Today, when people think about distilling families, they usually think of the name “Beam”. One hundred years ago they would have also thought of the name “Dant”. It has only been in the last 50 years or so that the Dant family faded into the background of public thought about Bourbon families. The Dant family has a very long and rich history of Bourbon distilling.
It all started in the year 1836 when Joseph W. Dant fashioned a still out of a poplar tree log and started making whiskey in Nelson County, Ky., at Dant’s Station. It was a modest business on his farm. He grew the grain, grew his own yeast and made the cooperage himself. His neighbors thought he made the best sour mash whiskey in the country. His whiskey soon began to sell and he would soon be able to afford a proper copper pot still. The business remained modest in size until 1870, when J.W. Dant built a modern distillery at Dant’s Station.
J. W. Dant and his wife had seven sons and they all became involved in the distilling industry. His son George W. Dant eventually took over J.W. Dant Distillery. In 1854, J.W.’s eldest son, J.B. Dant, opened his own distillery and started making whiskey. In 1865, J. B. moved his distillery down the road to Gethsemane, Ky. and his whiskey was distributed by the firm Taylor & Williams. In 1872, one of the Taylor & Williams salesmen, Charles Townsend, witnessed the excitement of the opening of Yellowstone Park. He suggested that a whiskey brand of that name would sell well. He was correct and it soon became the flagship brand for Taylor & Williams and J.B. Dant’s distillery. J.W.’s sons, Thomas Sidney, Frank L., James R. and Wallace W., along with George W., all worked for their father at the J.W. Dant distillery. Another son of J.W. Dant, J. P. Dant distilled at the Pleasure Ridge Park distillery in Jefferson County, Ky.
Prohibition shut down the family businesses. Their brands continued to be sold as medicinal whiskey, but this was done by other companies that had the license to do so. When Prohibition was repealed in 1933, the Dant family returned to the distilling business. Amazingly, of J.W. Dant’s seven sons, all were still alive in 1936 except for Wallace W. Dant. They were quite elderly, but that did not prevent them from getting back into the business. Most were involved with the revival of the J.W. Dant distillery, but J.B. Dant and his six sons built the Taylor & Williams Yellowstone Distillery in Jefferson County, Ky.
Starting a distillery in the 1930s was no easy task. The Great Depression made money hard to get and distilling took a lot of money to get started. It took four years to get a bonded whiskey into the market and in the meantime, the Canadians and the Scots were flooding the market with aged spirits. Outside investors became involved and the Dant families soon were fading into the background of ownership.
By the end of World War Two, both J.W. Dant and the Yellowstone distilleries and brands had been sold to larger companies. J.W. Dant went to Arm & Hammer, who would sell it to Schenley in 1952, and Yellowstone was acquired by Glenmore. The Dant family remained working at these companies for many years, but they slowly disappeared from the public eye. Eventually, both Schenley and Glenmore would be acquired by United Distillers. United Distillers sold the J.W. Dant and the Yellowstone brand to Heaven Hill. Heaven Hill sold the Yellowstone brand to Luxco.
The 21st century has seen a revival of the Dant legacy with Steve and Paul Beam starting the Limestone Branch Distillery. These two brothers may have a Beam father, but their mother is from the Dant family. They are equally as proud of their mother’s distilling heritage as their father’s long heritage. A few years back, the Beam brothers partnered with Luxco and were able to bring the Yellowstone brand back into the family. The Dant family legacy is revived and surviving into the new century.
Photos Courtesy of Rosemary Miller