I first met Peter Pogue at the Oscar Getz Museum of Whiskey History about twenty years ago. We were both part of the Whisky Magazine tasting for the “Best of the Best Whiskey”. Peter introduced himself as we were sitting at a table with Elmer T. Lee, Ed Foote, and a couple of other people whose names escape me right now. He asked what I thought of his Old Pogue Bourbon. I answered him honestly by saying it is a good Bourbon but priced higher than others of the same quality. I understood why he had to charge more, as he was new into the business and I wished him luck in the market. I hoped people would look past the price and support this new brand. He appreciated my honesty of opinion, and we have been friends ever since that encounter.
Old Pogue is a very old brand dating back to 1876 when the distillery was founded in Maysville, Kentucky. The distillery was closed during Prohibition, but much of their whiskey was sold to George Remus and sold on the black market. The Pogue family has correspondence between them and Remus telling him he needs to file the proper paperwork to legally sell this whiskey, but to no avail. It was a legal nightmare for the family. After Prohibition the distillery reopened but was sold to Schenley Distilleries soon afterwards. The distillery operated for some time but was closed in the 1950s as Schenley closed many of its distilleries due to overproduction issues.
In the late 1990s, the Pogue family decided they wanted to get back into the distilling business as a family project. They acquired the old family home overlooking the Ohio River in Maysville and built a small distillery in the garage. They had a family member, John Pogue, as their distiller. For the most part, John is a one man operation. The family come to Maysville and help John when he has to bottle whiskey or some other labor intensive task. It really is a family business and a labor of love for all involved.
You must make a reservation to take a tour. The site is very small, but more importantly, the site is on the hill overlooking the Ohio River and it is a steep drive up to the distillery. When you get there, parking is limited. Also, because John Pogue is usually the only person onsite, he needs to schedule the tours around his schedule. This distillery is a very small distillery. When I first visited, they were making about two barrels a week. They have since expanded their production with a larger still, but it is still very small compared to many other distilleries. They still measure production in barrels per week.
When you arrive at the distillery, you walk up the drive from the public parking to the house. The Pogue family have turned the first floor of the house into a visitor’s center and museum. In the rooms of the house, you will find many things of interest as the Pogue family has kept a lot of correspondence and other material from the family’s distilling days. You will see many old bottles, labels, distilling equipment, and photographs, but also documents such as the correspondence with George Remus. The view from the porch has a great view of the Ohio River and the site of the original distillery along the river. Unfortunately, the original distillery is long gone. The buildings were demolished in the 1960s and there has been erosion from the river over the years.
After touring the house, you walk out to the garage where the distillery is located. They have a hybrid pot still with a small column on top. John is an excellent distiller, making Bourbon and rye from old family recipes he found in the family papers. It is a complex process because of the small size of the distillery. The still has to do double duty as both cooker and still. The hillside keeps the family from expanding the size of the distillery to create a more efficient distillery. They get their water from the same source the original distillery used and you can see the spring that runs down to the river behind the distillery. John describes the distilling process and points to the twenty or so barrels that they age in the distillery. The rest of the barrels are transported offsite where they rent warehouse space from other distilleries. They have a very good relationship with the Willett Distillery and a large portion of their barrels are aged in the Willett warehouses.
The tour takes about an hour, but you could spend that much time just looking at the artifacts and correspondence in the house. It is an excellent tour, but be sure to make reservations before you go.
Photos Courtesy of Maggie Kimberl