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Equestrian ex-husband of actress Kaley Cuoco plans bourbon distillery on Kentucky River

A new distillery with a high-profile owner may be coming to Madison County.

Karl Cook, an internationally ranked equestrian show jumper who is the ex-husband of “Big Bang Theory” actress Kaley Cuoco and also the son of the founder of Intuit, is planning to build a small-scale distillery on land he purchased last fall on the Kentucky River.

Why open a distillery?

“I love bourbon,” Cook said.

Cook said he first came to the Lexington area in 2016 to compete in equestrian events at the Kentucky Horse Park then fell in love with the area and with bourbon.

“I started to know people in the bourbon industry and decided I wanted to build a distillery,” he said.

A rendering of the solar panels that will power Palisades Whiskey Co. Distillery in Madison County.
A rendering of the solar panels that will power Palisades Whiskey Co. Distillery in Madison County.
Equestrian Karl Cook has gone from enjoying whiskey to wanting to make it. After visiting Kentucky for years to compete, he’s now decided to build his own distillery in Madison County.
Equestrian Karl Cook has gone from enjoying whiskey to wanting to make it. After visiting Kentucky for years to compete, he’s now decided to build his own distillery in Madison County.

The leap from enjoying whiskey to making his own was a number of years in the making, he said.

The property is near Kelley’s Landing in Fayette County, where Lexington is building a nature park with river access.

The Madison County Board of Adjustment is scheduled to consider a conditional use permit for the site at a hearing 5:30 p.m. Feb. 22.

Cook said Wednesday that hopes the permit will go through. He plans to build a small-scale distillery to be called Palisades Whiskey Co. Distillery to make “estate bottled bourbon ... distilled from grains that we grow on site.”

A map showing the proposed site of the Palisades Distillery in Madison County on the Kentucky River, submitted with the application for a conditional use permit.
A map showing the proposed site of the Palisades Distillery in Madison County on the Kentucky River, submitted with the application for a conditional use permit.
A rendering of one of three rickhouses that equestrian Karl Cook plans to build, along with a small-scale distillery, in Madison County.
A rendering of one of three rickhouses that equestrian Karl Cook plans to build, along with a small-scale distillery, in Madison County.

Access to the distillery would be via Old Richmond Road right next to the river, Cook said.

According to the conditional use permit application, the distillery will be integrated into the existing fields. “This project is not about building the biggest distillery in Kentucky, it’s about producing a bourbon which is deeply rooted in the land that grew it and the people whose hands crafted it.”

Cook said that he also is building a home and a barn for his horses on the 218-acre property, which he purchased for $3.1 million last October.

A rendering of the distillery that equestrian Karl Cook plans to build in Madison County on the Kentucky River. Palisades will produce about 2,000 barrels of estate bottled bourbon a year.
A rendering of the distillery that equestrian Karl Cook plans to build in Madison County on the Kentucky River. Palisades will produce about 2,000 barrels of estate bottled bourbon a year.
Karl Cook and actress Kaley Cuoco, shown at the 2019 Golden Globe Awards, were married for just shy of four years.
Karl Cook and actress Kaley Cuoco, shown at the 2019 Golden Globe Awards, were married for just shy of four years.

“But the distillery is obviously the main piece and that will be built first,” Cook said.

He said that he anticipates producing only about 2,000 barrels of distillate a year, which would go into three three-story rickhouses planned for the site, which also would have a visitors center.

Renderings of the distillery, done by Lexington architects Joseph & Joseph, show plans for a large solar array that would shade the buildings and power the distillery.

Construction will begin as soon as possible, he said, and could take as much as two years to get operational. He plans to sell whiskey that he’s purchased elsewhere at the visitors center until his own is ready but does not plan to market it separately.

“My goal is to produce about 2,000 barrels a year. ... The distillery is actually capable of making a lot more, we could easily double that production but I wanted something a bit more relaxed as a production cycle,” Cook said. “I want to be very intentional about what we make.”

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