James E. Pepper Distillery To Get A New Lease On A Bourbon Life

What’s old is new again, an adage we often see at work in Kentucky these days as a new era of bourbon love continues to sweep across the land. Consider, for example, the revitalization of the old and long neglected Old Taylor Distillery (now Castle & Key) near Versailles. There’s still a whole lot of other distillery complexes awaiting rebirth, which is now about to happen at the historic James E. Pepper Distillery campus in Lexington.

James E. Pepper, as far as the brand of bourbon and rye whiskies that are currently on the market goes, is produced for brand owner Georgetown Trading Co. by MGP. What’s being planned by the Georgetown folks would essentially bring at least a portion of that whiskey production home (about three barrels a day worth) to the namesake facility, with the thought being to build a distillery, museum and tourist destination in the historic remnants of the original complex.

James E. Pepper distillery

A rendering of the James E. Pepper distillery (image via Georgetown Trading)

As spelled out by the Georgetown team in information provided to me, the original distillery was founded in 1879

when the legendary Colonel James E. Pepper—in whose honor the Old Fashioned cocktail was created—built his distillery on the site, which he then operated until his death in 1906. The distillery continued operations until 1958, when it was shuttered, and then abandoned for over 50 years, eventually falling into disrepair.

Over the last few years a portion of the site and adjacent buildings have been revitalized as a vibrant ‘Distillery District’, full of thriving local businesses. The James E. Pepper Distillery will be the anchor tenant in the historic main distillery building. Thorough historical research and the collection of historic materials over the years will play an important role in rebuilding the distillery and museum. Materials include detailed mechanical drawings of the old distillery, a large collection of preserved, vintage Pepper whiskey, and historic letters from Colonel Pepper.

“Truly a momentous day for the Pepper brand,” said Amir Peay, founder and owner of the Georgetown Trading Co., in a statement. “This has been a dream project for many years and we are thrilled to finally make it a reality. I would like to sincerely thank the developers and businesses in the Distillery District, and the City of Lexington, for all the passion and cooperation they have extended to work together and bring this iconic brand home.”

We also owe a huge thank you to Colonel James E. Pepper, for giving us such an amazing story and whiskey to share.”

James E. Pepper distillery

The current state of part of the James E. Pepper distillery campus (image via Georgetown Trading)

Plans currently call for a grand opening to happen at the new Pepper distillery sometime in mid-2017. It is not known at this time when the first whiskey produced there might be ready for bottling. It should be noted as well there is also whiskey production already going on nearby as Barrel House Distilling, a young craft distillery which opened up on another part of the old Pepper grounds last year, is at work doing their thing. I’ve been told they will continue to make spirits even after Pepper’s stills fire up.


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