On April 5, 2019 James “Buddy” Thompson passed away. He was the last Thompson to be Chairman of the Board at Glenmore Distilleries. Buddy was a very intelligent man who loved aviation, computers and other modern innovations. He was the head of a business founded by his grandfather, James Thompson in 1889.
James Thompson was born in Londonderry, Ireland in 1855. He came to America in 1871 and worked for two of his uncles in Bowling Green, Ky. for two years to pay for his transportation to America. In 1876 his cousin, George Garvin Brown, gave Thompson a job as a salesman selling Old Forrester Bourbon. He was a successful salesman and by 1881 he became a partner with Brown in the firm Brown-Thompson. This partnership lasts for eight years. In 1889, Thompson sold his minority interest in the company to George Forman and started his own whiskey company.
James’ younger brother, Francis P. Thompson had come to America to join James in the formation of James Thompson & Bro. They were rectifiers, purchasing bulk whiskey and creating their own blend, Old Thompson. Unfortunately Francis died in 1891 and James was left on his own. In 1894 James married Atlanta W. Barton and they started a family. The business continued to grow and in 1901 James Thompson & Bro. purchased the Monarch Distillery in Owensboro, Ky. and renamed it for the brand Glenmore. Thompson placed his brother-in-law, Harry S. Barton in charge of the distillery. Barton quickly gained the reputation for making a fine whiskey. It was one of the largest distilleries in the State of Kentucky at that time and producing 720 barrels a day. The following year James Thompson & Bro. trademarked the Kentucky Tavern brand.
Prohibition shut down the distilleries in the United States in 1920. James Thompson applied for and received a license to sell medicinal spirits, using their whiskey in Owensboro but also representing several other firms that owned whiskey but did not have a license to sell it. He was not getting rich, but the company survived. In 1924, James Thompson died and Joseph Englehard became President of James Thompson & Bro. James’ son Frank was involved in the company but was also involved in other pursuits. Prohibition made the whiskey industry an unattractive career. In 1927 Englehard merges James Thompson & Bro. with the Glenmore Distillery to create Glenmore Distilleries Co.
After Repeal, Glenmore Distillery was again making whiskey. In 1934 Glenmore introduced a special package for the holidays. It is a formed cardboard snowman that slipped over a quart bottle of Kentucky Tavern. Despite a major fire in 1938 destroyed much of the aging whiskey, the distillery was spared and the company continued to grow. In 1944 the purchase of the Yellowstone Distillery and Brand gave them a distillery in Shively, Ky. After the war, Glenmore Distilleries diversified by acquiring a cooperage and entering the import business selling Scotch whisky and other European spirits and wines.
Joseph Englehard retired in 1965. Frank B. Thompson, Jr., Buddy Thompson’s younger brother became the new President of Glenmore Distilleries. Buddy Thompson was happy with his other interest such as getting a law degree and running the Old South Life insurance Company. However in 1974, Frank Thompson was diagnosed with brain cancer and Buddy reluctantly took over the company. Glenmore expanded in 1970 with the purchase of the Old Mr. Boston Co. and again in 1988 with the purchase of the Medley Distillery and brands. In 1991, Buddy Thompson decided to sell the company to United Distillers, the spirits branch of Guinness Beer. Buddy stayed on a while during the transaction, but then retired.
When Buddy Thompson sold the company, he did retain the “Mellowmash” trademark and the whiskey in the warehouses for that brand. It was his favorite Bourbon and he wanted to keep the option open of creating a brand similar to what the Van Winkles had done after selling Stitzel-Weller. That never happened, but the whiskey did end up being bottled as “Final Reserve” with the profits donated to several charities that support veterans. James “Buddy” Thompson’s death ends a legacy that started back in the 19th century and lasted just over a century. He will be missed.
Photos Courtesy of Rosemary Miller