Pepper Distillery names master distiller; production begins in October

Aaron Schorsch (left), along with Amir Peay and Dave Scheurich, former master distiller at Woodford Reserve, who has been working on the James E. Pepper Distillery project.
Aaron Schorsch (left), along with Amir Peay and Dave Scheurich, former master distiller at Woodford Reserve, who has been working on the James E. Pepper Distillery project.

Aaron Schorsch has been named master distiller at the historic James E. Pepper Distillery on Manchester Street.

Prior to joining the Pepper distillery, Schorsch spent 10 years as a Distillery Production Operator at the Seagram’s Lawrenceburg whiskey distillery in Indiana, two years as a Brewery Production Supervisor at Samuel Adams brewery, and four years as a Distillery Production Supervisor at the Jim Beam distillery.

Amir Peay, proprietor of the company said, “We are already well on the way to making great whiskey in this iconic building once more. In the short time he has been with us he has already brought tremendous value in the design and execution of the final stages of the project.”

The project to renovate and rebuild the downtown Lexington distillery, originally built in 1879 and listed on the National Register of Historic Places, was announced in May 2016 and is on track for production to begin by October, the news release about Schorsch stated.

Peay, who has a background in wine and food, began creating brands several years ago. His first big success was John L. Sullivan Irish Whiskey, based on the famous Irish-American boxing icon, using whiskey purchased from Cooley Distillery which was sold to Jim Beam in 2012.

Peay turned to other options, and bought and revived the James E. Pepper 1776 bourbon label, and Pow-Wow Botanical Rye, both using whiskey sourced from the MGP distillery in Lawrenceburg, Ind. Both labels are distributed nationally, he said.

The distillery will feature a 12-inch solid copper column still from Vendome Copper in Louisville which is being designed in reference to the historic mechanical drawings from the old distillery and the old still made by Vendome in 1934 — the year Prohibition was repealed in Kentucky.

The distillery will have an initial annual production of over 42,000 proof gallons, with the ability for greater capacity in the future. It will also use the old limestone well at the distillery 200 feet below ground, the news release stated.

Once completed the distillery will feature a museum on the founder, the Col. James E. Pepper.

The James E. Pepper Distillery was once hugely successful, widely advertising Old Pepper whiskey around the country. Pepper himself, from one of Kentucky whiskey’s first families, became a famous Thoroughbred horse breeder, founding Meadowthorpe Stable and Meadowthorpe Stud on Leestown Pike, where his barns were some of the first to have electricity and telephones.

The old-fashioned cocktail is said to have been invented in Pepper’s honor; he brought it to the bar of the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel, where he was living.

The distillery was the only one in Lexington to survive Prohibition, according to the National Historic Register. After Prohibition, the plant was bought by Schenley and rebuilt, but by the 1950s the combination of overproduction and changing consumer tastes put it out of business.

The final Pepper whiskey stocks apparently were sold in the 1970s. Although a James E. Pepper 1776 label has been revived, it had no connection to the old distillery until now.