Chet Zoeller, with his son Trey, founded the Jefferson’s Reserve brand. I have known Chet for over a decade and I helped him find information on many of the distilleries in the book. He is always looking for more information to add to the book. In fact, Chet is on the fifth edition of the book.
Bourbon in Kentucky: A History of Distilleries in Kentucky, By Chester Zoeller, Louisville, Ky.: Butler Books, 2009, Contents, Bibliography, Index, Illustrated, pp.271.
Chet Zoeller has created the book that Sam Cecil attempted to create with “The Evolution of the Kentucky Bourbon Industry in Kentucky”. They are very similar in goal. Both books seek to list every known distillery in Kentucky and get into print whatever knowledge there is about these distilleries. In many cases the only knowledge is the fact that the distillery existed. Zoeller has exhausted the sources and done a very good job of finding the remote Kentucky distillers of bygone days. It is an impressive task when you have to consider that many of these distilleries were quite small and literally disappeared when Prohibition became the law of the land. All that remains is a name in a corporate index or city directory and often with a vague address as to where the distillery was located. This book is a very good reference for anyone wanting to find out just how many distilleries there were in Kentucky, but make no mistake, there are distilleries that did not make it into the book or with additional information to be found. The author even makes a plea for additional information and has set up a website for those who wish to send him that information.
The book itself is a very attractive book filled with illustrations both in color and black and white. It is not only a very handy reference book for the bourbon historian, but also an attractive “coffee table” book. The book itself has a bit of dual personality. It begins with a few pages of prologue discussing how the information on the distilleries is arranged and some of his sources of information, but then it jumps into how to drink whiskey, a brief history of the industry as a whole, what are distilled spirits and their categories and finally how bourbon is made. Then it jumps back to the bulk of the content and the real heart of the book, the listing of the distilleries by Internal Revenue District and the county in the district. It is easy to understand why these early chapters were added as the publisher probably insisted that they be added “to add some interest” to the book – in other words make it marketable to a wider range of consumers. These chapters are very brief and they really do come across as an after- thought for Zoeller, whose real interest was the distilleries. There is nothing wrong with the additional material, but other people have written more on these topics and in more detail. If these subjects are what the reader is looking for, then there are better books, but if the reader has an interest in distilleries, the old photographs in this book alone are worth the purchase price.
The book is well indexed and information is easy to find. It has a bibliography so it is easy to find the sources of information and photographs. For the serious Bourbon historian or distillery enthusiast, this book is a must have in their library.
Photos Courtesy of Rosemary Miller