Mint Julep Tours likes to do specialty tours of Bourbon Country. Last summer they asked me to do a tour focusing on the history of E.H. Taylor, Jr. It was a small tour of about 20 people which gave me plenty of time to interact with the people on the tour. It started and ended in Louisville at the Galt House Hotel with stops at Vendome Copper and Brass, Buffalo Trace Distillery and Castle and Key Distillery. I filled the travel time on the bus by discussing the rich history of this important figure in Bourbon History.
The sidewalk tour of Vendome was an important stop on the tour because E. H. Taylor, Jr. was a believer in fine copper work at his distilleries. Taylor was known for looking at the stills and equipment at the other distilleries and copying what he liked for his own places. For example, he particularly liked the tail boxes at W.L. Weller and Sons and had them duplicated for his OFC Distillery. Vendome did not exist in the 1870s but it is a modern example of fine copper work being done for the modern distilling industry.
After leaving Vendome, the next stop was Buffalo Trace Distillery. On the bus I told the history of Taylor’s early life. He was born in the 1830s in the Jackson Purchase region of western Kentucky near the banks of the Mississippi River. His father died when he was a child and for a while he was raised by his great uncle, General Zachary Taylor. When he was old enough to start school, he went to live with his uncle, E. H. Taylor and that is when he added Jr. to his name. After a brief stint as a private banker and the Civil War he becomes a partner with Gaines, Berry and Co. where he was sent to Europe to discover the best distilling methods to use in the construction of the Hermitage Distillery, the new home for Old Crow Bourbon and Rye. He took this information with him when he purchased a distillery and rebuilt it into the OFC Distillery.
At Buffalo Trace we toured the old Taylor House on the site and we discussed how Taylor saw the distillery as a place that should be open to visitors. He wanted a nice looking facility filled with the best equipment and making the best whiskey possible. In the house we examined artifacts from the old distillery, Taylor’s life and discussed the family history. The tour of the house was led by Joanna Hay who is married to Taylor Hay, Jr. After touring the house we had sampled some Bourbon’s with tour guide Don Flynn before heading to our next stop.
Back on the bus and heading to Castle and Key Distillery I discussed how Taylor went bankrupt and sold the OFC Distillery to the firm of Gregory and Stagg. He left that firm to start a new distillery with his sons called E.H. Taylor, Jr. and Sons. They took another old distillery and rebuilt it to be showplace complete with a castle building for the distillery, a sunken garden and a peristyle over the spring that fed the distillery. It took him about 15 years to get things the way he wanted but he was quite pleased with the result. Prohibition closed down the distillery and it was sold to National Distillers after repeal.
Marianne Barnes led the tour of the facility. The guests had a long walking tour of the distillery while she explained the process of bringing back the buildings and placing new equipment in place. After the tour, there was a cocktail tasting and small bites. The cocktails were old fashioned cocktails made in a variety of styles.
The trip back to Louisville had me talking about Taylor during prohibition. Taylor became a breeder of Herford cattle. He was well known as a breeder and the Cattleman’s Association in Chicago even had his portrait hanging in their building. Taylor passed away before prohibition ended and the brand was sold to National Distillers. It passed from National to Jim Beam and finally to Buffalo Trace. Everyone on the tour had a great time and enjoyed the behind the scene tours of the Taylor house at Buffalo trace and Castle and Key. For me there was an added bonus – I met Rosemary Miller on the tour and a year later we are engaged to be married. I hope to do the tour again in the future. I can’t guarantee that you will find true love on a Mint Julep tour, but you never know.
Photos Courtesy of Michael Veach and Maggie Kimberl