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Whiskymag 137 July _Aug 2016

Woodford Reserve Distillers Select Whiskey

Discover Kentucky’s Original Spirit –

One Small Batch at a Time


The Woodford Reserve Distillery History

In 1797, Elijah Pepper began making small batches of handcrafted whiskey in a small Distillery behind the Woodford County Courthouse in Versailles, Kentucky.


As Pepper’s business grew, so did his need for a larger distillery and a larger source of limestone water. In 1812, on the Grassy Springs branch of Glenn’s Creek located just outside Versailles, Pepper found what he needed.


Perfecting A Distillery And Changing An Industry


Elijah Pepper passed away in 1831, and in 1833 his son, Oscar, hired Dr. James Crow, a trained physician and chemist from Scotland, as his head distiller. Crow spent the next twenty-nine years working at the distillery and his efforts changed the face of the American distilling industry forever.


As much scientist as distiller, Crow perfected the sour mash fermentation process – assuring a more consistent whiskey from batch to batch – still used by all bourbon distillers today. He developed custom measuring tools which were quickly adopted by other distillers.


He also pioneered the use of charred oak barrels for superior aging, a definitive standard in today’s industry.


Word of the quality bourbon produced in the distillery on Glenn’s Creek quickly spread. Devotees included Daniel Webster, Walt Whitman, Mark Twain, Andrew Jackson and Henry Clay, the noted Kentucky statesman.


The passing of Oscar Pepper in 1865 eventually led to a new breed of owners. In 1878, a major Midwestern whiskey broker named Leopold Labrot and his partner, Frankfort, Kentucky, merchant James Graham, bought the now famous distillery and operated it as “The Old Oscar Pepper Distillery, Labrot & Graham Proprietors.” Expansion of the distillery continued, and the two distillers were careful to retain the unique limestone architecture in the design of their aging rackhouses.  While other distillers in Kentucky used brick or tin-clad warehouses, Labrot and Graham studied the industry and found that relatively small warehouses with thick stone walls allowed their bourbon to mature smoothly and consistently over time.


Prohibition and a Renewed Spirit


In order to meet the growing post-prohibition demand, Louisville-based Brown-Forman Corp. purchased the Labrot & Graham Distillery in 1940. During the consolidations and mergers of the 1960’s, boutique distilleries, which were small and expensive to run, lost their viability and the distillery was closed.  


Restoring Kentucky’s Heritage


Oldest distillery national landmark celebrate its renovation


In 1994, Brown-Forman recreated a by-gone era by repurchasing and restoring the distillery to its pre-prohibition status.  The goal was to craft Kentucky’s finest bourbon at the location where its production process was perfected. Woodford Reserve was introduced in 1996 to great acclaim and is the first bourbon to win top honors at all three leading tasting competitions. In 2003 the distillery was renamed Woodford Reserve Distillery to honor its leading brand.


Today, The Woodford Reserve Distillery, a National Historic Landmark, is known throughout the world as the Homeplace of Bourbon.  The picturesque site in the heart of thoroughbred country is the only place you can see Kentucky’s two most famous products – bourbon and thoroughbred horses – maturing side by side.  


The Woodford Reserve Distillery has returned to its roots as a small boutique distillery and remains prouder than ever of its heritage.  It is also the only distillery in the country where authentic bourbon production can be found:


• a consistent supply of pure, cold limestone spring water,

• small cypress fermentation vats,

• unique copper pot stills, the traditional means of producing true small batch bourbons,

• 19th century limestone maturation warehouses.


The result is a product with the unique quality and taste that today’s consumer of premium spirits demands – and that Elijah Pepper himself would be proud to offer. It is more than just the finest Kentucky Bourbon Whiskey produced today. It’s a rare taste of history.


Woodford Reserve Bottlings

Four Grain

Masters Collection Seasoned Oak Finish

President's Choice


Woodford Reserve Distillery

7855 McCraken Pike

Versailles, KY 40383

Tel: 859-879-1812


Phone Visitor Centre  for Details and Tickets

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