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Monday, May 8, 2023

Get to Know James E. Pepper Distilling Co.

Did you know that it is claimed that the oldest brand of whiskey was founded in 1780 and is Old Pepper? Also, did you know that in 2008, the brand has been revived at the site of the Henry Clay distillery in Lexington, Kentucky? And did you know that it is rumored that James E. Pepper is credited with the creation of the Old Fashioned cocktail? And lastly, did you know that this brand has been revived and is the #1 rated destination in Lexington on Trip Advisor? I didn't know any of this, but let's learn together. 

Who was James. E Pepper and Distillery History?

James E. Pepper was a third generation distiller of the Pepper brand that was originally founded in 1780... because what better time to start a bourbon brand than during a revolutionary war? He lived from 1850 and passed away in 1906. Pepper continued use of his grandfather's original Revolutionary‐era recipes and nicknamed his whiskey "Old 1776". He is also credited with introducing the world to the Old Fashioned cocktail, which was said to have been invented in his honor by a bartender at the famed Pendennis Club in Louisville.

Col. James E. Pepper

Waldorf-Astoria Bar Book, published 1935

In terms of the brand, they became a distillery in the 1800s, and was known as the Henry Clay distillery (registered distillery DSP-KY-5). This distillery operated until 1917. The distillery was then purchased in 1934 by Schenley Industries, who was then the largest distiller in the country. They operated it until 1958, when it was closed due to consolidation in the industry

Distillery in 1936

Reviving the Brand

The brand was revived in 2008 by entrepreneur Amir Peay. The old distillery was was completely rebuilt and restored with whiskey production starting again in 2017. The brand started out with sourced bourbon from MGP and Bardstown. Some of those sourced bourbons are still blended and used with the whiskeys blended at the distillery. 

Warehouse used to age the barrels


The James E. Pepper Distilling Co. is currently ranked the #1 attraction in of things to do in Louisville on Tripadvisor. The guided tour costs $20 ($10 for veterans and free for active military) and includes the story of the historic Pepper Brand & Distillery, time in the distillery museum, a tour of the working distillery, a tasting of their whiskeys, and a complimentary tasting glass. Tours are available:

Tues-Thursday: Tours start every hour - 10:30 am-3:30 pm
Friday: Tours start every hour - 10:30 am-5:30 pm
Saturday: Tours start every half hour - 10:30 am-5:30 pm
Sunday: Tours every hour - Noon-4 pm

The distillery is located at:

1228 Manchester St, Unit 100
Lexington, KY 40504

Next time I'm in Lexington, this is a must-visit and next time I see a bottle on the shelves (the 1776 Straight Rye Whiskey '100 Proof' is available in Ohio!), I'm picking one up. I'd love to know what you think. Drop me a note in the comments.

Source: James E. Pepper Distillery
Photos courtesy of James E. Pepper Distillery

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