Ground was broken for Horse Soldier Farms at the former Waitsboro Hills Golf Course on Tuesday.

"This is what making history looks like, folks."

As the men and women behind Horse Soldier Bourbon and their families poured onto the stage like high-quality spirits from a bottle, Somerset Mayor Alan Keck savored the opportunity to say the words above. It had been Keck that had placed a longshot cold call to a unique group of bourbon enthusiasts, hoping to work with them to fulfill a dream of bringing a distillery to this community. 

On Tuesday, the fruits of that cold call were realized with a tremendous audience — among them like likes of Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear, Attorney General Daniel Cameron, and one of the Bluegrass' finest musical talents, Dr. Everett McCorvey, who sang the National Anthem — and the groundbreaking for the much-anticipated Horse Soldier Farms, on the green grass of the former Waitsboro Hills Golf Course off of Slate Branch Road, spanning 227 acres.

To be sure, Horse Soldier Farms will be more than just a bourbon distillery, however. The vision — detailed in a video presented to the crowd gathered for Tuesday's ceremony — is much grander than that. 

The sprawling venue — envisioned as a visually stunning oasis of contemporary design melded with the surrounding natural Pulaski County beauty, the new "southern anchor" of the famed Kentucky Bourbon Trail, the state's numerous distilleries which draw major tourism numbers — includes a state-of-the-art sustainable distillery, nods to military background of Horse Soldiers' founders including a replica of America's Response Monument at Ground Zero in New York and metal from the Statue of Liberty incorporated into the structure, and the opportunity for guests to get a peek into facility's bourbon production.

A planned "Horse Soldier" village will feature dining, shopping, and a rotating program of events, festivals, and concerts, along with community rooms, a chapel, and an event center. And in keeping with the patriotic spirit of the Horse Soldier brand, the property will also house the American Story Center, which welcomes families to share an adventure based on what were listed as the company's core values — integrity, authenticity, and service.

Those were values learned in the heat of battle. The founders of Horse Soldier Bourbon made up the first U.S. Army Special Forces unit to enter Afghanistan following the events of 9/11, crossing the rough terrain on horseback. Their story has been immortalized in both the written page and in film — "12 Strong," starring Chris Hemsworth — but even back then, their story was connected to this area, as they were training on the Cumberland River when they heard about the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.

In fact, the ceremony took place 20 years to the day — October 19 — after the Horse Soldiers began their iconic mission, a fact that was not lost on anyone at the southern Pulaski farm on Tuesday.

After their time in service of their country, the so-called "Horse Soldiers" discovered a new mission — build a bourbon brand together. Together, they created the American Freedom Distillery and Horse Soldier Bourbon. 

"This was just a chapter in our life; our book is still being written," said John Koko, president and CEO of Horse Soldier Bourbon, at Tuesday's ceremony. "... Sipped slowly in the beauty of nature, we hope you will join us and join our growing family and we can bond over that bourbon. ... We want to be that beacon of authenticity, integrity and service that sets a new standard."

The brand is currently distilled in Columbus, Ohio, but the efforts of Keck — who sought to put Somerset on the Bourbon Trail — resulted in a commitment by Horse Soldier to locate their production facility here following the completion of a $200 million project. The scope is massive: a 27,585-square-foot distillery visitor center; 4,600-square-foot activity center; 5,000-capacity amphitheater; 500-person outdoor event space; an adventure center, 3,200-square-foot wedding chapel; 60-key luxury lodge and 20 cabins, and a retail village with about 15 different shops particularly focusing on local products.

In all, the project looks to bring over 400 jobs to the area, 

Keck told about how after being elected in 2018, his administration sent out a pitch video "to anybody who would listen, many who would not" about the possibilities of bringing bourbon to this community. After hearing about American Freedom Distillery, Keck felt they would be an ideal fit here — and after watching the video, Horse Soldiers' founders felt the same.

"When I look to these men, not just what they accomplished but what they're accomplishing now, of dreaming bigger dreams, of understanding that for us to accomplish all we're supposed to accomplish as Kentuckians, that we do have to raise the bar, that we do have to dream bigger to accomplish even more," said Keck. "... We all know that tremendous courage involves a high degree of risk. For them, it meant leaving their family behind, not knowing if they'd ever see them again, having an unprecedented amount of resilience, determination and commitment towards a common goal."

That sentiment of raising the bar as Kentuckians was echoed by Beshear, who took the opportunity to speak in Somerset during a day full of appearances around the state. Beshear presented certificates naming Horse Soldier's Scott Neil, Bob Pennington, Mark Nutsch, Will Summers, and Koko as Kentucky Colonels, and also gave them gifts of Kentucky julep glasses. 

"Today is a testament to what we as a people are building, and the fact that we will never be viewed as a 'flyover state' ever again," said the governor. "With the steps that we are taking, no one's ever going to look down their nose at us ever again. ... It is truly an exciting time, and it's one where we're reminded today that the most important things in life aren't red or blue, they aren't democrat or republican, they're just good for our families, and in this instance, they're brown and delicious."

Bourbon is big business in Kentucky, noted Beshear — an $8.6 billion signature industry for the state, providing over 20,000 jobs with an annual payroll of more than $1 billion, he said. 

"In recent years, Bourbon has developed into an incredible tourism industry," said Beshear, "a draw that can bring people into our communities. ... Here locally, you know all about tourism, having brought people from all over the world to enjoy some of the greatest destinations in this commonwealth and in this country."

Horse Soldier Bourbon is a member of the Foley Family of Wines (FFW) portfolio. FFW President Shawn Schiffer said Horse Soldier "has solidified its place in American history and on shelves across the country through its civic contributions and its award-winning craft, both of which are equally impressive,” and expects it to be a "can’t miss stop" on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail.

"(W)e couldn’t be more proud to support this company as a top brand in the Foley Family brand portfolio," he added.

Following the ceremony, the ceremonial shovels went into the dirt to officially break ground on Horse Soldier Farms. D.W. Wilburn will begin construction in another couple of months, if all goes well.

Somerset's own Congressman Hal Rogers also spoke at Tuesday's ceremony, declaring it a "big day" for Pulaski County and the Lake Cumberland region and puts the area "on the map." He thanked the Horse Soldier owners for allowing Pulaski to be part of their company's future, and compared them to Pulaski native Brent Woods, a Medal of Honor recipient buried at Mill Springs National Cemetery, an African-American Buffalo Soldier and member of Company B, 9th U.S. Cavalry Regiment in the 19th-and early 20th century — meaning he too was a "Horse Soldier" connected to this area. 

"While we were reeling as a nation from the shock of the Twin Towers catastrophe, (the Horse Soldiers) had already volunteered (for) one of the most intense missions of our time, (mounting) a horseback campaign against tyranny in the mountains of Afghanistan, where it was nearly impossible to distinguish friend from foe," said Rogers. "This nation owes you Horse Soldiers a great debt of gratitude for your valor, your determination, and your fearless courage."

Rogers presented a U.S. flag he had flown over the U.S. Capitol building in honor of the Horse Soldiers, Green Berets of the Operation Detachment Alpha (ODA) 595 group, and says he hopes the flag finds a home in the new development when it's complete. The longtime U.S. Representative also said Pulaski is proud to have another veteran-owned company within its borders 

"You could have chosen to expand your operations anywhere in the country," said Rogers. "But we're thrilled that you planted roots here in southern Kentucky, paying homage to your time at Ft. Campbell. You've chosen the perfect time to be part of our expanding tourism economy across southern and eastern Kentucky." 

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