The Ezra Brooks brand was created by “21” Brands, Inc. This company was founded in 1933 in New York as a distributing company. In 1959, “21” Brands, Inc. decided to take advantage of a shortage of Jack Daniel’s Old No.7, which was growing in popularity due to several factors that included being enjoyed by the members of “The Rat Pack” in Hollywood. There never was an “Ezra Brooks” as a person. The name was created by the marketing department. The packaging was designed with a square bottle, just like Old No. 7, with a black and white label, similar to Old No. 7, and advertised as “charcoal filtered”.
Now this was not the “Lincoln County Process” used in Tennessee. It was simply that most whiskeys in the 1950s used a handful of activated charcoal in their filtering process because the charcoal would attract the oily components in the whiskey and make them easier to remove through the paper filters in the filtering process. These were the days before economical chill filtering. Like Old No. 7, the brand was bottled at 90 proof and labeled a “sour mash”. Of course, they were promptly sued by Brown-Forman who owned Jack Daniel’s for trademark infringement. However, “21” Brands, Inc. won the case in 1961 and it opened the door for many other Old No. 7 copycat brands to enter the market.
By 1966, the brand was being made at the Hoffman Distilling Company which was owned by Ben, William and Robert Ripy. The distillery was a small operation with only 300 bushels per day of capacity. The bottle proudly had a depiction of the distillery on the label and claimed they were made by “Kentucky’s Finest Little Distillery”. In the 1970s and 80s, the brand released many ceramic figural decanters to boost sales. This was a tough time in the Bourbon industry with sales falling every year as Bourbon’s market share lost ground to vodka and Tequila. In 1979, The Medley Distilling Company acquired “21” Brands, Inc. and the Ezra Brooks brand. Production shifted to Owensboro, Kentucky at the Medley Distillery.
To keep with the Old No. 7 theme, the Medley people put the fact that they were in the 7th generation of distilling on the label so that there was a number “7” found on the label. The Medley mash bill for the Bourbon was 77% corn, 10% rye and 13% malted barley. Ezra Brooks became the Medley Distillery’s flagship brand. In 1988, Glenmore Distilleries acquired the Medley Distillery and their brands. Ezra Brooks quickly became one of their flagship brands along with Yellowstone, Kentucky Tavern and Mellowmash. In 1989, Ezra Brooks won a gold medal at the International Spirits Competition in London, England. In 1991, United Distillers acquired Glenmore Distilleries and the brand became just another Bourbon in their huge portfolio of Bourbons at the time.
In 1992, United Distillers sold many of their brands to Heaven Hill, including Ezra Brooks. Heaven Hill in turn sold the brand to a St. Louis, Missouri based customer of theirs, David Sherman Corporation, owned by David Sherman, Sr. and Paul A. Lux. In 2006, that company became Luxco. Heaven Hill agreed to supply barrels of Bourbon to support the brand. As Bourbon sales increased this became harder for Heaven Hill to continue to supply barrels of product to Luxco. In 2016, Luxco built a distillery in Bardstown, Kentucky that will make Bourbon for all of their brands, including Ezra Brooks.
The Ezra Brooks brand has a short but interesting heritage. The whiskey was made by two of Kentucky’s most prominent distilling families: first, the Ripys near Lawrenceburg, Kentucky and then the Medleys in Owensboro, Kentucky. For a period of about two decades, the brand became a sourced whiskey brand, but as we enter the second decade of the 21st century, it is once again being made at its own distillery but this time in Bardstown, Kentucky.
Photos Courtesy of Rosemary Miller