Old Taylor Distillery: The Return Of A Bourbon Land Legend

Old Taylor Distillery: The Return Of A Bourbon Land Legend

Edmond Haynes Taylor, Jr., known to modern bourbon lovers as E.H., was a true bourbon baron.   He was orphaned when his father, John, died of typhus, and he spent time living with his Uncle Zachary Taylor (yes, the President) before settling in with his Uncle E.H. Taylor and adding the Jr. to his name out of respect.  He worked in the bourbon business most of his life, starting out at Gaines and Berry Co., the home of Old Crow.  He built the Old Fashioned Copper Distillery, known today as Buffalo Trace, but he parted ways with Gregory and Stagg after some business dealings.  He went on to build the Old Taylor Distillery near Versailles.

Taylor was a pioneer in bourbon tourism.  He built Old Taylor in the form of a limestone castle.  He wanted it to be something he could show off and be proud of if anyone wanted to stop by for a visit.  In fact, the distillery had its own railroad station where distinguished guests would disembark for Taylor’s annual Derby parties.

He is known today for his fondness of lawsuits, as well, pushing for things like the Bottled in Bond Act.  Taylor had it written in his will that the distillery should not be used for distilling ever again after his death.  National Distillers broke his will to continue distillation on the site until the 1970s, but then the site was left to crumble for over 40 years.

Peristyle LLC finally came along about two years ago and purchased the site, announcing its plans to have the falling-down landmark back in business by 2015.  Then the company made headlines again in the spring of 2015 when Marianne Barnes, who at the time was next in line to succeed Chris Morris at Woodford Reserve, announced she would be partnering with the group as the first Master Distiller of the new operation.

Old Taylor Distillery

Marianne Barnes at the Old Taylor Distillery (image copyright The Whiskey Wash)

“I had such a great experience at Brown-Forman,” Barnes told me during our interview, laughing as she recounts working the night shift at Jack Daniel’s.  As she details the various aspects of her time at Brown-Forman, it becomes apparent she is eminently qualified for her new role as the first woman Master Distiller of a bourbon distillery in Kentucky since Prohibition.

Restoration of the Old Taylor Distillery will be done in multiple phases.  The first phase will include the castle/distillery, warehouse, train station, spring house, gardens, visitor’s center and maintenance building.  While that may sound like the entire distillery, it’s actually more like a quarter or less of what will actually be done in the end.

The warehouse is roughly two football fields long and contains a traditional wood ricking system.  “We think the only reason he stopped was because he hit the road,” Barnes said as she pointed out the massive structure on the far side of the original 83 acre tract purchased by Peristyle a few years back. The 1920s brick structure is four floors, with an additional partial attic and has a capacity of 31,000 barrels.  There’s another concrete warehouse across the grounds that once contained a metal ricking system.  If palletized, this warehouse has the potential to hold another 65,000 barrels.

The sunken garden is already nearly perfectly groomed and ready for a garden party thanks to award-winning garden designer Jon Carloftis.  Carloftis will be hosting a Life and Style party on the distillery grounds September 12th, which will be the general public’s first opportunity for a peek at the distillery grounds.  The botanical garden is also under construction- this is where Barnes will get the botanicals to make her “bourbon lover’s gin,” as she describes it.  Her enthusiasm for working in the garden and experimenting with botanicals for her gin distillate is inspiring.  With her passion and drive, the New Old Taylor Distillery is sure to be a smashing success.

Old Taylor Distillery

The current state of affairs at the Old Taylor Distillery (image copyright The Whiskey Wash)

The distillery is massive, and much of the equipment that had been abandoned will be salvageable.  There are currently 15 11,000 gallon fermentation tanks, 6 22,000 gallon fermentation tanks, and 2 drop tubs and a beer well measuring 10,500 gallons each.  That’s over 300,000 gallons of mash capacity, though only about six fermenters will be used when the distillery begins operations in January.

The Vendome stills are expected to be installed in early September, and Barnes says distillation will begin, if all goes according to plan, in January of 2016.  She’s already experimenting with yeast strains and developing mash bills.  There will be four products offered.  The gin will be the first to market, getting there as quickly as they can get it bottled and distributed.  The bourbon to follow will contain white corn, just like the bourbon E.H. Taylor used to make on that site a hundred years ago.  In fact, Barnes tells me she is working with a 1917 sample of Taylor’s bourbon to get an authentic recipe.

The first phase of construction is expected to be complete by the spring, and Barnes says they plan to open to the public for tours on April 1, 2016.  Stay tuned at The Whiskey Wash continues to bring you news about this #BourbonPhoenix.