Ep. 35 - J.K. Williams Distillery's Andy Faris and Jeff Murphy
THE WHISKY TRUST // Hear stories from the former "Whisky Capital of the World."
Listen to the Episode
I'm going to take you to a distillery in a city that was once known as the Whiskey Capital of the World. And if you think this place was located in Kentucky, Tennessee, or Scotland, well you would be mistaken.
The town I'm referring to is more known for land moving equipment than whisky. But before Prohibition, no fewer than 73 named distilleries came and went. The town I'm talking about, is Peoria, Illinois.
The distillery I'm talking about is J.K. Williams. A distillery that was built by the Williams brothers - two brothers discovered their decedent's family recipe and history and sought to revive it.
So, who was J.K. Williams?
Well, he wasn't a distillery owner - although he apparently worked in one of Peoria's distilleries before Prohibition. No, he was a bootlegger - and apparently his whisky was good enough that he drew some unwanted attention for some gangsters in both Peoria and Chicago.
Started back up in 2013, eventually the distillery would pass on to Andy Faris and his wife and soon they would hire Jeff Murphy, formerly of Rebecca Creek as their master distiller.
So in today's episode, we're going to talk a lot about Peoria's standing as the Whiskey Capital of the World, the town then and now, and we'll dive into some stories about the notorious whiskey trust and Peoria's long lost reputation as Sin City.
A spoiler alert for those of you listening to the Whisky Trust series on the Whiskey Lore podcast, we're going to jump ahead to some stories from Episode 2, which will be out next Monday - so if you don't want the stories spoiled, you might wait until next Tuesday to listen. But nothing earth shattering will be given away.
Things we talk about:
- The road to Peoria distilling
- Lawyers, IT people and the whisky business
- Finding the experienced people to assist
- Finding Peoria and learning about it through its history
- The liquor baron homes
- The Whisky Capital of the World
- Taking over someone else's legacy
- Al Capone muscling in
- Illinois' whisky industry before and after Prohibition
- Remnants of Distillery Row and the Warehouse District
- The Great Western Distillery
- Peoria as Sin City
- The Whisky Trust
- The H.H. Shufeldt Incident (Whiskey Lore episode spoiler alert)
- The good things the Whisky Trust brought
- How big was the Whisky Trust?
- One of Peoria's independent distillers: Clarke's Pure Rye
- Whisky memorabilia
- Old whisky brands
- Imp 'n' Ahn
- The one that got away
- Jeff's Irish trifecta story
- Starting up and waiting for new whiskey
- Old names leading to questions
- Tobias and Lydia Moss Bradley
- Current whiskeys and future plans at J.K. Williams
- Temperate compared to Minnesota
- Kentucky's promotion of Limestone water
Listen to the full episode with the player above or find it on your favorite podcast app under "Whiskey Lore: The Interviews." The full transcript is available on the tab above.
For more information:
Welcome to whiskey lore, the interviews, I'm your host drew. Hanisch the Amazon bestselling author of whiskey Laura's travel guide to experiencing Kentucky bourbon and through the magic of a podcast, I'm about to take you to a distillery that's in the city that was once known as the whiskey capital of the world. And if you think that this place would be in Kentucky or Tennessee or Scotland, you would be mistaken. In fact, the town I'm referring to is more likely known for land moving equipment than it is whiskey. But previous to prohibition, there were no fewer than 73 name distilleries in the area. The town I'm talking about is Peoria Illinois. And the distillery I'm talking about is JK Williams. And when I first heard about JK Williams, I heard that there was a story about a grandfather who was a bootlegger and he was making some really good whiskey and he had drawn some unwanted attention from some mafia, crime families, including one in Chicago and one in Peoria.
And that these two brothers in 2013 had discovered these stories and decided to open up a distillery and named it in honor of their grandfather. And they actually have the recipe for the whiskey that their grandfather made. Well, Sarah later they ended up having to sell the distillery. And so my guest today is the man that came in from Dallas, Texas moved into Peoria, and he, along with his wife, took over the distillery. And I'm speaking of Andy Ferris and Andy and I are going to talk a lot about the history of Peoria. We'll talk about the whiskey trust and this status as the whiskey capital of the world. And then later on, Jeff Murphy is going to join us. He is the master distiller at JK Williams. So we got a lot of stuff to cover in this episode. And I want you to know if you want to watch this interview, you can actually watch it out at youtube.com/whiskey lore.
And there's going to be a couple of spoilers in here for episode two of the whiskey lore series on the whiskey trust. So just wanted to prepare you for that, nothing earth shattering, but a couple of those stories we're going to share here in this episode. So if you really want to hold off and listen to all that coming up on Monday, then listen to this on Tuesday. That might be your best bet. All right, let's get in to our conversation with Andy Ferris from J K Williams, Andy, welcome to the show. Hi, good morning, drew. Good to talk to you. And, uh, I really wanted to come out to Peoria to check out the whiskey capital of the world, but, um, it just so happens that, uh, schedules weren't working. And I, I didn't know when I was going to get up that way. So, uh, so here we are through the magic of the internet and we'll, we'll get a chance to talk a little bit of whiskey history and, and your journey to owning a whiskey distillery. Outstanding. So give me a little background. You are CEO, is that your official title?
President CEO? Uh, jack-of-all-trades traveling salesmen the last three days. So, um, but yeah, I was in, um, I worked for a British computer, uh, networking equipment distributor. I ran the U S division for 15 years and, um, developed a nice taste for single malt whiskey in my trips over, over to the UK and Ireland and Scotland and an Irish whiskey. And that developed over time into, I really liked bourbon. And, and I was on, I was on the board of directors of a, of a craft brewery in Fort worth, Texas. And, um, and I, and I love beer and I love the beer business. Uh, but I started getting really intrigued about, um, the distilling business and, and, uh, started kicking around the idea of starting one, uh, being a, uh, inefficient idle and not an expert. Those are two different things that I learned very quickly.
Um, and I attended several conferences on craft distilling. And what does it take and how much capital you need. And then, um, this was in about 2015, I got contacted in 2017 about, Hey, there's a distillery available for sale. Would that be of interest to you? And I, I was thinking to myself, well, that's a nice shortcut rather than having to learn this all, there's already an S an operating distillery, um, and that kind of this and that. I said where, and it came Peoria period. Um, and so we started talking about it, the deal went on and off, and at the end of 2018, it started up again in earnest and they said he's still interested. Um, and we really came together on this try to make a deal, and we acquired it in April of 2019 and moved here. And I, and I exited the network in the computer networking business for good.
Yeah. And so your, uh, fiance, she's also in the, in the business, my wife now by now. Okay. Okay. So, and she's an attorney, that's correct. So this is, what's curious to me, is that the more interviews I do, the more I find that X it, people and X attorneys or attorneys, uh, seem to like to go into the whiskey business. And so I'm trying to figure out the, how that works out.
No, it's, it's really funny because we both were, I would call it a little burned out on what we're doing and that's it. I mean, we both, we both had embraced this business, but I think you just hit on something really funny here, because one of my initial iterations of my business plan, which I hadn't done one for 25 years, I think, um, I sent to a friend of mine in Boston and he said, all, I see her as a sales guy and an attorney, the expertise you need to actually execute on anything, you know? And I said, you know what, you're absolutely correct. And I knew we really needed to bring that additional, um, talent onto the team. And when we found Jeff Murphy, um, you know, that was really the puzzle that started to fit together. Um, and I D I realized, I didn't know much of anything really.
Yeah. I, I knew, I knew it was. I thought it was cool. I knew I w I had my favorite whiskey brands and I, I, I could describe them relatively well, but in terms of the bureaucracy and the legal ease behind, and the regulatory stuff with the TTB and the state department of revenue United said, no idea of any of that. So it is, it's not for the faint of heart. Um, my hair wasn't gray before it certainly is turning gray. And so, you know, Jeff came on board with his many, many years of distilling experience. Uh, we were fortuitous in also, uh, having a gentleman named Nick Nelson, who was, um, with brown, former for 23 years, including a stint as national brand manager for Woodford reserve, um, join our board of directors. And he's been, he's helped strategize. He's helped, you know, layout of from a marketing standpoint where we need to go.
And so this has all been instrumental along the way. I've learned a lot since April of 2019, I am a much more knowledgeable than I, than I was. I honestly, I thought it was pretty knowledgeable, but there's so much to it. Um, you know, but, but I think one of the things, um, that, that we were talking about before we got recording was, uh, about Peoria because I had never been down here. I'd never been. And I went to school at university of Wisconsin. So it's only three hours away from here, but I just didn't ever, I've been to Chicago, but I'd never really been to pure. It's very much worth, um, peeling the layers back of the history. And I think the librarian at the Peoria public library thought I was a stocker because I came back, uh, about eight times with a stack of history books on Peoria.
So I had wanted to do a deep dive, and I'm clearly not from here, I'm a transplant, but I thought, you know, if I talk about this town, I want to be able to talk about it with some authority that I've researched it. And, um, I'm not even partially weighed down because, you know, as you mentioned before, we've got on the recording, there is a lot of information there, abridged version of what the history is, and then there's such a deep dive that you really need to do to dig into the great golden age characters.
So, um, your first impressions of it, are there a lot of the historic buildings still around, or does it seem like it's modernizing or w what kind of impressions do you get?
You know, I, I, it's a town that I can tell did what my hometown of Minneapolis did. A lot of urban renewal, probably a lot of why do we need these old buildings? It was before that historical landmark push things from the early 19 hundreds were getting demolished. There's still some really cool old buildings downtown, but the, um, a number of the historic, um, liquor Baron homes are still are still there. That's, what's interesting to me, you've got a really, you know, Bradley university, the Bradley university Moss, uh, avenue area reminds me very much of St. Paul, Minnesota, which, um, you know, beautiful homes on each side. It's at that sort of thing that you've got these old kind of gilded mansions from those days that are still there. And they've been, you know, many restorative just beautifully. So,
So can you actually go in like, uh, Joseph Greenhut was the one that was the president of the, of the trust? Is that a house that you can go into
It's unfortunately, no, because it's an apartment building was chopped up into apartment buildings. Most of them, yeah. Most of the gilding and all the beautiful, um, is all going on out there, but there are others that have been restored that are beautiful. The, um, there's the pet and Gill match. And, um, I wanted to use Pattengill as the name of our gin and have the house as the backdrop and the PRA historical society. Um, they own the house they've said, absolutely Matt, and on what grounds? Well, he was a teetotaler and a prohibitionist. And was that loud in the liquor business and stuff? I thought that was pretty funny. Yeah.
So Jeff has joined us,
Sorry about that. I missed the Eastern part on that 9 30, 30, yesterday.
This is always the great challenge between, uh, trying to get Eastern time to central time. I lived in central time for some, uh, some years. So I I'm, I'm used to that.
Oh, they haven't gotten used to that. Right. I just drove out east a few weeks ago and go over the, uh, Illinois Indiana border and you've lost an hour and I go, what's that?
Well, uh, uh, Jeff, you came from the opposite direction. You came from the south rather than from the north. And so your start was, uh, I I've heard that you were, you were overseas doing beer at one time. Yeah.
Yeah. I got my bag. Went to the, gotten the industry professionally in Singapore. I was making a craft beer over there in Singapore for Asia Pacific breweries. So, which is like the Budweiser of Asia, so to speak. I was in our craft room warm. And then, uh, we came back to Texas and I got into distilling and I was making whiskey and vodka in Texas. And then I went to do a year of running Massachusetts at private tier. And then the last eight years before coming here, I was running a rum distillery in Louisiana called, uh, Louisiana Louisiana spirits.
We'll jump in a little bit more into what you guys are doing now in terms of the distillery. And I understand there's there's growth going on. So we'll, uh, we'll, we'll get through that as well. Um, talking about the whiskey capital of the world Peoria. So were either of you aware before you got there?
No. Yes. I, because it was, it was mentioned to me by the Williams brothers, you know,
It's a selling
Point. Yeah. I said, you know, I've never heard that before. And then again, and Jeff and I have talked about this. Yeah. We don't know. I have no idea. I've never heard that before in my life. Then you get here and you go, that's legit, you know, and that's exactly what happened.
It's gotta be interesting taking over a brand that is a legacy brand from a family that just brought the name back. Cause they only had gotten into the distilling business or back into it around 2013. So when you were doing this purchasing of the brand, that they have all sorts of research and stuff that they had done, or family photos, or because, um, we're talking about the man who was a bootlegger, but he also apparently worked at distilleries previous.
We've got, we've gotten kind of cursory information, but the story is, is a true one and a legitimate story. Uh, it just, it doesn't come along with a lot of detail on what distillery did he work for originally when prohibition hit, uh, you know, where did he conduct his bootlegging operation, but he did bootleg and he did, um, feel the need to flee in the middle of the night with his family when the criminal elements were closing in, I'm trying to take a, a share of his profits. And so, uh, that is the real story. Uh, the, uh, recipe, the mash bill, at least on the bourbon is, is his original one. I can't say that the yeast strain that we're using is the same. Right. But just the basic, basic mash bills the same. And so it's, that's a namesake. Um, it's not a made up character. I think it's a cool story. And, um, I think there are a number of we'll call them just brands that are just that it's a, it's a fictionalized character that doesn't have any historical factual information attached to it.
Yeah. It's a weeded bourbon. It looks like
Correct. It's 10%. Jeff can talk a little bit about it.
Yeah. So 80% corn, 10% wheat, 10% barley. So although it's a minor amount is still considered a weeded bourbon so dry.
And if you think it was mostly because I mean, in that area, would you find equal amounts of, of rye and wheat?
Not normally. Um, it's a little bit too warm. I think you got to go a little bit farther north to find wheat and rye. Um, Warren was prevalent, so it might've just been what he could get ahold of at the time someone I had talked to yesterday or yesterday, Tuesday, Tuesday said that, uh, uh, there is wheat around here somewhere. He knows because he used to work for the grain elevators and they had wheat available. So there was some weed around here somewhere. We just have to track it down.
He is when you're talking about a bootlegger and not a brand that does make for a little bit of chaos and trying to trace this stuff back because, uh, because records wouldn't have been kept.
Yeah. And like, like you said, there's probably a good chance that he was just fermenting, whatever it, get his hands on at the time, you know, and not necessarily kept in this recipe the entire time
He had some big names after him. Didn't they?
Yeah. Al Capone in the O'Neill brothers,
You'll nail brothers were there, there were, there were the few already gangsters. They were the gangsters of note, but Rick pawn ran a lot of his, uh, liquor came out of Peoria during prohibition.
It makes you wonder about these towns like this, a town that was known for making whiskey at that point. And then you have these, uh, I don't know how many distilleries were left when prohibition hit, but going from such a massive whiskey industry to all of a sudden, not being able to make any at all,
As I recall, um, none of the Peoria distilleries, uh, continued with the special permit to make medicinal whiskey. Yeah. They were all Kentucky or elsewhere. Uh, but not, but not in Peoria. So how
Long ago was it before Illinois finally came out of prohibition, allowing distilling again,
The same year, as soon as prohibition was over. Uh, let's see, one, two open right back up 1, 2, 4, 5, 6, 7, 7, more open, back up in, uh, the year after.
Okay. And then what happened? Cause it really, again, it's died out before now, starting to come back again. So it was just kind of a slow fade.
I don't know what year. No, but I mean, it really with tastes changing and away from, um, brown spirits, I think, uh, that also had a lot to do with this, um, Hiram Walker. This was a successful brand. I mean, I don't walk or what was the largest whiskey distillery on the planet, um, here. And, um, so they closed in 1982 as tastes changed. And for whatever reason I decided to pull out of this market. But, um, the craft really, I don't know when I think it was around 2010, 2009 that you can, they can trace back the first craft distilleries coming back here. And, um, I think we've got maybe 15, uh, in the Illinois craft distillers association. There may be a couple more that I'm not aware of, but, uh, there's some recognizable names out there. Uh, whiskey acres, Coval Chicago to stolen lawn brothers, you know, we're just trying to reestablish ourselves as a recognized quality producer.
And you actually, there's more than one distillery in town. Now, as I understand
Another one that's just started up a black band just drilling downtown in the warehouse district.
Yeah. So how does that, cause I hear these names, a warehouse district and distillery row and all of that. Is there any semblance of that still? There are these just names that kind of got attached to sections of town
And that, that was there. There, there was an apartment building called the Cooper bridge that used to be exactly that there are steel plants down there that fabricated steel for various distilleries, but by and large, the only one, the only two that are left that have really a tie back to the area are, uh, the ADM plant, which is the former site of the great Western distillery. And then subsequently the Hiram Walker plant. So that's still in operation making ethanol. And then the lysi brewery is, um, is on the north side, north side of town, just over the 74, uh, bridge. And that is PMP fermentation products. So that those two, those two are really the last standing. I'm not sure down at Pekin, there were some distilleries as well, but I don't know if there's anything standing there and any longer.
Yeah. It seemed that from my reading that it basically was distilleries all the way down to a Pekin. Right. Yeah. It was just, I mean, when you have as many distilleries, how many distilleries did you just say our count was of name distilleries during that period?
Well, there was a, there were 73, uh, distilleries, but it was, uh, not all at once from, from the start of some of the start-up distilleries here to the end. It was 73.
Yeah. And it was a big brewing town to
Breweries. Yeah. And saloons
A lot of saloons.
I mean, how many saloons do you have in town now versus a,
Not that many. They lined up for my reading for my research. Uh, it was very much the wild west. It was, um, salones gambling, brothels. Um, this was quite the sway in town, I guess at one time.
It's so close. I mean, you were about two and a half hours from Chicago, right?
Yeah. I mean really from, from us, yes. Two hours and 20 minutes to Michigan avenue from here. Okay.
Yeah. So everything you wonder, everything that's going on in Chicago is Peoria, just a little Chicago, basically at that point,
It really was. And if you look at some of the manufacturing around here, uh, and caterpillar being the, you know, the most notable, but, um, again, I think this had the potential to be the next Chicago, if had the, had it been a little more diversified maybe or many Chicago, but it ended up when the distilling industry by and large went away here, it became a cat town that this was what drove pretty much everything here,
Which is I think the impression that we all get, we don't think of it as, as a whiskey place because it hasn't been for so long. Right. It has been more farm equipment and, uh, really buying into that. So as I was doing my research on the whiskey trust, what, what, what have you learned? What has fascinated you about the, the whiskey trust?
The whiskey trust to me is just, you know, the group of these guys, perhaps not the nicest people on the planet. I don't know. We didn't, we don't know them personally, but I, I I'm sensing like many of these, uh, what they call oligarchs today, I guess. But these barons were pretty ruthless at times. And if you were part of the whiskey trust, you would get a share, theoretically, you'd get a share of the profits, but you might very well get, get your distillery shut down. Um, and I know at least one distillery, um, in Chicago, the, uh, Shufeldt [inaudible] distillery, um, was dynamited, uh, for that, uh, acquiescing to the, for that you can't offer that you can't refuse. Yeah. And then your, your plant gets blown up and you, you decide, I think I'll sign now.
Yeah, it was, it was interesting to read about that because, um, there's actually, if you dig online, you can find old newspapers, uh, from back then talking about the whiskey trust and saying, uh, in great detail how the secretary of the whiskey trust had been arrested and how they had basically ensnared him by, uh, what he had done was he had given a Gauger some, uh, a device that was like a pistol that he was supposed to drop into a VAT. And the idea of what was going to happen was that it was going to then give him two to three to four hours to get away. And then the thing was going to pop inside there, create a spark and blow up the, uh, distillery. And there was some fluid or something that was inside of it. And he said, you just have to add this fluid to it.
Well, to ensnare the guy, what they did was they said, uh, he, he got back with him and said, you need to send me some more fluid because the fluid that you gave me is I think it's deteriorating. And so when he came back to visit town, he had a briefcase with the fluid in it, and they arrested him as he was going into, uh, the hotel where he was going to be staying and come to find out when they tested it, they realized that that thing was going to blow up immediately. It was not going to blow up in three to four hours. So it was basically to get rid of any witnesses known the plot. Yeah. The Gauger was going to get blown out,
Blown out at the same
Time. Yeah. So when you talk about ruthless and that was actually the second attempt because they actually had bombed it, uh, like a year before. So it, uh, yeah, these guys were hardcore when it came to,
We've been thinking about, um, these whiskey barons, the whiskey trust, and, you know, Greenhut was certainly one of the wealthiest guys from that era and, um, and control that. But there are some other really interesting characters and, uh, our, our gin that we're releasing pretty soon, um, pictures, one of the old match into the backgrounds, Edward Easton, he was primarily a grain trader, but he had his fingers in the distilling business as well. And, um, it's been totally restored. So it's a marketing agency now. Um, still as the pocket doors, there's a, there's a portrait of Edward Easton. It's been repaired now, but it's been slashed right down his face. Oh man knife. So again, you kind of start piecing together these little tidbits of information that maybe these guys weren't the most fabulous. Maybe they weren't the nicest people, but they, it did it built the town. There'd be no town. There wouldn't be the cultural institutions. They built great churches. They grow up opera houses, but you know, like, like every other city fire was a major problem. These great, these great places, many of them burned down the opera house was gorgeous, burned down, or it was torn down in the name of urban renewal that we need to put up this modern thing. And those buildings, uh, you know, at least as I related to Minneapolis, those buildings are being torn down now as being that significant danger.
That's the sad part is you lose some of that, that history when you, uh, are walking around downtown Peoria, be interesting to go see where the whiskey trusts old building was and, and, you know, get, uh, that kind of history
In my research. Um, I found there were a number of maps that actually show you exactly where each distillery was. Okay. That's really interesting to find, and I don't have it in front of me today, but, and it shows all the way from sort of the 74 bridge that splits kind of downtown puree. And then, um, and then east Peoria. But it just shows that on the dots where, where exactly all these distilleries were all the way to peak and wow, it's really fascinating to see that and how many, and, um, we've seen pictures at the historical society and, um, you know, they're black and white. It was pretty grim industrial. I mean, this, this is not, you, you don't see many people, you see smoke stacks, you
See it was an industrial town, really
Distilleries. It was still very high output, right? So this is what scares me is when I started looking at these numbers in one year, the whiskey trust alone. And that's not including the independent distillers that were in, uh, in Peoria, but, uh, as a whole, and this wouldn't be all out of Peoria, uh, in the year 1892, they had 45 million gallons worth of spirits that they created between gin rectified whiskey, uh, and, and the rest. So, I mean, that's, and if you think about that, um, as I was reading on it, it said, uh, they, they basically owned every distillery that was an active operation north of the Ohio river. And that's pretty big area, uh, and produce 95% of the distilled high wine spirits and alcohol produced in the entire United States. Okay.
I think that's accurate. And then the other one I saw, I can't remember what year was from, uh, there was a number that, um, Peoria and I, I, I think this was related to whiskey and not anything else, but that Peoria, um, produced 18 million barrels of whiskey and Kentucky did 15. So we, we even at its peak, we were well ahead of Kentucky. Uh, and obviously overtaken, you know, not too far after that, but, but yeah, we were, this was the whiskey capital, for sure. Yeah.
But the thing about the whiskey trust was that they would go in and they would basically a distillery. And then in most cases they would shut it down. Cause I think they were only running about 10 to 12 distilleries total, and they were getting that output out of that few distilleries, but they were basically robbing the distilleries. They were shutting down for parts and then fixing up the ones that, uh, that they had and making, making them larger. So, yeah, it's an incredible, incredible output. But if you think about it for Peoria, you have this large organization that's all spread across the U S and their hub is in Peoria. That, that puts a lot of focus on that town. There had to be a lot of money in that town in that.
And I think, you know, some of it, some of it went after prohibition. Some of it moved on into banking. Some of these fortunes were still there. It just got transferred and then handed down and people scattered. Um, and so it's, there's still some remnants of the old fortunes in town here. Uh, there's still some of the, uh, the grand old houses, uh, both in Peoria Heights where the country club is and then on [inaudible] and that surrounding area. And it's fascinating just to drive through there because you get it, you get a feel for a little bit of the past. Yeah.
Yeah. So when we're talking about independence around there, the one name that stands out to me is Clark's cause Clark's pure rye was actually a very successful brand. And you said that you actually had recently seen a collection of some memorabilia. That was pretty cool. Uh,
We can't, we can't mention his name. Yeah. It's such an extensive collection. Uh, but D Jeff can maybe tell a little bit more about,
Yeah, he's, uh, this gentleman actually came in to our tasting room one day and he's like, well, I just dropped my wife off at the chiropractor and they said, it'd be about an hour. And this is a better waiting room than the chiropractor's office. So he came in, he just started talking with us and he goes, I have a really in depth collection and I'm like, oh, we'd love to see it. You know, and, and just, you know, trying to get the time to go to his house and everything else and how things were going to work out. And then one day he came back in and he just kind of brought us this book on stealing impure. And as far as quoting all these numbers for the distilleries that were open at the time. And, uh, uh, I tried so hard to have the time to copy the books. We could have the information so I can get it back to him and I'm just taking photos of the pages, but, um, we finally made it to his house and he has like over a hundred shot glasses of all pre-prohibition of, of the distilleries and, and post-prohibition as well. He's got two, four inch binders that have letters, ledgers certificates, advertisements
You found most fascinating. Is there personal correspondence from the president of Clarks to, uh, was it see I'm someone on the west coast anyway, just, uh, you get a handle that they're still, there are some business that people don't know about in the public going on where maybe some west coast interests were investing in this. You just, it's really interesting to see personal correspondence like that in an archive. And then, um, what else did he say
He had, uh, all kinds of like knickknacks that they use for marketing. Uh, he had a, uh, two pewter cigar punches from Clark and, uh, and then in the binder, we actually found the advertisement that went with it. Um, and then, uh, they had, uh, lighters, lighters, branded beauty marks, uh, for, for women's like put the little dot on their face for the, uh, they had all kinds of bottle openers from the arrows and everything else. It was really fascinating. We only had about an hour there, but I could probably spend a month there just going through everything. He's
Got a museum in his
House. Yeah. Yeah. And he said, he'd been collecting since the seventies and just hitting a state sales and in flea markets and stuff like that. And, um, you know, we're B talked to him frequently and
I was most, I was most amazed probably by when you came out with that, holding up that big piece of metal, what the hell is that? And you turned it around Hiram Walker and sons original sign that was on the gates entering the distillery. Wow.
He's got that.
It's one of those things who, who has that. I mean,
There was a ride bottle there that I loved the name of it. So I'm not going to say XL and someone else go out and use it before I can research it. But I want to see if I can find if I can find that name because the name of it and the bottle shape was really cool. So, uh, I think, uh, we may revive that name. Exactly. If we can find enough information, it'd be cool to revive something like that and keep it going against
Brands. Um, I, I think we're absorbed, I actually saw Imperial whiskey and I want to say it's a Brown-Forman brand, but I, but it's still out there. It's bottom shelf. Yeah, yeah, yeah. But there was a Hiram Walker brands. So some of these brands have been absorbed into, uh, Kentucky, uh, brands. So, um,
And you gotta watch it because a lot, a lot of the distilling companies will buy up these names and not use them. They just hang on to them. And yeah. So it's, it's, it's hard to know, but there are, I mean, I saw a list of 12 names of independent distillers that were well, they weren't all independent, some like Monarch, uh, and, um, I think it was a Manhattan distillery also in, in town there that, uh, they were owned by the trust. So, uh, and in fact, I think both of them caught fire at one point or, and the reason was suspect that just after what had happened in, um, in Chicago, all of a sudden now here is a distillery where they were doing experiments to try to speed up the process of making whiskey. And now all of a sudden that distillery gets burned down
For a string of suspect fires. Yes,
Absolutely. And this is something that we never knew was made here too well. So there was one from a company called Jersey, which was a whiskey then also they had absence, oh, these are original bottles from the area. Wow. Just really, really cool collection that he has of all these things.
Well, if you think about it, I mean, there, when you're distilling, you can distill all manner of things. So, and, and the distillery they were trying to bomb up in Chicago was actually making Holland gin that's right. So they were, they were interested in a, and Callum, it was another distillery that they acquired at the same time. Cause that's the thing is they, they bombed it. They somehow had the judge, uh, throw out the second case probably less than a year later, they ended up selling to the trust. So after, after two very suspect, uh, and, and really the evidence was there. I remember reading
It's the offer. You can't
Refuse it. Yeah, exactly. So that talks about being above the law, but then you think how much revenue, the internal revenue service is getting from 90 cents per gallon, from somebody who's making 45 million gallons worth of whiskey a year. Do they really want to shut those guys down? Right.
And I mean, and, and I mean, they, they say that Peoria paid for the civil war, you know, uh, because of all the taxes that were coming out of at time, um, you know, it was just, it was, and then they didn't start income tax until prohibition because all the money was gone from, uh, from the steel race.
Well, we've, I guess Jeff and I have really appreciated since we've been here, are people like that, gentlemen, stopping in and sharing what he has. And we have become a repository bottles, and people have said, I really want you to have this. And I said, well, we'll display it. I've got some higher Walker bottles here that are cool. If you want to see those.
Yeah. If it was up there, I'll
Start with the, um, this is, again, you can still find this on the shelf, but these are sealed. So, um, it'll be interesting to see what that tax code date relates to. But my guess is, you know, this is probably from the seventies or sixties. I had a lady in town here gave me some of her liquor. Her father was a, um, was an attorney with Hiram Walker and I've got Canadian club. I've got Ballantines. These are all seal from France, says 1966. So, uh, here's one, this is kind of, this is really interesting to me. This is the one that is, um, the special bottle they gave out. This was for the 8 million barrel. It was a commemorative gold bottle given to employees. So this was distilled in 1970 or 1965. Um, and given out in 1973, walkers deluxe, here's, here's how Walker's deluxe sold. Here's their decanter style.
Yeah. You showed me the price on that. How much, how much you want to telling me that bottle for
I've got one in back that sealed. This one apparently is not sealed. So Jeff and I are going to drink this one. Nice walkers deluxe. Again. I have no idea what the year is on this, but oh, well we'll drink.
Well, whiskeys meant to be consumed that it wasn't, it's not supposed to be a display. I have a bottle that's a hundred years old and it's like, I'm going to taste it. There's just no way I couldn't do that.
I had, um, in Minnesota, we were digging through the attic at my late father-in-law his house and found, um, I w Harper for medicinal purposes only, there's still 1918 bottled whenever. And it said for medicinal purposes, only blacks. I drank it. Sorry.
Yeah. So I, I looked it up and Imperial is, um, Sazerac okay. And so the reason why I looked it up was because, um, when I was in Pittsburgh, I used to, uh, I was in the Pittsburgh airport and somebody said, if you're in Pittsburgh, you have an infant earn. And an infant earn is a shot of Imperial whiskey with an iron city beer.
Maybe he's got a bigger following than I
Might. Yeah. Well, at least in Pittsburgh it does. Right. So, um, uh, yeah, I mean, so it's fun to see all these old, uh, oboes. Are there any other brands that you've, uh, that you've heard of that, uh, came out of that Hiram Walker era? Was it mostly bourbons they were making in Peoria.
Jeff, what else, what else do we see out there? I was trying to think of this archive that we looked at. It was, you know, he was, he was heavy on clerks. Right. Uh, but there was some other brands. I can't remember, uh, some of the other names,
Uh, it looks like a C Clark pure ride. This, this looks like Marvel's pure. I Hmm. Uh, he had a lot of Clark's.
Yeah. Um, and I think that was mean, w what's interesting about Clark's is that they actually joined the trust, but somehow they got away because yeah. They were part of it initially, because they got talked into it and said, oh, here's all the great profits. You'll get, they dismantled their distillery. Then they got out of their contract somehow and then opened up their own new distillery and stayed a, a competitor for a while. I guess you can't really call them a competitor when they're that much smaller than this behemoth. You wonder,
You know what, it'd be so interesting that dig through the archives and get the real story on it. How did they get away? How did that contract bust up and how did they remain independent longterm? I'm sure. I'm sure it's a, there was a very interesting and intriguing or possibly a little boardwalk empire S yes.
Yeah. It may be. There's going to be a movie about it one of these days. So Jeff, you came to the business, as you said, you had worked in, uh, Texas and also in Louisiana. You're originally from Louisiana
Right now. I'm originally from Arizona. Oh, are you okay?
The Arizona Cardinals a shirt. Yeah,
Exactly. Yes. I grew up in a small mining town called Baghdad, so and so no H okay. And then, uh, joined the Navy to see the world met. My wife got married. Uh, so we were both, uh, I'll tell you my Irish trifecta story real quick. So that was a medic in a hospital corpsman in the Navy. I was a police officer in Maryland for six years. And then I've been brewing into stealing now for 15 years or so. I tell people, I went from treating drunks to arresting drunks, to getting people drunk. So that's my Murphy. That's my Irish Trifacta.
Yeah. How did you guys get started here? Cause you're actually, as I understand it, you've been expanding a bit. Are you working off the equipment that you got from, uh, JK Williams originally? Or are you, uh, upgrading and solely replacing or, yeah.
Yeah. So w what we originally had from JK Williams is they did everything off of a 60 gallon stainless steel pot steel, basically with a copper head on it. Uh, and then they had a 120 gallon still that they never commissioned. Um, so we got those both up and running. So right now w and they were doing all small barrel formats, they're doing 23 and 30 gallon barrels a floor. Uh, so they're, they're doing about a barrel a week, roughly is what they were doing. Um, so now I'm getting a barrel about every seven to 10 days, depending how fast I turned over the system. It's usually about, that's the only 240 gallon fermentations. So, um, now about every two weeks, I can fill a barrel, uh, and that's what we're working on now. And then our new system is a thousand gallon system. So where we only have one fermenter here, which is actually, we're using the mash 10 as the fermentor, because it has the only cooling jacket on it. Uh, we'll have four, 1000 gallon fermentors with the new system, and I'll be doing 10 to 12 barrels a week. Instead, the big
Helps helps supply. And so when you're growing out into Wisconsin, which is where I hear you're, you're going to be next that, uh, extra supply will help.
Yeah. Well, we still have some, some barrels we'll have some, some bourbon for a while. The ride is going to get a little bit slammed here after a while, but then, uh, you know, that's why we're, we're we have our bridge series. I don't know if Andy has talked about that yet. Um, but, uh, uh, you know, uh, a lot of places that startup, they source to start with our stuff is aging. We already have stuff, we're be doing a sourcing program because we need to bridge that gap between the stocks that we have, and the four years it's going to take for the new stocks to age. So, um, you know, uh, the bridge series and, and it's, it's along the same lines of like, say the discovery series from Bardstown is how we're going to play it, um, where, you know, we're, we're going out and sourcing the best dope.
We can find it doing blends, and we're a hundred percent open with everything that we do. We're not trying to hide from people that it's a blend. We're not trying to do any of that. We're actually kind of happy. And we just want to make sure that people understand that, you know, when, when it has to bind a bottle with our name on it, that the quality is going to be there. You know, it's not just something that they threw in a bottle that we actually took the time and the legwork to go out and do this. So, yeah, we're kind of going to kind of run it in that, in that kind of a mentality as well. So
Yep. Just completely transparent as to, as to what it is. Um, I, I think there are several, um, 100% sourced, um, uh, four gates done a tremendous job of sourcing and blending and secondary finishes. And they're getting a premium at, you know, $175 dollars a bottle. So companies like that have proven that you don't necessarily need to be the distiller if you are a master blender. And, uh, and, and maybe perhaps adding some innovations with secondary finishes.
And I think that's, I think that's one of the things that when we talk about the whiskey trust and the fact that they really weren't producing straight bourbon, they were more about rectify rectifiers. They were supplying rectifiers and doing a lot of blending themselves with neutral grain spirit. So you're in the tradition of yeah. What, what happened in that town for, uh, so many years, um, would you, uh, pay homage to the trust with the name at some point
We've talked about it. There's a gentleman. We, we talked about collaborating with in Chicago, he's got the rights to the shoe felt name. He's also got the rights to the green hat name. I think he's going to do that on his own. Um, we were going to collaborate with them on, I, it never really was put together, but we are using east end. Um, you know, you've got the Woolner brothers, uh, it often Sam Wallner, uh, you got John Francis there. Uh, there is a series of characters that are, that are always pop up. And so does anybody remember the green hat name? No. Does anybody remember the Eastern name? No, but we, but we're still, I think if I can describe anything that we do, it's very much with a nod to the past and a respect to the JK Williams name and also to Peoria and, you know, the river, how this town was built. And when we can show up in a historic home or the story of one of the characters there, um, that's really organically natural for us. That's what we should do that. Um, and remind people, there were some characters, perhaps not again, the greatest people in the world, but who built this town, you know, that's what made this place. Yeah.
Well, I think the fun part about using these old names is it gets people to ask questions. And if you think about it, how many people know that currently H Taylor is the man behind the bottled in bond act, but you start seeing bottles of Colonel Taylor and you're like, Colonel, you know, what's a, and so you start asking questions, the more you ask questions, the more you learn. And, uh, and I think it adds an extra, a mystique to the bottle as, as well.
And beyond that too, that they had the, uh, October Fest this past weekend that we went down to and we were in the German history tent. And actually Greenhut's in there. I mean, he was, he was a military Colonel or something along those lines as well. So, I mean, he was a, he was an army guy. Um, and, uh, uh, and then he came back in and became one of these, these whiskey guys as well, you know, so very, very interesting. I mean, it, it causes people you're right. It peaks interest and it says, well, what else is around here?
Yeah, yeah, yeah. His history goes, actually he was at a Gettysburg. He was at Fort Donaldson. He was at a lot of the big, he was at Chattanooga. He saw a lot of action, uh, and actually had been wounded and was out for a while and went back. So, um, yeah, I mean, for all the, yeah, for all the stuff he did with the trust that kind of probably tore his name down, uh, you know, prior to that he was a war hero. So yeah. Well, a lot of stuff you can dig in, and again, we wouldn't know that stuff if we didn't hear his name first and then go, okay, who is this guy? And what's he all about? So definitely a lot of room for that.
And I th obviously the Bradley name is one of the most prominent, uh, to bias. Bradley was one of the whiskey barons. Um, his widow, Lydia Mohs Bradley founded Bradley university, uh, you know, used that, use the liquor money. I won't them ill gotten gains, but I may use the liquor money and that's fortunate to, uh, found this great university. So, you know, the film, the philanthropy that came out of this historically has been phenomenal in town here.
Yeah. Well, and it's, it is hard to say ill gotten gains. They changed the law to try to get them to stop doing what they were doing because the antitrust, uh, thing was not in existence when they started up as a trust, but it was kind of a reaction that's just where it gets a little bit, um, shady is when they decided to, uh, get the board of directors together and say, or board of trustees together and say, um, well, you know, they're passing this anti, uh, trust legislation. Why don't we just turn this into a company and keep doing the same thing? So that's where he started getting a little shady. And like I say, then dynamiting, uh, your competition to try to get them to, uh, uh, sell themselves to, yeah, that's, that's, that's a little rough, we'll talk about the, the whiskeys that you have currently, and kind of an idea. I saw American single malt, which always, uh, captures my attention, uh, when somebody mentions that, that they'll be coming out with, uh, with something like that. So what do you have now and what are you working on for that, uh, that time down the road?
So we have three expressions out right now. We have our, our gold Zephyr bourbon, uh, which Donald Fanny said just took a best in state in the, uh, Heartland competition through the American craft spirits association. So we're very proud of that. And then we also have our stormy river Ry, uh, which is in short supply, but that's in 90% rhyme, mash bill, 10% wheat. Um, they're both at 90 proof and, uh, they are, uh, they're very well received in the, in the area. So we're really active with those. And then our newest one is, uh, the American wheat whiskey actually. Uh, and it's, it's the bridge series. Um, so,
And is it a wheat whiskey or is it a weeded whiskey?
Okay. As a wheat whiskey. Yeah. Um, it's a 73% 95% wheat whiskey, and then a 27% are, we did bourbon, that's distilled up a little bit higher. Uh, so it's, it's a little bit cleaner and, and, uh, and a lot sweeter. So we blended those two together, uh, to create an American wheat whiskey out of it. Um, and then,
And that's just terrific.
I tell people if you're not big into bourbon and not big into a rise as a lot of people, aren't because there's kind of spicy or whatnot. Um, I say drinks more, almost like a Canadian whiskey than, uh, uh, or a Irish whiskey than it does a bourbon or rye. So it's a, it's a nice entry, uh, product in my mind. Um, and then, you know, the, the bourbon of the rye recipes will remain the same for those two, but then of course, you know, I'm going to be, once the big system gets here, the small system becomes my playpen, you know, so to speak and I get to play around and rescue for him in relation to make other products and then go from there. So, you know, single malts, uh, I was basically making a single malt at Rebecca Creek, uh, is what I was doing down there.
And I really do like single malts, more mainly Highland. I'm not swelling will actually the, uh, island kind of guy. Um, but, uh, uh, I'll be, I'll definitely be playing with some single malts. And, uh, the industry is trying to get an American single malt category into the TTB. So, um, that'll be nice. We can get that done. Uh, and then it's just going to be varieties, you know, maybe if we can get some heroine varieties in, or there's a lot of local farmers that said they'd help, um, they'll grow some stuff for us. If they wanted us to put something in, we just gotta figure out what we want and what we need. And with my run background, obviously be doing some rums on the side as well. So a lot of fun,
You won't be fighting the challenge of aging probably as much as you did in Texas. I'm guessing. Yeah.
Yeah, yeah. Texas and Louisiana both were pretty rough on aging. It definitely speeds it up, but it can go, it can go south really fast. So if you're not,
Well, it can help you get it to market a little bit faster, but then, uh, you know, it's those rough edges that can sometimes be the,
Yeah, that's why he asked why you need the extra time in the barrel, you know, get those rough edges out. But if you're over extracting and it kind of too late, you know, so, yup.
This we're going to, I don't want to say it's temporary. I'm from Minnesota. So it's temporary compared to Minnesota, Jeff's on the opposite side saying you've seen nothing and humidity to you live in Louisiana. I think we're, you know, we're closer to LA you know, Louisville and Kentucky, and we're a little more on that Indianapolis kind of temperate. Um, so it's, we're much warmer than my, than my, uh, previous life in Minnesota. Uh, you know, it's literally, it's like typically 15 degrees in the winter warmer here. And so we get some really nice fluctuations, uh, but probably colder than a Louisville, for sure. We get more snow than they do, but certainly the, the water with the limestone, um, the San Cody aquifer that supplies water here is rated very highly my north Kentucky and say, we've got the best limestone and filtered water in the world. I don't know. We've got one hell of an aquifer underneath PRN that could be called equally a great,
So that's interesting to hear because I, the, um, we assume, and I've never really looked at the map to see where the limestone plate is, but, um, I know it, it, it runs through Tennessee and Kentucky, and that is a given because the industry does a great job of promoting that, but we don't think of that being anywhere outside of those two states
Got a tremendous job of telling everybody how great they're lying and stuff. Yeah, no, it's true. I mean, it's just, it, I don't know that this is any greater than theirs or vice versa, but it's obviously it makes for great, it makes for great filtered water. It's fantastic. This is what
Do you drink straight from the tap or do you run through a filter when you drink it yourself? I go
Where I'm at now in Peoria. I go scream
From the cap. Yeah, yeah, yeah. That's, that's the true challenge whenever I go to, uh, to Kentucky or to Tennessee, it's the only time when I really don't worry about taking a water bottle with me or anything, I just drink straight from the tap and I'm, I'm good. Yeah. Says a lot. So, um, if somebody is coming to, well, first of all, it's talking about where you're available. So right now you're available in central Illinois, basically in the whole state, the whole state. Okay. Okay.
We've launched, we've got distribution coverage and the whole state being EAs, who is the largest retail outlet spirit for spirits and beer and wine in the state, um, has added on an additional, I think it's 14 stores in the Chicago area with us. Uh, and again, we're, so Benny's friar, tuck are the big brands, but we're, we're in a number of smaller on premise and, uh, and retail outlets now. And we're, we're really, we, we had a very busy summer opening up our tasting room and all that. And now we're trying to get out in the field and promote, promote the brands. Um, and then we've got a Wisconsin right up, straight on the heels of that. So, um, I think that's it for this year. Um, we, we need to strategize as we get towards the end of the year, what is the next, uh, natural state? It could be Iowa. I was a, um, control state. So maybe it could be Indiana. We, we need to think that one through as to where we might want to go next, but clearly we would like to add two to three states in, um, in 2022 and also some e-commerce solutions. Okay.
No, no whisky trust strategy. You're not going to go in and start buying up distilleries, setting them down and selling out of there.
That's great fires in a string of distilleries across.
Yeah. So, um, so if somebody comes to Peoria, is there any kind of experience what's, what's the best way to experience your whiskey and Peoria?
Uh, come and visit us at our tasting room. It really is the best time. And you'll, you'll find Jeff's here east. He says seven days a week, and I believe him he's he honestly is here and we are two cats, one or both of us here, many times on the weekends. Um, we've got a great tasting room manager who makes up a great cocktail. Um, we've got three full flights. You can do each, each of the whiskeys, um, either neat or in a cocktail. And then, um, if one of us is around, you can take a little tour and you can see what we have today, and then you can envision what it's going to be and the new equipment, but it's been transformed. It was a giant empty warehouse. Um, and now it's, we're getting, we're filling it up. And, um, with a little bit of vision, you can see where things are going, uh, and what the new, uh, once we get our new equipment, it's all in order where we're hoping to have it, um, by the end of the year or very early next, it will completely transform, uh, the operation.
That's when Jeff's a kid in the candy store, putting all that together, looking forward to it. Very good. Well, I appreciate you guys coming on and talking about what you're doing and it's going to be fun watching you grow. And I look forward to a day when I can actually walk around Peoria and see if I can envision all those smoke stacks around me and see what it looks like today and compare it to
No, we'll do it together. And we'll go down to the archive at Bradley. If we can get in there, that will be a super fun. They've got quite a historical photo archive would be fun to, uh, go in there and see if they'll give us access to all that. You can see what I was talking about with some of these old pictures, but yeah, it would be fun to walk around town and I'll definitely guarantee we'll do it with you when you come.
Awesome. Well, Andy, Jeff, thank you. I appreciate it. And
Appreciate your time
Man. Much success to you. Thank you. If you want to learn more about JK Williams, just head to JK Williams, distilling.com for whiskey lowers, show notes, transcripts, hoodies tasting kits, or it links to whisky Laura's social media, head to whiskey Nash, lore.com. And if you're intrigued by the story of the whiskey trust, make sure to check out the epic mini series that's going on right now on the whiskey lore podcast, you can find whiskey lore on your favorite podcast app. I'm your host, drew Hanish have a great week and until next time cheers. And [inaudible] whiskey. Laura is a production of travel fuels life, LLC.