This postcard of the Old Crow Distillery is from the middle of the 20th century, circa 1960. It is an aerial view of the distillery that sits along Glenn’s Creek in Woodford County, Kentucky. It is just down the road from what is now the Castle and Key Distillery. The distillery has a long history that starts when the firm Gaines, Berry & Co. purchased the popular Old Crow brand after the death of Oscar Pepper. James C. Crow had been the distiller for Oscar Pepper and had the reputation of making the best whiskey in Kentucky. It was important for Gaines, Berry & Co. to build a distillery that was the most modern, with the best stills and most skillful people to make the whiskey and maintain the brand’s heritage and prestige.
The junior partner in Gaines, Berry & Co. was E. H. Taylor, Jr. It fell upon him to spend a year in Europe, travelling to distilleries in Scotland, England, Ireland, Germany, France, Italy and Spain to study their distilling methods to learn what needed to be built to make Old Crow Whiskey. He returned from his travel armed with this knowledge and the firm built the Hermitage Distillery to make Old Crow.
The brand passed to National Distillers during Prohibition and they built most of the buildings seen on this postcard. Keeping to the tradition of Gaines, Berry & Co., the buildings were modern brick heated warehouses. They were proud of their distillery and the brand. The back of the postcard states the following:
“About 1835 James Crow, Scotch physician and surgeon, first made in Kentucky the famous whiskey that bears his name. He is credited with introducing to distillers in this country many innovations in whiskey making which, before his time, was a hit and miss operation.”
They had a heritage to the brand that deserved the best. They ended the note on the back with the sales slogan “Those in the Know ask for Old Crow”.
In the mid-1980s National Distillers was sold to Jim Beam. Jim Beam had little use for the brand and quickly made it a bottom shelf brand. They used the distillery warehouses, but had no use for the distillery and it was mothballed and left to rot. Jim Beam still ages whiskey in some of the warehouses, but some of the warehouses on this postcard have fallen into disrepair.
A few years ago the distillery building was purchased by a person who wanted to open an artisan distillery on the site. I visited him and toured the distillery building, but it was in very bad shape. It would take a lot of money to bring it back to a working distillery even on a small scale. Since then the site has changed ownership and there is another artisan distiller trying to bring it back as a distillery as the Glenn’s Creek Distillery. I wish them luck, as I do want to see the old distillery making whiskey again. The next time I visit Castle & Key, I will have to drive down the road and see what is happening at the Old Crow Distillery.
Photos Courtesy of Rosemary Miller