Media Files
Interview with Mike Veach, February 3, 2011
Bourbon in Kentucky: Buffalo Trace Oral History Project
Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History
Interviewee Mike Veach
Interviewer Thomas Troland
created 2011-02-03
cms record id 2011oh018_bik018
accession number 2011OH018 BIK 018
is part of Buffalo Trace Oral History Project (BIK003)
summary Mike Veach is Associate Curator of Special Collections at the Filson Historical Society in Louisville, Kentucky. In this interview he discusses some of the materials collected by the Filson Historical Society that demonstrate the history of the bourbon industry in Kentucky. He talks about the early days of farmer distillers, through the Whiskey Rebellion, the War of 1812, World War I, Prohibition, and the Pure Food and Drug Act, to the creation of what we know of as bourbon today. He talks about when distillers may have begun using charred oak barrels to age whiskey, when the product began to be called bourbon, and technological advancements in distilling. He talks about the history of several distilleries, including the Old Fashioned Copper Distillery, once owned by E. H. Taylor, now known as the Buffalo Trace Distillery. He talks about Kentucky as the home of bourbon and why bourbon became the dominant American whiskey.
Filson Historical Society
Quality of products.
Sales promotion.
local term Whiskey
local term Veach, Mike
local term Veach, Mike--Interviews
local term Whiskey industry--Kentucky
local term Alcohol--Taxation--United States.
local term Alcohol--Law and legislation
local term Distillation.
local term Distilleries--Kentucky
local term Distillers.
local term Whiskey industry--Kentucky--History.
local term Buffalo Trace Distillery.
local term Economic conditions.
local term Bourbon whiskey
Rights Statement:
All rights to the interviews, including but not restricted to legal title, copyrights and literary property rights, have been transferred to the University of Kentucky Libraries.
Interviews may only be reproduced with permission from Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History, Special Collections and Digital Programs, University of Kentucky Libraries.
Source Metadata URI:
00048054 (2011oh018_bik018_veach_ohm.xml)
Mike Veach is introduced. He talks about his time as a graduate student at the University of Louisville which led to a position at the United Distillers archive. He talks about his participation in product tastings as an employee. He talks about the current state of the archive.
Partial Transcript: My name is Tom Troland and we are interviewing today Mike Veach, who is Associate Curator of Special Collections here at the Filson Historical Society in Louisville, Kentucky.
Whiskey industry--Kentucky
Associate Curator of Special Collections
Bourbon historians
Filson Historical Society
Graduate school
J.W. Dant bourbon whiskey
Jefferson County (Ky.)
Masters degree
Stitzel-Weller Distillery
Taste testing panels
United Distillers
University of Louisville
Veach talks about the main purpose of the Filson Historical Society and his responsibilities as the Associate Curator of Special Collections. He talks about how his work at the Filson Historical Society is connected to his interest in the history of bourbon. He talks about the bourbon events and fundraisers he has participated in.
Partial Transcript: Can you tell me just briefly a bit about the history and mission of the Filson Historical Society?
Filson Historical Society
Whiskey industry--Kentucky--History.
Bourbon events
Bourbon history
Civil War
Filson Bourbon Academy
History of bourbon
Ohio River Valley
Urban Bourbon Trail
Writing books
Veach discusses some of the documents that have been preserved by the Filson Historical Society which explain the history of the bourbon industry. He talks about how various wars, laws, and technological advancements have affected the industry, which is demonstrated through the historical documents.
Partial Transcript: Does the Filson have in its collections any important documents related to the history of bourbon?
Alcohol--Law and legislation
Alcohol--Taxation--United States.
Filson Historical Society
Influenza Epidemic, 1918-1919
United States--History--War of 1812
Whiskey industry--Kentucky--History.
Women in the whiskey industry
World War, 1914-1918
Alcohol taxes
Blended whiskey
Bottled-in-Bond Act of 1897
Bourbon County (Ky.)
Bourbon recipes
Charring barrels
Civil War
Colonel E.H. Taylor, Jr.
Edwin Foote
Flu epidemic
J.T.S. Brown
John Corlis
Letterpress books
Old Fashioned Copper Distillery
Pure Food and Drug Act
Taft Decision
War of 1812
Whiskey Rebellion
Whiskey Tax
World War I
Veach discusses why many distilleries were located near the Kentucky River, including its popularity as a trade route. He talks about whether the river has any effect on the aging of bourbon.
Partial Transcript: Let's take a look at some bourbon history, and in particular perhaps the significance of the Kentucky River to the development of bourbon, in general perhaps but also to the distillery which is today known as Buffalo Trace.
Buffalo Trace Distillery.
Whiskey industry--Kentucky--History.
Aging process
Bardstown (Ky.)
Colonel E.H. Taylor, Jr.
James Crow
Kentucky River
Kentucky River Valley
Old Crow Distillery
Scientific methods
Trade routes
Veach discusses the life of distiller E.H. Taylor, Jr. whose distillery, Old Fashioned Copper Distillery later became the Buffalo Trace Distillery. He discusses how Taylor came to own the distillery, where he learned distilling methods, and why his focus on marketing and the appearance of the distillery was an innovation.
Partial Transcript: Let's take a look at the early history of the Buffalo Trace site. What do we know about the very earliest history of that site going back to the time when the first Europeans arrived?
Buffalo Trace Distillery.
Product demonstrations
Sales promotion.
Whiskey industry--Kentucky--History.
Carlisle Distillery
Colonel E.H. Taylor, Jr.
Commercial distilleries
Old Crow Distillery
Old Fashioned Copper Distillery (OFC)
Swigert Distillery
Veach talks more about the Kentucky River as a trade route and discusses why distillers used spring water rather than water from the river. He talks about how the introduction of railroads and steam power in the area affected the distilling industry.
Partial Transcript: Is there any particular reason why the dist--distillery was put right there? Is there something about that site on the Kentucky River that's special?
Quality of products.
Whiskey industry--Kentucky--History.
Clean water
Colonel E.H. Taylor, Jr.
Column stills
Farmer distillers
Kentucky River
Limestone shelf
Old Fashioned Copper Distillery (OFC)
Pot stills
Steam power
Water sources
Veach discusses why E.H. Taylor's distillery began to face financial trouble due to overproduction and political issues. He talks about how George T. Stagg became a financial backer for the distillery and discusses the conflict that arose between Stagg and Taylor. He talks about when Albert Blanton became involved with the distillery that eventually became Buffalo Trace Distillery.
Partial Transcript: What was Taylor's connection with George T. Stagg and how did that evolve over time?
Buffalo Trace Distillery.
Economic conditions.
Quality of products.
Whiskey industry--Kentucky--History.
Albert B. Blanton
Changes in ownership
Colonel E.H. Taylor, Jr.
E.H. Taylor and Sons Distillery
Financial trouble
George T. Stagg
Jacob Swigert Taylor Distillery
James E. Pepper
Legal trouble
Name changes
Old Fashioned Copper Distillery (OFC)
Old Fire Copper Distillery
Oscar Pepper Distillery
Plant managers
Political troubles
Presidential races
Schenley Distilling Company
Veach discusses the activities of distilleries during Prohibition. He says that some obtained consolidation warehouse licenses and were able to continue selling whiskey for medicinal purposes. He talks about the market for whiskey during Prohibition and discusses what became of the distilleries during and after Prohibition.
Partial Transcript: What was taking place at the distillery during Prohibition?
Alcohol--Law and legislation
Buffalo Trace Distillery.
Economic conditions.
Whiskey industry--Kentucky--History.
Bourbon market
Brown-Forman Corporation
Consolidation warehouse licenses
Four Roses Distillery
Frankfort Distillers
George T. Stagg
Medicinal alcohol
Medicinal whiskey
National Distillers
Schenley Distillers Inc.
Veach talks about why the varying architectural design of each building on the Buffalo Trace Distillery property makes it a unique site. He talks more about E.H. Taylor's technological innovations at the distillery.
Partial Transcript: Let's talk a little bit about the Buffalo Trace site and the architectural significance of some of the structures on that site.
Buffalo Trace Distillery.
Whiskey industry--Kentucky--History.
Architectural styles
Brick warehouses
Climate control
Colonel E.H. Taylor
Commodore Richard Taylor House
Oscar Pepper Distillery
Steam heat
Warehouse size
Woodford Reserve Distillery
Veach talks about some of the rumors or myths about how the name "bourbon" came into use. He describes his own theory about how the name came about, but says that we may never know how it actually happened.
Partial Transcript: What can you tell me about the development of the term bourbon to describe native American whiskey?
Alcohol--Taxation--United States.
Whiskey industry--Kentucky--History.
Alcohol taxes
Bourbon County (Ky.)
Charred barrels
Common usage
Elijah Craig
Farmer distillers
Henry G. Crowgey
John Corlis
Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte
Napoleon III
New Orleans
Sales trips
Veach talks about when charred barrels began being used in the production of bourbon and its relation to the repeal of the Whiskey Tax. He talks about how James Crow's scientific approach to distilling led to bourbon as we know it today. He talks about when new barrels became a requirement for making bourbon.
Partial Transcript: What about the development of charred barrels? You've talked a bit about that earlier today. But at what point in history did charred barrels become widely associated with bourbon whiskey?
Alcohol--Law and legislation
Alcohol--Taxation--United States.
Whiskey industry--Kentucky--History.
Charred barrels
Colonel E.H. Taylor, Jr.
James Crow
Louisville (Ky.)
New barrels
Scientific methods
Tarascon brothers
Whiskey Tax
Veach talks about marketing as Pappy Van Winkle's greatest contribution to the distilling industry. He talks about how others have emulated his approach, including Julian Van Winkle, Booker Noe, and Bill Samuels.
Partial Transcript: Consider Pappy Van Winkle as a figure in the history of bourbon. What would you say was his most significant contribution to the bourbon industry?
Branding (Marketing)
Sales promotion.
Whiskey industry--Kentucky--History.
Barrel proof
Bill Samuels
Booker Noe (Frederick Booker Noe II)
Colonel E.H. Taylor, Jr.
Julian Van Winkle
Old Fitzgerald bourbon whiskey
Pappy Van Winkle
Veach talks about his limited knowledge of Buffalo Trace employees. He talks about how Schenley's production of single barrel bourbons during the market decline of the seventies and eighties affected the whiskey industry. He talks about why the market decline occurred. He talks about how others in the bourbon industry began to imitate Schenley's focus on single barrel products.
Partial Transcript: We've interviewed a number of other people as a part of this project so far. One of them was Ronnie Eddins who sadly passed away recently.
Buffalo Trace Distillery.
Economic conditions.
Quality of products.
Whiskey industry--Kentucky--History.
Ancient Age bourbon whiskey
Bourbon history
Elmer T. Lee
History of bourbon
Jim Beam (Brand)
Julian Van Winkle III
Market declines
Ronnie Eddins
Sales trends
Schenley Distillers Inc.
Scotch whisky
Single barrel bourbons
Single malt scotch
Small batch bourbons
Super premium bourbons
United Distillers
Vietnam War
Veach talks about bourbons of the past being bottled and distilled at lower proofs. He talks about how this affected the taste of the bourbon and why he believes this trend my become popular again. He talks about bourbon recipes, and why craft distilleries are able to be more innovative.
Partial Transcript: Mark Brown has famously said, "The best bourbon is yet to be made." What do you make of that comment?
Buffalo Trace Distillery.
Quality of products.
Whiskey industry--Kentucky--History.
Barrel proof
Beer industry
Bourbon recipes
Brown-Forman Corporation
Craft distilleries
Distilling proof
E.H. Taylor bourbon whiskey
Veach discusses why he does not have just one favorite bourbon. He lists some of the bourbons he enjoys.
Partial Transcript: Joanna, do you have any other questions that might be of interest?
Alcoholic beverages.
Alcohol proofs
Ancient Age bourbon whiskey
Booker Noe (Frederick Booker Noe II)
Elmer T. Lee Single Barrel bourbon whiskey
Four Roses Yellow Label bourbon whiskey
I.W. Harper bourbon whiskey
Jim Beam Black Label
Jimmy Johnson
Old Forester bourbon whiskey
Very Old Barton bourbon whiskey
Wild Turkey bourbon whiskey
Veach discusses why some bourbon distillers wanted to pass the Bottled-in-Bond Act, which issued labels to whiskeys that met certain authentication standards. He discusses how the act was related to the Pure Food and Drug Act. He talks about how bottles became the package of choice for whiskey.
Partial Transcript: Anything else that I haven't asked you that you'd like to say?
Alcohol--Law and legislation
Economic conditions.
Quality of products.
Whiskey industry--Kentucky--History.
Bottle making
Bottled-in-Bond Act of 1897
George Garvin Brown
John Carlisle
Pure Food and Drug Act
Straight whiskey
Veach talks about the features of Kentucky that made it an ideal place to distill whiskey. He talks about how bourbon became the dominant American whiskey due to over-regulation of rye whiskeys in Pennsylvania and Maryland. He talks about how too much government regulation hurts the bourbon industry in Kentucky.
Partial Transcript: And I suppose the other thing--uh, my last question is why did it happen in Kentucky?
Alcohol industry.
Alcohol--Law and legislation
Alcohol--Taxation--United States.
Sales promotion.
Whiskey industry--Kentucky
Alcohol taxes
American whiskey
Control state alcohol sales
Craft distilleries
Distilling industry
Government regulations
Rye whiskey
Water sources
Veach talks about his belief that craft distillers will play a major role in the future of the bourbon industry due to their ability to be unique and their lack of over-management by the business side of the company. The interview is concluded.
Partial Transcript: We've got three minutes left on the tape. So some--
Economic conditions.
Whiskey industry
Women in the whiskey industry
Craft distilleries
Long-term planning
Master Distillers
Ova Haney
TROLAND: My name is Tom Troland and we are interviewing today Mike Veach,
who is associate curator of special collections here at the Filson Historical
Society in Louisville, Kentucky. The date is February 3rd, 2011. This is part
of the Buffalo Trace Oral History Project and we are indeed, uh, here at the
Filson Historical Society in Louisville. First of all, Mike, thanks so much for
participating in this, in this, uh, project. Let me begin with asking you a
very general question. Tell us something about yourself.
VEACH: Well, that's a loaded question. Uh, I guess the best way to start this
is a little--one of the questions I always get is how do you get i--to be a
bourbon historian. And I always tell people that I'm the luckiest, uh, history
student to ever come out of the history department at the University of
Louisville. I was working on my master's degree in, uh, actually medieval
history with a secondary field in public history,
and United Distillers called
the university and said, uh, "We're going to be putting together an archives out
at the Stitzel-Weller Distillery and, uh, we're looking for somebody to--could
catalog some items and such. It'd be six weeks during the summer." Uh, nine
dollars an hour, thirty-five hours a week in 1991 as a graduate student, uh, who
hadn't made money being a full-time student, that was, uh, very good. So I went
and started putting--cataloging these materials. And they kept bringing more
and more materials in. Uh, six weeks turned into eight weeks. I had to go back
and finish my class work at, uh, University of Louisville. They told me to keep
working on it for, um, you know ten, twenty hours a week, as long as I could.
Uh, you know whatever amount of time I could afford to spend on it. And, uh,
after I finished my class work they hired me full-time. So,
uh, that's how I
got into this. Uh, their archives at, uh, the United Distillers was, uh, the
largest archive, uh, uh, in the distilling industry. It still is. It's just
inactive at this point. But it's probably got about, um, twenty thousand cubic
feet worth of documents. So, so that's how I got into this.
TROLAND: Where are you from originally?
VEACH: I'm originally from here in Jefferson County in the southwest part of
the county. So I grew up down just south of Shively where all the distilleries
were. Uh, as any Kentuckian I knew about bourbon. But, uh, not, uh, to the
extent that I, uh, would come to, uh, learn at United Distillers. Uh, United
Distillers, I got to learn not only the history but also got to learn quite a
bit about the tasting side of it. One of the first
projects that, uh, I was
involved in was that, uh, um, all of the employees had to g--uh, had a chance to
go to the tasting lab. They had a, uh, separate trailer set up because they
were, uh, sampling every barrel in their warehouses. And you know every day you
would go in there and there'd be like six whiskeys that you would sample and
write your opinions, because they were looking for good and bad whiskeys. And
so I got to learn from, uh, some real quality tasting people what to look for in
good whiskey and bad whiskey.
TROLAND: Were you able to sample each barrel in their warehouse?
VEACH: Well, they were about halfway through the project when I got there in
'91. So, uh, uh, I won't say that I sampled, uh, uh, you know every barrel. I
won't even say I sampled half, because there were probably some days that for
various reasons I didn't get to go to the tasting lab. But
I can say that I
sampled quite a few barrels in the--in about two years that the--before the
project came to an end.
TROLAND: So you, uh, hold a master's degree in history from the University of Louisville?
VEACH: Yes. I have a master's degree in history. Uh, like I said medieval
history was my primary field with public history as my secondary field. I did
two years of internship at the Filson Historical Society, uh, while I was
working on that. And, uh, uh, when United Distillers sold all of their bourbon
brands and, um, closed the archives Jim Holmberg knew I was available and he
hired me here at the Filson in 1997. And I've been here since.
TROLAND: A question about those archives that you mentioned earlier. Where are
they? And are they accessible to historians?
VEACH: They are still right where I left them. Um, at the, uh, bottling house,

uh, storage area. Used to be the old label storage room at the Stitzel-Weller
Distillery. Uh, I was in there just a couple weeks ago. Um, we had a, a person
that was a descendant of, uh, of Dant, J. W. Dant. And he was interested in
finding some, uh, materials on the Dant family. And I had met him before and
talked to him and he got permission to go into the, uh, Stitzel-Weller archives
to look for some things as long as, uh, I was there with him. So I actually
went in there and spent a couple of hours with him going through there and
showing him some things and picking out things that he was interested in. And
they're going to copy them for him and, uh, send them to him.
So they are sort of accessible but not really. Uh, it's not something that
anybody can just walk up and say, "I want to see the archives," and see. But if
they feel that--you know still it's a private archives. You know they have the
intellectual control over it. And, uh,
you know like even the guy I helped the
other day, he wasn't able to get copies that day. They had to go through
approvals and such, uh, before he could--they could make the copies and send it
to him. But, uh, there are, you know, people that can get in there. And
usually when they have somebody that wants to get in there they call me still.
TROLAND: Who owns those archives today?
VEACH: It's the same company. It's, uh, Diageo now. It was United Distillers
when I was there. But in about '97, '98, uh, United Distillers and--was it Moet
Hennessy--not Henderson but Hennessy--uh, merged to, uh, become Diageo. And
that's the company.
TROLAND: Can you tell me just briefly a bit about the history and mission of
the Filson Historical Society?
VEACH: Well, our missions actually changed about, uh, ten years ago or so. Uh,

originally we were here to preserve, uh, collect and make accessible to the
public, uh, documents dealing with the history of Kentucky. Uh, about ten years
ago or so we actually expanded that to Kentucky and the Ohio River Valley. The
reason we did this is we found there was a lot of connections between Kentucky
and just across the river. Uh, we were--particularly like in the Civil War--we
were getting a lot of letters and things from, uh, people that served in
Kentucky that were members of Indiana or Illinois or Ohio regiments or even
Michigan regiments and such. So we expanded our, uh, um mission to include the
Ohio River Valley and Kentucky. But it's still pretty much the same. We, uh,
are a working archive and a, uh, library. We're not a lending library but we do
have a library of, uh, books on
Kentucky and the Ohio River Valley and rare
pamphlets and maps and original letters and just--photographs. Just about
anything you could think of.
TROLAND: What do you do today as part of your duties here at the Filson, uh, to
research the history of bourbon?
VEACH: Well, my duties here at the Filson are, uh, not really bourbon-related.
I, I, but, uh, what I do at the Filson is I'm a cataloger. Uh, if we get
collections in I catalog them and, uh, um, get them into the system. Plus I am,
uh, responsible for things such as monitoring, uh, uh, researchers when they
come in and other things dealing with the handling of the documents to make sure
that they're handled safely and nobody's stealing anything. Things like that.
with that said if something comes in with distilling interest, uh, you can
pretty much guarantee that it's going to end up on my desk. Uh, I do use, uh,
bourbon history quite a bit here at the Filson doing events and things like
that. Uh, we do the Filson Bourbon Academy, uh, which is four weeks of training.
Uh, we really aim it at bartenders. But it's open to anybody. Uh, Filson
members or anybody else that wants to, uh, to take it.
But we talk, uh--t's split between talking about history and talking about
tasting of bourbon and such. You know that's one of the events I do. It helps
raise money for the Filson. And I also do a lot of other, uh, uh,
bourbon-related talks and, uh, uh, tastings and things here at the Filson. Uh,
some of them free, some of them are fundraisers.
TROLAND: Outside perhaps of your official duties here
at the Filson what
activities do you pursue that are related to learning more about bourbon history?
VEACH: Well, I am, uh, working on a book for the University, uh, Press of
Kentucky right now. So that's, uh, the big thing. And, uh, I also am a, uh,
major contributor to the, uh, bourbon website. And, uh,
you know, other than going to a lot of bourbon events, uh, I actually help, uh,
uh, I actually help out, uh, the Louisville tourism people, uh, with their Urban
Bourbon Trail training. Um, they, uh, are sponsoring the Urban Bourbon Trail
which is nine, ten bars, it, uh, it varies depending on, uh, conditions and how
well the, uh, bars do and, and such. But, uh, um,
there are bars that have over
fifty bourbons on their, uh, back bar and, uh, specialize in bourbon-related
foods and things like that. I help train the staff in, uh, bourbon history and
things like that.
Um, I do a lot of, uh, charity bourbon tastings. Uh, I get calls and e-mails
from people all over the place wanting me to do, uh, donate a bourbon tasting to
their fundraising auctions. And what I'll do is I'll, uh, uh, donate an auction
for six people where I will take, uh, five bourbons and go to their house and
lead them through a tasting, and then when we get through, they get to keep
what's left in the bottles for their bar. Uh, I've raised a lot of money for
different charities. Uh, everything from the Farnsley-Moremen House to, uh, uh,
the Girl Scou--or the Boy Scouts--not Girl Scouts, but the Boy Scouts. Um, um,

the Gold Rush auction that the Fort Knox soldiers have every year. I've done
that for the last two years, which is a lot of fun because it's usually held in
one of the historic houses on the, uh, base there at Fort Knox. Things like
that are mainly what I do for outside of the Filson.
TROLAND: Interesting concept, a bourbon tasting for the Boy Scouts.
VEACH: Yeah. Well, actually just got doing one for a church here not too long
ago too. Uh, uh, Jim Holmberg's church, uh, my boss, uh, was trying to, uh,
retire some debt. So they were having an auction and I donated a bourbon
tasting to their church. And, uh, uh, did it about three weeks ago. And it was
a lot of fun.
TROLAND: Does the Filson have in its collections any important documents
related to the history of bourbon?
VEACH: They have a lot of very nice things here at the Filson, uh, related
bourbon. Probably the most significant thing that they have is that the
earliest reference I have found to charring barrels is in the, uh, collection
here. The, uh, uh, Corlis-Respess Family Papers. Uh, John Corlis was a, uh,
merchant in Providence, Rhode Island, owned a couple ships, and a, uh, merchant
business as well as a, uh, gin distillery up in Providence, Rhode Island in the
early 1800s, uh, the early 1810s to be more specific. He had a couple ships
that got seized, uh, by the Spanish off the coast of South America. Ended up
getting into some financial trouble up there. He sold everything he had and
came to, uh, Kentucky and bought a farm and a distillery in Bourbon County, Kentucky.
So in 1826 he's got a--there's a letter in the
collection from a Lexington
grocer. A grocer at that time would be what we consider a wholesaler, uh,
somebody that would buy bulk whiskey and ham and other produces and ship it out
to what we would consider grocery stores today, you know people's stores where
it could be better distributed to individuals. But this guy writes and says, "I
really like your whiskey," and says, "We'll take another hundred barrels, uh,
ten at a time until you fill it out. But I've been told that if you will burn
or char the inside of the barrel as little as a sixteenth of an inch, it will
greatly improve the product." This is 1826. Uh, this is a Lexington grocery
store telling a Bourbon County distiller how to make bourbon.
So that's probably the most significant thing that we have here. But with that
said we have a lot of
really nice things as well. We have, uh, uh, several
early, uh, licenses from the Whiskey Rebellion period for people that were, uh,
making whiskey. We have licenses from the 1812 tax. Uh, if you're not familiar
with the taxes, the way, uh--what happened was that you had the initial tax in
1792, and, uh, or actually 1794, excuse me, but, uh, the tax that caused the
Whiskey Rebellion. Well, that tax was actually, uh, repealed in 1802 by Thomas
Jefferson. He was elected president with the, uh, promise that he was going to
balance the budget and repeal the whiskey tax. And believe it or not, we had a
president that kept his word. He, uh, balanced the budget and repealed the
whiskey tax in 1802.
Well, the tax came back in 1812 to
pay for the second war of independence, uh,
the War of 1812. And it was around till 1817 when it was repealed again. And
what's interesting about, uh, that tax period is is we have several licenses up
there of, uh, for distilleries, but they're all licensed to women--or several of
them. Not all of them but several of them are licensed to women. And if you
know your history of the War of 1812, the main reason for that is that Kentucky
was one of the largest, uh, uh, sources of manpower for the troops in the War of
1812. The men were away, the women were there running the distilleries. So we
have those. Uh, um, other than that we start getting into the, uh, post Civil
War period. Uh, we have a very significant collection in the, uh, Taylor-Hay
Family Papers. Uh, the Taylor is
Colonel E. H. Taylor, Jr. Uh, he--we have more
records--early records of the old OFC Distillery than any other, uh, uh,
institution at this point, uh, because we basically have all of his old, uh,
ledger books and, uh, uh, uh, letter books, letterpress books. Uh, if you're not
familiar with what a letterpress book was it was a, uh, early form of xerox. Uh,
basically you would take your document, you would get it damp, and you would
press i--uh, take it and lay it in this book that was a real thin onionskin type
paper. You would lay your letter in there, and then you would take a, uh, uh,
big press, and you would press the, the closed book down on that letter. Then
when you released it that ink would bleed through. So you had a copy of the letter.
And, uh, so we have basically copies of all the correspondence that E. H.
Company did as the OFC Distillery and then later into, uh, uh, when he went
independent, uh, to the, uh, uh, went to the, uh, Old Taylor Distillery and all
that. Uh, one of the really nice letters in the, uh, in the Old Taylor part is
from 1918, um, talking about the shortage of manpower during World War I, not
because of the war so much, but because of the flu epidemic. You know a lot of
his ladies on the bottling line were dying in the flu epidemic. So that's
really nice. He has a lot of great correspondence and scrapbooks and other
materials dealing with, uh, uh, the Bottled-in-Bond Act which was something that
was, uh, uh, very important to the state of Kentucky. And he also has a lot of
information and such on g--uh, passing of the, uh, Pure Food and Drug Act and
the 'what is whiskey'
question that followed immediately.
You know in 1906 in order to have pure food and drugs you had to know 'what is
whiskey?' And there was a big controversy, because, uh, all through the last
part of the nineteenth century you had straight whiskey distillers like E. H.
Taylor and you had what they called rectifiers. Rectifiers usually didn't even
own a distillery. They were buying bulk whiskey from straight whiskey
distillers and they were, uh, rectifying it to make their flavor profile. A lot
of the rectifiers were very, uh, respectable people that were doing things
simply like taking, uh, barrels from this distillery and barrels from this other
distillery, you know Distillery A and Distillery B, and marrying them together
to come up with the flavor profile they liked. Others were making things that
we would call a blended whiskey today. They were taking straight whiskey and
adding it to neutral spirits to lighten it up. Then you even had, uh, uh,
real disreputable ones that were taking things and making whiskey, um, out of
everything. Uh, I've actually seen a recipe that called for, uh, uh, add a
little sulfuric acid to it to give it burn. And, uh, use, uh, the chaw of, uh,
spittings from tobacco, chewing tobacco, to give it color. Uh, there was a whole
gamut of it.
But anyway you had these two different types of people making whiskey. So the
question is 'what is whiskey?' Was it a just, just straight whiskey or was
it--this other stuff whiskey as well? Well, under Teddy Roosevelt, uh, their
chemist, a guy named Wiley, uh, he was the keef--chief chemist for the, uh,
agricultural department. And, uh, he said only straight whiskey was whiskey.
Everything else had to be labeled imitation. Needless
to say that made a lot of
people upset. And to make matters worse not only was it upsetting all these
rectifiers in the United States, at that time pretty much all of Scotch whisky
and Canadian whisky coming into the United States would have had to have been
called imitation whiskey, because none of it was straight, it was blended whiskeys.
So anyway, uh, there was a long legal battle. Uh, President Roosevelt leaves
office, President Taft becomes president. And President Taft is a, uh,
president who comes from a legal background. His father was a Supreme Court
judge in th--in Ohio. Um, Taft is the only, uh, president that I know of that
goes on to become Chief Justice of the American Supreme Court. So he's got a
very legal mind, and he realizes that since this is all going to be regulated
the departments of the presidency, the final decision really was his.
So he spends the first nine months of his office listening to both sides of the
argument. And he comes up with the, uh, Taft Decision on December 27th, 1909.
And I always tell people it had to be the right decision, because nobody liked
it. Um, the rectifiers thought he went too far. The straight whiskey people
didn't think he went far enough. But basically he set the regulations, uh, for
what we know as straight whiskey, blended whiskey, and imitation whiskey today.
And this type of material is all in the Taylor-Hay Papers.
We also got, uh, some significant collections. Uh, we have the Brown-Walker
family which is, uh, uh, from J. T. S. Brown papers, which has some, uh,
materials in it. Uh, we have Ed Foote who was master distiller at,
uh, um, uh, Stitzel-Weller up until they closed it in 1992. Then he goes on to
become master distiller at Bernheim. We have his papers. And that includes
his, uh, daily logs from the time he started in 1984 until, uh, the distillery
was closed in 1992. So we have a lot of very significant distilling papers here
at the Filson.
TROLAND: Let's take a look at some bourbon history, and in particular perhaps
the significance of the Kentucky River to the development of bourbon in general
perhaps but also to the distillery which is today known as Buffalo Trace. How
does the river connect with bourbon and with that distillery?
VEACH: Well, it's interesting. In the nineteenth century, uh, E. H. Taylor
said that the best whiskey all was made in the Kentucky River Valley. Uh, and
the early whiskeys that made Kentucky famous do seem to come from that general
area, as much as Bardstown wants to talk about being the bourbon capital of the
world and all that today. They do have a very rich distilling history in
Bardstown and Nelson County. But the early, uh, whiskeys of note really did
come from the Kentucky River area.
Uh, of course the most famous was Old Crow. You know that's where James Crow
settled and went to work for Oscar Pepper. Now with that said, as a historian
looking back at it, I think that the reason that was so wasn't so much the
Kentucky River, it was because James Crow was there. And James Crow's whiskey
became the whiskey that everybody judged as good whiskey. And one of the things
that made James
Crow so, uh, important was was that not only did he apply
scientific methods to the distilling, uh, distilling process, he wrote it down.
And by writing it down other distillers in that area were able to learn what he
was doing. And a lot of the people that he trained ended up working for other
distilleries in that area. Thus, uh, the whiskey that he made became very
popular. And there were a lot of people around there that were capable of
making the same type of whiskey. And I think it would have just kind of
radiated out through Kentucky from there, as his methods and such started
getting, uh, more and more popular.
TROLAND: Did the Kentucky River play any role in commerce that somehow
encouraged the bourbon trade?
river systems in Kentucky are very important to, uh, uh, to the
commerce of bourbon. Uh, the Kentucky River leads into the Ohio River. The Ohio
River leads to the Mississippi. And the Mississippi leads to New Orleans. And
from very early times that was the natural trade route out of Kentucky. You got
to remember in the 1700s and the early 1800s there were no railroads. There
weren't even steamships. Uh, it was much easier to get goods down the river than
it was across the mountains into, uh, into what was the United States at that
time. So yes, the Kentucky River do--does play an important part in the trade
and, uh, um, and commerce of bourbon whiskey.
TROLAND: Does the river play any role in aging of Kentucky whiskey? That is to
say does proximity to the river have any
effect on aging?
VEACH: I don't think so. Uh, it's something I haven't really thought about.
But, uh, I would not think so because Kentucky summers are pretty humid all
across. I don't think the humidity difference is that much greater near the
river than it is twenty miles away from it. And Kentucky is such a, uh,
well-watered area that, uh, I don't see the, the, the presence of a river being
significantly different in the aging process. You got to remember the aging
process takes place over several years. And you're going to have lots of rain
and dry periods, and et cetera. It's all going to average out in the long run I
believe. So no, I don't think the, the river itself plays an important part in
in the aging process.
Uh, uh, I'm not a scientist. I'm a historian. Uh, so I will qualify th--myself
by saying that. You know if someone can show me something that says it does I'd
be happy to look at it. But, uh, nothing that I've ever seen would indicate so.
TROLAND: Let's take a look at the early history of the Buffalo Trace site.
What do we know about the very earliest history of that site going back to the
time when the first Europeans arrived?
VEACH: Well, I'm not terribly familiar with the site before, uh, E. H. Taylor
actually got ahold of it. He bought a, uh, distillery there that was owned by,
uh, I think it was Jacob Swigert. Swigert. S-W-I-G-E-R-T. Uh, which, uh, ends
up marrying into the f--you know they marry into the family, the Swigert family.
But he bought an existing distillery there.
Uh, but it wasn't much. And E. H.
Taylor is the one that took a--basically a farm distillery from the way I
understand it and turned it into, uh, a modern distillery.
But with that said I need to, uh, probably back up a little bit and talk a
little bit about Taylor himself. Taylor, uh, was born in the, uh, Jackson
Purchase area of Kentucky, the far west, right on the banks of the Mississippi.
Um, his father died when he was very young. He ended up, uh, um, spending some
time with his, uh, great-uncle Zachary Taylor down in New Orleans before coming
to Lexington to be raised by his uncle Edmund H. Taylor. And of course he was
Edmund H. Taylor. That's when he added the junior to his name to distinguish
between the two of
them. But he had so much respect for his uncle that even
after his uncle died he kept the junior as a, uh, sign of respect for his uncle.
His uncle basically educated him. Uh, sent him to, uh, uh, the best schools in
the Lexington area. Uh, his uncle was in the banking business and trained, uh,
uh, E. H. Taylor, Jr. as, as a banker as well. He actually went into the
banking business in the 1850s. The bank that he was a partner in failed. Uh, he
gets involved, uh, in several different mercantile businesses during the, uh,
Civil War. But just after the Civil War he becomes the company in Gaines, Berry
and Company who bought the Old Crow brand.
So what Taylor's first job as a
partner in that firm was was that he went to
Europe. And he studied distilling methods in Ireland, Scotland, France,
Germany, and came back to the United States and helped them build the new
Hermitage Distillery where Old Crow was going to be made. And he used this
knowledge that he learned about distilling methods over there to create that distillery.
Well, when he went independent and bought the Swigert Distillery and, uh,
started building the OFC Distillery which was Old Fashioned Copper Distillery,
uh, he used these same ideas to create it. But I think he took it one step
further. And this is the genius of the man. I have a lot of respect for E. H.
Taylor, Jr. He decided if he made his distillery look good, become
a showplace,
then he could bring prospective customers to the distillery and show them how
the whiskey was being made and impress them with you know, uh, how nice
everything looked. And, uh, he made his distillery, you know, the height of
modern efficiency and cleanliness and, uh, and style.
One of the letters in his, uh, letterpress book, he talks. Uh, he's sending a
letter to his coppersmith saying, "I really like the dona tub at W. L. Weller
and Sons in Louisville, Kentucky. I want you to stop by there and look at it
because I want one like it." So he was very impressed with the idea of making
things look good. And, uh, that carried on over into his, uh, branding.
When he made OFC whiskey one of the first things he did
was to create a
barrelhead trademark with a huge OFC on it with his signature. And not only
that, he made the barrels when he--before, uh, he shipped them out or anything
he made his barrels with brass rings instead of metal or wood rings like most of
the barrels were at that time. Because before he shipped them out he polished
them up and cleaned that barrel up so that when it was sitting on the back of a
bar it just really shone. And you got to remember in the 1870s the primary
package for whiskey was not the bottle, it was the barrel. Uh, when you bought
whiskey you went to your saloon or liquor store or pharmacist and you took your
flask or your jug and you had him fill it. You bought your quart or pint or
half gallon of whiskey right out of the barrel.
And when you've got a whole row of eight or ten
barrels on the back of the bar
and this one is just really jumping out you're going to say, "Ooh, I want to try
that one." So he really took the idea of marketing to that level. Uh, and he
never lost that talent. In 1909 I think it was, he changed the label of the Old
Taylor bottles at that time. Because by the 1900s they were selling it by the
bottle. Bottle had become more popular. It w--uh, the main reason was it became
cheaper to make. Bottles were more common. But he changed the label from white
to a golden color, golden orange color, because it made the bottle stand out
better on the shelves against the other bottles. So you know he kept--he had a
good understanding on how to, uh, distinguish himself in the marketplace.
So, uh, the OFC Distillery, when he remodeled it and, uh, and
built it, and then
he built the Carlisle Distillery right afterwards, uh, he used these principles.
He kept, uh, this to a very modern, uh, place to where people could come and
visit. So, uh, that's pretty much the--what I know about the early part of the
Buffalo Trace Distillery of now.
TROLAND: Is it fair to say--
HAY: Sorry--(unintelligible)--take a--just take a break for a second.
TROLAND: Sure. Okay.
[Pause in recording.]
HAY: Okay. We're rolling.
TROLAND: Just to clarify something here is it the case that Taylor's post Civil
War distillery on the current Buffalo Trace site was the first commercial
distillery really there?
VEACH: Um, I'm not sure how you want to define commercial. I had an argument
with a guy one time that was saying that, you know, "Evan Williams was the first
commercial distillery." Well, how do you define commercial? If you're selling
whiskey to other people then it's commercial far as I'm concerned. And I would
say that, uh, um, uh, the Swigert Distillery was selling whiskey to other
people. So I would say it's a commercial distillery. What I would say about
the Buffalo Trace site is, uh, with Taylor his was the first large-scale
commercial distillery there, something done in, in modern terms. From what I
understand from the, uh, Taylor-Hay collection the Swigert Distillery was
probably one of these three-barrel-a-day type operations at the largest. If it
was even--if it was that large.
So, uh, I would say that, uh, Taylor's operation was much larger. I mean, uh, I
think he was making about twelve or fifteen barrels a day with the OFC
Distillery. Uh, you know which is quite a bit larger than, uh, what Swigert was
doing but, uh, still small on today's standards. Um, but, uh, I
would say that
it was, uh, the first significant, uh, um, commercial distillery in Kentucky as
far as being a, uh, a showcase. I mean it was a distillery that, uh, played
up--uh, you got to remember in the nineteenth century people were all for modern
and, uh, uh, and scientific and--and things, uh, that we kind of take for
granted today. Uh, it's really interesting when you look at a picture or a
painting from a nineteenth century distillery, one of the, the, the f--best
things that you see about the paintings is this big smokestack with the black
smoke just pouring out of it. You know we look at it and say, "Ooh, look at the
pollution." But they're looking and saying, "Ooh, look at the technology and
the modernness of that." And
Taylor's distillery there was, uh, probably the
first one to really, uh, showcase that modernness.
TROLAND: Is there any particular reason why the dist--distillery was put right
there? Is there something about that site on the Kentucky River that's special?
VEACH: Yeah, there's a spring. You make whiskey, you need spring water. You
need water. A good source of clean water. And there was a spring right there
with good constant source of clean water at the time. You know the whole secret
to Kentucky distilling is geography. You know, there's a lot of springs. That
makes it easy to put distilleries up a lot of different places. So yeah.
That's it.
TROLAND: Is spring water superior for making whiskey to river water, which
would also be available at the same site?
VEACH: It was definitely cleaner.
Uh, you know, I always tell people, you know,
one of the reasons that whiskey became very popular in the 1700s and the 1800s
is that people learned very quickly that it was a lot safer, uh, to drink your
river water with a little whiskey in it than it was to drink that river water
straight. Um, but Kentucky is fortunate that it sits on a limestone shelf. And
the water that comes out of the--this limestone shelf is, uh, free of iron. And
iron is very bad for whiskey. So, uh, the spring water there, uh, was very
important at that time because of that. Uh, plus you want a good source of cool
water because you use a lot of water in a distilling operation for cooling. Um,
so yeah the spring is the, uh, the source there. It's not as important today as
it was
150 years ago. But, uh, it's still important.
TROLAND: The fact that the distillery was su--situated on the Kentucky River
then is more or less incidental?
VEACH: Well, I wouldn't say incidental. But it was a--it was a good location,
uh, because it had the spring. It was right on the river, which meant that they
could get their whiskey to market if they needed to, you know, by the river. Uh,
plus it was pretty close to the railroad line. You got to remember, um, in the
evolution of, uh, uh, the distilling industry, uh, this is something I talk
about in my book, is that you start off, you have farmer distillers. I mean you
have the so-called Industrial Revolution, which is really just a, uh, natural
evolution of technology. So
you get farmer distillers who make their product on
a small scale and it's hard to get to market. You know the--early on you had to
use flatboats until eventually there were steamboats and such. But as
technology improved you have steamboats that can take it to the market quicker.
Um, then you start getting railroads which make it even easier to get it to market.
But the railroads do another important thing in that they make a place like
Buffalo Trace a viable distillery on a large scale because railroads can bring
in grain. See, the farmer distillers were pretty much depending upon the grain
that could be grown in a certain radius of their distillery. Um, the railroad
allows grain to be brought in to big cities. And you could start making whiskey
in cities such as Louisville.
Um, steam
power as a whole changes the nature of distilling. One of the, uh,
things that E. H. Taylor learned overseas was how to make whiskey in pot stills
using steam versus, you know, coal or wood fires. Um, then you get the
invention of the column still. The column still is the big innovation that
changed the bourbon industry in the mid 1800s, the mid nineteenth century.
Because the column still allows you to make a lot of whiskey cheap. But the
column still is a continuous still, which means it takes a lot of beer to feed
that column still. So in order to make a column still profitable, you have to
have a fairly big operation. Um, you have to have huge mash tubs versus the
old-fashioned way of using small barrels as your mash tubs. And things
like that.
Now Taylor kind of had i--best of both worlds here. The OFC Distillery was a
pot still distillery. I don't know if, uh, you realize that or not. But it
started off it was a pot still distillery. And they used small tub, uh, ma--uh,
fermentation. You know there are pictures in, uh, uh, in a book that we have
here from the 1880s I guess it was of the OFC Distillery, and it shows their,
uh, fermentation floor with a hundred of these fifty-gallon or so barrels used
as fermentation. This was to feed the, uh, the pot stills. The column still
distillery that he built at the Carlisle Distillery right next door though was
different. Uh, like I said, it was a column still. He had larger, uh,
fermentators and, uh, it was a continuous operation. You could make a lot more
whiskey cheaper by doing it that way. And, uh, Taylor took advantage of both methods.
TROLAND: What was Taylor's connection with George T. Stagg and how did that
evolve over time?
VEACH: Okay. Stagg was a, uh, actually a merchant in Saint Louis. And he
ha--he was a, uh, partner in a firm that was, uh, oh I can't remember the name
of his partner off the top of my head here. But it was, uh, so-and-so and
Stagg. I forget the name of the, the first guy. But, uh, they were one of
Taylor's best customers for OFC whiskey. Well, in the 1870s you have a lot of
things go wrong for Taylor. First
of all you have an overproduction of whiskey.
There was a lot of whiskey on the market. A lot of this is because you start
having people like rectifiers appear that can make whiskey cheaper and quicker.
Um, but you also have a lot of the straight whiskey people that are just
distilling too much, and too much whiskey on the market.
Then you have the political troubles. You know, the presidential race was being
contested, uh, um, um, and such and there were actually people that were, uh,
thinking there was a possibility of a, uh, another civil war breaking out over
the presidential race. Uh, until finally Hayes is named president, uh, uh, by
Congress. And then you throw on top of that there was a rush at the banks. And
financing became
very hard.
You got to remember at this time, uh, aged whiskey became the standard. So you
had, uh, a large capital investment on your whiskey because you make whiskey,
you really don't want to sell it until it's ready. Well, Taylor ended up in
great financial binds. At the same time, Taylor was also the guardian for James
E. Pepper. Uh, James E. Pepper of course was the son of Oscar Pepper, who owned
the distillery that Old Crow worked at. Well, the Oscar Pepper Distillery ended
up becoming part of, uh, uh, in the hands of Taylor, uh, because he was the
guardian for, uh, for James E. Pepper. And he had loaned Pepper some money to
make improvements at the distillery and then all of a sudden this bank failure
happened. And, uh, Pepper
didn't have the money to pay him back any more than
Taylor had the money. So both distilleries were put into bankruptcy.
Uh, Labrot and Graham buys the Oscar Pepper Distillery. And Stagg gives Taylor
the money to pay his debts and takes over control of the OFC Distillery in
return. Tay--in theory Taylor was going to run it for him. But Stagg was going
to be the--you know, pay the debts and Taylor would eventually pay him back.
Well, eventually what happened was that Stagg took over, uh, complete control of
the distillery. And, uh, had a falling out with Taylor. Uh, basically Stagg was
of the, uh, theory that 'we're going to make it cheap and we're going to make a
lot of it.' And Taylor was saying, "No,
I've always made a quality product here
and I want to continue to make a quality product here. We're going to do it my
way." And Stagg says, "No, not while you owe me this money." And eventually,
uh, um, Taylor resigns and leaves.
Taylor at that time had another distillery, uh, that he had bought. And that
distillery was--at that time was known as the Jac--Jacob Swigert Taylor
Distillery. His son was running it for him. And he moved there. And they
turned that distillery into the, uh, Old Taylor Distillery, E. H. Taylor and
Sons. And once again Taylor takes advantage of what I was saying earlier. Um,
he rebuilds the distillery basically, uh, uh, from the ground up and it becomes
the, uh, familiar castle distillery that is at that site
now. But, uh, that is,
uh, um, Taylor and Stagg's relationship. Uh, they continued to have, uh, legal
problems all the way up into the 1880s, uh, because Stagg was using Taylor's
name still on his OFC brand, and Taylor didn't want that. So he took him to
court and forced him to, uh, uh, take his name off the labels. Off the
barrelheads and such and the advertisements.
And it's interesting because it's about that time that people quit referring to
it as the Old Fashioned Copper Distillery and started calling it the Old Fire
Copper Distillery. And I always wondered if that might have been part of the
legal, uh, um settlement was to kind of change the name a bit too.
TROLAND: So that parting
of the ways between E. H. Taylor and George T. Stagg
ended the, the period of time in which Taylor had anything to do with the site
currently called Buffalo Trace.
VEACH: Right.
TROLAND: Where do we bring Albert Blanton into this picture?
VEACH: Well, Stagg runs the distillery and, uh, he actually ends up, uh, um,
working for some other people, making whiskey for some other people and things
like that. But, uh, Blanton actually joins the, uh, the company in the late
1800s. Uh, works his way up till he becomes the plant manager of the distillery,
uh, before Prohibition. And he is in charge of the, uh, distillery during the
Prohibition period. And, uh, is there when, uh, the Schenley Distilling
buys the plant. So that's where, uh, Blanton comes in. He really, uh, doesn't
have any, uh, uh, family ties that I know of to the ownership of the site or
anything until he actually goes to work there and works his way up to become
plant manager and, and all that. And I'm really not even sure that he owned the
plant during the, uh, Prohibition period. It may still have been in the hands
of the Stagg heirs, George T. Stagg's heirs, when it was sold to Schenley.
TROLAND: So when was it sold to Schenley?
VEACH: Uh, right after Prohibition is when they, uh, uh, officially bought it.
Uh, so that would have been '33. But they had been buying the whiskey from
there, uh, all through Prohibition. They, they were one of the companies
were allowed to sell during Prohibition. And they were buying, uh, whiskey and,
uh, one of their bottling operations I believe was at the Stagg Distillery, even
though they didn't actually own the distillery at the time.
TROLAND: What was taking place at the distillery during Prohibition?
VEACH: Not a whole lot. You have to remember that Prohibition comes in 1920.
It became illegal to distill. Um, what happened legally was that there were a
certain amount of companies that were granted, uh, uh, what they called
consolidation warehouse licenses. Uh, these were warehouses to where, uh, the
government concentrated, uh, the amount of whiskey that was out there. You got
to remember when Prohibition comes about, it was not illegal to own
whiskey. Uh,
it was not illegal to drink whiskey. You know if, if you had a hundred bottles
of whiskey at your home and you wanted to drink it every night there was nothing
illegal about it. What was illegal was to sell it to someone else.
So when they closed all these distilleries these distillers still had a lot of
whiskey in their warehouses. And it was their property. The government
couldn't take it. And it was really not until 1922 that they created the
consolidation warehouse system because they found out that, uh, they just needed
to get a handle on all of this whiskey that was out there because it was still
flowing quite freely.
So they created these consolidation warehouses. And, uh, Stagg Distillery was
one of these consolidated warehouses. So when Prohibition came about there was

a need for medicinal alcohol. You got to remember in 1920 they didn't have the,
uh, pharmaceuticals that we have today. Uh, all through the nineteenth century
you know your major, uh, pharmaceuticals were whiskey, quinine, uh, laudanum and
opiates. I mean that was about the extent of your medicines. So whiskey was
still a very important medicine at that time. So there were people, companies
that were granted licenses to sell.
And these companies were American Medicinal Spirits, which later became National
Distillers. Um, there was Schenley Distilleries. There was Brown-Forman.
There was Frankfort Distillers. And there was James Thompson and Brother which
later became Glenmore. And then there was the Arthur Philip Stitzel Distillery.
But W. L. Weller and Sons piggybacked on the Arthur Philip Stitzel Distillery's
license, because at that time Arthur Philip Stitzel was the, uh, uh, president
of Stitzel Distilling Company. Alex Farnsley was vice president and Julian P.
Van Winkle was, uh, secretary-treasurer. W. L. Weller and Sons, Julian P. Van
Winkle was president. Alex T. Farnsley was vice president. And Arthur Philip
Stitzel was secretary-treasurer. So even though they weren't officially merged,
they were, they were the same company even though they weren't on paper. So
they piggybacked on, uh, uh--Weller piggybacked on Stitzel's license to sell
medicinal alcohol.
So their markets were basically pharmacies. Doctors could write, uh, a
prescription for a pint of alcohol every two weeks to a person. Uh,
they were
doctors' and dentists' offices. You could sell twelve pints a year to doctors
and dentists for office use. And bakers could buy twelve pints of brandy and
rum a year for baking purposes. So those were their markets. Uh, needless to
say, this was a greatly reduced market over what they were selling before
Prohibition came about.
So what happened was that you had all this whiskey in these warehouses, and
these people were allowed to sell it. And they were able to sell whiskey from
all these different companies. Uh, for example, uh, W. L. Weller and Sons. If
they ran out of Cabin Still whiskey they could go and talk to, uh, uh, oh
Mattingly from Mattingly and Moore and say, "We need some whiskey, you own a
hundred barrels, will you sell it to us?" They could buy that and they could
put that in their Cabin Still brand.
Or what was also happening was that these companies were saying, "Okay." Um,
Henry McKenna whiskey still owned by the--the McKenna family, "We will bottle
that and sell it for you, and we'll take, you know, a dollar a case for our
efforts. Plus you will pay us for the pr--our cost for, uh, uh, bottling and
storage." So needless to say nobody was getting rich off of this type of
operation. Um, it was, uh, a time when the distillers, uh, were barely making
it by. But,
um, things started changing in 1928.
The government saw that, uh, we were running out of medicinal whiskey, so they
allowed the industry to make three million gallons a year to replace dwindling
stocks. So after 1928, uh, you start having some small-scale distillation. The
amount of whiskey that you could distill was based upon how much your share of
the whiskey in the warehouse was. So the biggest two companies were National
Distillers and Schenley Distillers. They were able to make the most whiskey at
this point. Uh, some distillers such as, uh, in 1928 Brown-Forman and Frankfort
Distilleries both didn't even own a distillery anymore. You know, it'd been
scrapped and take--you know, out of circulation completely.
So they went to Stitzel
Distillery. And Stitzel made whiskey for himself and
these other two companies in 1928. And Brown-Forman gets their own distillery
up and going in '29. Uh, Frankfort Distillery never gets their distillery going
and they end up buying the old Stitzel Distillery down on Story Avenue in
Louisville, uh, after Prohibition ends. And Stitzel and Weller officially merge
and build their distillery out in Shively.
TROLAND: So there was no distillation during Prohibition at all taking place at
the Buffalo Trace site.
VEACH: Not until 1928.
TROLAND: I see. It began in 1928. You use the term Frankfort Distillers. Is
that Stitzel?
VEACH: That--that's the company that is now, uh, Four Roses. Four Roses was
their big brand at that time. It was owned by, uh, the Jones family.
TROLAND: So that's completely independent of Buffalo Trace.
VEACH: Right.
TROLAND: Current Buffalo Trace site.
VEACH: Right.
TROLAND: But nonetheless in 1928 or 1929 distillation did recommence at the
Buffalo Trace site.
VEACH: Right. Under Schenley's
TROLAND: And prior to that time during Prohibition in effect nothing happened there.
VEACH: Right. Nothing legal.
[Pause in recording.]
TROLAND: Let's talk a little bit about the Buffalo Trace site and the
architectural significance of some of the structures on that site. The oldest
site is the Commodore Richard Taylor House. Can you tell me anything about that structure?
VEACH: Not really because, uh, I really haven't studied, uh, uh, that in itself
other than the fact that I know that it was there. You know. Um, the
s--architecturally the thing that makes the site to me most important is going
back to what I was saying about Taylor and making the modern great-looking
innovative distillery. The fact that he used brick warehouses, and not only did

he use brick warehouses, he steam-heated them. And these were all new
innovations in the 1870s. Uh, some of the letters in his letterpress book talk
about, uh, uh, such details as putting the, uh, the keystone above the door that
says OFC on one of the warehouses, um, and paying extra to get that done, you
know, and things like that.
Uh, architecturally I would say that it's really one of the first modern
distilleries. Uh, it takes advantage of all of the, the new technology of the
day and the new building methods and things such as that.
TROLAND: Many of the warehouses on the site are large structures.
VEACH: Right.
TROLAND: Were these the first or among the first large structures used to store bourbon?
probably not. Uh, there is a whiskey warehouse that you can see along
I-64, um, right around Midway. It's off on the north side of the expressway
there. And, uh, it's a pretty good size building. And it was a whiskey
warehouse. It's now like a barn you know. Because this was a warehouse that
was built before the, uh, ricking systems were, were built. But, uh, you know,
there were large warehouses, you know, prior to, uh, the Civil War. I mean, uh,
you know, people knew what they were doing back then. And they had a need for
it. Uh, uh, you start getting large-scale distilleries with--like I said with
the building of the column still and things like that in the 1840s. Uh, you
start getting large, uh, uh, amounts of whiskey being made and
stored to be
aged. You know once, uh, uh, aged bourbon became the standard.
So, um, no, I wouldn't say that they were the first large-scale. But like I
said they are the first to be--to introduce such modern, uh, uh, innovations as
steam heating to try to age the whiskey faster by cycling the heat during the
winter and things like that.
TROLAND: The warehouses on the Buffalo Trace site have many different designs.
Some are brick. Some I believe are stone. Is there any significance to these
different designs? Any explanation why they chose different architectural
techniques for different warehouses?
VEACH: They were built in different eras and, uh, when you look at it, uh, uh,
you know, each owner of the distillery probably wanted to put their own
mark on
the distillery and probably hired a different designer to design the, uh,
warehouses. Uh, you know, and new building materials and things were becoming
available. Uh, some of the masonry that's used on some of the newest warehouses
out there weren't available when the earliest ones were built. Uh, so I think
that probably has more to do with just simply the time they were built and
materials available and things like that.
TROLAND: Any other thoughts about the architecture of the Buffalo Trace site?
VEACH: Well, I think it is a very interesting site, simply because it does
cover such a large amount of, uh, uh, time period. You've got some of the
earliest stuff from the 1870s all the way up to the, uh, 1930s when Schenley
first, uh, took it over and started building things. And then even into the,
uh, 1950s when there was a real bourbon boom and they needed more warehouse
Uh, I think that, uh, the fact that there is such this wide spread of,
uh, uh, materials, uh, of, uh, you know, of examples of architecture makes it a
very interesting site. Something you really don't see at the other
distilleries, because most of them were pretty much built at one time. And, you
know, about the closest thing you're going to find to it is the old Oscar Pepper
Distillery which is, you know, Woodford Reserve just down the road. You know,
it's got its core buildings that were built in the 1830s and then it's got some,
uh, masonry type warehouses that were built you know probably in the 1930s.
TROLAND: So in many ways the architectural significance of the Buffalo Trace
site lies in the diversity of styles that go back over a very long period of time.
VEACH: Right. Right. A hundred years' or more worth of architectural design.
I guess you could say
140 years now since it's, uh, 1870 to 2010, 2011.
TROLAND: What can you tell me about the development of the term bourbon to
describe native American whiskey?
VEACH: That's an interesting subject. Uh, I have my own theories. Uh, the
legend has it, you know, with Elijah Craig creating bourbon and all that. Uh,
the Crowgey book Kentucky Bourbon does a very good job of dispelling that myth.
Uh, I highly recommend it to anybody who wants to, uh, uh, uh, learn more on why
Elijah Craig was not the inventor of bourbon, to try, uh, uh, to read Crowgey's
book Kentucky Bourbon. But my theory on bourbon whiskey, uh, and a lot of this
is based upon what Crowgey wrote is the fact that, you know, you don't see
advertisement in newspapers
for bourbon whiskey until 1821. And if, uh, uh,
Elijah Craig created it in 1789, you're going to tell me that it took what,
thirty-two years for someone to advertise it in a newspaper? Uh, I think it was
a much more popular product than, uh, than that even early on.
You know, and the legend has it that it was named after Bourbon County. But I
have yet to find an 1820s or '30 document that says that. So you really don't
know where the term bourbon came from other than the fact that it's the name of
the French royal family. So my theory on the origin of bourbon whiskey is that
it wasn't a distiller that, uh, created bourbon whiskey at all. It was one of
these grocers that I was talking about earlier. Because
you got to remember
early farmer distillers were working in pot stills of twenty gallons to maybe
two hundred gallons in size. You work all day on a two-hundred-gallon pot
still, you might get twenty gallons of whiskey. You know that's not even a
barrel's worth.
You're not putting this into barrels, you're putting it in jugs. You're doing
that for a couple reasons. One is is that during the tax period the government
was charging you. You made twenty gallons of whiskey, you paid twenty gallons
of taxes. You put it in a barrel, what's the first thing that happens? You
lose three gallons. You got whiskey that soaks into the wood. If you just lost
three gallons of whiskey, that's three gallons' worth of taxes you just lost.
So these farmer distillers were probably putting it in jugs. They were selling
it to grocers. Well, from the Corlis-Respess
Family Papers again, because
Corlis being the merchant that he was in Providence, Rhode Island was a merchant
here in, uh, uh, Kentucky as well. What he was doing, he was buying tobacco
from farmers, shipping it down to New Orleans in flatboats, and using his
shipping connections from Providence and New York and other New England seaports
to ship this tobacco to France and England and sell it for good profits.
Well, sometimes he'd make the trip himself. Sometimes he would, uh, uh, send a
proctor down there. When he sent a proctor the proctor would often write
letters back to him giving him prices of different goods, what they were selling
for in New--in New Orleans. The price of whiskey in New Orleans in the 1810s
was the same price as it was here in Kentucky. So why bother?
If you weren't
going to get any more money for it in New Orleans, send tobacco, where you're
going to make money.
So you got to remember too that it takes a year to make this trip. You know you
get your goods together spring of the year, you get to the falls of the Ohio,
you wait until the, uh, uh, the river is right and then you send your boat over
the falls of the Ohio and, uh, uh, after putting your goods into a warehouse
and, uh, uh, if your boat survived you load your goods back up and you continued
your journey. If you didn't, you had two choices: buy another boat or sell your
goods to whoever would buy them.
But you continue your journey all the way down to New Orleans, it takes you two,
three months to do this on a flatboat. When
you get down there you sell your
goods, and then you sell your flatboat, because you're not going to pull that
boat all the way back upriver. Then you have two choices. You catch ship.
This is what Corlis usually did--or always did really. Catch ship, sail back
to, uh, New England and come back into Kentucky the way you came originally. Or
you walk back up the Natchez Trace. And yes you could ride a horse, but that's
still pretty much walking pace comparatively.
So it took you about a year to make this trip. So when it first happened, when
you first start sending goods down there, you know you might just say, "Okay,
that was a bad year." You might do this for two or three years. You know
because if you only make one trip a year you only get one chance. And
eventually someone realized okay, they're not buying our corn whiskey
there. What are they buying? What are they drinking down in New Orleans in the
1810s and the 1820s? Well, first of all you got to realize who are these
people. For the most part they're Frenchmen. What are Frenchmen drinking down
in New Orleans? They're drinking French brandy, cognac, Armagnac. What makes
French brandy different from our whiskey? It's aged in charred barrels. Cognac
had been, uh, uh, aged in charred barrels since the 1400s.
So someone got the idea let's make Kentucky whiskey taste more like cognac.
Let's age it in charred barrels. And when they start sending it down there,
people start buying it. So the legend has it then that you know they saw the
Bourbon County
stencil on the invoice and they started asking for the Bourbon
County whiskey. Like I said I have yet to find any documents from this period
that says that. But I did have an interesting conversation with a researcher
here at, uh, the Filson. She specialized in steamboats.
And of course by the 1820s you start getting steamboat traffic on the, uh, Ohio
and the Mississippi River. The one independent person on a steamboat--you know
the steamboat was usually owned, uh, by a, a group or even the captain sometimes
owned the steamboat. And everything on that steamboat was owned by these
people. Except for one thing: the bar. The bartender was an independent
operator. So he could buy whatever he wanted and stock the steamboat for the
passengers. In my opinion it is just as likely in the age of steamboats that

you started having people that were getting down there and saying, "Okay, I
really like that whiskey I bought, you know, down in New Orleans, down there on
Bourbon Street, you know, uh, let me have some of that Bourbon Street whiskey,
or let me have that bourbon whiskey." To me that's just as likely as it is
named after Bourbon County.
TROLAND: That's interesting. Historical evidence can't distinguish between the
name of this whiskey coming from a county in Kentucky or the name of this
whiskey coming from a street in New Orleans.
VEACH: Well, the one common thing that we can all agree on, it was named after
the French royal family. But you got to remember a lot of these French people
in New Orleans at that time are loyal to the French royal, uh, family because
they didn't like what was going on in France. What was going on in France at
that time was the French Revolution. And a lot of the noble families were
literally losing their heads. So rather than lose their heads, they came to the
New World. Um, so it wouldn't surprise me at all that
a third possibility is is
that, that the story was made up because some Kentuckian wanted to market to
these French, French people, say, "Yeah, see, it's all from Bourbon County, it's
named after your king." So I mean you know that is a likely story as well. The
fact of the matter is is that unless we can find more information we're not
likely to ever know. And the information is hard to come by simply because, uh,
like I said the tax from 1817 to 1861 did not exist, so you don't have
government records, federal government records. Uh, you're pretty much dependent
upon family records of the--the people that owned these distilleries. And
there's just not a whole lot of them out there. Uh, particularly from that very
early period.
Even when there was a tax, during the Whiskey Rebellion and, uh, period and then
the War of 1812,
they don't exist, because we had the flood in 1937, and they
were stored in the, uh, federal courthouse in Louisville. And guess what?
They're no longer around. So a lot of this information, you, you really just
can't find.
TROLAND: Regardless of the exact origin of the term bourbon as applied to a
style of American whiskey, roughly when did the term come into common usage?
VEACH: Well, like I said, the first advertisement was 1821. Uh, by the 1830s
it's a common style of whiskey that everybody recognizes. Uh, by the e--by the
Civil War it is a real common, uh, style of whiskey. Uh, there are recording,
uh--there's a recorded incidence of, uh, uh, uh,
Louis-Napoleon. You know the
second emperor. Napoleon III who came to the United States. And, uh, he saw a
soldier, uh, drinking from a flask. And, uh, the soldier offered him a drink.
And he took a drink and he really liked it. And he says, "Ooh, what is this?"
And he says, "That's bourbon whiskey." And he says, "I never thought I would
like anything with the name Bourbon."
TROLAND: So by the mid nineteenth century at least if someone asked for bourbon
whiskey, a knowledgeable person would know precisely what, what that meant.
VEACH: Right. Just like they would know what Monongahela rye or Maryland rye
was as well.
TROLAND: What about the development of charred barrels? You've talked a bit
about that earlier today. But at what point in history did charred barrels
become widely associated with bourbon
VEACH: Once again I think, uh, it's, uh, pretty much--I think, uh, the charred
barrel is what makes bourbon bourbon. So you can pretty much figure charred
barrels was being used in 1821 when the first bourbon was being advertised in
the newspaper. Uh, I really think that bourbon whiskey comes about in 1817.
Because that's when the whiskey tax was repealed for the second time. Um, like I
said the first thing that happens when you put whiskey into a barrel is you lose
three gallons. And without a tax on it that's no big deal. But with a tax
you're losing money. So I think in 1817 you start getting, uh, uh, bourbon
whiskey put in charred barrels. And, my, my theory is that it's the people that
put the, uh, uh--the first ones to make bourbon, it was, uh, first made right
here in Louisville. I think that
it was the Tarascon brothers.
The Tarascon brothers were two Frenchmen that came to Louisville to set up trade
in New Orleans. They come from an area in France just south of the cognac
region, so they know about cognac, they know about what the French people down
there are drinking. More importantly, they build a mill and a warehouse at the
falls of the Ohio. So they have ample opportunity to buy whiskey from these
people that were sending it down the river and their boats didn't make it. And
they knew about charred barrels. They could buy all these jugs of whiskey, fill
up some charred barrels, let it age for a while, send it down to New Orleans,
and like I said, if they were, uh, uh, imaginative enough they could have said,
"Okay, we'll call it bourbon whiskey, we'll say it's named after Bourbon County
in order to attract our French brothers
to buy it."
TROLAND: And what time in history do you, do you think the product called
bourbon whiskey began to resemble what we today see as bourbon whiskey?
VEACH: James Crow.
TROLAND: Excuse me?
VEACH: James Crow. When he started, uh, uh, making his whiskey and, uh, uh,
keeping the scientific records, checking pH and temperature and all that stuff
in order to replicate it, uh, he made a product that, uh, uh, became the
judgment of what everybody considered good bourbon whiskey. And you know if his
was the standard that you judged by then obviously he was the one that first
made it to what we recognize as bourbon whiskey today.
TROLAND: So his whiskey would have for example been aged in new charred barrels.
VEACH: Not necessarily new.
You got to remember the new charred barrel thing,
it doesn't come about until 1935. Or '37 actually. Uh, I believe it's, uh,
March 1st, 1937 is what the law says, that any whiskey, uh, that wants to be
called straight whiskey, uh, has to be put in a brand-new charred barrel at that
point. So, uh, you know, used cooperage was quite common. In the, uh,
Taylor-Hay pa--Family Papers, uh, he's selling his straight whiskey and, uh, his
bourbon whiskey to, uh, actually, uh, uh, Labrot's father Augustus Labrot, uh,
who was a whiskey merchant in Cincinnati. He's selling a lot of whiskey to him.
And there's a letter in there where he--where Labrot says, "I've got a bad
barrel of whiskey. It's just really bad." And Taylor says, "Well, send it back
to me. We'll see what's wrong with it." He gets there and he finds it, and he
finds out that the cooper had repaired the barrel using a
nail and some leather,
and that metal in the nail caused the whiskey to go bad. The leather didn't
help any either but, uh, but obviously that was a used barrel. When you ordered
barrels you got--you know the way the new cooperage comes about is because like
I said the main package for selling whiskey in the nineteenth century was the
barrel. If you're selling OFC whiskey to, uh, uh, Gregory--Gregory and Stagg's.
Gregory was the partner of Stagg. If you were selling it to Gregory and Stagg
in Saint Louis and you were sending a hundred barrels, you weren't going to get
those barrels back. You had to call the cooper, you know get ahold of the
cooper and say, "Send me--make me another hundred barrels. Or I need another
hundred barrels." You wouldn't say, "Make me," necessarily. "I need another
hundred barrels." Well, the cooper might get ahold of some used barrels from
liquor stores and saloons here in town and just refurbish them. So you had a
certain percentage that
would be used cooperage.
TROLAND: So you might say that the final element that led to the production of
the bourbon that we define today was the requirement--
VEACH: Requirement.
TROLAND: --of the new cooperage as of 1937.
VEACH: Right. Right. That really is kind of the final requirement, uh,
manufacturing-wise. Uh, the real final requirement is the, uh, 1964 law making
it a product of the United States. But that doesn't really affect the manufacture.
TROLAND: Consider Pappy Van Winkle as a figure in the history of bourbon. What
would you say was his most significant contribution to the bourbon industry?
VEACH: Pappy Van Winkle was a man much like E. H. Taylor. He knew how to
market, you know.
Uh, Pappy was not a distiller, never claimed to be a
distiller. He knew good bourbon. But he was, he was the marketing. He was the
salesman. And a lot of things that you see Bill Samuels doing today with
Maker's Mark, uh, you could see he might have even gotten the idea from some of
the things that Pappy did. Uh, he was a very innovative person. Uh, Pappy Van
Winkle was responsible at Stitzel-Weller, uh, in the 1940s. There were people
that remembered what whiskey tasted like before Prohibition. Back when you
could buy it right out of the barrel. And, uh, you didn't have to buy it in the
bottle. You know, because right up to Prohibition you could buy it right out of
the barrel. You know, people talk about barrel proof single barrel whiskeys.
Uh, that's what all the whiskey was back before Prohibition if you wanted it to be.
But he knew people liked this. So
what'd he do? He introduced a barrel proof
product. And, uh, you know, this is something that, uh, nobody else really
caught on to until, uh, you know Booker. Booker Noe when it first came out was
a barrel proof product.
Uh, Julian Van Winkle used to write a, uh, uh, a small column in different
newspapers. He would sell it to these different newspapers. Which was
basically a advertising piece for Old Fitzgerald whiskey. You know, and some of
the stories that he told were--sound like stories that, you know, Bill Samuels
would be telling today. You know. Uh, he was a very good marketing person and,
uh, knew what he was doing. And I think that he kind of took, uh, uh, the
one step further than E. H. Taylor and kind of brought it into the
twentieth century, whereas Taylor you know brought it up to the twentieth
century, the end of the nineteenth century. He was the big innovator. I think
Julian Van Winkle carried on that tradition. And I would say Bill Samuels is
the one that kind of brought it into the twenty-first century.
TROLAND: We've interviewed a number of other people as a part of this project
so far. One of them was Ronnie Eddins who sadly passed away recently. What do
you know about Ronnie Eddins? Any reflections on him and his role?
VEACH: Actually I only met the guy a couple times at the distillery. I really
didn't know him that much. I wish I did know him better. But, uh, uh, you know
like I said my, my connections are really more with the United Distillers, uh,
uh, companies and there, uh, you know I know people at Buffalo Trace but I never
like ever worked on
site there. So I really didn't know all of the people.
TROLAND: What about Elm--Elmer T. Lee? Certainly a very well-known figure.
VEACH: Yes. Elmer T. Lee is a bit of a different story. He's one of the first
people I met from there, because as archivist at United Distillers I had met him
at an event somewhere along the line. And I invited him to come out to visit
the archives.
So he came out with a young lady that was his assistant at the time out actually
running the visitor center for what they had in 1993 or so when this happened.
Um, she drove him out to visit me, and I spent a day with him at the archives,
and, uh, showing him all the things that we had and talking with him. Got to
know him fairly well. Uh, and I've, you know, known El--Elmer since then, and
see him at different events, and things like that. But once again I've never
really worked with him. So I really couldn't, uh, I
wouldn't consider him an
intimate acquaintance. But I would consider him a friend.
TROLAND: Anyone else, uh, associated with Buffalo Trace that you know something
about and might have a reflection upon?
VEACH: Not really. Because like I said you know I--I--I know these people but,
uh, uh, and I've talked with them and met them at, uh, different events and
such. But I, you know, haven't like, spent free time with them. You know what
I mean? So, uh, I really can't reflect too much on the people at Buffalo Trace.
TROLAND: Any thoughts about the contribution of Buffalo Trace, by which I mean
the distillery, down through history, to the history of bourbon apart from what
we've discussed already?
VEACH: I think Buffalo Trace's, uh, main significance other than what we've
talked about today
really has to do with the fact that, you know, when bourbon
was on a deep decline in the seventies and early eighties, uh, there were
executives that were part of Schenley at the time that were courageous enough to
pool their money and buy the distillery and go independent. You know, you've
got a product that i--like I said has been declining for every year for a
decade. And you're, you know--I can imagine them going home to their wife and
saying--and their wife saying, "You did what?"
You know, uh, bourbon sales weren't the greatest in the world. And they were
still declining. And they went independent. And by doing so, uh, they created
the concept of the modern single barrel bourbon. And, you know, I won't say
that they saved the bourbon industry. Uh, I really think that what saved the
bourbon industry was the scotch
industry. Uh, the fact that they introduced
single malt scotches about the same period, the early ei--1980s, late seventies,
early eighties. They introduced single malt scotches to America. And, uh,
started convincing people that you could enjoy brown spirits in the same way
that you enjoy wine and such, you know. Uh, I really guess I should say--go back
and talk a little bit about the decline of bourbon. I mean you've got a, uh,
golden age of bourbon through the fifties and early sixties where they were
making whiskey and selling it as fast as they could make it. Sales were
increasing. People were drinking it.
Then you had the Vietnam War hit and you started getting a generation of, of
people that were saying, "Don't trust anybody over thirty. Uh, we're not going
to drink the same things that our parents drink." And, uh, they started
drinking things such as,
uh, uh, vodka. Vodka was a category that the
government did not even bother to keep track of, uh, in the trade publications
until 1970. There was another new product, tequila. Another product that the
government had never kept track of until late in the seventies. They started
enjoying wine and they started enjoying beer. And of course, uh, uh, not only
did they have these legal products to compete with, you had the illegal
substances that they had to compete with. So bourbon started going into a decline.
And it's kind of ironic that it's the same thing that caused the decline in the
wine and, uh, the wine tastings and such that led to its rebirth. Because by
taking single malt scotch whiskey and treating it as wine, uh, and, and doing
wine, uh, scotch whiskey tastings pointing out the different nuances
of flavors
and such, uh, that, uh, showed people that hard brown spirits can be something
that can be enjoyed. It's not something you just shoot back, you know, with a
beer chaser.
Well, Buffalo Trace, which was at that time Ancient Age, came up with the idea
of the single barrel bourbon. And by treating it as a single barrel bourbon, as
a special high quality product, and equating it basically with the single malt
scotch--you know a lot of people are going to say, "Ooh, single malt, single
barrel, that, that, that must be the same type stuff." You know the--let's face
it, most of the marketed, uh, the people the marketing people are aiming at
aren't very bright. Um, but it caught on. And it created the idea that bourbon
could be enjoyed for
flavor. That it could be enjoyed for something other than
mixing with your Coke or, uh, shooting back with your beer chaser.
And I think that is the, uh, uh, the significance, uh, of Buffalo Trace at that
time. You also have to consider that you know imitation is the sincerest form
of flattery so to speak. And, and so if they were imitating the, uh,
scotch--single malt scotches with their single barrel products, Jim Beam was
imitating Buffalo Trace when they came out with the small batch products. You
know, small batch was, you know, Jim Beam's answer to the single barrel. They
wanted to do something along the same lines, but they didn't want to jump on the
single barrel bandwagon. So they introduced small batch products.
And then you start, uh, uh, getting the growth in the, uh, other super premium
category of extra aged products. This goes, uh, a
whole lot, uh, to the credit
of Julian Van Winkle III. Uh, he was the one that took, uh, you know when his
family sold the Stitzel-Weller Distillery to Norton-Simon, his father continued
to bottle decanters basically through the seventies into the eighties. Julian
took it out of thi--the selling the decanter business into making a, uh, a very
legitimate, uh, super premium whiskey market business.
And extra aged products, uh, became the n--the next big category. And between
these three categories of super premium whiskeys that's what started leading the
rebirth of bourbon to, to where we are today.
TROLAND: And Julian Van Winkle is now affiliated with Buffalo Trace.
VEACH: This is true.
TROLAND: Continuing the circle, if you like, of innovation.
VEACH: Mm hm. Yes.
TROLAND: Mark Brown has
famously said, "The best bourbon is yet to be made."
What do you make of that comment?
VEACH: I can agree with him to a point. But I can tell you this. I've had a
lot of really old bourbon, and there was a lot of very good ones. So, uh, you
know, I might even say, you know, some of the best bourbon has been made, we
just don't know--don't remember how it was made.
TROLAND: Suppose a distillery were to attempt to create the bourbons of
yesteryear, the ones which in your judgment in some cases at least are of
extremely high quality. How would they do things differently today to recreate
those bourbons of the past?
VEACH: Well, first of all, lower distillation proof and lower barrel proof. Uh,
like I said nineteenth century, most whiskey went into the barrel at the proof
that you were going to drink it at. So
most of them went into the barrel right
at a hundred proof or so, you know within 5 percent, you know--or five proof
marks, either way. So, uh, lower distillation proof is going to leave more
flavor from the grains. Lower barrel proof is going to allow the, uh, the
whiskey to age different. Brown-Forman spent a quarter million dollars I think
I heard from--from one source say, uh, at a top-notch university in Germany that
specializes in, uh, uh, in food products and such. And they spent a quarter
million dollars just to find out that lower barrel proof, uh, water aged in you
know with the lower barrel proof with whiskey dissolves more--or different, uh,
flavor agents than the alcohol. And the flavor agents that
the, uh, uh, water
dissolves are more of the sugars like the caramel and vanillas and the more
desirables whereas the alcohol dissolves more of the tannins. So if you want a
good flavorful caramel vanilla flavor from your barrel, lower barrel proof is
going to do it. You know, and I could have told them the same thing without
spending--you know they could have given me a quarter million dollars. I could
have told them that. Uh, just by drinking old whiskeys.
Old whiskeys went into the barrel--if you look at old barrel receipts, warehouse
receipts, uh, all the way up through the fifties, it was going into the barrel
at a hundred proof or 101 proof or 105 proof. As a matter of fact until the
1960s the maximum legal barrel proof was 110. And it's only in the 1960s that
they raise it to 125. And nobody really started using the 125 until,
uh, the,
uh, 1980s. Um, so just simply taste a whiskey that was made in the nineteen
fif--bottled in the 1950s and taste one that's during today, and you can tell
the difference right there. And there is a big difference in flavor.
TROLAND: With the development of connoisseurship of bourbons as you described
earlier do you think that distillers will experiment with lower distillation
proofs, lower barrel proofs and try to recreate?
VEACH: Yes. Matter of fact I know a couple of them that are doing it today. I
can't say. Not unless you want to block this out for fifty years or something.
TROLAND: Well, I understand that there will be release from Buffalo Trace
coming up sometime soon, uh, of an E. H. Taylor bourbon.
VEACH: Right.
TROLAND: What do you hope to see
in that?
VEACH: I--I'm looking forward to it. I'm, I'm hoping Mark Brown will invite me
to the, uh, first tasting of that barrel. Uh, because, you know, that recipe
comes from things that I learned from the Taylor-Hay Family Papers. And, uh,
with the, uh, uh, uh, the recipe that he put together there and, uh, once again
he did do a very low distillation proof and a low, uh, barrel proof on that
product. It's been in the warehouse now for about a year. A little over a
year. Uh, I'm looking forward to when they finally decide to taste it. Uh, I
think they're going to be shocked at how different it really is. And, you know,
Julian Van Winkle, I know that he's been trying to convince Mark Brown for, for
years since he signed the agreement with him to put his products in the barrel
at a lower proof in order to, uh, uh,
give it more flavor. And I'm hoping that
this will convince Mark Brown that this is worth doing.
Um, I think the real innovations are going to be coming from the craft
distillers though. You get the, the guys that are distilling on a small basis
now, and there's a lot of them out there now. Um, you get some of them to
decide that they want to try to do it just like they did in the nineteenth
century, and they start making a product that is very different, uh, uh, than
modern products in many ways but start attracting attention because it has so
much more flavor than some of the modern products. That's going to be what
changes the industry, which is going to make the industry sit back and say,
"Ooh.", uh, similar to what happened in the beer industry. Craft beer breweries
appeared. They started making very flavorful beers. And then
all of a sudden
the big companies said, "Oh, we need to do this as well." And I think that's
what's going to happen with the, uh, distilling industry. I think you're going
to get some craft distillers, uh, that are going to be making these type
products, and it's going to change the industry.
Unfortunately compared to the beer industry it's going to take a lot longer
because we're talking an aged product. You know, beer you can make and sell
within a month. You know, distilling, uh, whiskey you're looking at four years,
you know, usually.
TROLAND: Of course you can count among craft distillers--(coughs)--excuse me.
You can count among craft distillers Buffalo Trace with their recently installed
micro still.
VEACH: Right.
TROLAND: Joanna, do you have any other questions that might be of interest?
HAY: I was just wondering if on any of your visits or any of the events at
Buffalo Trace whether you'd ever met Jimmy
Johnson and talked with Jimmy Johnson?
VEACH: Oh yes. Yeah.
HAY: And, and I, I suppose you heard that he did pass away in --
HAY: In the last couple weeks.
VEACH: Right. Yeah. Jimmy Johnson was actually, uh, the last event I was at,
uh, Buffalo Trace at, uh, uh, mi--I guess it was your, uh, event for the oral
history project. Because I had that bottle of, uh, uh, Echo Springs and I let
him have a little taste of it. And yes I did hear that he passed away the other
day. And, uh, you know and I'd heard that Ron Eddins had passed away too.
Because he, he just went in the hall of fame what, a year ago? Yeah.
HAY: Within the last year. Within the last, uh, six months. I think the month --
VEACH: That's right. He--he was--
HAY: I think the month before he died.
VEACH: Yeah he was in the 2010 class, wasn't he? So yeah. Which shows you how
important these, uh, oral history projects are. I
wish you'd have gotten Booker
Noe before he died.
HAY: Let me keep going on. Let's see. I think--I don't think I have anything
else. I think you've covered everything that I had in mind.
TROLAND: Let me ask you this obvious question. What's your favorite bourbon?
VEACH: What are you buying me? My favorite bourbon is free bourbon.
TROLAND: My favorite is of course OP, other people's.
VEACH: No. Bourbon has such a wide variety of flavor profiles. It really
depends upon what I'm doing. So I don't have a favorite bourbon. I've got a
lot of them that I, uh, uh, tend to gravitate towards. But once again it really
depends upon what I'm doing. I mean I really like the Ancient, Ancient Age
eighty-six proof. I like Elmer T. Lee for the single barrels. Uh, I like Old
Forester Signature. Um I like, uh, actually for
an eighty proof bourbon, my
favorite eighty proof bourbon is, uh, the, uh, uh, Four Roses Yellow Label.
That's the one I tend to buy if I'm going to buy an eighty proof bourbon. Um,
even though I'll tell you they're going to get a run for their money with the,
uh, uh, Early Times bourbon that just came back out to the United States. Uh,
Very Old Barton one hundred proof bottled in bond. My favorite bourbon to cook
with. Um, it's also very good drinking bourbon. Uh, you know, Wild Turkey. I
don't think anything that Jimmy Russell makes is bad. You know, I can drink
anything that he makes. Uh, uh, you know, Jim Beam products. I like the Jim
Beam Black Label. Uh, I like the Old Grand-Dad bottled in bond. I tend to like
the, uh, a bourbon somewhere between ninety and 107 proof. I'm not terribly
fond of anything under ninety proof. Uh, and once you get over
107 or even 110,
I might go high as 110. But once you get over that, uh, you know that first
taste is just going to kill your taste buds anyway. So you have to add some
water to it in my opinion, you know, to make it drinkable or it doesn't kill
your taste buds with the first drink.
So yeah there, there's a lot of good bourbons out there. All the companies make
great bourbons. Uh, uh, I--I tell you the bourbon that I wish would come back to
the United States is I.W. Harper. You know it's been sold, uh, only in Japan
and the Far East for you know--well when I was at United Distillers it was that
way. So it's probably been thirty years since they've had it here in the United
States. I would love to see them bring it back. Because it's a great bourbon.
TROLAND: Anything else that I haven't asked you that you'd like to say?
HAY: I have one more before you ask that question.
TROLAND: Okay, fine.
HAY: Could you summarize the effect that
the Bottled-in-Bond Act had? You've
talked about it a little before. But just summarize what things were like
before and then what it--what t--what its effect was after.
VEACH: Okay. Bottled-in-Bond Act is an interesting question. I probably
should have talked more about this when I was talking about the Pure Food and
Drug Act, because in many ways the Bottled-in-Bond Act is the first act of the
Pure Food and Drug Act. And what was happening is in the end of the nineteenth
century you had straight whiskey distillers and you had the rectifiers. And we
talked a little bit about that in the past here. But then you have two
different markets growing out. And there was becoming a quite a bit of
competition and quite a bit of ill-will between the two. Straight whiskey
distillers were getting really upset because you were getting a lot of people
that were just coming down, setting up shop on this side of the Ohio River in
Covington and Louisville and Paducah and Owensboro
and they were buying neutral
spirits and they were buying a little bit of straight whiskey and maybe not even
none at all. But they were making a product and bottling it and calling it
Kentucky bourbon.
And, uh, this is one of the reasons there was so much overproduction at the
time. You know so there were actually rectifiers that would advertise, they
would make nine-year-old whiskey while you wait. And the straight whiskey
people didn't like this. So what happened is a bunch of them got together and
they went to John Carlisle who was Secretary of Treasury at the time under
Grover Cleveland. And they put together a, a law called the Bottled-in-Bond
Act. Now this wouldn't have been ha--uh, possible, uh, twenty years earlier
because you had an evolution in bottle making. When,
uh, George Garvin Brown
first started bottling bourbon in eightee--bottling his bourbon in, uh, 1872, he
wasn't the first to bottle bourbon. You had grocery stores going back to 1849 I
think's the earliest recorded bottle of bourbon with a label that says bourbon
on it, that were buying a barrel and bottled it up to sell to their customers.
But George Garvin Brown decided to create a bourbon that would be sold only by
the bottle, which is much more significant than being the first one to bottle
bourbon. To sell it only by the bottle. In order to guarantee quality.
This was a very expensive proposition in 1872, because the bottles had to be
hand-blown. In the 1880s you start getting machine-made bottles. In the 1890s
they improve this, uh, by making a three-piece mold and, uh, made the bottles
even cheaper. So
by 1897 Bottled-in-Bond Act is a very real possibility because
it's something that could be done on a economical scale.
So they got a law passed that said that the whiskey that was in this bottle all
came from the same distillery, was all made in the same season, which there are
two seasons in the year for distilling, spring and fall. Spring is from January
to June, fall is July to December. So same distillery, same season, at least
four years old, and bottled at one hundred proof. All under government supervision.
Doesn't guarantee that it's good whiskey but it does guarantee one thing: it's
straight whiskey. They couldn't add anything to it. No--anything--only thing
they could do is add water to adjust proof. So
by passing this law it's setting
the straight whiskey, uh, aside from the rest of it. So when you had bonded
bourbon you knew you were getting real straight bourbon.
The rectifiers didn't like this and everything. And, uh, the Pure Food and Drug
Act came along and you--which made them even more upset. And it's really
interesting. I was looking at an ad the other day, um, in a Bonfort's magazine
I think it was. And it showed, uh, Sunny Brook bourbon and it was the Pure Food
bourbon. They're not talking about it being food food. They're talking about
it met Pure Food and Drug Act requirements. And that's what happens, you know,
through the early part of, uh, the twentieth century with bottled in bond
whiskey. You start getting bottled whiskey. You get--you know and the
You get more--more and more sales in the bottle, less out of the barrel. And,
uh, uh, that's all pretty much responsibility of the Bottled-in-Bond Act. So I
hope that answered your question.
HAY: It did. And I suppose the other thing, uh, my last question is why did it
happen in Kentucky?
VEACH: Like I said, geography. You've got iron-free water. Uh, you got hot
summers. Fairly cold winters. Uh, you have lots of rivers and creeks and things
for transportation. Uh, you have, uh, just, you know, even as simple as having a
hill. Uh, one of my favorite pictures is a picture of the Harlan Distillery down
in Monroe County, Kentucky in, uh, 1918. And, uh, there's a series of pictures
at the UD
archives. And one of the pictures, it shows, uh, the water going into
their distillery, which looks like an old wood barn basically. And this water
is being transported off a hillside in a trough. Gravity-fed. You know. So
hills have their advantages. You can gravity-feed each stage. You know, so
there are th--uh, I think it's just mainly geography is, uh, the main reason
tha--for Kentucky making good whiskey. The reason it survived in Kentucky once
again, it has to do kind of with geography. But it's, uh, Kentucky has a large
Catholic population. And, uh, you know, the places where distilleries survive
today you still see a large Catholic population. You know, Kentucky is also one
of the driest states in the c--in the union right now too. So, uh, you know
that says something about the Catholic population and its survival.
has, has American whiskey now been so uniquely identified with
bourbon? After all, historically rye whiskey was a very popular product. It
still of course exists today. But the American whiskey market is highly
concentrated on this one style: bourbon. Why?
VEACH: Rye whiskey in my opinion dies because Maryland and Pennsylvania
regulated it out of business. Kentucky didn't regulate their bourbon industry
out of business. At least not yet. They're working on it. But, uh, I think
that if, uh, Pennsylvania had had the support that the, uh, Kentucky bourbon
industry had, rye whiskey would still be a very viable product. Uh, bourbon is
easier to make though than rye. Rye, pure rye whiskey, uh, has a lot of
problems in its fermentations. It makes it much more difficult and expensive to
make. Bourbon doesn't.
So, you know, you get all these factors and throw it
together, uh, it's survival of the fittest.
TROLAND: So the fact that the American whiskey industry now as a whole is
highly concentrated in Kentucky is partly a result of the geography of the
place, but also partly the result of political developments in other places.
VEACH: That's true. Was it Mark Twain that said he wanted to be in Kentucky
when the world ended because we wouldn't know about it for twenty years? Well,
there you go. Uh, you know, the political developments that happened in the
other places just didn't happen in Kentucky and a lot of places probably would
have considered Kentucky backward at that period for doing it. But, uh, in my
opinion they were the, they were the forward-thinking people. Because I think
in, uh, I think Pennsylvania and Maryland and some of these other distilling
states are beginning to regret, um, their
overregulations and such. You see a
lot of the states that were control states that are beginning to rethink the
whole concept of the control state alcohol sales. Uh, which Pennsylvania is one
of them. Um, you see states like Tennessee.
Tennessee is doing things to make it easier for craft distillers to get into
business. And, and it's good. It just makes good sense. You got to realize how
much taxes the distilling industry is bringing to Kentucky both on the federal
and the state level. I mean if you can get more distilleries into Kentucky
you'll get more tax money. Without raising a penny. You know raising the tax a
penny. If you have more people doing it you're going to get more.
TROLAND: When you refer to over-government-regulation in, for example
Pennsylvania and Maryland, are you referring to too much regulation of the
distilling process itself or too much regulation of the sales process at the
retail level?
VEACH: Both.
cautionary tale.
VEACH: Yes. And, you know, Kentucky recently tried to get the, uh, the laws
on--some of the laws on Kentucky's books changed. And the, uh, uh, the
politicians failed to do it. And it still boggles my mind that they didn't get
rid of some of these laws that were just ridiculously tough on the industry.
Um, you know, for example Jimmy Russell cannot legally go into a liquor store
and sign a bottle for a customer, because he's not allowed to go into a liquor
store and promote his own product. That's not fair. Uh, a distillery can't give
away glassware with their brands on it.
Now it's been happening for the last thirty, forty years. The
government--Kentucky laws have, uh, looked the other way. And it should be more
than just looking the other way. They should just get rid of some of these old
laws that just don't
make any sense.
HAY: We've got three minutes left on the tape. So some--
TROLAND: Okay. Any other, uh, comments or thoughts that come to mind that
haven't come up before today?
VEACH: I don't know, we've covered so much ground today. But, um, yeah.
Other, other than that, should probably say something about--more about the
craft distillers I think. Because I really do think that they're going to have
a huge impact on the industry in the twenty-first century. Um, there have been
more licenses to, uh, operate small-scale distilleries, uh, issued in the last
couple years than there had been in the last thirty years before that. Uh, these
guys and ladies--I actually know a couple of, uh, lady distillers that are doing
this, um, are going to have an impact. Um, they're
going to change the whole
concept of, uh, uh, of how whiskey should taste I think. And I think a lot of
it is going to be because a lot of them are trying to get back to that
old-fashioned way of doing it. And there's a lot to say for that.
You know, uh, I was once on a, uh, uh--we used to do a bourbon, uh, seminar down
at the Bourbon Festival at the Oscar Getz Museum. And Ova Haney that used to be
the master distiller at, uh, Four Roses, uh, who passed away about what, eight,
ten years ago now I guess. But someone asked the panel, "Who are going to be
the master distillers of the future?" And they went to someone else. I don't
remember who it was. But Ova was the second one. And he just looked right at
her and he said, "It's going to be the fucking accountants." His words, not
mine. And in many ways he's right. Because, you know, it's going to be the
people, you know, it's--when you have a business that is a long term thought
process because you, you basically have to know four years in advance what
you're going to sell to sell a four-year product. You know, and someone like
Julian Van Winkle, you have to know ten years in advance what you're--how much
you're going to sell of your ten-year product and, and I hate to even think
about his twenty-three-year-old. You have to be thinking about long term. Most
of the companies are owned, uh, uh, on the stock market now. And the whole
thing about stock market is short term. And, uh, that's one of the things
that's, uh, been hurting the industry with the accountants saying, "We've got to
increase profits in order to please the shareholders." And, you know, the
accountants are controlling things. And they're dumbing down the product. And
they're, and they're making it, uh, less and less unique. And I think that's
one of the things that they've lost quite a bit of
is their uniqueness. Um, not
to say that they're still not unique from each other today, because they are.
But they're not as unique as they were thirty years ago or forty years ago. And
I think craft distillers are going to bring back some of that unique qualities
and such.
TROLAND: Well, Mike, thank you very much. This has been a very informative afternoon.
VEACH: Uh, well I'm glad you enjoyed it.
HAY: Thank you so much.
[End of interview.]