Yellowstone Bourbon was first bottled in 1872 by J.B. Dant at his Cold Springs distillery near Gethsemane, Ky. J. B. Dant was the son of J.W.Dant, one of the many sons of J.W. that entered into the distilling industry. J. B. Dant built his Cold Springs distillery in 1854. By 1865 the firm of D. H. Taylor & Co. of Louisville had become his main customer. Dant’s whiskey had a great reputation and D. H. Taylor was selling it in markets across America. The story told is that D. H. Taylor & Co. salesman Charles Townsend, while traveling out west did an informal poll of his customers and they thought a brand of Bourbon named for the newly opened Yellowstone National Park would be a brand that the people out west would purchase. It was decided to have some of Dant’s Bourbon branded as Yellowstone. It was a success.
In 1876 John T. Williams joined Taylor and they formed a new company named Taylor & Williams. Their main office was located at 27 3rd Street between Main and Water Streets, in the heart of Louisville’s “Whiskey Row”. Their flagship brand was Yellowstone Bourbon but also sold Honey Dew and Rich Hill whiskeys, all made for them by J.B. Dant in Gethsemane. By 1882 they had grown and moved to bigger facilities at 133 3rd Street in 1882. John T. Williams acquired the shares of the company from David H. Taylor when Taylor retired in 1892. When bottling became economical for the distillers, the brand was bottled with a label featuring the waterfall at Yellowstone Park. Williams retired and sold the company to J.B. Dant in 1900 and died a few years later in 1903.
In 1906 J.B. Dant once again moved the offices to 843 Main Street, where it remained until Prohibition. Circa 1910 Taylor & Williams purchased the M.C. Beam Distillery, also in Gethsemane, and made Yellowstone at both distilleries. In 1921 the firm of Taylor and Williams moved to a smaller office at 302 Main Street. They still owned barrels of whiskey but did not have a license to sell. During Prohibition, the Yellowstone brand was sold for Taylor & Williams by Brown-Forman, one of the firms that received a license to sell medicinal whiskey during Prohibition. Taylor & Williams kept the brand and the whiskey was owned by them, but sold by Brown-Forman, who charged a fee for storage, bottling and selling the whiskey. The important thing is the firm survived until repeal.
In 1933 Taylor & Williams built a new distillery on the outskirts of Louisville, in what is now Shively, Ky. The story is told that when they built the new distillery, they decided to move one of their warehouses from Gethsemane to Louisville for storage of their whiskey. Warehouse “A” was a link to their pre-Prohibition past. It was not easy to start a distillery after Prohibition. The country was in the middle of the Great Depression and the competition from imported, aged whiskey made profit margins slim. When the United States entered the Second World War in 1941 a wartime prohibition was enacted forbidding the production of beverage alcohol so the distilleries was required to make industrial alcohol for the war effort. Once again the profit margin was very small on this production and by 1944 it was decided to sell the company to Glenmore Distilleries.
Glenmore made Yellowstone one of their flagship brands. In 1956 they started an advertising campaign for Yellowstone calling it “Mellow-mash”. This led to the creation of a premium expression of Yellowstone called “Mellow-mash”. By 1966 Yellowstone was the most popular brand in Kentucky. In 1972, to celebrate the centennial of the brand and Yellowstone National Park, the Yellowstone label was changed to feature the Old Faithful geyser instead of the falls in Yellowstone. The 1970s however, were not as kind to the brand. Bourbon sales declined every year and the distillery was making less whiskey every year as the warehouses remained full. The brand became less popular and fell into a lower quality category even though the quality was still superb. In 1985, Glenmore shut down the distillery in Shively. In 1991 Glenmore was faced with dwindling stocks of whiskey. They needed to decide whether to re-open Yellowstone or the Medley distillery in Owensboro. Instead, they simply sold the company to United Distillers and neither were reopened to make whiskey to support Yellowstone. In 1993 United Distiller sold the brand in a package deal to Heaven Hill, who, in return sold the brand to David Sherman Corporation in St. Louis. The distillery was sold to Florida Distillers who use it to make flavoring spirit for fortified wines and bottled cocktails. The warehouses were mostly torn down but the remaining warehouse was sold to Angel’s Envy.
David Sherman became Luxco in 2006. In 2015 Luxco purchased a share of the Limestone branch Distillery. Part of the deal was that the Yellowstone brand would be given to Limestone Branch Distillery to produce. Steve and Paul Beam are also related to the Dant family and have many of the original mash bills from J.B. Dant’s distillery. The brand is receiving more attention now under the Beams and has moved back into the premium category of Bourbons. The Beam brothers have many plans for the brand and it is now their flagship brand. The future looks good for the brand and Limestone Branch Distillery.
Photos Courtesy of Rosemary Miller