Historic Woodford County distilleries to be renovated

jpatton1@herald-leader.comMay 8, 2014 

The historic, mothballed Old Taylor Distillery in Woodford County has been sold to a partnership of two Kentucky businessmen who plan to reopen it as a distillery and tourist attraction.

Called Peristyle, the newly formed company plans to invest $6.2 million in restoration of the 83-acre property and create 10 full-time jobs.

"This is exciting news on so many levels," Gov. Steve Beshear said in a statement from the state. "Not only will Peristyle's investment further solidify Kentucky's bourbon legacy and create more jobs, but it also signals the renaissance of one of the state's most historic and iconic distilleries."

The complex of warehouses and other buildings has been abandoned since 1972, when a drop in demand for bourbon led to the closing of the distillery.

"The Old Taylor Distillery is one of the most remarkable landmarks in Central Kentucky," Nicholasville attorney Will Arvin, an executive at Peristyle, said in a statement. "This one-of-a-kind property holds great promise to become a prime destination for tourists and Kentuckians alike."

Built in 1887, the Old Taylor Distillery was once considered a showcase of bourbon making in Kentucky, and one of the world's largest stills and one of the longest bourbon warehouses are still in place, according to the news release from Beshear's office announcing the plans.

Founder E.H. Taylor is known as the father of the modern bourbon industry for his key role in the passage of the federal Bottled in Bond Act of 1897, which ended the widespread adulteration of distilled spirits.

Old Taylor was the first distillery to reach 1 million U.S. government-certified cases of straight bourbon. The complex — with an ornate, colonnaded spring house, sunken gardens, a fish pond and limestone buildings — once resembled a castle but has fallen into disrepair.

Arvin and partner Wes Murry, a principal in Sagebrush Investment Partnership, bought the property for $950,000 and plan to restore it in phases and open it to visitors in 18 months. Neither has previous distilling experience, but they said they hope to bring back spirits production and to create a tourism and events attraction.

"I have a passion for bourbon and a passion for all things Kentucky, and when we saw this place, we wanted to bring it back to prominence and production," Arvin said in an interview. "We're going to work with people who have experience to help us learn."

Murry said that once they have a still, "we're going to take advantage of demand for unaged spirit, as similar start-up distilleries have done to fund working capital requirements for making bourbon. Bourbon has to sit for four years, and it's not cheap."

Last month, the Kentucky Economic Development Finance Authority gave preliminary approval for as much as $250,000 in tax incentives for the project, which seeks to tap into the boom in bourbon and the surge in bourbon tourism.

"That's part of our strategy: tourism and events," Murry said. "What drew Will and I was that there's really nothing quite like it, and it's a shame it's been allowed to get into this shape. We really want to bring it back."

Another property just down the road — the former Old Crow Distillery — also has sold.

Neil Craig, owner with Dave Meier of Deviant Distillers, plans to make bourbon, rye, moonshine and spiced rum.

The Old Crow property sold in mid-December for $325,000, and Deviant plans to renovate one building at a time as cash flow permits. Craig was formerly in banking, insurance and financial services; Meier was an expert on the Toyota way and consulted on management practices.

"We got our federal basic permit two days ago. We're very excited; this has been a big week. Got a cooker in a couple of days ago, and our still should be ready before the end of the month," Craig said Thursday. "Depending on how things go with the state, we could be producing spirits by September or October."

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

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