For most of the world, Father’s Day this year fell on June 16 but for Corky Taylor owner of Kentucky Peerless Distilling Company in Louisville, Kentucky he’ll be celebrating Father’s Day on June 22. You see, that’s not only his father’s birthday but it will be the first release of Peerless Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey in 102 years.
As we trace the distillery lineage back it was Corky’s great-grandfather, Henry Kraver who purchased The Worsham Distilling Co. in Henderson, Kentucky in 1889. The distillery was originally built in 1881 by E.W. Worsham and J.B. Johnston. When Mr. Worhsam died Mr. Kraver purchased the distillery. At the time the distillery could produce eight barrels of bourbon a day. As the business continued to grow Kraver relocated the distillery to the outskirts of town to build barrel warehouses and expand operations to the point that he could make up to 200 barrels of bourbon a day. It was reported that it was one of the largest distilleries in the state at the time.
Kraver kept the Worsham Distilling name until he incorporated the business in 1907. It was at that time that he took the name of their best selling spirit Kentucky Peerless Whiskey and changed company’s name to Kentucky Peerless Distilling Company.
The company continued to flourish until the onset of World War I. In 1917 the United States entered the war and by August of that year Congress passed the Food and Fuel Control Act (40 Stat. 276), also known as the Lever Act of 1917. The passage gave President Woodrow Wilson a temporary wartime food prohibition to save grain for producing food. As a part of the act it made the distillation of beverage alcohol, which requires a lot of corn and other grains, illegal.
With the Lever Act in force and the talk of national Prohibition just around the corner Kraver decided to shut down Kentucky Peerless Distilling in 1917. He continued to sell his inventory of whiskey already barreled but production had stopped. Once Prohibition went into effect Kraver was authorized to continue to sell his remaining 63,000 barrels as Medicinal Whiskey.
In 1925 he sold off the Peerless distillation equipment to United Distillers Ltd in Canada. In a small twist of fate Kraver hired a company in Louisville to come 130 miles west to Henderson to dismantle the stills and take them 2,400 miles Northwest to Vancouver, British Columbia. That still maker was none other Elmore Sherman, Sr., 1st generation and founder of Vendome Copper & Brass Works.
“My Great-grand-father shut the distillery down in 1917 because of World War I purposes to conserve corn,” explained Corky. “He sold his stills to United Distillers in Vancouver British Columbia, Canada. Mr. Sherman, Rob and Mike’s Great-great-grandfather, that owns Vendome Copper & Brass Works he was the man that came to Henderson, brought this family with him, his wife and kids, he stayed in Henderson breaking all the stills down, put them on train cars, took them to Vancouver British Columbia. He and his family lived there for six months setting the stills up then came back to Louisville.”
Today, when you visit Kentucky Peerless Distilling Co. you’ll find it’s filled with Vendome Copper & Brass Works equipment from its mash tun, fermentation tanks, column still to its doubler. This is what you call 100 years of ‘Paying it forward!”
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The 21st Century Version of Kentucky Peerless Distilling
This latest incarnation of Kentucky Peerless Distilling came about after Corky Taylor sold his financial services company a few years back. He tried retirement for a while but after about two years he got bored and was ready to start something new. That something turned into the distillery which he started with his son Carson Taylor.
It took a couple years to build the distillery and then on March 4, 2015 they filled their first barrel of whiskey in nearly a century. Similar to the family’s original distillery they are barreling 10 to 12 barrels a day with two shifts. Corky said if they are running rye they’ll get 10.5 to 11 barrels per day and if they are running bourbon they get about 12. Unlike the original distillery that ran a sour mash today’s distillery starts fresh every time with a sweet mash process. And by the way, it took a while but they were able to get the families original distillery number DSP-KY-50 back. To help put this in perspective today’s numbering scheme is in the 20,000s.
“We Use 17% More Barrels”
You’ll often hear that the barrel is responsible for all of a whiskies color and 50% to 75% of its flavor. What you will occasionally hear about is the proof that the whiskey enters the barrel. In the case of bourbon by law it can enter the new charred oak container at up to 125 proof. Then when it comes time for bottling the distiller will use fresh water to cut it down to bottling proof of anywhere from 80 to 100 proof. In the case of Peerless they use a different approach.
“We really like the 107 proof,” said Corky. “We put it in the barrel at 107 proof. We take it straight from the barrel right to the bottle. We don’t chill filter. We don’t add a drop of water from the time it leaves the barrel ‘til it hits the bottle. We really like that 107. We don’t add water that’s never been in the barrel. We are sticking with our guns at 107 proof for our Rye and Bourbon. You can pull it off the still at 160 proof. We pull it off the still at about 131. We just feel that’s the way we want to do it. Then we take it straight from 131, then we water it down, then we put it in the barrel. We leave it in the barrel at 107 proof and take it from the barrel to the bottle.”
There is no legal definition for small batch but in the case of Peerless small batch means six barrels. They’ll blend those six barrels to get the bourbon to the color, proof and taste profile they are looking for. The first bottles for sale will all be small batch. It will be about six months before they start to offer bottles of single barrel bourbon.
Honoring His Father – Launching the 1st Peerless Bourbon in 102 Years on His Birthday
What’s the significance of June 22 launch date?
“It’s my father’s birthday. We probably could have come out with it a month ago, six weeks ago, but in honor of my father, that’s the only generation that we skipped. My Great-grandfather worked there, my Grandfather worked there, my father was gone in the military. I’m bringing it back, I’m the fourth, Carson (Corky’s son) is fifth so we skipped the third generation so I thought in honor of my Dad I’ll bring the bourbon out on his birthday so we are excited to bring it out on his birthday.”
One thing you’ll notice quickly in visiting the distillery and talking to Corky is there are generations of his family represented at the distillery. His father, Roy Taylor Jr. was a military man. He entered Castle Heights Military Academy when he was five years old. In 1941 he entered into World War II and in 1943 became General George Patton’s Chief Aide. He served in Korea, was the first officer in Vietnam and stormed the beach at Normandy on D-Day. Here’s a photo that is featured in the World War II museum in New Orleans. It shows Corky’s Dad storming the beach on June 5, 1943.
Peerless Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey June 22, 2019 Release
Kentucky Peerless Distilling’s first bourbon release date will be June 22, 2019 at the distillery. There will be a limit of two bottles per person. The suggested retail price of this four year old bourbon will be $69 for a 750 ml bottle. The proof will vary by batch but expect it to be in the 108 proof (54% ABV) range. It will first be distributed in five states including Kentucky, New York, Illinois, California, Texas, Florida and Washington D.C. with other states to follow.
Corky Taylor Trivia Question
Like his Dad, Corky attended Castle Heights Military Academy in Tennessee.
Who were some of Corky’s famous roommates?
Hint: The brothers sang and played one of the best southern rock songs of all time – Blue Sky.
Peerless Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey