The Ripy Family and Anderson County, Kentucky distilling heritage are deeply entwined. The Ripy family was involved with many of the distilleries in Anderson County and owned a mansion on the Lawrenceburg “whiskey row” of houses that is now a restored home used for events.
James Rippey was born in Ireland and came to America in the 1830s with his two brothers. His name was misspelled on the immigration forms and he elected to keep the spelling of “Ripy” rather than pay to have the form corrected. He settled in what is now Anderson County, married Artemisa and they had five children – Mary E., John R., James P., Thomas B., and Alice M. Ripy.
After the American Civil War, he, with two partners, Monroe Walker and S. P. Martin, started the Walker, Martin and Co. Distillery. His son, Tomas B. Ripy was also invested in the distillery and in 1868 the brand “T.B. Ripy” was first sold. In 1869 Thomas and W.H. McBrayer purchased the distillery, which was mashing 150 bushels a day. In 1870, Thomas purchased McBrayer’s share of the distillery. In 1872, James Ripy died and Thomas became the sole owner of the distillery.
In 1873, Thomas B. Ripy built the Cliff Springs Distillery, DSP 112, with a capacity of 600 bushels per day. In 1881, he built a third distillery, the Clover Bottom Distillery, DSP 418. with a capacity of 1,500 bushels per day. He owned three distilleries in Anderson County. His brother James P. got involved in the distilling when he purchased the Old Hickory Springs Distillery in 1888. Thomas enlarged the Clover Bottom Distillery in 1890 to a capacity of 1,250 bushels per day. He actually tore down the old distillery to make these improvements.
The same year, James P. introduced the brand “J.P. Ripy Sour Mash Whiskey. By 1893, the T.B. Ripy Cliff Springs Distillery was employing 200 workers and making the brands T.B. Ripy Anderson County Sour Mash, J.A. McBrayer, Cliff Springs, M.S. Bond, S.T. Willis, and Clover Springs.
In 1902, The T.B. Ripy distilleries became part of the Kentucky Distillers and Warehouse Co. The next generation of Ripys entered the business as this was happening. T.B. Ripy’s sons Ernest, Forest and Ezra opened the Ripy Brothers Distillery. In 1905 Forest and his brother James C. acquired the Old Hickory Springs Distillery. The Ripy family had ties to several distilleries in Anderson County, but Prohibition shut them all down in 1920.
After Prohibition, the Ripy brothers distillery re-opened in 1937, but as was in many cases, opening a distillery during the Great Depression was a losing gamble. When World War Two started, the distillery was sold to Alvin and Bob Gould of Cincinnati who made it a J.T.S. Brown Distillery. It was during the war that the owners of Austin Nichols, a New York liquor distributor, started purchasing whiskey or their Wild Turkey brand from this distillery. In 1972, Austin Nichols purchased the distillery.
Also after Prohibition ended, Ezra and Robert Ripy started distilling at the Hoffman Distillery. They changed the name to Commonwealth Distilling Co. and produced the brands Old Hoffman, Kentucky Burley and Old Spring. In the 1960s, they created the brand “Ezra Brooks” to compete with Jack Daniels, with a similar square glass bottle and black label. They ended up selling the distillery and brands in the 1970s to the Medley Distilling Co., who shut down the distillery. It was later purchased by Julian Van Winkle III, who used it to store and bottle his whiskey brands there until he merged with Buffalo Trace.
The Ripy family has had a long history of distilling in Anderson County, Kentucky. This heritage lives on through the Russell family at Wild Turkey, as Jimmy Russell learned his trade from a Ripy. The family is often overshadowed by families such as the Beams, the Browns, the Dants and the Van Winkles, but they too played an important part in Kentucky’s Distilling heritage.
Photos Courtesy of Rosemary Miller