In the year 1867 Adam and Ben Chapeze built a distillery at Chapeze, Ky. These two brothers were the children of Henri Chapiers, a French Hugenot and a surgeon during the American revolution who settled in Kentucky after the war. They created Old Charter bourbon in 1874, naming the brand for the Charter Oak Tree located in the courtyard of Hartford, Connecticut. This was the same year that the Kentucky Derby was first run at Churchill Downs.
In 1890 the firm of Wright and Taylor purchased the distillery and the brand from Leman and More, who had just acquired it from the Chapeze brothers. It became their flagship brand for the growing company. John J. Wright and Marion E. Taylor had entered the spirits industry as rectifiers in 1886. Their other brands were Old Ky. Taylor, Pride of Louisville and Cane Springs. Their offices were located at 137 3rd Street in Louisville. Wright retired from the business the following year, but Marion Taylor continued to operate under the name Wright and Taylor. In 1894 the firm moved into the heart of Louisville’s “Whiskey Row” at 519 West Main Street. They enlarged the distillery in 1896 to a capacity of mashing 1,000 bushels per day. The growing company then purchases a larger office at 135 West Main Street in 1899. The following year they created the brands Old Charter Bottled-in-Bond and Old Charter Rye.
Wright and Taylor advertised the brand with an electric light display at the Knight Templar’s Triennial Conclave in Louisville in 1901. They successfully defended their trade mark from the “Charter Oak” brand in 1905 and distributed the brand across the United States and even as far as Nome, Alaska. The brand grew with the company so that by 1911 it was valued in Mida’s Criteria as being worth between $600,000 and $750,000.
Prohibition brought an end to Wright and Taylor in the spirits industry and they shifted to real estate. However they continued to own the stocks of whiskey produced before 1920 and placed their whiskey in the Stitzel consolidation warehouses. Stitzel bottled and sold this whiskey for Wright and Taylor as medicinal whiskey during Prohibition charging Wright and Taylor for storage fees, bottling expenses and a $1.00 per case commission on the sales. In 1929, the remaining stocks, aged 12 years and 13 summers were bottled by Stitzel at Marion Taylor’s request. Taylor felt that it had reached its prime and should be bottled before it became too bitter from the wood.
With the end of Prohibition, Marion Taylor sold the brand to Leo Gerngross and Emil Schwartzhaupt, two businessmen from Chicago who also purchased the Bernheim Distillery and brands as well as the Max Selliger Belmont and Astor distilleries and brands. They started production at the Belmont and Astor Distilleries and change the name to “Bernheim Distillery” where they produced I.W. Harper, Belmont, Astor and Old Charter whiskeys. In 1937 Gerngross and Schwartzhaupt sold their company to Schenley Distilleries. That same year Schenley purchased the original Old Charter distillery at Chapeze, KY. and renamed it “Limestone Springs Distillery”. Schenley made the whiskey for the brand at several different distilleries including Bernheim Distillery, Limestone Springs Distillery and the Geo. T. Stagg Distillery.
Old Carter had become a bonded Bourbon and an 8 year old Bourbon for Schenley and they promoted it as “The whiskey that did not watch the clock”. After 1958, Schenley was in the position to sell whiskey older than 8 years old. They had convinced the U.S. Government to increase the bonding period for whiskey from 8 to 20 years. They introduced 10 year old and twelve year old versions of the brand. To promote this older whiskey they created a collection of antique clocks that would tour the country promoting Old Charter. This collection had a wide variety of clocks, some over 100 years old. The collection was sold off in the 1980s after Schenley’s founder, Louis Rosenstiel sold the company.
The brand became part of the United Distillers portfolio in 1987. United Distillers introduced the 13 year old Old Charter Proprietor’s Reserve in 1994 as part of their “Bourbon Heritage Collection”. However United Distillers had lost interest in Bourbon and sold off many of their brands in the 1990s. In 1997, the Old Charter brand was part of a brand purchase by Buffalo Trace. This was a period when Buffalo Trace was increasing their portfolio of brands and even though some stocks of whiskey came with this purchase, they began to run out of the older whiskey needed to support many of the Old Charter brands. They discontinued the Proprietor’s Reserve and the 12 year old expression within a decade of their acquisition of the brand. The brand still exists but without age statements. There is the Old Charter No. 8, aged eight seasons and Old Charter 101 still on the market today.
Photos Courtesy of Rosemary Miller