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Buffalo Trace Distillery

As the mighty buffalo thundered across the land, they carved paths in the wilderness and a destiny for our ancestors. These paths, known as traces, were soon marked with the footprints of adventurers, explorers and pioneers as they made their journey to the west. One such trace, called the Great Buffalo Trace, led to the rugged banks of what is now called the Kentucky River. It was here in Franklin County, just a short distance from Kentucky's state capitol of today, that millions of buffalo found passage across the river in their move toward the Great Plains.

The migration of these herds left a rough, wide clearing that would become a gateway to a new frontier that invited renowned explorers and pioneers such as George Rogers Clark, Daniel Boone and countless settlers who pushed America westward more than 230 years ago.

The McAfee brothers made the first survey of the crossing site and the surrounding area in 1773. A settlement was founded at the crossing in 1775, when brothers Hancock and Willis Lee established their camp with a small company of men. The group fought for survival in the unforgiving conditions of a fierce wilderness, but by 1789 the area held a thriving population.

Those who settled there were quick to take advantage of the abundant limestone spring water and fertile bottom loam—found to be perfect for growing exceptional grain. Distillation soon followed, and what would become the area's distinguished bourbon heritage took root.

The tradition of fine bourbon making has been a part of this site's heritage for more than two centuries. In fact, there has been a working distillery on the grounds since 1787.

The first modern distillery was built on this site in 1857 and was the first to incorporate the use of steam power—a major advance in producing high-quality bourbon. The distillery was later purchased by E.H. Taylor Jr., one of Kentucky's original bourbon aristocrats. Astute and innovative, Taylor brought advancements to the facility as well as to the entire whiskey industry. By 1886, the distillery had introduced the nation's first climate-controlled warehousing for aging whiskey and had earned a worldwide reputation for producing America's finest bourbons.

During the Prohibition era, the distillery's existence was spared by the allowance of a permit–one of only four issued in the country–to continue distillation for medicinal purposes. After repeal, Albert Blanton took over the operation of the distillery and added many quality control enhancements. An innovator in his own right, Blanton enjoyed producing single-barrel bourbon for himself and his friends. This tradition was honored in 1984 when the distillery became the first to commercially market a single-barrel bourbon.

Today the Buffalo Trace Distillery site encompasses 119 acres and 114 buildings. The George T. Stagg distillery was renamed Buffalo Trace in June 1999 and introduced its flagship bourbon, Buffalo Trace Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey, in August 1999. In addition to Buffalo Trace Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey, the distillery has a history of other finely crafted, award-winning spirits, including Blanton's, W.L Weller, Old Charter and Eagle Rare. The American family owned distillery has won more international awards since 1990 than any other North American distillery, earning more than 160 distinctions in national and international competitions, including seven “Distillery of the Year” awards, since 2000.

Buffalo Trace has a long and rich history of distilling in Kentucky and is the nation's oldest continuously operating distillery. Take a walk through time and discover some of the highlights and legends of Buffalo Trace history.

1754 French and Indian War starts
1763 French and Indian War ends
1771 Daniel Boone at Lee's Town on the Buffalo Trace
1773 Hancock Taylor returns with Willis Lee; Hancock Taylor killed
1775 Hancock Lee surveys; establishes Lee's Town evidence of distilling
George Rogers Clark (William Clark's brother) at Lee's Town
Nicholas Cresswell visits Hancock Lee; together they sip on Lee's whiskey
A corn crop was needed to claim a 400-acre tract of land free from the Virginia government
1776 War of Independence; Willis Lee killed at Lee's Town
1784 Filson's map shows Lee's Town on the Buffalo Trace
1786 Hancock Lee receives title to the land at Lee's Town
1787 First river shipments of whiskey to New Orleans; shipping product "back east" was a problem due to the mountains.
A horse could carry four bushels of corn OR 24 bushels worth of corn as whiskey
1789 Lee's Town flourishes due to “brisk traffic” in whiskey
1791 The first National Tax is imposed on liquor
1792 Commodore Richard Taylor builds the one-story stone house "Riverside". The house is still on the site today.
Kentucky becomes the 15th state in the Union
1793 Willis Lee, nephew of Hancock Taylor, builds Glen Willis as a two-story log cabin
1794 The Great Whiskey Rebellion forced many distillers westward into Kentucky from Pennsylvania
1795 Kentucky reaches 800 licensed distilleries
1810 Kentucky has 2,000 distillers
1811 Richard Taylor and Willis Lee build a warehouse at Lee's Town; river steamer built at Lee's Town
1812 Harrison Blanton distills on site of present-day Buffalo Trace; whiskey is shipped to New Orleans
1814 Saw mill in operation at the north end of the site
1817 Lee's Town flooded
1818 First dam built at a cost of $40,000
"The Beeches;" home of the Blanton family, was built by Harrison Blanton
1819 1,374 barrels of whiskey “exported” from the Lee's Town warehouse
1822 21,298 barrels of Kentucky whiskey received into New Orleans
1828 44,000 barrels of Kentucky whiskey received into New Orleans
1830 Whiskey surpasses rum as the national drink
Edmund Haynes Taylor Jr. is born in Columbia, Kentucky
1838 Jacob and Philip Swigert buy the Buffalo Trace property for $600
1840 Lock and Dam #4 is completed, rendering the Lee's Town warehouse obsolete
1848 The distillery property is enlarged with the addition of land acquired from Harrison Blanton for $300
1850 Sazerac Coffee House is founded in New Orleans, purchases rye whiskey from the distillery
1856 The Old Stony Point estate is acquired by the Swigerts for $650 and becomes part the distillery property
1857 The Lee's Town warehouse is converted into a “first-rate” distillery by Daniel Swigert
Property is equipped with a $1,000 state-of-the-art boiler
1858 Whiskey sells for 14 cents a gallon
1859 Distillery purchased by Clement and Ashton Craig for $3,500
1860 James Graham distills on the site at the “little distillery”
1861 The Civil War begins
1862 Confederate and Union troops near the distillery
A whiskey tax is re-imposed at $2 per gallon
1865 The Gilded Age begins; the Civil War ends
1868 Federal tax is reduced to 50 cents a gallon
1870 Edmund Haynes Taylor Jr. purchases the distillery and invests a "small fortune" in modernizing the distillery
Distillery is christened “O.F.C.” - Old Fire Copper its first name
Second floor is added to “Riverside”
Taylor installs large vats for larger runs resulting in less contamination and less oil; also all-copper distilling equipment
1871 Tobacco warehouse is torn down
1872 E. H. Taylor Jr. invests $30,000 in distillery improvements
1874 E. H. Taylor Jr. purchases the Old Oscar Pepper plant in Woodford County
1878 The O.F.C. Distillery and others in the group are purchased by George T. Stagg along with the livestock farm
George T. Stagg sells the Old Oscar Pepper plant to James Graham
George T. Stagg uses proceeds to purchase additional land at O.F.C., expansion begins in earnest
Whiskey market is booming due to economic growth from the railroad expansion
1880 Second distillery built at Lee's Town; named Carlisle after U.S. Congressman John G. Carlisle
1881 The company declared its first dividend - $273,843.34 in 1881 dollars ($13.0 million today)
Warehouse A and the Dickel Building are built; they are still standing today
Warehouse C is built and still stands today
1882 Lightning strikes and burns the O.F.C. distillery in the "The Great Fire;" it is rebuilt immediately at a cost of $44,000
1883 Industry collapses as economy turns down
1884 Warehouse B is built and still stands today
1886 Steam heating system for the warehouses is installed
1887 Carlisle whiskey is exported for the first time
The “Whiskey Trust (K.D.&W. /&D. & C.F.)” monopoly is formed; O.F.C. and Carlisle are NOT part of the Trust
1892 The distillery buys the Cove Spring, which supplied all the water to the distillery
George Watson becomes president of the company
1893 The O.F.C. and Carlisle Distilleries are declared "perfect and admirable" by revenue agent D.W. Voyles
The industry produces 45.7 million gallons of whiskey (20 million cases)
1895 Distillery is purchased by W.B. Duffy of Rochester, New York
1897 Albert B. Blanton, aged 16, joins the company as an office boy
1898 The Carlisle Distillery is remodeled and rechristened as the Kentucky River Distillery
1899 $65,000 is spent on further expansion/modernization of the distillery, including a cooperage shop
1900 The Gilded Age ends and Albert B. Blanton is appointed as still house, warehouse and bottling Superintendent
1904 The distillery is re-christened the George T. Stagg Distillery
1905 Old Stagg brand is introduced
1906 Food and Drug Act is passed protecting the standards of identity for Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey
1907 Warehouse D is built and still stands today
1914 World War I begins
1916 The distillery is equipped to produce alcohol for the war effort
1919 157 operating distilleries in the industry
Volstead Act passes over President Wilson's veto, outlawing the manufacture, sale or transportation of "any intoxicating liquor"
Prohibition; distillery has a permit to produce "medicinal" whiskey
Twenty-six states permit the sale of medicinal whiskey, one pint of 100 proof per 10 day period
Elmer T. Lee is born
1921 Albert B. Blanton becomes president of the George T. Stagg Distillery
The “Whiskey Trust” is ended
1925 Distillery bottles 1 million pints of medicinal whiskey
1929 The distillery is purchased by Schenley Distillers Corporation
1930 Distillery is recorded as distilling new whiskey for medicinal purposes
1933 Prohibition ends, only six distilleries remain
Distillery's fermenting capacity is increased
Cream of Kentucky and Echo Springs brands are launched
1934 Albert B. Blanton marries and Stony Point Mansion on top of Rock Hill is finished for him and his new bride
60 distilleries are refurbished and ready to start up production again
1935 The clubhouse and gardens are constructed using four 100-year-old log cabins
The massive Warehouse I, holding 51,000 barrels, is constructed
The distillery's only "metal clad" warehouse, Warehouse H, holding 15,000 barrels, is constructed
1936 The George T. Stagg Distillery mashes 4,207 bushels of corn per day
1937 A flood innudates the distillery, cresting at 17 feet above the power plant, four feet above Warehouse H
1938 Mash capacity is increased to 6,600 bushels a day
1939 Employment at the distillery reaches 1,000 people
1940 The operations of the George Dickel Distilling company relocate to the George T. Stagg Distillery
A new bottling operation is built at the distillery
1941 The United States enters World War II
Three Feathers is one the company's main brands
Distillery holds the largest stock of "aged" whiskies
Mashing capacity is increased to 10,000 bushels a day with war time alcohol production
1942 The distillery produces the 1 millionth barrel since Prohibition
1943 The Dry House operation is built with a government grant to allow production of cattle feed for the war effort
The Dry House produces 100,000 tons of cattle feed per year
1945 World War II ends
1946 Corn is rationed
1949 Elmer T. Lee joins the distillery
1951 Sales of Old Stagg reach 1.2 million cases
Brown-Forman opposes repeal of the "Force out" law
1952 Warehouse “V,” the world's only “one barrel” warehouse, is built in celebration of the 2 millionth barrel
Albert B. Blanton retires
1953 The distillery produces the 2 millionth barrel since Prohibition—the first distillery in Kentucky to do so
1958 The operations of the George Dickel Distilling Company return to Tullahoma, Tennessee
The "force out" law is finally repealed by the Forand Bill
1959 Albert B. Blanton dies
1961 The distillery produces the 3 millionth barrel since Prohibition
1968 Elmer T. Lee becomes manager of the distillery
1969 Exports to Japan begin
1970 The bourbon industry collapse begins
1971 The distillery produces the 4 millionth barrel since Prohibition
1973 The distillery produces a record 200,000 barrels in one year
1981 The distillery produces the 5 millionth barrel since Prohibition (1.5 billion bottles)
1982 The distillery is purchased by a New York investor group
1984 The distillery introduces the world's first single barrel bourbon: Blanton's
1985 Elmer T. Lee retires but stays actively involved in the running of the distillery
1991 Employment dwindles to 50 people; the distillery is in danger of closing
1992 The distillery is finally returned to a family-owned business, being purchased by the Goldring family
1999 Distillery renovations are completed and the distillery is re-christened as THE BUFFALO TRACE Distillery
The distillery's new flagship brand — BUFFALO TRACE — is launched
The W. L. Weller and Old Charter brands are acquired
2000 The Buffalo Trace Distillery is awarded Malt Advocate Magazine's “Distillery of the Year,” the first American distillery to win this prestigious international award
The Buffalo Trace Distillery introduces a rare collection of very old whiskeys
Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey continues to regain its popularity
2001 Sazerac Rye named “World Whisky of the Year” by Malt Advocate Magazine
2002 George T. Stagg named “World Whisky of the Year” by Malt Advocate Magazine
2004 The George T. Stagg Gallery opens at Buffalo Trace
2005 Buffalo Trace named “Distiller of the Year” by Whisky Magazine
2006 Buffalo Trace named “Distiller of the Year” by Wine Enthusiast Magazine; Buffalo Trace named “Distillery of the Year ” by Malt Advocate Magazine
2007 Buffalo Trace named “Distillery of the Year” by Whisky Magazine
2008 Buffalo Trace named “Distillery of the Year” at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition; The 6 millionth barrel of whiskey since Prohibition was produced
2009 E.H. Taylor label and barrel inventory acquired from Jim Beam; Master Distiller Emeritus Elmer T. Lee turned 90 years old

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Throughout Buffalo Trace's long history, several industry legends have been instrumental in carrying on the time-honored tradition of making bourbon. Below are bourbon pioneers and the story of their contributions to Buffalo Trace Distillery.

Mark Brown Photo Mark Brown
Mark Brown is the President and CEO of Sazerac Company, Inc., which has operations in Frankfort, Bardstown, Louisville, and Owensboro, Kentucky; New Orleans, Louisiana; Fredericksburg, Virginia; Carson, California; Baltimore, Maryland; Lewiston, Maine; Londonderry, New Hampshire; and Montreal, Canada.

Brown got his start in the beverage alcohol business at a relatively young age when he began working in his family’s pub business in the U.K. in 1971. In 1976 Brown joined British cider-maker H.P. Bulmer as a salesperson, and by 1979 was a Sales Trainer. He came to the United States in 1980, operating as the U.S. Field Sales Manager for Bulmer.

From 1981 to 1992 he served as Director of New Products, National Sales Manager and, eventually, Vice President of Sales and Marketing with Sazerac.

Brown left Sazerac and joined Brown-Forman (no relation) as Senior Vice President and COO of the Select Brands Group for two years. He then spent the next three years as President of the Advancing Markets Group, before returning to Sazerac in June 1997 in his current role.

Brown holds an MBA from Tulane University in New Orleans. He and his wife Jane have two sons, Thomas and Sam.

Employment Timeline:
1971 - Pub business in the U.K.
1976 - Salesperson; H.P. Bulmer
1979 - Sales Trainer; H.P. Bulmer
1980 - Field Sales Manager; H.P. Bulmer (USA)
1981 - Director, New Products, New Markets; Sazerac Company Inc.
1983 - National Sales Manager; Sazerac Company Inc.
1986 - VP Sales & Marketing; Sazerac Company Inc.
1992 - SVP & COO Select Brands; Brown-Forman
1994 - President, Advancing Markets Groups; Brown-Forman
1997 – President and CEO, Sazerac Company Inc.

Harlen Davis Wheatley PhotoHarlen Davis Wheatley
Harlen's formal education in chemistry and chemical engineering brought him to Buffalo Trace Distillery, but it's the on-the-job experience that led him to become the resident Master Distiller in 2005.

Born in Mount Sterling, Kentucky, in 1969, Harlen has spent almost all of his life in the Bluegrass. After relocating and spending much of his youth in Florence, KY, Harlen attended Northern Kentucky University, attaining his degree in chemistry. He then migrated to work full-time at a chemical company in Central Kentucky while completing a chemical engineering degree at the University of Kentucky, gaining formal training in distillation and separation techniques.

Harlen joined the Distillery as a supervisor in 1995. Not long after, the Distillery was rechristened and the flagship Buffalo Trace Bourbon was introduced. It marked a new era in the Distillery’s esteemed history and Harlen continued to make his mark as he was promoted to Distillery Manager in 2000. Harlen was named Master Distiller in 2005, becoming Buffalo Trace's sixth Master Distiller since the Civil War.

Having worked in every aspect of production from raw materials to barrel aging, as Master Distiller, Harlen has driven many initiatives, including solidifying standards and consistency, quality focus and efficiency gains. He is responsible for a number of distilling and aging operations in various locations, all while promoting and educating the public on some of the world’s finest bourbon whiskeys.

Harlen is a four-time James Beard Award nominee in the Outstanding Wine and Spirits Professional category.

Elmer T. Lee PhotoElmer T. Lee
Elmer T. Lee was born in 1919 on a tobacco farm near Peaks Mill in Franklin County, Kentucky. Elmer's father, Ernest T., died of typhoid fever in 1931. His mother relocated Elmer and his brother, Harrison, to Frankfort, where she worked to support the family and educate the boys. Elmer graduated from Frankfort High School in 1936 and worked for Jarman Shoe Company until December 1941. He then served with the U. S. Army Air Force during World War II as a radar bombardier on a B-29. After flying missions against Japan through 1945, Elmer was honorably discharged in January 1946. He returned home and studied engineering at the University of Kentucky, where he graduated with honors in 1949.

In September 1949 Elmer began working in the engineering department of the George T. Stagg Distillery in Frankfort. In 1966, Elmer was promoted to plant superintendent, responsible for all plant operations and reporting to the plant manager. 1n 1969, he became plant manager. Elmer retired in 1985 but continued to serve up until his passing as an ambassador for Buffalo Trace, educating the world on the unique qualities of Kentucky's bourbon whiskey.

It was in 1984 that Elmer introduced the single-barrel bourbon concept to the world with Blanton's Single Barrel Bourbon, named in honor of Col. Albert B. Blanton. Elmer was known throughout the industry for his expertise and knowledge of bourbon whiskey and received numerous awards and recognition. Among these was his induction into the Kentucky Bourbon Hall of Fame in 2001, his receipt of the Lifetime Achievement Award from Whisky Advocate Magazine in 2002 and the Lifetime Achievement Award and Hall of Fame induction from Whisky Magazine in 2012.

Elmer passed away in 2013 just a few weeks shy of what would have been his 94th birthday, but his contributions to the bourbon industry live on through the millions of fans worldwide who enjoy his creations.

Ronnie Eddins PhotoRonnie Eddins
Ronnie Eddins began working at Buffalo Trace Distillery in 1961. In conjunction with Leonard Riddle, Ronnie was in charge of managing more than 300,000 barrels of aging whiskey. Ronnie’s other responsibilities included: incoming barrel inspections, branding, filling, location of filled barrels into their perfect aging spot in the warehouses, barrel storage, leak hunting, warehouse temperature control, selection of barrels for withdrawal, selection of barrels for the personalized barrel select program, and tank management.

Ronnie also worked at the Distillery in bottling, shipping and warehouse operations for 23 years before being promoted to Warehouse Manager in 1984.

Ronnie was an expert on barrel management and was in many ways like a Grandmaster of Chess - mastering the delicate act of which 500 lb barrels need to be removed in order to make room for new barrels to age, which barrels need to be placed where in the Distillery’s fleet of 13 warehouses, and even when the windows on each floor of those warehouses needed to be opened or closed for best aging climates.

Under Ronnie’s tutorship, hundreds of awards were bestowed upon Buffalo Trace Distillery’s bourbons, the marriage of “old” and “new” warehouse traditions were passed along to new generations, and innovations in new product ideas continued to expand. Ronnie was one of the driving forces in the Buffalo Trace Bourbon Experimental Whiskey Program, and headed up numerous experiments for more than 20 years. Some of the experiments included different chars and woods for aging whiskey. He even visited the Ozarks to hand select trees for barrels based on their growing location. His efforts, along with numerous other individuals, contributed to Buffalo Trace’s tradition of producing award-winning whiskey.

In 2008 Ronnie received Malt Advocate Magazine’s Lifetime Achievement Award.

In 2009, Buffalo Trace Distillery dedicated Warehouse “I,” Ronnie’s favorite warehouse, to him in appreciation of nearly 50 years of service to the Distillery.

Ronnie was induced in the Bourbon Hall of Fame in 2010, shortly before his death.

In recognition of his research and devotion to the Single Oak Project Bourbon, Buffalo Trace honors Ronnie with the initials “R. E.” on the back of each bottle.

Leonard Riddle PhotoLeonard Riddle
Leonard Riddle joined the distillery in 1963. Working side by side with former employee Ronnie Eddins for 40+ years, Leonard is in charge of managing more than 300,000 barrels of aging whiskey. His responsibilities include incoming barrel inspections, branding, filling, entry of filled barrels into exactly the right spot in the warehouse, barrel storage, leak hunting, warehouse temperature control, selection of barrels for withdrawal and tank management.

Leonard worked in warehouse operations for 35 years before being promoted to warehouse manager in 1998.

In 2011, Buffalo Trace Distillery dedicated Warehouse “L” to Leonard in appreciation to his many years of service to the Distillery.

Albert Bacon Blanton PhotoAlbert Bacon Blanton
Albert Blanton was born on a farm adjacent to the distillery in 1881. He was the older of two children; both grew up and attended school in Frankfort.

In 1897, Blanton began as an office boy at what was then known as the George T. Stagg Distillery. Over the next several years, Blanton carried out a campaign of learning the bourbon industry by working in every department in the distillery. By the time he was 20, Col. Blanton, as he was to become known, was appointed superintendent of the distillery, its warehouses and bottling shop. In 1921, at 24, Col. Blanton was named president of the George T. Stagg Bourbon Distillery.

During his career the distillery survived Prohibition by bottling, with a special government permit, “medicinal whiskey,” which was sold in drug stores by prescription. After Prohibition came the Depression, the flood of 1937 and straight alcohol production for the military during World War II.

Col. Blanton met all of these challenges and continued his distillery leadership by producing world-class bourbons such as Old Quaker and Cream of Kentucky. Col. Blanton was interested not only in the whiskey, but also in the presentation of the distillery. During his tenure Stony Point was built, the clubhouse was constructed and the gardens were designed and planted. Col. Blanton died in 1959.

In 1984 the world’s first single-barrel bourbon was introduced. It was named Blanton’s in honor of Col. Albert B. Blanton, who often pulled a special barrel of bourbon from the warehouse to share with his friends.

George T. Stagg PhotoGeorge T. Stagg
Back in 1865, George T. Stagg had made quite a reputation for himself as one of America's finest whiskey salesmen. He had the good fortune to work with none other than E.H. Taylor, the man renowned as one of Kentucky's original bourbon aristocrats. On the banks of the Kentucky River, deep in the Bluegrass region of the Commonwealth, Taylor had built the grandest distillery the nation had ever seen, utilizing state-of-the-art technology that was both innovative and well ahead of its time. As an industry expert proclaimed in 1890, the distillery “is actually ne plus ultra of its class,” the best of the best. Stagg supplied both the financial acumen and the salesmanship to build the company into one of the world’s leading bourbon producers.

That distillery continued in operation through Prohibition to this very day. Now known as the Buffalo Trace Distillery, we are honored to present a unique, aged bourbon in a style that would have brought a smile to the face of our famous predecessor. Older than most fine whiskeys available today, George T. Stagg Bourbon is a full-bodied rye recipe bourbon offered in its original uncut, unfiltered state.

Aged through several distinct Kentucky seasons, this unique whiskey is no stranger to hot summers, cool wet springs, blustery falls, and cold winters. The rich, pure Kentucky limestone water and the finest grains available serve to embody this Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey with the pedigree of fine bourbons from the 1800s. Using the sour mash method, personally selecting the barrels in which the whiskey will mature, storing the barrels in the honey spots of our best aging warehouses and hand-selecting each barrel for bottling, we have followed every step laid out by George himself.

To allow the connoisseur to fully appreciate the authenticity of this bourbon, we have taken our dedication to excellence one step further. We are offering the bourbon at barrel strength, uncut and unfiltered. The bourbon was entered into newly charred white oak barrels well over a decade ago and left to mature under the influence of Mother Nature and our maturation manager, Ronnie Eddins. Through a combination of science, art and the whims of our mercurial Kentucky climate, we have produced a bourbon with body and character unlike any you have tried before, unless you personally knew George T. Stagg!

Edmund Haynes Taylor, Jr. PhotoEdmund Haynes Taylor Jr.
Taylor was born in Kentucky on February 12, 1830. Orphaned at an early age, he was raised in New Orleans, where he attended Boyer’s French School. The well-educated youth moved back to Kentucky, where E.H. Taylor Sr., adopted him. In Frankfort, Taylor attended B.B. Sayer’s Academy, which later moved to Louisville. Following in the footsteps of his adoptive father, Taylor became involved in banking, where he aided in the organization of several distilleries. Through his banking, Taylor became personally acquainted with many of the early whiskey makers.

In 1869, Taylor purchased a small distillery located in Leestown, on the banks of the Kentucky River, where distilling and whiskey storage had been taking place on the site 1787. Taylor equipped the distillery with a modern boiler and immediately began to renovate, upgrade and modernize the plant. Some of his improvements were copper fermentation tanks, new grain grinding equipment, columnar stills and modern buildings to house them. He was responsible for the patented mash technique, which separated the solids from the slop, providing a thick, creamy liquid rather than an inert mass for the sour mash. Because of his innovations, his systematic approach to whiskey making, his dedication to quality and his constant battle to protect bourbon and keep its name from being applied to inferior whiskeys, Taylor is known as “The Father of the Modern Bourbon Industry.”

During this period Taylor christened the distillery O. F. C. for Old Fire Copper, its first official name. Taylor became involved in several other distilleries in Franklin and Woodford county. Because of money problems, Taylor left O. F. C., which became the properties of George T. Stagg.

Taylor continued to innovate and be involved in bourbon until his death in 1923. It is said that E.H. Taylor Jr. was the last of a breed, a bourbon aristocrat who linked the “classic and modern eras of bourbon making.”

In 2009 the Taylor brand and barrel inventory returned to Buffalo Trace Distillery. The distillery will continue Taylor's legacy of producing high-quality bourbon. There are also plans for new offering to be introduced under the E.H. Taylor label.

Julian Van Winkle PhotoJulian Van Winkle III
Julian P. Van Winkle III is the third generation Van Winkle to produce bourbon whiskey in Kentucky. He joined his father, Julian Jr., in 1977. At that time, Old Rip Van Winkle produced only two labels of its wheated bourbon whiskey. They were a 10-year 90 and 107 proof Old Rip Van Winkle.

Since then Julian has added 12-year, 15-year, 20-year and 23-year bourbon labels to the Van Winkle selection of premium bourbon whiskeys. He also has added a 13-year premium rye whiskey to the whiskey portfolio. All of these whiskeys have received ratings in the 90s by the Beverage Tasting Institute in Chicago, with the 20-year receiving a 99 rating.

Julian operated the company by himself after his father's death in 1981. He was joined by his son Preston in June 2001, the fourth generation of Van Winkles to venture into the whiskey business.

In 2002, the Van Winkles entered into a joint venture with Buffalo Trace Distillery in Franklin County, Frankfort, Ky. All of the Van Winkle’s whiskey production now takes place at Buffalo Trace Distillery under the same strict guidelines the family has always followed.

In January 2009, Julian was honored to be nominated as a Fellow at the Southern Foodways Alliance annual fundraiser at Blackberry Farm in Walland, Tennessee. The following year, Julian was inducted into the Fellowship of Southern Farmers, Artisans and Chefs. This is a tremendous honor as the group members are some of the most talented people around. In 2011, Julian received the coveted James Beard Award for Outstanding Wine and Spirits Professional, becoming the first James Beard winner from Kentucky.

Pappy Van Winkle PhotoPappy Van Winkle
The Van Winkle family’s involvement in the bourbon industry began in the late 1800s with Julian P. “Pappy” Van Winkle Sr. He was a traveling salesman for the W.L. Weller and Sons wholesale house in Louisville, traveling around the state by horse and buggy. Pappy and a friend, Alex Farnsley, eventually bought the wholesale house and also purchased the A. Ph. Stitzel Distillery, which made bourbon for Weller. They merged the two companies and became the Stitzel-Weller Distillery. Their prominent brands were W.L. Weller, Old Fitzgerald, Rebel Yell, and Cabin Still.

In May 1935 at the age of 61, Pappy opened the newly completed Stitzel-Weller Distillery in South Louisville. He had a heavy influence on the operations there until his death at the age of 91. His son, Julian Jr., took over operations until he was forced by stockholders to sell the distillery in 1972. The rights to all of their brands were either sold with the distillery or to other distilleries.

After selling the distillery, Julian Jr. resurrected a pre-prohibition label, the only one to which the Van Winkles kept the rights, called Old Rip Van Winkle. He used whiskey stocks from the old distillery to supply his brand. Julian Jr.'s son, Julian III, took over in 1981 when Julian Jr. passed away. Julian III has continued with the Van Winkle tradition of producing the highest quality wheated bourbon available. His son, Preston, joined the company in 2001, and the Van Winkles look to continue that tradition for generations to come.

In 2002, the Van Winkles entered into a joint venture with the Buffalo Trace Distillery in Frankfort, Ky. All of the Van Winkles' whiskey production now takes place at Buffalo Trace under the same strict guidelines the family has always followed in order to produce a superior quality product.

Aside from the rich family history, Van Winkle bourbons are special for another important reason: their recipe. All of the Van Winkle bourbons are made with corn, wheat, and, barley instead of corn, rye and, barley. This “wheated” recipe gives the bourbon a much softer, smoother taste, and it also allows the whiskey to age more gracefully.

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