Ep. 83 - The Story of Henry Kraver and the Rebirth of a Kentucky Bourbon Legacy

CORKY TAYLOR // Kentucky Peerless

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Show Notes

How often do you get a chance to meet the founder of a distillery while on a distillery tour? Well, that was my experience back in 2018 when I made my first whiskey tour of Kentucky and stopped in Kentucky Peerless on the west end of Whiskey Row in Louisville.

But Corky Taylor wasn't the first of his family to own a distillery. In fact, the Peerless name goes back to Henderson, Kentucky where his great grandfather Henry Kraver made a name for himself making Kentucky's special spirit. Hear the story of the original Kentucky Peerless and about the unique style of whiskey that Corky and his son Carson have brought back to the Bluegrass state. Plus we'll learn the origins of a feline princess and find out what rock stars Corky used to share a dormroom with.

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.

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Drew (00:00:09):
Welcome to Whiskey Lore, the interviews. I'm your host, drew Hamish, the Amazon bestselling author of Whiskey Lore's Travel Guide to Experiencing Kentucky Bourbon and the other Best Seller Whiskey Lores Travel Guide to Experiencing Irish Whiskey. And today I have a special guest here. We're gonna head to downtown Louisville, Kentucky and have a conversation with a man whose family has made a triumphant return to distilling after they shut down around prohibition. And we're originally based in Henderson, Kentucky. And so we're gonna dig into a lot of that history and also talk about the whiskeys they're making these days. So my guest is Corky Taylor. He is the president and CEO of Kentucky, Peerless and Corky, welcome to the show.

Corky (00:00:59):
Thank you very much, Drew. It's an honor to be on here with

Drew (00:01:02):
You. Oh, it's great to see you again too, because I had the honor when I wrote that book or before I wrote that book on my first trip to Kentucky, I stopped in and it's always interesting to see when an owner will come down and join a tour. And so that was a lot of fun to have you there cuz you filled in some extra stories or gave them the personal touch. And we'll talk about some of those things as well, but also to get some insights and be able to ask some more of those probing questions. So that was a lot of fun. I appreciated you doing that. No,

Corky (00:01:40):
I love to do it. I love to meet people and of course we're still building a brand and we've gotta work hard at what we're doing. And the best way to do it is shake somebody's hand and tell 'em I appreciate them coming into the distillery. So I'm here.

Drew (00:01:55):
All right. Well that's fantastic and a great distillery. And we'll talk a bit more about the distillery itself and also about the whiskeys that you're making right now. But I wanted to start off by diving a bit into the family history and the origins of distilling in your family. So a name that comes up often is Henry k Craver who had a I guess around 1889 was really when his influence became the strongest. But talk about who he was and how he ended up getting into the distilling business.

Corky (00:02:38):
Well, Henry Craver was my great grandfather. He was born in Poland. He was a Polish Jew. He moved to New York City to Manhattan with his family when he was five years old, selling newspapers on the corner when he was 7, 8, 10, 12 years old. Got a few odd jobs. And when he was 19 years old, he said, what I'm gonna do is I'm gonna leave my family in New York. I'm gonna get on a riverboat and when I run outta money, that's where I'm gonna end up. My question is why didn't get off the boat in Louisville, Kentucky? <laugh>. So he went on down to Henderson, probably another six, seven days by riverboat, got off, didn't have a nickel in his pocket, didn't know a sold, walked to the top of the hill. There was one bar up there called buckets. He walked in, he said, can I sweep the floor and live in the attic?

I have no money. And they said, sure, come on in. And a couple years later he bought the bar, but he knew he wanted to become a banker. That's what some of his friends in New York, in Manhattan, their fathers were bankers. And he had it in his mind. That's what I want to do. There was another family in Henderson, the man family, and they said, well, you just can't become a banker. You've gotta be trained. You have to be educated. We bank in St. Louis, we'll get you in the bank over there. You probably have to stay four or five years, which he did. He stayed five years and then he ended up coming back to Henderson and built First National Bank. So when he was about 32 years old, he built the bank. He was president of the bank from the time he was 32 until he was 78.

But in 1889 he first bought the worship distillery. He banked with them. He bought, it was a very, very small distillery. So he went out on Second Street, bought 19 acres and built Kentucky Peerless Distilling company. You love the name Peerless, it means pure and clean, the best and the best. And he knew exactly what he wanted and he built that into a pretty good size distillery. At that time there were 200 distilleries in the state of Kentucky and he was one of the largest had in the end of distillery, he had about 63,000 barrels of bourbon that he had accumulated. And then prohibition comes along. So then he had to get rid of them, obviously. Now, one of the places he got rid, which I didn't know this until a couple years ago, I went up to Chicago and our distributor up there told me the story that my great grandfather and the Walgreen brothers were big buddies. Two brothers started Walgreens in Chicago and it ended up during prohibition. And my great-grandfather sold the Walgreen brothers 40,000 barrels of bourbon during prohibition. And so that party went on from 1923 to 1933.

Drew (00:05:35):
They're probably still sipping that whiskey somewhere.

Corky (00:05:38):
They probably still doing exactly. So he loved the distilling business and he built it into a big, he also built a brewery that was one of the largest breweries side of the Mississippi. It was a Henderson brewing company. And the way he distributed all his beer was all by river boat. He had his own river boats and went Cincinnati to Louisville down to St. Louis, stopping in Evansville, Owensburg pad, duke and everywhere in between. But he had the story from 1889, he shut it down in 1917. So what he did was prohibition didn't come along till 1919. So they thought he was pretty smart at what he was trying to accomplish. He sold all his stills in 1917 to United Distillery in Vancouver, British Columbia. And he hired what he thought was the best welder of copper in the sole part of the country. It just happened to be Mr.

Sherman here in Louisville. And today the Sherman family, that's Vedo copper and Brass, they're the largest builder of stills in the United States, probably the world. I don't know that for a fact, but I know they're huge. Well, my great-grandfather got ahold of Mr. Sherman in 1917, said, what I want you to do is I want you to bring your family to Louisville. I want you to break these stills down. Probably gonna take you eight months. I want you, I've got a house for you to live in place for the kids to go to school. I want you to take it up to Vancouver, British Columbia on 17 train cars. You have to set 'em up there. Another seven or eight months come back to Louisville, Kentucky. And that's where he got part of the money to start ve dump copper and brass. Wow. 98 years later, my son Carson and I walked through the door of Vedo and they said, where are you from? I said, well, I'm originally from Henderson, Kentucky. Well what family? I said, the Henry Kraver family. And then they left the room and they came back said, you're not gonna believe it. It was your great grandfather that helped put, helped one of the ones that helped put our great grandfather investors <laugh>. So it's a small world.

Drew (00:07:46):
Yes. It's the circle of life as they say it

Corky (00:07:49):
Is 98 years later just so you never know what's gonna happen 98 years from now.

Drew (00:07:55):
Yeah, it's really interesting. Have you had an opportunity to learn anything about the whiskey that he was making back then? Were they making rise and bourbons and maybe

Corky (00:08:11):
Style? He made bourbon and he made brandy.

Drew (00:08:14):
Oh, okay.

Corky (00:08:15):
So he made some brandy as well. I don't know that he made rye. I've never found anything that showed me that he made rye whiskey. He might have, but I don't know that. But I know on the wall of the old distillery, the one downtown that has Henry Craver on it, it says bourbon and brandy. So he did make some brandy. I've never been able to find a bottle to the brandy. We do have some pipe bottles and we have a fifth of the bourbon under the Peerless label <affirmative>. And of course he had medicinal, had alcohol during prohibition that he had. Of course a lot of it went to the Walgreen brothers but he had others had that in Illinois, he did Missouri Kansas, Ohio, and I think Michigan. And then he had a license during prohibition in the state of Kentucky.

Drew (00:09:22):
Well we hear the stories that there were only six medicinal licenses, but as I study this seven more and more, there seems to be that, and actually in recent research I found that after the distillers holiday they opened it up to a whole lot more. There were, I think American medicinal spirits had 17 different distilleries in the plant. They were planning on building the distilleries, but they never got around to building all of them. But those all, and

Corky (00:09:51):
He made it product for them as well. So it was a lot of the big distilleries making product for these ones that had licensing. But it was an interesting time. It's not many licenses given, but he made, so he had so much product backed up, he was able to sell to American and to some of the others. So on the back of the bottles it'll have who he was making it for.

Drew (00:10:19):
So it wasn't necessarily that he was ever bought out by American medicinal spirits. He had basically sold the product to them. So that

Corky (00:10:31):
Was my understanding. He sold the product to them and then he shut it down and sold his stills to united up in Vancouver, British Columbia.

Drew (00:10:42):
So I heard that your son Carson is distilling there that he gave you a special gift one day that I think is around the distillery somewhere. So I understand a bottle of something.

Corky (00:10:58):
Oh what the old

Drew (00:10:59):
Bottles? Yeah, the special reserve.

Corky (00:11:03):

Drew (00:11:04):
Okay. So that was a question of mine cuz I've seen that special reserve around and the bottle that I saw the picture of that was taken of that bottle has craver on it. And so I haven't looked that closely at those bottles. Was special old reserve, was that just peerless whiskey or was that probably whiskey that would've had different names on it? Depending on

Corky (00:11:32):
That particular bottle was one that was used in the state of Illinois. So it had Henry Craver D S P K y 50. So we're the 50th license I guess in the state. And then of course it had Henderson, Kentucky. So that was the one that was basically used for the state of Illinois.

Drew (00:11:58):
And it's interesting cuz I have a friend dusty Dan, he does tasting reviews on YouTube of old dusty bottles of whiskey that he finds and he shared some whiskey with whiskey with me. And actually what he shared with me, I might have to ask him about it I don't know if you'll be able to see, you probably can't see that as too blurry. But 1916 to 1933, in other words, distilled in 1916 and then bottled in 1933, special old reserve 100 proof. So I'll have

Corky (00:12:34):
To ask you. It all had to be all the whiskey then had to be a hundred proof. So in order to qualify to distribute alcohol during prohibition it all, and each distillery had their own federal agent in there so that it was pretty much guarded and you had to be a hundred proof.

Drew (00:12:53):
I'll have to ask him if H Craver is written on the front of his bottle so I can see it. But yeah, cuz that would be interesting. I put my nose to it and these old whiskeys are just so fascinating to nose and taste. They have flavors that some of them, I've got a bottle of old Hermitage whiskey from that was actually aged in California but made in Frankfurt, Kentucky. And it just has the most amazing flavors that come out of it. It's just richer in terms of flavor than what I'm used to for bourbons. So it's just fun to,

Corky (00:13:33):
It's interesting cuz California is so warm out there, you think you need to, but it might have been up in the mountains, the big bear or something where it gets cold and snowy and warm and hot and so that's kind of what you need. I mean people of course are aging barrels suburban everywhere now.

Drew (00:13:54):
When did you first learn about your family history? Has it just always been kind of a known thing?

Corky (00:13:59):
Well my father was very close to Henry Craver, that was his grandfather and he always had a lot of stuff around the house about the distillery, the brewery glassware. And he always would tell us about Henry Kraver cuz he was very close to him. And then we had, my father passed away and my mother had a bad fire in the house and she lost all that. I wished I had it today but I don't. So we're just trying to put them some things together and we've done, I think we've done a pretty good job of the pictures of the distillery and the brewery and he owned a Palmer house up in Chicago. So a lot of things that we have and I think, but you always wish you had stuff that your father accumulated, but I don't have it. So that's the way it goes.

So we always knew about the distillery, we always knew about the brewery. I didn't know about the Palmer House, but he had theaters, he had other things in Henderson he was a banker. He built First National Bank. So he did a lot of things and my dad always kept a whole lot of things that he had and then we lost it also. Here we are and putting it back together. And I went from one extreme to the other. I was in the financial services business and sold that company, walked on the beach for a year and a half, most depressed I've ever been in my life. I said I gotta go back to work. So here I am.

Drew (00:15:36):
Very nice. So how did your son get involved in it when you mentioned whiskey distillery? He went, well that sounds good. <laugh>.

Corky (00:15:45):
Oh yeah, he knows the hit. Everybody knows the history cuz we did have pictures of brewery in the distillery in our house growing up. So he's always known about that. And he was started off being a trim carpenter, then he became a builder built some houses. But when I wanted to come home back to Kentucky, I was down in Florida he said, I said Let's do something together. And he loved the idea of a distillery. So we spent probably about six months to maybe a year looking for a building, trying to figure out were we gonna be able to get the peerless name back, which we did and were we gonna be able to get the Ds p k y 50 back, which took me a couple years. So it's the first time and to my knowledge in history, the government's ever gone back to give a distilled spirits plant number back to a family. Nice. So we're honored to have that. We're glad we have the dsp. I mean the name Peerless in honor, my great grandfather, my wife came up with this that we should be a kosher distillery. So our total distillery here is kosher. We have the rabbis coming here from Palm Beach, they come from New York, couple from Chicago, from up in Canada.

They were just in here the other day. So we're on the back of each bottle. We have a little kla stamp on the back of it and it took us about two or three years to get that. So we're honored to have it and we'll probably always have it. And it's an honor, my great-grandfather and my grandmother.

Drew (00:17:30):
That's really interesting, that subtle. But it is a tilt towards your history and giving people a sense of the background of the whiskey with something like that. So very interesting. Would not have known that. Is it mentioned on the back at all or is it just the symbol?

Corky (00:17:50):
It's a small KLAS stamp. If you turn around the back of it up in the left hand corner, yeah, that's on it. That's on the bottles. And there have to do some things. Obviously you have to do quite a few things to become a kosher to distill read. And of course we're a military family so we want to keep things clean anyway and we're really honored to have that. So it means a lot to us as a family.

Drew (00:18:22):
So were you living in Henderson, Kentucky and then moved to Louisville for the distillery or?

Corky (00:18:31):
Well I lived in Henderson when I got outta college and I went to Henderson, that was my father's hometown. There wasn't the distillery or the brewery open at that time. Then I moved to Louisville about 30 years ago, moved my family up here and then I had a company that I moved from Louisville to Sarasota, Florida Financial Services. I sold it and then I came back to Louisville and then that's when I said, Carson would you like to, let's get together, let's do something. I don't care what it is, I gotta go back to work.

Drew (00:19:08):
Yeah. So

Corky (00:19:10):
We've been at this about I guess nine maybe pushing nine years

And had Carson had to rebuild the old building building was 135 years old. We wanted to make people feel like they were going back in time a hundred years. Cuz that's kind of what we're doing. And it lend itself and we have a lot of history, we have a lot of family history and I think not only do we make good ride and good bourbon, but I think our people enjoy our family history as much as anything in this whole place. And the family history is for those of you've ever seen a movie Patton, the man that was right with General Patton in real life was my father. So if you saw the movie, the man that was right there with him was my dad in real life. Wow. I own own general Patton's gun, the Col 1911 with ivory handles. He said pearls were for women, Patton said and ivory for men. General Patton gave that gun to my father two weeks before General Patton was in the bad car wreck. My dad owned it for 30 years. He passed away when he was young. I've owned the gun for 47 years. My son's alone it, my grandson's alone. So and then he sent me to military school down in, lived in Tennessee. It's about 30 miles straight east of downtown Nashville. And my two roommates down there were the Allman Brothers, Craig and Dwayne <laugh>. So we got a lot of, that was a wilder time, I'll tell you that.

Drew (00:20:42):
I can imagine.

Corky (00:20:45):
So we like to talk about other things and people have an interest in that. Yeah. So it's just good. And then during prohibition, my great grandfather owned a Palmer house up in Chicago and that's one of the most famous hotels in the United States. It's when the Hilton found out, I was talking about my great grandfather, they sent six young girls down here to give me the history. That's the longest running hotel in the United States. Wow. First hotel, they have a light bulb telephone, elevator, dishwasher. And a family came in here to tell me their great great grandfather put the first air conditioner in there. But if you google them to find out what their famous for, they invented the brownie. So if you go in there just by the dang brownie, they're gonna wear Yeah. Just by

Drew (00:21:32):
Oh my, that's so funny. So is the Palmer House still there? I'm not verse on Chicago that well. So yeah,

Corky (00:21:38):
No, they just redid it about seven, eight years ago. It's a beautiful place. It's like going back in time, 150 years. A lot of wedding receptions. It's really a neat place.

Drew (00:21:51):
Those old hotels I think about in Memphis, the Peabody Hotel. And these are amazing pieces of history that you hope never go away because they are like a moment in time and how

Corky (00:22:07):
That's exactly right.

Drew (00:22:08):
How ornate those places were. I mean it just absolutely amazing the work and craftsmanship they put into,

Corky (00:22:14):
Well that's the way this is the ceilings marble. Everything is, it's just beautiful.

Drew (00:22:19):
Yeah. Was there a speakeasy around there anywhere during Kros? Well two of 'em were there.

Corky (00:22:25):
Two of 'em? Yeah. Okay.

Drew (00:22:26):

Corky (00:22:27):
If you read some of that, Al Capone, that was his hang, one of his hangouts cuz he could pull the car right up by the back door, walk up three steps, take a left into a little 24 inch door. And that's where Al Capone would sit and drink whiskey and then hop back in his car and take off

Drew (00:22:43):
<laugh>. Well, we talk about the history that that's lost when we lose a family member. Do you remember your father passing on any of the stories that Henry Craver may have? Things that he experienced?

Corky (00:23:00):
Not really. My dad was in the military. He was always gone fighting the war here he was in World War II with Patton. He was in Korea when I was in the second, third grade, first officer in Vietnam sent by Westmoreland. He was the one in charge of Bay of Pigs when that was going on. So all he had ever did was fight wars and do this. And he was a pretty reserved person. He didn't talk much about the war, he didn't talk much about, but he absolutely loved his grandfather, which was Henry Craver. Now he would talk about him, he'd come down. My dad went to military school down in Lebanon. Henry Craver would come down on Sundays and take him to lunch, lunch. And so he thought a whole lot of him, but he wasn't home to be with him very, very much.

Drew (00:23:50):
Yeah, that's funny about that generation too because I think I was the late baby that came along. So I mean my parents went through the depression then that era. And so when you talk about my dad was in the Korean War and then he fought in or then he was a policeman in Detroit and never would talk about his time in the military or his time as a policeman. It was like that he left that at the office. When he came home, it was family time.

Corky (00:24:27):
That's same way with my dad. He never talked to, I learned more from Woody wood ring, one of Pat's, he was a car, he was his car driver. He was the one that was driving the car when Pat was in the bad car wrecking. And Frank Thomas from Griffin, Georgia was one of Pat's a and he was the one that traveled the head of Patton. I learned more about my father and Patton after my father passed away. They would come to Henderson, see my mother on their way to Florida sometimes, take my mother to Florida, which was very nice. They didn't have to do that, but they did that. So they were a close knit. Those three guys were very, very close. And as a matter of fact, Woody Wooding, he mentioned Detroit owned a Cadillac dealership up in Detroit after the war. So that's where he went. And Frank went down to his hometown of Griffin, Georgia and started a meat packing company. So the older people like me that grew up in Atlanta, they know all about Thomas sausage. So it was kind of famous down

Drew (00:25:28):
There. Nice. Well I think it now is coming back to me. I don't know if we talked about this, but I think you had mentioned about Patton while I was there and I had just gotten back from the Czech Republic and I had gone on Memorial Day weekend here. I'm over there visiting and I just decided to go to the town of Pilsen while I was there. It'd be interesting to know if your dad was involved in this or not, but went to the town of Pilsen and as I walked in, they were having jazz music playing downtown. And all of a sudden it's like everywhere you look, it's all check people, but they're all wearing red, white, and blue and they've got American flags out and all of this stuff. And that's when I learned the story of how Pat's troops had come in, had liberated Pilsen.

And then Patton asked if he could take the troops into Prague because he wanted to let them have a little r and r. And Eisenhower said, no, you need to get out of there. The Russians are coming in and they're going to take that town. And so when the Russians came in and took the town and then it was under the Iron Curtain, they basically rewrote history and said that it was the Russians that came in and liberated the town. But what the town did after the communists left was they said, we now from this point forward every year have to celebrate the time that Patton brought his troops into Pilsen so that we get history. And people don't assume that that old history is actually true.

Corky (00:27:14):
Yeah, I've heard a story like that about, of course they love Patton over there. They absolutely loved him. So it was interesting how you read that and there's a lot of stories about him on that.

Drew (00:27:29):
Yeah, there's a patent museum there. And that's all I knew about was I was like, yeah, but Pilsner, I think of that as the home of beer because their beer is very famous and Pilsner, that's where the name Pilsner came from.

Corky (00:27:43):
That's where they came from. If there's a beautiful distillery down in Fort Knox and a lot of the older army generals that retired that have been in 32, 35, 36 years, when they get ready to retire, they wanna retire at the Pat Museum and they'll go down there and as you walk into the Pat Museum and you look up to the right, there's probably a 1214 foot tall picture, a general pat that's my father standing right next to him. Wow. There's only two people in the picture. So that's my dad standing right next to him.

Drew (00:28:14):
Very nice photos that other people would have no idea. But it's close to you and the brings good memories. Yeah.

Corky (00:28:26):
Oh it is. I, and I was a speaker down there, so I of course loved, I don't get down there very often, but when you walk in you just know where the army generals wanna retire cause they love Patton. So it's amazing.

Drew (00:28:43):
Well so when you were deciding on where to put this distillery, was there a moment when you thought maybe we should look down in Henderson Kentucky and does any of the old distillery still exist?

Corky (00:28:56):
The old distilleries do not exist in Henderson. There are a couple that exist in Owensboro. There used to be quite a few in Owensboro and it's about 20, 25 miles away, but they're none in Henderson. We talked about it. But our family had already lived in or had a home here in Louisville for about 20, 25 years. We like Louisville, when we first started we thought that maybe this bourbon industry, this is about 10 or when we started talking about it 10 years ago, the bourbon industry looks like it's picking up, it's gonna do well I think. And we need to be kind in the center of it. So we're down, we're in basically the west end of Main Street. We're on 10th Street in an older building, but we're really starting to get a lot of people through our retail. We always have been building up retail, but that's working very well. So our retail's doing well. Our wholesale, I say wholesale and it goes to liquor stores, bars, restaurants. We're starting to get a good name. And we're in 46 states, pretty big in the uk. We're in Germany. I understand we're in all places. We're in South Korea. A couple military guys came in here and they wanted to beat distributors cuz they married girls from South Korea. So they wanted girls wanna stay there. So here we are, we're a little bit in Australia, not much. And now we're starting to get back into Canada. So we're in California as the Texas of Florida as a Kentucky, Illinois, New York South Carolina's a good state for us. So we're in some of the good states and we do pretty well at it

For a small distillery

Drew (00:30:59):
<laugh>, when you see that warehouse, you don't imagine it sprouting out across the globe, but here it is.

Corky (00:31:07):
Yeah, yeah, exactly. It just takes time to build. And we've got great people here working and we got, we're like a big family. That's the way we want to keep it. We want to keep it strong and a good place to work. So I don't think we have any aspirations of being a huge distillery. Big ones are owned by son Tori. They're owned by Diagio, they're owned by Capari. So we're just family owned, family run, trying to do a good job. So

Drew (00:31:41):
It's interesting to watch after coming back from Ireland and seeing those are all independent distilleries at the moment, other than the two or three really big owned ones. And same thing in Kentucky at one point that there wasn't the, there were the big guys, but there were a bunch of smaller distilleries that were all independent. And it seems that there are some distilleries that are you almost sense that they built the distillery hoping to attract that big distillery to come in or that big corporation to come in and take them over at some point. And others that are just really happy being what they are and being as big as their fan base wants them to be.

Corky (00:32:31):
Exactly. So just all depends I guess. I'm not looking for a boss, so I don't have that interest right now.

Drew (00:32:41):
Yeah, that's the tricky part is yes, the money is nice but then all of a sudden,

Corky (00:32:47):

Drew (00:32:47):
I think about it all the years that I've been working for myself and I go, well it'd be nice sometimes just to collect a paycheck and not have to deal with all the business and taxes and all the rest, but in the end there's just other responsibilities that hit you and then you have a thumb on you. Exactly. Yeah.

Corky (00:33:07):
So you're exactly right.

Drew (00:33:09):
Well let's talk about that distillery first and what was in that building before you guys moved into it? What was it just in the band

Corky (00:33:22):
Building? The building that we're in right now is about 135 years old. It was built as the large largest tobacco sales building in Louisville during the time. So they'd bring a horse carriage in, they'd auction off in the middle, they'd roll it right out the front door. We kind of left the concrete at the front door the way it used to be, just so people can kind of see where the carriages used to roll out. They were here for about 25, 30 years. Walker Bag Company made big feed and seed and Burla bags that you used to see. They were here for 70 years and we bought it from a company shape manufacturing who did our royal rolled air conditioning and heating vents. So there's only been three manufacturing companies in this building before us. Carson was a builder. So he came in there and renovated that. Basically the total building, I mean he didn't do the electric and the plumbing, but he did a lot of the woodwork and it took him about two years to do it. And I think at Lenny said Bun itself to accomplish what we wanted to. We wanted to again, and I hate to repeat myself, bring people in and we wanted to make em feel like they're going back in time a hundred years.

And it kind of does that. So people like to come in, they like to look around, they like to see it, they like to hear the family history and then they like to hear the way we make our product.

Drew (00:34:54):
And you actually inherited a superstar of social media that I guess just wandered into the place one day. Princess Rye.

Corky (00:35:06):
Oh, Ry. Yeah. No, we got her, it was funny, we got her about seven years ago. We got her and her twin sister. I mean they looked exactly like we put 'em at the back door. The one went right out the back door, right off the thing, took off, haven't seen her since. Other one just sat there and watched her and I think she'd been with us for six or seven years. She's not going anywhere. She stays downstairs. Everybody she, she'll get in your lap. Everybody pets her. I don't care if you're allergic to cats or not, she's gonna get in your lap so you better watch out. So yeah, it's neat to have her. I never was a cat person but I am now. And then we have a big cat in the back and her name is Char and she's the one that catches all the mice. Oh

Drew (00:35:54):
Okay. So

Corky (00:35:56):
You don't see her. She kind of hides in the barrels and hides all over the distillery. I'll see her maybe once every two months. It's funny, she'll hide. But no. So we've got two cats in here.

Drew (00:36:07):
Did you know the history of distillery cats?

Corky (00:36:11):
No, I really didn't. But we're starting to hear more about how many, and there's a lot of distillery have distilleries cats in there, so it's kind of neat. And of course we love it. So yeah,

Drew (00:36:25):
I went to a distillery in Scotland, Glen Turret and Glen Turret has the Guinness Book of World Records mouthing distillery cat I forget what the total was, it was something like 18,000 or something Mice kills in. They basically estimated how many she killed over a week while they were there, while the Guinness Book was there. And then she lived it like 24 years old. So they multiplied it and said by age, how many would she have killed? And oh

Corky (00:36:59):
My gosh.

Drew (00:36:59):
Yeah. So that was taser and I ended up doing a story around her and they still keep distillery cats, but that one was you probably didn't wanna walk up in pet when you were there because it was, I mean they said she would swat at people if they got too close to her.

Corky (00:37:19):

Drew (00:37:19):
Gosh. But they

Corky (00:37:20):
That's so neat. Yeah, they have a personality. I mean that's for sure. But no, everybody loves Ry downstairs, I call her RT <laugh>. But everybody name's Ry.

Drew (00:37:32):
Nice. So when we were walking around and you were showing me some of the equipment, we walked back where the Vedo still is and I looked up and I went, how the heck did you get this thing in this building? That must have been quite a challenge.

Corky (00:37:50):
It was, of course you had to take the floor out and then we had to extend the ceiling itself. But we have a big back door cause and just train it in. And even getting the fermentation tanks in here and some of the boilers and chillers how we had to do that. So it was a chore getting the equipment in here, but it all seemed to fit mean we were lucky. And then of course built around it. You couldn't get outta here today. So yeah, you can get it in but you can't get it out but that's okay. We don't want to get it outta

Drew (00:38:23):
Here <laugh>. Well so it's interesting cuz again over in Ireland they have such strict rules. If you have a building that's been designated as a historic building and some of these distilleries have been built in there, it's like you can't damage that building or alter that building. But you were not going into in a historic building. But it was not a national landmark I don't think. Was it

Corky (00:38:49):
Correct? No it was not. So we just took the second floor out of about maybe a fourth of the building so people could come in, they could look up, they could see the still like you did to look up and see how we operate. And it lend itself to be very, and we take tours in there, of course they can all see it. And then that's when we go through on how we operate.

Drew (00:39:18):
Okay. And one of the things I was wondering about, if you were starting this project around 2014 or so then Correct. What was Whiskey Rowe back then? I'm sure Evan Williams whiskey experience was probably there. I don't know if Jim Beam would've had their downtown thing yet. And Angels Envy it seems like was probably building at the same time

Corky (00:39:44):
They were building at the same time. Jim Beam was after us and they built more of a tasting type room or where you could fill your bottle cap it and you could buy hats, t-shirts and all that. They've since closed that down. Of course you, you've got Brown Foreman on the other end that has a beautiful place down there and then Heaven Hill has their place. That's very nice. And then a rabbit hole built a new distillery and that was after us. And it's a very nice place. But I guess Angels Envy is a full service distillery like we are so that you go through everything there is about making a bottle of whiskey and same way with Rabbit Hole. And they're a very nice place too. Ours has more of the older look to it. We still have all the uniqueness of manufacturing product in the way we want to do it.

So we're happy the way we have it. But, and one thing about the distilling pair of the business, everybody pretty much gets along. We all get along, we all see each other at meetings or out to eat or whatever and we actually like each other. <laugh>. Now when it gets to the liquor store and that's up to the distributor, do you want to be on, the big guys are gonna be on the fourth shelf, other one might be a little bit higher, a little bit lower, but rightfully so. I mean the big guys are the big guys and they're getting bigger all the time. Yeah.

So the makers, the Jim beams those type, they're gonna get bigger and stronger. And we're growing too. I mean to be in 46 states and be a distillery our size. So we're pleased with, we made our first bottle of bourbon March the fourth, 2015. It was 19. I could have come out with our bourbon on March 4th of 19. But I wanted to in honor my father because he was never involved. We skipped his generation. I waited till his birthday June 22nd to come out with the first bottle of bourbon. So it was honor, it was an honor, my

Drew (00:42:14):
Father. Very nice. So it had to be a real stroke of luck to get into the whiskey industry when things were really starting to ramp up. And the interest in whiskey now is insane. I mean between people looking mean and distilleries themselves have spread out into creating so many different expressions of whiskeys and special releases and all of that sort of stuff on top of it. And it just doesn't seem at this point there's an end to the interest in whiskey.

Corky (00:42:51):
No. You know, talk to 'em. We have meetings and you talk to the big guys and you think, well every business runs in cycles and up and down every 5, 6, 7 years. But they think the bourbon industry will be good for about another 15 years, maybe 20 years. And I think what's helped that is women ladies actually enjoy bourbon. They like the taste, they like the flavor. They don't have to drink three or four drinks, they can drink one, two and be done. So they're the ones that have really excelled the bourbon business in my opinion. I mean, don't misunderstand me, men drank it too. But I'd venture say because of the growth, it's because of the

Drew (00:43:40):
Women. It was eye opening when I was doing my trip around Kentucky that first trip because on a couple of distillery tours, as they were doing tastings, they would go through and do the rye and they would say, now the ladies probably aren't gonna like this quite as much as they're gonna like the bourbon. But what I found was interesting, I went to the Haymarket bar and was sitting there and there was a woman bartender and she came over and I said, recommend something for me. And she brought me a rye whiskey. And I said, okay, so you're gonna have to answer this question for me. Do women not like rye whiskey or do they rye whiskey? And she said, I love rye whiskey because it's complex. A lot of flavors going on in there. And I think the perception is because sometimes rye is spicy and it brings that heat that you go, okay, well maybe the delicate palette won't appreciate it. But it's not that. It's looking beyond that and saying what flavors are coming through on that spirit. And so it's interesting to see that we create these stereotypes because we think in a certain way about personality type or whatever it may be. And that's not always necessarily the case.

Corky (00:45:08):
I was just downstairs not an hour ago talking to a group of men and they said, well what do you drink? I said, well I drink rye whiskey. And he says, I said something that'll interest you. I've got five good friends in Henderson, Kentucky and about seven here. So there's actually 13 of us. We're all about the same age, 73, 74. All of us drank bourbon for 40, 45 years. Our dad, my dad drank bourbon, my best friend's dad, they all drank bourbon. Every one of us drinks rye. I don't know if it's the older you get, it's a flavor profile. It's a pepper, it's, it's a flavor profile. You get outta rye, you don't get that sweet, you don't get sometimes a burn. And for all 13 of us to drink rye whiskey, <laugh>, it must just say something. So I personally like rye of course. Hopefully I make good bourbon too. I do drink bourbon too, but not like I do rye.

Drew (00:46:14):
Yeah, that's interesting because I have started noticing my cabinet has filled up with rye whiskeys and I am almost at point where I have more rise than I have bourbons. It's just

Corky (00:46:26):
That's neat. Yeah. Cause it's a small category. It is. I mean you do have some really good Ry products out on the market but there's not many of 'em. Yeah. But there's starting to be more, people are starting to realize, well there's not many rise so I can make a rye and work my way in which that could be true.

Drew (00:46:47):
Yeah. So you guys started something else that, I don't know if you were the first in Kentucky to do this in over a long period of time cuz there aren't distilleries doing it now. But what prompted you to go for the sweet mash process rather than this sour mash process?

Corky (00:47:06):
Well of course we're a military family and I wanted to have in my mind, and we are keep things very clean and we wanted to do something different that would make us unique and that's when we came up with the sweet mash. And what that means basically is you clean everything every day and you start all over. So you start with fresh water, fresh grain, fresh rye, fresh yeast, fresh everything. Instead of using what's called setback, normally you have setback, you blend it in with what the new mash that you're making. It's supposed to be a very consistent way. I just didn't like the idea of holding mash for a day, day and a half, two days and then blending it in. I like the idea more of starting fresh and I think the way it turned out, we're able to pull it off the still instead of 160 proof, maybe 130 proof, we put it in a barrel at 107 proof.

We don't water it down from 130 to 107. We then put it in the barrel at 107 proof and we take it straight from the barrel right to the bottle. So a bottle of bourbon or rye whiskey coming out of Peerless will probably be a hundred eight, a hundred ten, a hundred twelve proof. Now it signs a little bit high but because it's sweet mash I think you don't get that, you don't get burn, it's it you have a better flavor profile of pulling it off the still at a lower proof. And then the way we do it, the way we age it we like to keep it all basically on one floor. We don't want to go up high. Not that that's a problem, but if you're in a Rick house that's five high, the ones at the top are gonna be the best. The ones that are bottom might be a little cool and musty and what have you.

So I don't want a temperature control of that might adjust 40 degrees. I'd rather adjust four degrees <affirmative>. So we think about a lot of things. There's not a lot of sweet mash out there cuz it's too expensive to make. You're not gonna get the big guys to make sweet mash. Now they might take a small part of their distillery and maybe make some sweet mash, but they're not gonna shut everything down, clean it, start all over, not use the mash. We just let the that we have left, we just flush it out and get rid of it where it's not the most cost effective way of doing business. But I like the products that it produces for us and we're very conscious of that and we like the way we're doing it.

Drew (00:50:04):
It would be interesting to see cuz the two distilleries I think of doing Sweet Mash are Kneely family and they're small so they can do that. And the other one is Wilderness Trail. Well

Corky (00:50:14):
Wilderness Trailed, they're very good friends of ours, they make great products. I wasn't aware that Neely family was Sweet Mash. I thought there were just two of us, but now no

Drew (00:50:29):
<laugh> all this traveling around. And part of what I did in my book was I would give people things to listen out for while they're on their tour. That's a differentiator from one to the other. And so yeah, I bring up that sweet mash because it is something that I first heard it with Wilder's Trail because I just visited there before I got to Kentucky Peerless. And then I heard it at Kentucky Peerless. And I went, oh okay, now I'm starting to think is this everywhere? But then I didn't hear it again until I went to Neely a couple years later and said, oh okay, now here's another. But it is very rare. And I think

Corky (00:51:07):
There's one or two up in Indiana <affirmative> that have just started. There's one in Bloomington and then I know they've been down to see us and they started one. I think they're doing very well. But Wilderness Trail is, they've got two guys there that Shane and Pat, they really do a great job. They know what you're doing as good as it gets.

Drew (00:51:28):
Yeah. Well and in a way I was thinking in my head when we were talking about you making the choice on that and was it the right choice? The fact that a distillery, so science-oriented, like Wilderness Trail is kind of its own validation that if you can do it, the sweet mash process is probably preferable and it's the historic way of doing it. Sour mash wasn't always done. So it really is kind of going back into the heritage of whiskey making.

Corky (00:52:04):
Well we're pleased with, and we'll always do it this way, so people say, will you ever go to sa? No, I don't think so. Mean we have a good product. We've won a lot of awards. I say a lot we're for small distillery, we've won awards that we're very proud of and I think we make a good product. It's well accepted and we're still growing. We're not growing as fast as the big guys, but that's okay too.

Drew (00:52:34):
Yeah. And your bottle has a very interesting personality on the shelf. Where did that bottle shape come from?

Corky (00:52:42):
My son Carson spent about a year designing that bottle. It's our doubler. So we doubled still. Our doubler has the same look as our bottle. So he came up with a bottle, the cap, and of course the label kinda looks like my great-grandfathers where it runs peerless at an angle. And so he kind of blended the label into way Henry Kraver had his label years ago. But people love the bottle. He did a good job. He spent a lot of time on it. And then what's interesting because we're a military family, when you take our bottle, turn it upside down, it says Made in usa. Mm. And that's important to us being a military family. And quite frankly it's pretty important to a lot of military people.

Drew (00:53:35):
The question is, will you ever make a brandy?

Corky (00:53:39):
Well Brandy <laugh>. Yeah. You never say never. Yeah, yeah. So Brandy is a good product. It's more brandy sold than I thought. Of course everything runs in cycles where vodka used to be. Then bourbon came on. Now tequila is really, really the hot thing. Rum is getting to be good because everybody goes to Florida, they wanna drink rum products, they want to drink rum down in the island. So tequila and rum, they're gonna be two pretty good, pretty hot items coming up. Yeah. Brandy, I think Brandy's good too. So never say never. I never say I'm not gonna make anything so well my son Carson comes up with some ideas and yeah, I'm sure when my grandsons get cranked up, no telling what they'll come up with.

Drew (00:54:35):
Well overseas it was interesting because they, they're going through another gin craze and the things that I was tasting over there, cause I'm not a gin fan, but the things I was tasting, they were doing a lot of aging of gins in Sherry casts and things like that. Giving it kind of a whiskey flare if you can get past the juniper <laugh>. Yeah, exactly. That's the challenge.

Corky (00:55:02):
I'm not a gin fan but I do know some distilleries. When we got started in the distilling, we came out with some moonshine that was just kind of the timing was people wanted moonshine. We thought they did. We only had it for about two years. But looking back on it, maybe a flavored vodka because it was hot during that period, <affirmative> a gin. A lot of people now when they're getting into the distilling business, they're starting to make gin cuz they can sell it faster and then they get into the bourbon or they get into the rye. So gin is gin's making a comeback in the United States.

Drew (00:55:45):
Well, and if they keep doing things like that to it, it'll draw a bit of whiskey fan interest. But again, it's different enough that I think it's kind of a hard transition unless you're really into those botanicals and that punch

Corky (00:56:02):

Drew (00:56:03):

Corky (00:56:03):
Yeah, you're right. Exactly.

Drew (00:56:05):
Yeah, so well very good. I appreciate you taking the time today to walk through the history and talk a bit about are there any special releases that you guys are doing right now that you'd wanna talk about?

Corky (00:56:19):
We have next Black Friday, we have a double oak rye coming out and that'll be it. That'll be a good product. We came out without about a year ago, not a big release. This'll be a bigger release. Some of it'll go to California, Texas, Florida, Illinois. So this'll be a big release for us. But it's a double oak rye. And then we've got coming out and it'll, I'm not sure when, but we're coming out with a high rye bourbon. So that'll, we understand that We made that some years ago and we thought that would be a good product. And some people think that might be one of the best products we've ever come out with is this high rye bourbon. So we'll see

Drew (00:57:10):
Mean we've talked about, and actually your distillery sitting in that nice tasting room when we were going through and walking through the different whiskeys your rye was the one that made me go Rye is really interesting. And I just remember that I always picture myself sitting in that spot going, I need to pay more attention to rye because I'm here for bourbon. And it's interesting doing a book on Kentucky bourbon than, and when I wrote the book, I really focused mostly on writing about bourbon and then I did a book on Ireland and it's like, well they have multiple styles of whiskey. And so I had to thought, wow, I really did just focus on bourbon on my Kentucky book and for good reason because I mean aren't a lot of American single malts that I can think of. I know Jim Beam is working on an American single vault,

Corky (00:58:05):
But there are a couple of 'em working on it. Absolutely.

Drew (00:58:07):
Yeah. But it is really bourbon territory.

Corky (00:58:11):
Well, Kentucky is bourbon territory, but there's quite a few of us here making some rye and they're all good products. So Rise coming on strong. Yeah,

Drew (00:58:23):

Corky (00:58:24):
And I'm glad we got into it early. So we at least had a name in the rye business and then we had some awards when we came out in 2017 won the 15th best whiskey in the world, but it was the only rye on the list. So we've had some luck and it's been a good for us.

Drew (00:58:46):
Well I wish you a lot of success going through the holidays here with your whiskeys that you're coming out Double. Double Oak rye sounds very interesting. And we'll keep an eye out for that on the shelves and I look forward to seeing what you guys come up with in the future and another visit and another pet with rye <laugh> as I come into the distillery.

Corky (00:59:10):
Well please, when you're stopping in Kentucky, give a come down and say hello to

Drew (00:59:14):
Us. Oh, fantastic. I will do. Thank you, Corky. I appreciate it.

Corky (00:59:18):
Thank you very much. Appreciate it. Thanks

Drew (00:59:20):
Drew. Thank you.

Thanks again to Corky for sharing his story of Kentucky Peerless. You'd like to learn more, check out their website kentuckypeerless.com. If you want to hear a little bit more about another distillery that has some historical ties into Kentucky Peerless. Well, all you have to do is check out my interview with Leslie Sampson of JW Kelly back in episode 62 and have you been under a rock somewhere? The whiskey lore travel Guide to experiencing Irish whiskey is now out is bestseller on Amazon, and you can get at a special price of 1799. Amazon is running a special right now. Whiskey's story will still be on hiatus for a couple more weeks, but hop to get back on the horse with that in season six in the story of Irish whiskey Coming very soon. I'm your Drew Hamish. Thanks for listening and until next time, cheers. Atva Whiskey Lords a production of Travel Fuels Life, llc.


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