Everyone knows about William LaRue Weller but few know about his grandfather Daniel Weller. He has a rich history in Kentucky’s Distilling industry that starts in the 18th century. According to legend distillers came to Kentucky from Pennsylvania during the Whiskey rebellion to escape the Federal taxes, but that is not the case. Daniel Weller is a prime example of how that is not true.

The Weller family is from Maryland. Daniel fought in the Revolutionary War. His family had a business in Maryland making matches. When Daniel’s father passed away he decided to come to Kentucky as a settler. He purchased land in Nelson County near the present day Bullitt County line. The area of his farm is marked today as you go into Nelson County off US 245 on a road called Weller Loop. The family came down the Ohio River in a flatboat to Louisville and then over land to Nelson County in 1796. His brother came with him and became a well-known gunsmith. Weller flintlock rifles are very collectible today.

Once in Nelson County they began to farm and Daniel became a farmer-distiller. He raised corn as did most settlers at that time. We don’t know if he was part of the Whiskey Rebellion in Kentucky but we do know that in the year 1800 he was issued a license to distill whiskey for three weeks. This is the earliest surviving license in the public records for Daniel Weller. The license is actually issued to allow a neighbor to make whiskey on Weller’s still. This was a very common practice of the time. If you did not own a still yourself, you would hire a still from your neighbor and have them make the whiskey for you while you paid the taxes to the government. Weller’s still was a 90 gallon pot still. Judging by local yields at the time, the neighbor probably made between 150 and 200 gallons of whiskey in that period – 4 or 5 48 gallon barrels. His mash bill was probably a traditional “Bourbon” mash bill of corn, rye and malt, but of course no one was calling it “Bourbon” at that time. In 1802 President Thomas Jefferson repealed the whiskey tax so we have no tax record of Daniel Weller’s distillery.

In 1807 Daniel Weller died from complications of the injuries he sustained when he fell from a horse. In his inventory of estate he had 2 stills, mash tubs, cooper’s tools and jugs valued at $212.17. His distillery had grown in size since the year 1800. His son Samuel Weller purchased this distilling equipment in 1815 for a sum of $208.50. Samuel Weller made his whiskey in LaRue County but since there were no Federal taxes, there is not any official records of the distillery and if he invested any more money in the size of the distillery. The Will Book for LaRue County is missing so it is unknown as to what happened to the distillery upon his death in the 1850s. Samuel is the father of William LaRue Weller. W.L. Weller probably started his business in Louisville in 1849 selling whiskey made by his father back in LaRue County.

Daniel Weller is a typical farmer-distiller in early Kentucky. His heritage of distilling lived on first through his son Samuel and more famously through his grandson William LaRue Weller. He is almost forgotten today but I think Buffalo Trace should do a special bottling of Bourbon named for Daniel Weller that honors this early farmer-distiller of the 18th century.

Header image: Typical early farm distillery setup
Above: Early farmer distillers

Photos Courtesy of the Bourbon Veach Archive