In the year 1634, John Medley became one of the English Catholics that came to the new world and settled in Maryland. He brought a still with him from England and settled in the area that became known as Medley Bend, Maryland, on the Potomac River. In the year 1800, John Medley VI moved to Washington County, Kentucky where he bought a farm and started distilling whiskey. He was successful at distilling and when he passed away in 1814, his inventory of estate listed two stills and 40 mash tubs as part of his estate.
The family continued to run that Washington County distillery for many years after his death. They also became involved with other distilleries in the region. When R.N. Wathen opened his distillery in 1870, his grandson, George Medley went to work for him. George learned the distilling industry from his family and he would be the person that moved the Medley distilling tradition from Washington County and central Kentucky, to Owensboro and western Kentucky. In 1901, George Medley and his son Thomas purchased the Daviess County Distillery in Owensboro from the Monarch family. George Medley died on Christmas Eve, 1910 and his son Thomas inherited the distillery. A year later, a fire destroyed a bonded warehouse and the bottling house at the distillery. Despite this loss, Mida’s Criteria still listed the Daviess county Distillery as having a value of between $150,000 – $200,000, the next year.
Prohibition shut down the distillery, but Thomas Medley sold barrels of whiskey to American Medicinal Spirits Company (later known as National Distillers) and this allowed him to keep the distillery. He re-opened the distillery at the end of Prohibition and one again made whiskey. He also employed his five sons in the business.
In 1940, Thomas sold the business to Fleischmann’s Distilling Company and retired. Unfortunately, he passed away soon after he retired. His five sons, however, took their share of the money from the sale of the distillery and purchased the long abandoned Green River Distillery and rebuilt it as a new, modern distillery. In 1940, Medley Distilling Company was founded by Ben, John, Edwin, Wathen and Tom Medley. Their flagship brand was the Medley Bros. brand.
In 1960, Tom and Ben Medley purchased a distillery in Stanley, Kentucky and rebuilt it. This was a short lived venture and the distillery closed within a decade after it was finished. The Medley Distilling Company continued to prosper through the 1950s and 60s.
In 1976, the company purchased the Ezra Brooks brand. They made this whiskey with a mash bill of 77% corn, 10% rye and 13% malted barley. The barrel entry proof was 115. Charles Medley became the distiller at this time. As the five brothers passed away, the family decided to sell the distillery in 1988.
Glenmore Distilleries purchased the distillery but they shut down production. They still had a glut of whiskey from their own distilleries and did not need to produce more at the time. Just two years later, United Distillers acquired Glenmore and the Medley Distillery was placed on the market. In 1995, Charles Medley managed to raise the money to purchase the distillery from United Distillers and return it to the Medley family.
Charles was about 10 years too early for the Bourbon boom that started in the early 21st century. He never managed to raise the money needed to start distilling. He and his son, Sam, did manage to launch several brands, such as Wathen’s Single Barrel Bourbon, and Medley Bros. Bourbon, but they never managed to distill their own whiskey at the family distillery.
In 2007, Charles sold the distillery to Angostura who had plans to distill whiskey there, but the recession of 2008 ended those plans. In 2014, the Terressentia Corporation purchased the distillery and started distilling whiskey. In 2020 they changed the name of the distillery back to Green River Distillery and will release Green River Bourbon in 2021. Charles Medley is still a consultant with the new company.
The Medley Family heritage survives today as Charles and his son Sam continue to source fine whiskey and keep the family brands alive. They are a family that has been involved in the distilling industry for centuries. I would not be surprised if Sam or one of his cousins, don’t return to the distilling side of the industry in the future. I wonder what that distillery in Stanley looks like today?
Photos from the archives of Michael Veach and Courtesy of Rosemary Miller