The last time distillation took place at the James E. Pepper Distillery in Lexington, Kentucky, Dean Martin was on Billboards Top 10 list with a little number called – Return to Me. It only seems fitting that 59 years later the distillery that once produced some of the finest bourbon in the world has once again, “Return(ed) to Me,” as they have officially restarted distillation at this long mothballed distillery.
The James Pepper Distilling Co., producer of the James E. Pepper “1776”® whiskey brand announced renovation plans at a groundbreaking ceremony in May of 2016. 18 months later, the distillery originally founded in 1879 but abandoned in 1958 has fermented, distilled and barreled its first batch of bourbon whiskey in more than half a century. This makes for the third operating distillery in Lexington including the Town Branch Distillery and Barrel House Distillery. Barrel House is not only nearby, it’s on the same property and its walls and foundation were once part of the original Pepper Distillery.
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History Comes Alive at James E. Pepper Distillery
Earlier this year, the distillery requested and revived it’s historic Distilled Spirits Plant No. 5: DSP–KY–5 meaning at the time back in 1879 this was the fifth legally operated distillery in the state of Kentucky. The distillery utilizes the historic limestone well 200 feet below ground, and locally grown corn and rye have been harvested for production. The recipe for the first batch of whiskey distilled was the exact same recipe as last produced at the Pepper Distillery in 1958.
“This is truly an historic occasion and the culmination of a ten year effort to restore both this iconic brand and the distillery to their proper places in the annals of Kentucky whiskey,” commented Amir Peay, owner of the James Pepper Distilling Co. “The best part is that we are just getting started and are excited to distill unique, high quality whiskies and to share them with the world when the time is right. We are also very fortunate to be located in the city of Lexington, in the vibrant Distillery District, and look forward to welcoming visitors to our distillery for tours in the Spring of 2018.”
The distillery features a unique copper column still and doubler system handmade by Vendome Copper & Brass Works. As you can see in the photos below, the design on the copper doubler on the right and the column still on the left were both inspired by the archive of historic mechanical drawings from the old James E. Pepper Distillery. Fittingly, Vendome also made the still for the same distillery in 1934—the year Prohibition was repealed in Kentucky.
Upon completion in Spring 2018, the distillery will feature a museum showcasing the life of the original founder, Colonel James E. Pepper, and a collection of historic materials assembled over a decade of research.
The James E. Pepper Distillery Exterior Before & After Renovation
The last time this distillery filled a barrel, Dean Martin’s, “Return to Me,” was on Billboards list of Top 10 hits back in 1958.
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