For 200th anniversary, Woodford Reserve Distillery offers chance to sip back in time (Video)

jpatton1@herald-leader.comAugust 21, 2012 

  • If you go

    Woodford Reserve 200th Anniversary Bourbon Feast: 6-10 p.m. Aug. 25. Woodford Reserve Distillery, 7855 McCracken Pike, Versailles. $150 per person. Reservations required. For menu and more info, visit Woodfordreserve.com.; (859) 879-1812.

    History hike: 9 a.m.-1 p.m. Aug. 27-30. Woodford Reserve Distillery, Versailles. $125 per person; includes unique whiskey tastings and gourmet 1812-era lunch. Must be 21 or older. Reservations required; call (859) 879-1934.

VERSAILLES — Woodford Reserve Distillery is offering a peek into the past to celebrate the 200th anniversary of making bourbon on Glen's Creek.

Before there was Woodford Reserve (owned and made today by Louisville-based Brown-Forman Corp.), there was Labrot & Graham, which bought the distillery in 1878. Before Labrot & Graham, there was the intrepid Pepper family.

In 1812, Elijah Pepper began making whiskey in a still on the banks of Glen's Creek, from a limestone spring still burbling there today.

To celebrate, Woodford Reserve will have a one-of-a-kind "Bourbon Feast" for 200 people on Saturday, prepared by Chef Ouita Michel featuring food from surrounding farms.

Beginning Monday, for four days, Woodford Reserve also will offer a "history hike" to the original Pepper family homestead, which started as a log cabin, as well as the Grassy Springs Branch of Glen's Creek, where remnants of what might have been the original still were found.

"We're going to see some stuff nobody's seen in a long time," said Chris Morris, master distiller for Woodford Reserve. Much of the property is off the usual distillery tour route and requires sturdy shoes.

Elijah and Sarah Pepper moved to the area in 1797. Their first distillery was in downtown Versailles, at the big spring behind what is now the Versailles courthouse, Morris said.

Eventually the family, with seven children and 12 slaves, bought 200 acres and settled near the Grassy Springs Branch of Glen's Creek in 1812 in a log cabin that still stands today.

Down the hill, at the spring, Elijah Pepper began making whiskey, Morris said. Originally, it was produced seasonally, mostly for family, friends and neighbors, he said. Over time the process was refined and became more like modern bourbon.

One large copper still pot was found buried at the first distillery site, and it has been brought to a place of honor alongside the modern copper still pots now producing Woodford Reserve.

In 1878, the Pepper family sold the distillery to Leopold Labrot and James Graham, who operated it until 1941 (except during Prohibition), when Brown-Forman acquired the property. The popularity of bourbon waned in the 1960s, and Brown-Forman closed the distillery and sold it to a local farmer in 1971. With craft bourbon making a comeback, Brown-Forman repurchased it in 1993, and Woodford Reserve was introduced in 1996.

Janet Patton: (859) 231-3264. Twitter: janetpattonhl

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