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 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.
||French and Indian War starts
||French and Indian War ends
||Daniel Boone at Lee's Town on the Buffalo Trace
||Hancock Taylor returns with Willis Lee; Hancock Taylor killed
|| 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
||War of Independence; Willis Lee killed at Lee's Town
||Filson's map shows Lee's Town on the Buffalo Trace
|| Hancock Lee receives title to the land at Lee's Town
||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
||Lee's Town flourishes due to “brisk traffic” in whiskey
||The first National Tax is imposed on liquor
||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
||Willis Lee, nephew of Hancock Taylor, builds Glen Willis as a two-story log cabin
||The Great Whiskey Rebellion forced many distillers westward into Kentucky from Pennsylvania
||Kentucky reaches 800 licensed distilleries
||Kentucky has 2,000 distillers
||Richard Taylor and Willis Lee build a warehouse at Lee's Town; river steamer built at Lee's Town
|| Harrison Blanton distills on site of present-day Buffalo Trace; whiskey is shipped to New Orleans
||Saw mill in operation at the north end of the site
||Lee's Town flooded
|| First dam built at a cost of $40,000
"The Beeches;" home of the Blanton family, was built by Harrison Blanton
||1,374 barrels of whiskey “exported” from the Lee's Town warehouse
||21,298 barrels of Kentucky whiskey received into New Orleans
||44,000 barrels of Kentucky whiskey received into New Orleans
||Whiskey surpasses rum as the national drink
Edmund Haynes Taylor Jr. is born in Columbia, Kentucky
||Jacob and Philip Swigert buy the Buffalo Trace property for $600
||Lock and Dam #4 is completed, rendering the Lee's Town warehouse obsolete
||The distillery property is enlarged with the addition of land acquired from Harrison Blanton for $300
||Sazerac Coffee House is founded in New Orleans, purchases rye whiskey from the distillery
||The Old Stony Point estate is acquired by the Swigerts for $650 and becomes part the distillery property
||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
||Whiskey sells for 14 cents a gallon
||Distillery purchased by Clement and Ashton Craig for $3,500
||James Graham distills on the site at the “little distillery”
||The Civil War begins
||Confederate and Union troops near the distillery
A whiskey tax is re-imposed at $2 per gallon
||The Gilded Age begins; the Civil War ends
|| Federal tax is reduced to 50 cents a gallon
||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
||Tobacco warehouse is torn down
||E. H. Taylor Jr. invests $30,000 in distillery improvements
||E. H. Taylor Jr. purchases the Old Oscar Pepper plant in Woodford County
||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
||Second distillery built at Lee's Town; named Carlisle after U.S. Congressman John G. Carlisle
||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
||Lightning strikes and burns the O.F.C. distillery in the "The Great Fire;" it is rebuilt immediately at a cost of $44,000
||Industry collapses as economy turns down
||Warehouse B is built and still stands today
||Steam heating system for the warehouses is installed
||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
||The distillery buys the Cove Spring, which supplied all the water to the distillery
George Watson becomes president of the company
||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)
||Distillery is purchased by W.B. Duffy of Rochester, New York
||Albert B. Blanton, aged 16, joins the company as an office boy
||The Carlisle Distillery is remodeled and rechristened as the Kentucky River Distillery
||$65,000 is spent on further expansion/modernization of the distillery, including a cooperage shop
||The Gilded Age ends and Albert B. Blanton is appointed as still house, warehouse and bottling Superintendent
||The distillery is re-christened the George T. Stagg Distillery
||Old Stagg brand is introduced
||Food and Drug Act is passed protecting the standards of identity for Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey
||Warehouse D is built and still stands today
|| World War I begins
||The distillery is equipped to produce alcohol for the war effort
|| 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
||Albert B. Blanton becomes president of the George T. Stagg Distillery
The “Whiskey Trust” is ended
||Distillery bottles 1 million pints of medicinal whiskey
||The distillery is purchased by Schenley Distillers Corporation
||Distillery is recorded as distilling new whiskey for medicinal purposes
||Prohibition ends, only six distilleries remain
Distillery's fermenting capacity is increased
Cream of Kentucky and Echo Springs brands are launched
|| 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
||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
||The George T. Stagg Distillery mashes 4,207 bushels of corn per day
||A flood innudates the distillery, cresting at 17 feet above the power plant, four feet above Warehouse H
||Mash capacity is increased to 6,600 bushels a day
||Employment at the distillery reaches 1,000 people
||The operations of the George Dickel Distilling company relocate to the George T. Stagg Distillery
A new bottling operation is built at the distillery
||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
||The distillery produces the 1 millionth barrel since Prohibition
||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
||World War II ends
||Corn is rationed
||Elmer T. Lee joins the distillery
|| Sales of Old Stagg reach 1.2 million cases
Brown-Forman opposes repeal of the "Force out" law
||Warehouse “V,” the world's only “one barrel” warehouse, is built in celebration of the 2 millionth barrel
Albert B. Blanton retires
||The distillery produces the 2 millionth barrel since Prohibition—the first distillery in Kentucky to do so
||The operations of the George Dickel Distilling Company return to Tullahoma, Tennessee
The "force out" law is finally repealed by the Forand Bill
||Albert B. Blanton dies
||The distillery produces the 3 millionth barrel since Prohibition
||Elmer T. Lee becomes manager of the distillery
||Exports to Japan begin
||The bourbon industry collapse begins
||The distillery produces the 4 millionth barrel since Prohibition
||The distillery produces a record 200,000 barrels in one year
||The distillery produces the 5 millionth barrel since Prohibition (1.5 billion bottles)
||The distillery is purchased by a New York investor group
||The distillery introduces the world's first single barrel bourbon: Blanton's
||Elmer T. Lee retires but stays actively involved in the running of the distillery
||Employment dwindles to 50 people; the distillery is in danger of closing
||The distillery is finally returned to a family-owned business, being purchased by the Goldring family
||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
||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
||Sazerac Rye named “World Whisky of the Year” by Malt Advocate Magazine
||George T. Stagg named “World Whisky of the Year” by Malt Advocate Magazine
||The George T. Stagg Gallery opens at Buffalo Trace
||Buffalo Trace named “Distiller of the Year” by Whisky Magazine
||Buffalo Trace named “Distiller of the Year” by Wine Enthusiast Magazine; Buffalo Trace named “Distillery of the Year ” by Malt Advocate Magazine
||Buffalo Trace named “Distillery of the Year” by Whisky Magazine
||Buffalo Trace named “Distillery of the Year” at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition; The 6 millionth barrel of whiskey since Prohibition was produced
||E.H. Taylor label and barrel inventory acquired from Jim Beam; Master Distiller Emeritus Elmer T. Lee turned 90 years old
back to top
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 is the President and CEO of Buffalo Trace Distillery which has operations in Franklin County, Kentucky.
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 1978 was 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 with responsibility for the development of new markets for Jack Daniel's around the world.
Brown joined Buffalo Trace Distillery in 1997 overseeing a $20.0 million restoration of this venerable distillery. Since the renovation the distillery has gone on to win multiple "Distillery of the Year" awards, becoming the most highly-decorated distillery in the world. Buffalo Trace whiskies have also won back to back "American Whiskey of the Year" awards and piled up over 200 total medals in international wine and spirit competitions.
Brown holds an MBA from Tulane University in New Orleans. He and his wife Jane have two sons, Thomas and Sam.
1971 - Pub business in the U.K.
1976 - Salesperson; H.P. Bulmer
1978 - 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, Buffalo Trace Distillery
Harlen Davis Wheatley
Harlen was born in Mount Sterling Kentucky in 1969, the older of two boys. He lived in both Hazard and Mt. Sterling, KY before his family moved to Northern, KY in 1976.
Harlen attended Northern Kentucky University, where he earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Chemistry, with a minor in math. After graduation from NKU Harlen moved to Central Kentucky, where he worked full time at a chemical company and attended the University of Kentucky. While earning his Bachelor of Science Degree in Chemical Engineering, Harlen received his formal training in distillation and separation techniques.
In 1995 Harlen came to Frankfort to work as Distillery Supervisor. At Buffalo Trace, he has applied much of his formal education and received intensive "on-the-job" training. Harlen was soon assigned additional responsibilities in the powerhouse/boiler room, maintenance and warehousing, and was promoted to Distillery Manager in 2000.
Harlen became Master Distiller in 2005. He has worked in all aspects of bourbon production, from incoming raw materials to barrel aging. While at the distillery he has driven many initiatives including solidifying standards and consistency, quality focus and efficiency gains. In 2010 Harlen was promoted to lead all the distilling and aging operations for Buffalo Trace Distillery that include Frankfort, Bardstown, Owensboro and Fredericksburg, Virginia. He looks forward to many more years of carrying on the tradition of producing some of the world's finest bourbons.
Harlen lives in Frankfort with his wife Heather and two boys, Luke and Jett.
Elmer 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 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 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
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
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.
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 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
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.
back to top