Media Files
Interview with Richard Taylor, October 20, 2009
Bourbon in Kentucky: Buffalo Trace Oral History Project
Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History
Interviewee Richard Taylor
Interviewer Thomas Troland
created 2009-10-20
cms record id 2009oh249_bik014
accession number 2009OH249 BIK 014
is part of Buffalo Trace Oral History Project (BIK003)
summary Richard Taylor is a former English professor and a writer who lives near Frankfort, Kentucky. He is the author of The Great Crossing: A Historic Journey to Buffalo Trace Distillery. In this interview, Richard Taylor talks about the history of the Taylor family, including Colonel E. H. Taylor, Jr., who bought the distillery now called Buffalo Trace in the 1870s. He also discusses the history of the Leestown area of Frankfort where Buffalo Trace is located. In addition, Taylor talks about the history of distilling in the area around Frankfort. He also describes Colonel Taylor's character and his life. In addition, Taylor describes Colonel Taylor's contributions to the bourbon industry, which include his support of quality control regulation and his novel approaches to producing and marketing bourbon.
Leestown (Ky.)
Alcohol--Law and legislation
Liquor laws--United States
Quality control.
Quality of products.
local term Frankfort (Ky.)--History
local term Families.
local term Genealogy.
local term Frontier and pioneer life.
local term Bourbon whiskey
local term Buffalo Trace Distillery.
local term Distillation.
local term Distilleries--Kentucky
local term Distillers.
local term Whiskey industry--Kentucky
local term Taylor, E. H. (Edmund Haynes), Jr., 1830-1923
local term 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:
00048044 (2009oh249_bik014_taylor_ohm.xml)
Richard Taylor is introduced. He talks about his own background, including his studies at the University of Louisville and the University of Kentucky. He talks about his teaching career and his work as a writer, including his newest book about Abraham Lincoln.
Partial Transcript: My name is Tom Troland and we are interviewing today Richard Taylor.
Abraham Lincoln
Family history
Frankfort (Ky.)
Kentucky State University (KSU)
Poet laureates
Transylvania University
University of Kentucky (UK)
University of Louisville (UofL)
Washington, D.C.
Richard Taylor talks about the Taylor family, and his own distant relation to Commodore Richard Taylor and Colonel E. H. Taylor, Jr. He talks about how the family came to America, their exploration of the land, and their role in the Revolutionary War. He talks about their role in shaping the Kentucky River to be used for transportation.
Partial Transcript: Now your family name is Taylor and a focus of our discussion today is Colonel E. H. Taylor, Jr. who played such a major role in, uh, the distilling industry...
Frontier and pioneer life.
Jefferson County (Ky.)
Kentucky River (Ky.)
Colonel E. H. Taylor, Jr.
Colonel George Taylor
Commodore Richard Taylor
Edmund Taylor
Family history
Family names
George Rogers Clark
Governor Shelby
Nicholas Criswell
Revolutionary War
Richard Taylor talks about how he came to write the book "The Great Crossing: A Historic Journey to Buffalo Trace Distillery." He talks about the Lee family and their settlement at Leestown. He talks about the research he conducted regarding the Taylor family and their exploration of the frontier lands in Kentucky.
Partial Transcript: Let's talk a little bit about your book--
Frankfort (Ky.).
Franklin County (Ky.)--History.
Frontier and pioneer life.
"The Great Crossing: A Historic Journey to Buffalo Trace Distillery"
American Indians
Boonesboro (Ky.)
Chief Logan
Edmund Taylor
Family history
George Rogers Clark
Hancock Lee
Hancock Taylor
Land claims
Land surveyors
Leestown (Ky.)
Native Americans
Nicholas Criswell
Rueben Taylor
Taylor family
Willis Lee
Richard Taylor talks about the little information that is available concerning the very early history of distilling at the site which later became the Buffalo Trace Distillery. He talks about why the site was ideal for distilling, and how Frankfort was made into a port for transporting bourbon on the Kentucky River.
Partial Transcript: Let me ask you, uh, this. Tell us a little bit about the earliest known history of distilling of this site.
Bourbon whiskey
Buffalo Trace Distillery.
Frankfort (Ky.).
Frontier and pioneer life.
Whiskey industry--Kentucky
Bourbon families
Bourbon industry
Buffalo crossings
Hancock Lee
Hancock Taylor
Land surveyors
Lee brothers
Leestown (Ky.)
Water sources
Willis Lee
Richard Taylor discusses Colonel E. H. Taylor, Jr. and his purchase of the distillery which later became Buffalo Trace. He talks about Colonel Taylor's various roles as politician, entrepreneur, and entertainer. He talks about Taylor's interest in making whiskey production more scientific.
Partial Transcript: Now distillers often make uh considerable, uh, hey, pardon the expression, of distilling traditions.
Alcohol--Law and legislation
Bourbon whiskey
Buffalo Trace Distillery.
Kentucky--Politics and government
Quality control.
Quality of products.
Taylor, E. H. (Edmund Haynes), Jr., 1830-1923
Whiskey industry--Kentucky
Commercial operations
Master of Hospitality
Sales promotion
Richard Taylor talks about the distilleries that E. H. Taylor, Jr. built on the property that later became Buffalo Trace. He discusses in greater detail Colonel Taylor's interest in creating standards to ensure the quality of whiskey throughout the industry, including the Bottled-In-Bond Act, among others.
Partial Transcript: Taylor, that is to say E. H. Taylor, Jr., uh, purchased the site sometime around 1870 and then, uh, invested a fair amount of money in, in the site.
Alcohol--Law and legislation
Bourbon whiskey
Buffalo Trace Distillery.
Quality control.
Quality of products.
Taylor, E. H. (Edmund Haynes), Jr., 1830-1923
Whiskey industry--Kentucky
"Father of the bourbon industry"
Bottled-In-Bond Act
Carlisle (England)
Carlisle Distillery
Colonel E. H. Taylor, Jr.
First Methodist Church
George T. Stagg
Hermitage Distillery
James Crow
Old Crow Distillery
Old Fire Copper Distillery (OFC)
Old Taylor Distillery
Oscar Pepper
Taylor family
Richard Taylor talks about some of Colonel Taylor's other interests outside of the bourbon industry, including livestock and entertaining. He talks about Taylor's role in keeping Frankfort as the Kentucky state capital.
Partial Transcript: Now he died in 1923 at the age of 92.
Buffalo Trace Distillery.
Taylor, E. H. (Edmund Haynes), Jr., 1830-1923
"Bourbon aristocrat"
Bourbon business
Gothic castles
Illegal activities
State capital
Whiskey business
Richard Taylor talks about Colonel Taylor's legacy in the bourbon industry. He talks about his own personal favorite bourbon.
Partial Transcript: What would you say perhaps is the greatest legacy of E. H. Taylor, uh, in the bourbon industry?
Bourbon whiskey
Buffalo Trace Distillery.
Taylor, E. H. (Edmund Haynes), Jr., 1830-1923
Whiskey industry--Kentucky
Blanton's Reserve bourbon whiskey
Bourbon industry
Drinking bourbon
E.H. Taylor, Jr. bourbon whiskey
Richard Taylor talks more about the Taylor family from Carlisle, England and their reasons for coming to America. He talks about their interests in surveying and owning land in America. The interview is concluded.
Partial Transcript: Anything else you'd like to say about, um--
Land grants.
Carlisle (England)
Church of England
Family history
French and Indian War
Land acquisition
Land claims
Land ownership
Land surveyors
Religious dissension
Taylor family
TROLAND: My name is Tom Troland, and we're interviewing today Richard
Taylor. Today is October 20, 2009. This is part of the Buffalo Trace
Oral History Project, and we are doing this at, uh, the Buffalo Trace
Distillery, and Richard, of course, you are the author of the book
The Great Crossing: A Historic Journey to Buffalo Trace Distillery.
Thanks, first of all, very much for sitting down to talk to us about,
uh, these topics. Uh, let's begin with just, uh, a general question.
Tell me a little bit about yourself.
TAYLOR: I was, uh, born in Washington D.C. My family is from Kentucky.
They've been from Kentucky for a long time, and some of them are
related to your previous interviewee, Taylor Hay. Um, I attended the
public schools there. I graduated from Atherton High School, went
to U of K, graduated from there, did a master's degree in English
at U of L then a law
degree and then came back to U of K in the
late sixties to, to do my doctorate in English. And, uh, aside from
teaching at a number of other places on a sort of part-time basis or
for short stints, I taught a KSU for thirty-four years, retired last
year and currently am a visiting writer, the Keenan Visiting Writer at
Transylvania University. I live in Frankfort, outside of Frankfort.
My wife and I own a bookstore called Poor Richard's Books. I am
a former poet-laureate of Kentucky from 1999 until 2001, and I just
finished a book on Abraham Lincoln, a collection of sonnets that will
be published at the end
of next week.
TROLAND: These are sonnets that he wrote or sonnets that you wrote?
TAYLOR: No, uh, I'd like to see the sonnets that he wrote. Actually,
he did write some poems, and, uh, they're rather, they're rather
interesting. Very much in sort of the dark, graveyard school, um, vein.
TROLAND: Now your family name is Taylor, and a focus of our discussion
today is Colonel E.H. Taylor Jr. who played such a major role in the
distilling industry in the late nineteenth, early twentieth centuries.
Tell us a little about your family connection to the Taylors in
TAYLOR: Edmund Hanes Taylor Jr., as I understand it, is a descendant
of an individual named Commodore Richard Taylor who was one of eleven
or twelve brothers, the
son of Colonel George Taylor of Orange County,
Virginia. In fact, most of the Virginians or the Virginia Taylors
who came to Kentucky were from Orange County. Uh, my, my relation,
strangely enough--and I did not know this until I was asked to, to
write the book about Leestown--my ancestor was here with his brother.
He was here. He was sixteen or seventeen years of age. He was here
with his brother, oddly enough, whose name was Edmund in 1775 with,
traveling with an English, um, tourist really named Nicholas Criswell.
Nicholas Criswell--right on the eve of the revolution. In fact, there
are some wonderful
references to arguments that Edmund Taylor had with
Criswell, and Criswell in his journal referred to Taylor as a red-hot
liberty man. And, uh, they camped. They were actually--Criswell came
down the Ohio, up the Kentucky, his destination was Harrodsburg. With
them was George Rogers Clark, strangely enough. They traveled in two,
um, canoes really, uh, it would have been dugout canoes, one of which
was called The Charming Polly. The other was The Charming Sally, and
they camped somewhere near the distillery here and during the night,
according to Criswell's account, uh, one of the people traveling with
them actually slept in the boat. And buffalo were crossing the river
at that time, and one of them
landed in the boat and they lost many of
their provisions. Anyway, Reuben, uh, went back to Virginia, and he
and--I think there were eleven brothers; ten of them were officers in
the revolution--he came back to Kentucky after the war and, uh, settled
in Jefferson County, Kentucky, in eastern Jefferson County, and, uh,
I'm a descendant of those Taylors. Commodore Richard, uh, Commodore
Richard's cabin I saw for the first time about two weeks ago. It's
in Jefferson or on the Jefferson County/Oldham County line. After he
came to Frankfort, he came here--no one's quite sure about the date--
incidentally, he was not "Commodore" during the war. The commodore
as sort of an honorific after the war. He did, uh, engage with the,
uh, the British. He--in what might be called skirmishes--and he was
wounded, and it's said that what killed him eventually was, uh, wounds
he had sustained in those, uh, sort of frays with, with the British.
He was brought here by, I'm guessing, by Governor Shelby to work on
navigation on the river. Uh, the Kentucky River at that time, is very-
-was, at that time, described as very different from what it is now.
In fact, it was a, a line of what are called shoals and pools. So it
was not really very suitable for, for navigation beyond a canoe or a
flatboat or even a
keelboat. In order for the river trade to flourish,
uh, there had to be sufficient draft for larger steamboats to move up
and down the river. So one of his jobs was to come here--he was hired
because he had some association with water which is the only thing I
know that would recommend him. Uh, he was hired to, to work on this
channelization, to exploit the commercial prospects of the river. He
built the house which is about, uh--what--forty yards from here, uh, a
one-story stone house called Riverside. His two sons eventually built
houses on this property: Hopping Dick and, and Black Dick. Neither of
those houses survives. This house is said to be and may be the oldest
surviving house in, in,
in Franklin County.
TROLAND: Let's talk a little bit about your book--
TROLAND: Uh, The Great Crossing, which you published several years ago,
I believe in 2002. What was, uh, the motivation for writing that book?
TAYLOR: Actually, the motivation was someone approaching me and
commissioning me to do it, and, but the true motivation, I guess,
was, uh, some interest in the bourbon industry but, but also a lot of
interest in the early formation of, of Leestown. And, uh, it wasn't
until I began the research process that I realized that my own ancestor
had, had been here, um, and I found those early years which we know very
little about actually are, uh, I find them fascinating. This, Leestown
is the oldest settlement north of the Kentucky River. It
the formation of Boonesborough only by a few months. Boonesborough was
on--if I'm correct on this--on the south side of the river. Uh, the
founders of Leestown were Willis and Hancock Lee, brothers incidentally
who were related to the Taylors, and how that relation works I'm not,
I'm not certain but they, they knew each other and were related. Uh,
though the history is pretty sketchy, Willis Lee built a stockade here
and that stockade was attacked in 1776, and the sole person, the sole
fatality was Willis Lee. His brother Hancock, uh, his brother Hancock,
uh, remained here and looked after, uh,
the interests, and in fact
his--I want to say nephew, but I could be wrong about this--Willis
Atwell Lee built one of the three surviving, uh--actually four if
you count Riverside--domiciles or old structures from the original
Leestown. And I'm referring to Glen Willis which was built in 1815 has
undergone a lot of alteration, but is, the core of it is essentially
the house that dates from that, from that year. My motivation, uh,
I, very fortunately the distillery was able to provide me with some,
some records and especially a text, uh, that had been commissioned
at some
earlier date which had a lot of the core information I used
in the, uh, the portion of it relating to distilleries. Most of the,
uh, information relating to Leestown I simply researched and dug up
from a number, a number of sources including Nicholas Criswell. Let
me put in a word for Criswell here. Criswell was twenty-four years
of age. He was from, I believe, Devonshire and returned to England
when the revolution broke out, and for a period of 150 years, this
manuscript survived in his household. It was published--how it came
to be published, I don't know, but it was published in the 1930s and
it is one of the fullest early accounts of western settlement, uh,
from an actual--let's call him
again--a tourist, in this case. Uh, so,
from--it's an enormously rich source of information not only about this
area but conditions on the river and, uh, and, and at Leestown. When
they were at Leestown, when Criswell was at Leestown, he met up with
Willis--and I guess Hancock was with him--Lee, and they spent some time
together and, uh, I'm sure, told, told family stories.
TROLAND: And this was what epoch? Seventeen--late?
TAYLOR: Seventeen seventy--he came, Criswell came in seventeen seventy-
five, uh, just about the time that news of the Battle of Lexington was,
uh, was coming to the western country
and just on the eve of revolution,
and, uh, Clark, incidentally, when he came here described this site as
the best land he had seen and, in fact, stated some intention to come
back to this area and, and settle it. There was another Taylor here
very early, in fact, earlier than that, uh, a relation of Commodore
Richard Taylor's who has associations here and is an ancestor of E.H.
Taylor's, and his name was Hancock Taylor. Hancock--don't ask me his
genealogy--but Hancock was an early surveyor, a member of that family
from Orange County and was in the state about the time Boone was. In
fact, he and his brother, Richard Taylor who was the father of Zachary
Taylor, with one or two other
individuals actually canoed for the first
recorded instance, uh, Euro-Americans going down the river, down the
Ohio all the way to New Orleans. Taylor was hired by interests to come
to Kentucky to seek out land, uh, under warrants for veterans of the
French and Indian War. He came in 1773, but be-, and did a number of
surveys of, of, uh, property mostly in the inner-Bluegrass including
some for himself around Midway. Those claims were invalidated because
he hadn't been properly authorized by William Preston who at that time
was the, uh, the person in charge of--was sort of, like, a
or--I don't remember his post--for the state of Virginia. In order to
validate those claims, he came back in 1774 and, at a time when there
was a great deal of unrest on the frontier largely as the result of
the gratuitous murder of a, uh, of the family of a--not Mohawk--but
a, a chief named Chief Logan, and Logan's family was killed on the
frontier and as a result there was a general uprising. And the number
of attacks on settlers in this area went up, and my strong suspicion
is that, that Taylor pretty much fell a victim to that. He was on the
river, uh, with two others in a canoe on his way to rejoin the other
surveying parties which
were in this, in this river valley, and he was
shot, we're not sure quite where, but it could be somewhere close to
Frankfort. He lived for two days. Uh, he was shot apparently in the
abdomen, and he succeeded in getting to Madison County and--where he
died and was buried at a place called the Silver, the Taylor Fork of
Silver Creek. And strangely enough, this--earlier this year I got to
see his grave which I'd suspected was long lost. It now is on property
belonging to Eastern Kentucky University, and, uh my good friend Neil
Hammond who got me interested in Hancock Taylor, who is an expert on,
uh, land and land surveys in early Kentucky, took myself and another
person to, to the historical marker. And we were able--the marker
says something like "Hancock Taylor died a mile to the east," let's
say--and we were able to find the site, stopped at a tenant house and
were told, "Oh, yes. There's a pile of stones, uh, on the creek, and
if you go in this"--and actually they were in the process of setting
up a commemoration for Hancock Taylor which I found really interesting.
I want to write about Hancock Taylor. In fact, I've started writing,
projected a piece of fiction not even using his name but about land
greed in Kentucky and the land fever that, uh, motivated so many
people to come to this region. In fact, to complete the story--this is
getting rather boring, Tom, and we're getting off the subject--but, uh,
Reuben and Edmund Taylor came here in order to look after
the property
interest of their deceased uncle, and they actually went to Midway
and what they did there, I don't know, but they might have checked-
-improvements had been made in order to sustain his claim for land.
We're pretty far afield, I realize.
TROLAND: Well, we can wander as we wish. Let me ask you, uh, this:
tell us a little bit about the earliest known history of distilling, on
this site?
TAYLOR: Okay. It's very, very sketchy. Uh, the site itself would be
ideal. Why? Because there was rich land for the production of corn.
There was clean water mainly through Cove Spring which, uh, flows from
about east of here about a mile away and still is very strong, in fact,
provided the water source,
the, one of the earliest municipal water
sources in the country strangely enough is from Frankfort, Kentucky.
It was established in about 1804 by Richard Throckmorton, and the
water was run in bored out cedar pipes. Anyway, uh, the water source
was here, and most importantly, this came at a time when the river
was being developed as a means to transport farm goods from Central
Kentucky. So all of the ingredients were here for--Leestown was also
an early, early crossroads stemming from the fact that it was one
of the few sites on the river where there was a natural crossing for
buffalo which had been making that, uh, that circuit into the Bluegrass
either toward Lexington or towards Georgetown, where in Georgetown
where they were able
to procure salt from places bearing the name
Stamping Ground and, and Great Crossing. So the early distilling,
we don't know much about it, and, uh, in fact, uh, the whole history
of early distilling in this state is, is sketchy largely because, uh,
distilling was a tradition that most pioneers participated in and their
various claims, as I'm sure you've read, about, uh, Elijah Craig in
Georgetown or Jacob Spears in Bourbon County with, with accounts about
how bourbon, uh, the, the stamped bourbon on barrels gave us the name
bourbon itself. Bourbon, of course, derived from the, uh, the
family in, in France who were great allies of this country during,
during the revolution, but as far as a date goes, I don't know, and
I'm, I'm guessing in the 1780s. I think that's the claim that, that
is made, and, and yet there's just so little documentation, uh, about
just when it happened. We know it happened here, and we know that
whiskey early on was, uh, shipped from Leestown as well a little later
from Frankfort, uh, due to the efforts of the founder of Frankfort,
uh, General James Wilkinson who was, who had an entrepreneurial
spirit and established Frankfort as a port managing to sort of steal,
uh, the thunder, so to speak, of, of Leestown in
creating Frankfort
mainly for his commercial interest in that bottom. Lest we leave the
record unfilled, Hancock Taylor was the first surveyor of this whole
area which is the reason, I'm supposing, that Willis and Hancock Lee
chose this site or came to this site. Uh, actually land--I'm a little
sketchy about this--but I think land was reserved for the Lees and
their, their interest here.
TROLAND: So distilling, as I understand it, was--as you said, too--a
common operation on farming. It's probably fair enough to say as
soon as people were growing grains, and in particular corn, they were
TAYLOR: Right. What they discovered was that transporting corn as corn
was cumbersome and unprofitable, but once corn had been converted
its liquid form, uh, not only could more corn be transported but it,
it undertook or assumed much greater value and so it was a natural as
a commercial commodity. But the fact that, you know--Isaac Shelby, our
first governor, had a still, operated a still and it would have been
a routine part of any farming organization. The real question, the
difficult question is when the production of, of bourbon whiskey became
commercially undertaken, when it became, in effect, an industry, and,
and, uh, there are, there were several individuals in this area, the
Pepper family, a little later James Crow, uh, who contributed to the
formation of bourbon. But beyond that we
don't know much or I don't
know much.
TROLAND: Now distillers often make, uh, considerable, uh, hey, if you
pardon the expression, of distilling traditions. The production of
whiskey as was done by our forefathers. What do you think the whiskey
of, let's say, the late 1700s was like?
TAYLOR: Oh, my. I suspect it was pretty raw and, and strong with very
few, uh--it, it was unscientific. Um, whiskey, as I understand it, was
not really scientifically produced until after the Civil War, and one
of the individuals who was very active in the formation of standards
for the purity of, of whiskey was E.H. Taylor, uh, Junior,
he--not so much from the perspective as a distiller but as a person who
was, um--I mean a hands-on distiller--as a person who was, um, working
with the finances and the organization of commercial distilleries,
industrial distilleries.
TROLAND: Let's begin to focus, in fact, on E.H. Taylor because that's
the topic of interest in these interviews. Taylor purchased what
is now the Buffalo Trace Distillery sometime in the, uh, nineteenth
century. Let's, let's focus on what was here sometime immediately
before he purchased the distillery. Was there a commercial operation
at that point?
TAYLOR: I don't know that there was a commercial operation. I know
there were warehouses here and I know that, uh, there was a point of, a
wharf or a dock here from which goods were
transported, and the, again,
the documentation is very sketchy, though it's not entirely--it's,
it's likely that perhaps some sort of production of, of, um, whiskey
was, was performed on these premises since all of those conditions were
there, and, uh, there's some documentation to suggest that in the late
1780s that whiskey was being made on this property. But, but again,
it--I think it's, it's pretty sketchy.
TROLAND: So around 1870, uh, E.H. Taylor Jr. purchases this property?
TAYLOR: Uh-huh.
TROLAND: And little is known, I guess from your comments as to precisely
what went on in the way of distilling prior to that time, in particular
in terms of commercial distilling. So would it
be fair to say that
he was the first individual to develop a well-established commercial
distillery as far as we know on this site?
TAYLOR: Yes. Yes. On this site. Um, and don't trust all of my details
here, but I think he formed the W.A. Gaines Company. He had had some
experience in banking, was interested in the production of bourbon and,
and had had some relationship with bourbon production--maybe not in
a proprietary way before the Civil War but after, I think he was very
quick to see the commercial viability of, of whiskey production and
was smart enough and was connected enough to exploit that and in, in
a positive
sense. During his career, according to The Great Crossing,
the book I recently looked at again, uh, he established seven different
distilleries. It's remarkable. I mean, this guy was a, uh, he was an
entrepreneur, but at the same time, he took great pride in the purity
of his product, uh, and fought a lifelong war during these 1870s and
80s through the turn of the century to keep, to protect the quality
of bourbon, straight bourbon whiskey; protect it from those who would
adulterate it, uh, those who would create blends or who would rectify
it or, uh, add syrup and whatever ingredients or coloring in order to
uh, a cheaper whiskey that was more sellable. Uh, so he was a
kind of quality control advocate very early on. He was also a, um,
a good citizen. He was, as we said, connected. He was connected
politically. He served as mayor of Frankfort for, I think, a period of
sixteen years. He served in the State Legislature both in the Senate
and in the, uh, the House. Um, as Taylor Hay may have told you, there
is a, uh, a diploma at Scotland--a diploma or a, uh, a scroll which-
-awarding him his degree as a master of hospitality, and, uh, I don't
know whether that was mentioned or not but, but it's a great, it's a
great tribute to the man. And, uh, in the book, I make some references
to stories which Taylor and others, uh, shared with me, uh, about
his legendary hospitality and, uh, about also, about ways in which he
promoted, uh, his, his whiskey.
TROLAND: We were told that his whiskey won the Good Housekeeping seal of
approval which is something I had not known.
TAYLOR: I did not know that either. That's wonderful.
TROLAND: Now, uh, Taylor--that is to say E.H. Taylor Jr.--purchased
the site somewhere around 1870 and then, uh, invested a fair amount of
money in, in the site. What, what did he put here?
TAYLOR: He established, uh, as I recall two different distilleries.
One was called OFC which stood for Old Fired Copper which related
to his idea and the idea of others that the best bourbon was,
uh, run
through copper piping and, and did not come in contact with any other
metal. In fact, I think the vats that were used for the production
were actually, um, lined with, with copper. The other was Carlisle
Distillery, and Carlisle--I'm a little vague on this--but that Carlisle
name resonates. One, there was a Carlisle who was a, a senator or
political figure nationally who, uh, who helped produce, who, who
ushered in legislation protecting the industry, but I'm sure Taylor
would have known that his Taylors came from Carlisle, England. And,
uh, I don't know that I, I mentioned that even in the book, but, um,
the Taylors originally are from Carlisle, England; so that name would
have had a special significance for him. And, uh, from that point
on, he established, what, the Hermitage Distillery. He established
the Old Taylor Distillery on Glen's Creek. Uh, he had some--I think
he built or owned at one point the Old Crow Distillery as well, and,
uh, so he utilized, as, as the book indicates, he utilized the most
modern methods and created what, at that time, must have been a model
operation for the production of bourbon whiskey.
TROLAND: He's described, if I'm not mistaken, in your book as both a
traditionalist and also an innovator.
TROLAND: What do you make of that? They seem, in some senses, to be
TAYLOR: Well, I think he was, came at a
time when he had had contact
with the so-called bourbon aristocrats--Peppers and others and James
Crow who introduced, who was, who had training as a chemist, as a
doctor from Edinburgh--and so he knew the value of producing a superior
product and yet he knew after the Civil War, during the rise of the,
the so-called gilded age in America, that there was money to be made
in adopting industrial, entrepreneurial, uh, organizations in order to
produce quantities of, of goods. But the quantity--I guess where the
rub comes is that insisting on, or in his goal to produce a greater
quantity of whiskey, he was not willing to sacrifice
the quality of
whiskey and became a defender. Now partially the reasoning for that
would be that a better product, a superior product was more profitable,
that it could be sold for a greater amount, and so a lot of imitators
came in, of course, trying to create a cheaper product that was really
of lesser quality. And it would have threatened his, uh, and the
industry's, uh, insistence upon quality production.
TROLAND: Do you know anything about the aging of whiskeys in those days?
The earliest whiskeys of the frontier farmers, of course, were largely
unaged, and whiskeys today are often judged by their age. At the time
that Taylor was forming
the distillery and operating a distillery on
this site, Buffalo Trace, do you have any idea about how long whiskey
was aged or what the procedures were?
TAYLOR: No idea except I know he was instrumental in getting legislation
passed which required that, uh, whiskey be aged at least four years
in order to be designated, I guess, as straight, straight whiskey.
So then the minimum would be four years. Uh, how long it lasted on
the frontier I don't know. Um, I suspect since it was such a common
commodity that more likely than not it was green--(laughs)--but I don't
know. I don't know.
TROLAND: E.H. Taylor was involved in some way in the creation of the
Bottled in Bond
Act which, of course, among other things did mandate,
as you said moments ago, the aging of whiskey that was so described
for at least four years. Do you know anything about the history of his
involvement in that legislation?
TAYLOR: Not really except, except what it did was create a means of
validating what he produced. With government oversight, uh, each
bottle, uh, had labeling on it which ensured that it was what, what it
said it was, and I guess it also to some degree led to the protection
of, uh, trademarks and, and other sort of proprietary facets of, of
whiskey production. There are some accounts of, of others using the
Taylor name to produce a whiskey that he had
no connection with, and
that was among his motivations in order to, uh, ensure the quality and
the integrity of what he produced.
TROLAND: Your book describes some legal wranglings that occurred
regarding the use of his name. He owned this distillery for a period
of time and then lost the distillery financially.
TAYLOR: Right.
TROLAND: Uh, could you tell us a little bit about, about those events--
TAYLOR: Yeah. What I can--I'm a little vague on that, too--but I can
remember at one time, uh, he owned a distillery on this property, his
competitor, George Stagg, owned another and there were actually, I
think, two Taylor-named whiskeys being produced only one of which he
had control over. So it must have been awkward. The first thing that
occurred to me
was what, what was the mail like? (laughs) You know, Old
Taylor, uh, who does it--do you give it to Taylor or do you give it to
Stagg? Uh, but it tells you, I guess, that how fluid--no pun intended-
-how fluid his operations were and as, as the book, uh, recounts he, uh,
went from rags to riches more than once and was in the better sense of
the term a kind of wheeler--I don't want to make this negative--a kind
of wheeler-dealer, and I think he must have been in order to survive,
in order to, uh, go for the main chance and, and, uh, produce a first-
rate bourbon but also to do that profitably. And there's that wonderful
story in the book about--in fact, I think Taylor told me this--about,
uh, Taylor at,
uh, in his old age, um, falling ill and overhearing
two doctors, uh, say, "Well, what, what a shame to see a man who's
accomplished as much as E.H. Taylor has to die poor." And the story
was that he popped up in bed, he shortly thereafter recovered and he
died a very wealthy man. I love that story. One story that was not
in the book that was shared with me--and it, I think there's probably
a lot of truth to it--is that Taylor and his family were members of
the First Methodist Church in town, in fact prominent members who had
a family pew, and one Sunday a minister came forward and inveighed
against the excesses of alcohol. And the story, as I understand it,
is that E.H. Taylor stood up and
unceremoniously led his family out of
the church, down Washington Street to Ascension Episcopal Church where
they soon became members. Great story.
TROLAND: Preachers should be careful what they say.
TAYLOR: That's right.
TROLAND: E.H. Taylor has been called the father of the modern bourbon
industry. What does that mean?
TAYLOR: Well, I think--I suppose that's a reference to his, uh,
insistence upon quality, his introduction of many methods in the
production of alcohol that--or whiskey that ensured that quality and,
as well as his strategies to market his project--product--as, uh,
simply it was an age in which whiskey, like, as I suppose a lot of
other industries were, underwent dramatic transformations into this
sort of mass consumption society we've, we've created. And he was
a person in, in a position to, uh, understand and, uh, develop these
ideas and, uh, as few other individuals perhaps were, though as we know
there were other bourbon families in the state, in Bardstown and, and
elsewhere, um, but he was just ideally positioned in order to, to see
these things through. He had the knowledge, he had the means and he
had, uh, the setting to do it.
TROLAND: His association with what's today the Buffalo Trace Distillery
began, as we said earlier, sometime around 1869 or 1870. How long did
that association remain and what caused it to end?
TAYLOR: That's, that's a tough question, and I'm not really, uh--I know
that there were competing business interests and that he moved, moved
on, I suppose you could say, to other areas including Hermitage and
including Glen's Creek. Um, I, I can't give you a date but I'm guessing
either during the 1890s or early, early years of, of the last century.
TROLAND: Now he died in 1923 at the age of ninety-two.
TAYLOR: Right.
TROLAND: Uh, he was a relatively young man when he began his association
with Buffalo Trace and then even still fairly young, at least by my
standards, when he ended his association
with what today is Buffalo
Trace. As you look at the latter years in his life--let's say the
years beginning around nineteen hundred when he would have been seventy
years old, the last two decades or so in his life--was he involved in
the whiskey business in that period as well?
TAYLOR: I think he was, but I know he also had other interests including
the production of, uh, of, of livestock including, uh, the formation
or the, or, of his estate which is called Thistleton and which is now
a subdivision, uh, just to the west of the, the enormous bowl or coffee
cup in which Frankfort is, is located. Um, but I think he kept a
hand in the whiskey business probably until the day, the day he died,
but I can't really document all that. I know he was instrumental in
uh, the construction of the new capitol, and in a way that,
that also, uh, fed into his identification with, with this area and,
uh, retaining Frankfort as the seat of government knowing that when
that new capitol was constructed it would be increasingly unlikely
for the capitol to be moved from here. And, of course, throughout
our history there have been, uh, attempts to, to woo or to legislate
the capitol away to Lexington or Louisville or, or other places. So
he was a good citizen, um, and, and I think he had a lot of interests
including his, uh, legendary hospitality that occupied his later years.
How active he remained, I, I really don't know.
It states in your book that he expended a significant fraction
of his fortune at that time in the early nineteen hundreds, I believe,
uh, in his effort to retain Frankfort as the capital of Kentucky. What
did he spend that money on?
TAYLOR: You know, I don't know. Uh, I, I don't know whether he did what
so many other, uh, local personalities do which is schmooze with, with
legislators. Uh, I know that he--I don't know how he--I don't know. I
don't think he was engaged in illegal activities. Um, I don't--that,
had it been the case, I think his enemies probably if there were
enemies would have, would have suggested that, and, uh, he, throughout
his career, what's remarkable about him--and I've seen several sort of
contemporary assessments of him--uh, he was pretty much above board, uh,
certainly when it came to, to matters of legality, um, or illegality.
Um, I think he was probably a, a pretty honorable individual, and
part of it might have been that sense of, that notion of this sort of
bourbon aristocrat and, and he felt a kind of, um--call it if you want
to--an onus of honor that he, that would have very much restricted, uh,
any, any sort of errant impulses he had. This was a person who was in
the public view. This was a person who prided himself on, on his, uh,
on, on his accomplishments, and I don't think he would have risked, uh,
losing that stature by doing anything illegal.
He built the distillery on Glen's Creek. That was one of the,
I guess, seven distilleries that he was part of. Uh, I've seen pictures
of that distillery as it was in the past, and it was a beautiful place.
TAYLOR: Incredible. Yeah, yeah.
TROLAND: Um, I understand that was used also as a place for social
gatherings and so on. Do you know anything about that aspect of that
TAYLOR: Not a lot except, uh, if you look at it, it resembled a Gothic
castle, and, uh, and I think part of that is E.H. Taylor the, the
marketer. Uh, build a field and they will come. Create a place which
has, which is unlike other industrial models. It may have better
equipment, but it also has this touch, this connection with, with
the past suggesting stability and
durability and a certain grandeur.
Uh, there were pools, uh, outside of the place. There were turrets.
Uh, it is a remarkable structure which you can see, uh, still see
today. Recently, a photographer--a first rate artist really--named
Richard Schlecht did a whole series of photographs of the, uh, of the
old distillery grounds, and they're really haunting, uh, wonderful,
wonderful shots and--which capture to some degree the vision he must
have had, uh, on how that place should look especially in its heyday.
TROLAND: What would you say perhaps is the greatest legacy of E.H.
Taylor in the bourbon industry?
TAYLOR: Gosh. Well, that legacy is, uh, not only continues but as, as
know is, is aborning again, uh, with the resurrection of his name
on a, what is going to be a superior brand of, of bourbon whiskey, and,
uh, I think as the histories of bourbon are written--and, and I think
probably, I think we're going to see more rather than fewer and a more
comprehensive, uh, book on Kentucky and the formation and evolution of
the bourbon industry--his name is certainly going to be very prominent
in, in any discussion of, of whiskey in this state.
TROLAND: Do you drink bourbon yourself?
TAYLOR: I, I confess, uh--I joke when people ask me what I knew about
bourbon was--I know it less from the library than the other side of
the bar, but I don't drink a lot of bourbon. I like good bourbon. My

favorite bourbon, I will tell you in hoping that, uh, perhaps Buffalo
Trace Distillery, uh, notes it well, my favorite bourbon at this point
is Blanton's, uh, Reserve, which I think is the finest bourbon whiskey
I've ever tasted. Um, smooth and satisfying. But I don't drink a lot
of, I don't drink a lot of bourbon. I like it, but I'm not sure, uh,
I'd hold up very well under a lot of it.
TROLAND: Now if, for example, five years from now you happen to be in a
liquor store and somewhere on one of the top shelves of the store you
see a bottle of E.H. Taylor bourbon, do you think you'd be inclined to
pick it up?
TAYLOR: Yeah. I would. I can remember people used to give my father
Old Taylor bourbon because of the name. Sure. Who would, uh, who
would turn on one's legacy, right? Or one's family even though the,
even though
the, uh, relationship's fairly remote.
TROLAND: Do you sometimes feel superior to other people because there is
a whiskey with your name on it?
TAYLOR: No. I'm just happy to be among you, Tom. I don't think in
those terms.
TROLAND: Anything else you'd like to say about, uh, Old Taylor or Edmund
Taylor or any matters regarding the history of this distillery or of
this area?
TAYLOR: You know, I think that's probably, I probably said more than
enough as I'm sure you would agree. No. I, I don't know what else to
say unless there are other questions.
TROLAND: Well, I don't agree that you said more than enough, uh, but
what you said was well said.
E.H. TAYLOR HAY JR.: I've got something that he can say that I didn't
talk about.
TROLAND: Okay. Please.
[Pause in recording.]
HAY: Taylor was 1620 or something, I forget.
TAYLOR: Yeah. And, and he said, "This is not a good place to be."
He didn't use the word dangerous. It was another word that they
must leave as soon as possible to go to America.
[Pause in recording.]
HAY: The preacher himself.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We're back on now.
TAYLOR: Okay. Uh, my cousin reminds me that the Taylors who were
from Carlisle, England, uh, there was a family story about one of the
Taylors advising his sons or his, his offspring to come to America
because England, at that time which was undergoing a lot of religious
dissension, was not a safe place to be, and, uh, he in fact stayed
in, in Carlisle and was burned at the stake, I think, as a heretic if
I, if I read that because he was not in line with whatever the, uh,
the predominant religion was. And as you know, there were a lot of
restrictions on--an individual had to be a member of the Church of
England, and if he was not, uh, there was real
restrictions of voting,
on holding public office. Uh, so I find that very interesting. Most
of the Taylors were, uh, the, they were--I've done a little research in
this--from what I can gather they were really land-hungry, and, and the
Taylors who came to Kentucky came here because there were opportunities
for the acquisition of land. They came to Orange County in Virginia.
The Taylor who came was a surveyor, and they were very much interested
in the acquisition of, of land. And so of those Virginia Taylors,
of those brothers, I think six or seven of those brothers came to
Kentucky. One of them founded Newport--that was James. James the
third or fourth Taylor--um, but they came here for land. And many of
them acquired land in this area, in this state through their
in, in either the French and Indian War or--Zachary Taylor's father was
in the French and Indian--let's see. Richard Taylor's father, there
was a Zachary Taylor who had, uh, who was the father of Richard Taylor
who was the father of the Zachary, the president, was a sergeant in the
French and Indian War, and the warrant that he received, uh, for his
services was located in downtown, in this area; probably a portion of
it in, in Leestown. So land was a big motivation.
HAY: I have a copy of the land grant for, uh, Richard Taylor out there
TAYLOR: Do you? Do you?
HAY: I've got a copy from 1798, but the interesting part about it is
[Pause in recording.]
TAYLOR: Yeah. Pretty remarkable and, and sort of an adventurer, too. I
mean, going down that river in, in, you know, about the time that Boone
was doing it,
uh, pretty remarkable.
TROLAND: Well, Richard, thank you very much for taking time out.
TAYLOR: My pleasure, Tom.
TROLAND: You've been very generous with your time.
TAYLOR: Happy to do it. Happy to do it.
[End of interview.]