse for ABC Liquor out of Florida. On Wednesday, staff was bottling Duke bourbon, a brand started by famous actor John Wayne’s son.
“Our O.Z. Tyler brand is probably less than 1 percent of what we do,” Call said, noting that O.Z. Tyler has a bourbon, rye and honey-flavored label, made with honey from on-site beehives. “A lot of people get hung up on the brands, but we do a lot of other stuff.”
With a new CEO and marketing director, located in Charleston, S.C. at O.Z. Tyler’s parent company Terressentia, Call expects the Owensboro distillery to focus more on labels and brands. Call said the bulk business allowed Terressentia to lay the foundation for O.Z. Tyler, providing revenue to make future label and brand production possible.
“We have some plans, things in the works, to release some new brands, some new labels, some new partnerships,” Call said. “We’re excited about some of the cool, unique offerings we will be launching in the next couple of years.”
Unable to give further comment, Call could only confirm that they will be bourbon or rye related.
Did you know?
To be considered bourbon, Call said there are rules distilleries must follow. The product has to be made with at least 51 percent corn in the recipe, has to come off the still at below 160 proof, has to go into a brand new, charred oak barrel every time at 125 proof or less. Bourbon can be made in any state, but to be Kentucky bourbon, it has to be distilled in the state for at least a year and a day, with straight bourbon being two years.