One of my favorite distillery tours is at Kentucky Peerless Distilling Co. at 120 N. 10th Street, in Louisville. Peerless has a rich heritage in the distilling business that was lost for almost a century. Peerless Distillery was originally in Henderson, Kentucky. It was originally the Worsham Distilling Company and Peerless was their flagship brand. In 1889 Henry Kraver purchased the distillery and renamed it the Peerless Distillery. The distillery closed just before Prohibition and the brand was abandoned once the remaining stocks were sold as medicinal whiskey.
The story picks up in the 21st century. Corky Taylor had retired after a very successful career in the finance business. He remembered that his great grandfather was in the distilling business and decided he wanted to get the family back in the business. He partnered with his son, Carson Taylor, who was in the contracting business, and purchased an old tobacco warehouse in Louisville and rebuilt it as the Kentucky Peerless Distillery. He managed to get the old Peerless Distillery DSP number of DSP-KY-50 for the modern distillery and started making whiskey.
The distillery offers an excellent tour. There is parking on the street near the distillery and it is within an easy walk from the 21c Hotel and the Frazier Museum, the Head of The Bourbon Trail. You enter the distillery and find yourself in a well provisioned gift shop. The gift shop has all of the branded items such as glassware, t-shirts, coasters and bottles of their products, but it also has many other items such as books, foods such as pickles, sauces and condiments with Bourbon in them. If you have not already booked your tour, you can sign up for one at the sales desk. The tour starts in the gift shop.
The first stop of the tour is at the foot of a stairwell with photographs and memorabilia from the original distillery and Corky Taylor’s family. When Corky is at the distillery, which is quite often, he gives the history of his family and the distillery himself. He is an excellent speaker and the story he tells is interesting, fun and most of all, true. I will not give details here as it is best heard from Corky Taylor. Once that story is told and questions answered, the group will head up the stairs to the fermenting tanks. Peerless is a sweet mash distillery and they have modern computer controls that allow them to monitor every step of the process. This is needed when making a sweet mash whiskey as things can go wrong quickly if it is not monitored. The guide will explain the cooking process (the cooker is near the fermenting vats on the floor below). They do not give out their mash bills but will admit that the rye whiskey has a high percentage of corn.
Leaving this area, the tour goes down another flight of stairs by the cooker and heads over to the distillery. They have a small column still and a pot still doubler. If you are lucky, the Master Distiller, Caleb Kilburn, will be there and answer questions. Caleb is young, but he is very talented and works hard to make the best whiskey possible. One of the things that they are proud of is their 107 barrel entry proof, much lower than the 125 maximum allowed and used by many distilleries today. The fill station for the barrels is near the stills. The tour walks past it as they head toward the bottling room. The tour will walk past the bins where they receive their grains as they head toward the bottling room. The bottling room is much like other bottling rooms in small distilleries. Carson designed the bottle they use for their whiskeys and Peerless is proud to have it made in America rather than overseas. It is a bit more expensive but they like the quality of work being done in America and the fact that it is keeping Americans working.
Leaving the bottling room, the next stop is warehousing. They store barrels on sight, but have grown to where they also have a warehouse off site for their barrels. It is a fairly large storage area for the barrels, but still too small to fill their needs. Passing through the warehouse, the final stop is the tasting room. Here you will taste several versions of their Bourbon and Rye whiskeys. They always have single barrel selections in the gift shop and you can taste them in the tasting room to decide which bottle you might want to take home with you. All of their products are bottled at barrel proof and will range in proof from about 107 to 110 proof.
If you are in Louisville, I highly recommend that you tour the Peerless Distillery. It is an interesting tour and they make great whiskey. Pick up a bottle and get Corky, Carson and Caleb to sign the bottle, if possible. You will be glad you did.
Photos Courtesy of Rosemary Miller