I love history be it whiskey history, American history or world history, I just can’t seem to get enough. So when I started getting into whiskey I had an inherent sense to want to know more. The stories behind the brands, distilleries and just the legend of bourbon itself. For other history fans I highly recommend Michael Veach’s new book Kentucky Bourbon Whiskey: An American Heritage. It’s filled with little tid bits of whiskey history.
The purpose behind this In Focus is to take a closer look at the one of the ‘fathers’ of the modern whiskey business. While Edmund Hayes Taylor Jr. might be familiar to enthusiast, the casual whiskey fan might not be aware of the contributions Taylor had to the whiskey industry. So in part 1 of this In Focus we’ll be looking at E.H. Taylor Jr.’s life and in part 2 will look at the bill he helped push into law for a better quality whiskey – The Bottled In Bond Act of 1897.
Taylor Jr. was born in 1830 in Columbia, Kentucky and was the grand nephew of Zachary Taylor, the 12th president of the United States. After the early death of his father Taylor made his way to Lexington to stay with his uncle, Edmund Hayes Taylor (hence the Jr. in his name, out of respect for his uncle). The young Taylor first embarked on a banking career but after the panic of 1857 his young firm failed. Though his banking career was a failure it did allow him to rub elbows with prominent whiskey makers of the day and in 1864 he entered the liquor business, getting an office in Louisville’s Whiskey Row.
Whiskey Row was an area on Main St. lined with office buildings of big distilleries. Today there is a restoration project to return the luster of Whiskey Row and attract tourist.
After getting his feet wet in the liquor business Taylor purchased a small distillery in Leestown, Ky in 1969 and renamed it O.F.C (Old Fashioned Copper) Distillery. Prior to him purchasing the distillery, Taylor had spent some time in Europe looking at the latest in modern distilling technology and incorporated these techniques in his new distillery. His modern warehouses were the first of their kind with ‘climate control’ steam heating system, barrel ricks and copper fermentation tanks. Though much of the process was ‘modern’ the whiskey making was done in pot stills ‘the old fashioned way’. Taylor found pot stills to produce a superior whiskey.
Not only was Taylor dedicated to making quality whiskey he was equally dedicated to letting people know how great his whiskey was. As an advertising fan I always find these early pioneers of branding so interesting. A concept that seems simple by today’s standards is what helped these early marketers to stay ahead of the competition. As he continued to market his brands of whiskey his products continued to gain more respect with consumers and his whiskey was on average around 20 cents more a gallon than some of his competitors.
Unfortunately no amount of branding or market strategy could help when Taylor fell victim to overproduction in tough economic times. In 1878 he lost control of O.F.C. Distillery and it was purchased by George T. Stagg. Though Taylor lost control of his distillery he went on to build a new distillery called EH Taylor Jr. & Sons Distillery and branded his own Old Taylor bourbon. Around this time makers of ‘rectified’ (color and flavor added) whiskey were getting a foot hold on the whiskey market share and Taylor along with other distillers began to push for true or real whiskey.
After his time in the whiskey industry Taylor went on to become the mayor of Frankfort for 16 years. In his later years he bred and raised champion Hereford cattle. Taylor’s long rich life finally came to an end on January 19, 1923 but the man heralded as the father of the modern whiskey industry continues to live on. His ‘Old Taylor’ brand of bourbon, that survived long after the man it’s named for, was recently purchased by Buffalo Trace. They have repackaged it as EH Taylor Jr Bourbon in a bottle and label that might have been what it looked like in Taylor’s day. All bourbons in the new line, the exception of the Barrel Proof expression, are Bottled In Bond.
In part 2 we will look at just what Bottled In Bond is and how it got started.