First Look: Jeptha Creed Distillery

Jeptha Creed Distillery is the new kid on bourbon block – their grand opening is today. I’m normally willing to extend a little grace for rough edges during early days while they’re ironing everything out … but that would require finding something other than a rough edge.

Jeptha Creed’s unique point is that they’re grain to glass and use heirloom bloody butcher corn as their grain base. But that’s not what’s important. What’s important is that they’re visible from I-64 halfway between Louisville and Lexington.

Like a few other bourbon distilleries that I’ve visited, their hospitality and experience design planning seem to have consisted of taking a few tours at competitors and thinking ‘Surely we can do this – it looks easy!’ (There are professional hospitality and experience designers for a reason!)

To start, I couldn’t find the ticket line. There’s a circular station with the registers just a few steps inside the front doors. But because there’s no wayfaring, signage or line management, I couldn’t see the registers for the crowd, so I went around the crowd and wandered through the gift shop before figuring out where to get a ticket. When I got back in line, even though there were two people sitting at different registers, only one of them was actually giving out tickets. Once we figured that out, those of us in the wrong line had to get to back of the right line.

The lady in front of me was also a party of 1 and got on 3:15 tour. I got 4pm and the party of two behind me were offered 4:30 and they walked out. And remember – this was 16 minutes after they opened the doors at 2pm.

As a token gesture of hospitality, they had cupcakes and ham biscuits on a little table off to the side. It gave off a vibe of a bad social obligation party in someone’s home. (The food should at least have been passed to give a welcoming reception feel.)

The distillery has a bar, too, which might have offered some relief from the wait. Except … I couldn’t get close enough to read the paper print-out menus. Despite having two big-screen TVs potentially available for that use behind the bar, the cocktail menus looked like an afterthought designed and printed by an intern.

The two bartenders appeared to be working their first ever shift slinging booze and were actually figuring out the recipes as people ordered the cocktails. Between the two of them, they were pumping out at least one drink a minute. There was no line management at the bar, either, so four lines had formed but, as I watched from a distance, I could tell the bartenders were only aware of one.

The drinks that I did see come out were Bloody Mary’s and something in a copper mug – likely either a julep or a mule. Jeptha Creed only has a vodka, a moonshine and a lemonade moonshine available and I’m not sure what the full extent of their cocktails are.

The beverageware is quite nice but because the bar is within the gift shop/visitors center, I expect they’re going to have a serious shrink problem with beverages walking out to people’s cars.

The gift shop is the most generic I’ve ever seen:

There was apparel and glassware, too, plus bourbon balls but nothing was unique in any way. It looked like someone took a mail-order catalog and just slapped the JC logo on everything.

Rather than wait for my tour in the crowded gift shop, I popped off to a nearby Starbucks to write this. On the way, I passed a Cracker Barrel and that’s when I understood Jeptha Creed.

Jeptha Creed is comfortable and generic. At least so far, they haven’t put any effort into guest experience or staff training. But they’re conveniently located next to an interstate exit.

Will they do well? Probably. That’s a good enough recipe of success with the retiree crowd. Will they do well with the bourbon enthusiast crowd … I’m doubtful.

Part 2 – The Tour is now up:

EDIT: I’ve been asked several times if I’ll give Jeptha Creed another chance. Yes, I think so but it’ll probably be at least six to nine months. The biggest overall issue that I have with them is that the owners don’t appear to care about their employees or their guests. They spent lots of money on the distillery, on their branding, on all the disorganized “stuff” with their logo on it in the gift shop, on the video at the start of the tour and the like but there appears to have been no thought given to or money spent on things like the tour path, the tasting room, the acoustics or even staff training. Everything feels designed by an anonymous corporate marketing group to maximize how much visitors spend – but not to inspire passion in their employees. One good consultant (and there are many available) would have made the grand opening a much better experience for everyone. It’s in weird contrast to the extraordinary amount of care they put into their products. We’ll see if things change over time.

Jeptha Creed Distillery

500 Gordon Lane
Shelbyville, KY 40065
(502) 487-5007


Tuesday – Saturday, 10am – 6pm

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