The historic James Pepper distillery has filled its first barrel of James E. Pepper whiskey nearly 60 years after it was closed. The first barrel was celebrated at a private event Thursday evening.
“This really is a historic occasion and the culmination of a 10-year effort to restore both this iconic brand and the distillery to their proper places in the annals of Kentucky whiskey,” distillery owner Amir Peay said. “The best part is that we are just getting started.”
The original James Pepper distillery was built in 1869. James 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.
However, the distillery stopped making spirits in 1958 and was abandoned for more than 50 years.
The project to renovate and rebuild the downtown Lexington distillery was announced in May 2016. Peay, a businessman from the Washington, D.C., area with a background in wine and food, is the head of the distillery. Millions of dollars have been spent to revive the distillery.
The distillery is located in the Pepper Distillery district on Manchester Street, a booming entertainment and foods venue. Some of the other tenants in the district include Goodfellas Pizzeria, Crank & Boom Ice Cream Lounge, and Ethereal Brewing.
The distillery has four 1,000-gallon fermenters and uses Kentucky corn and rye for production. The recipe for the first batch of whiskey was the same recipe as last produced at the distillery in 1958. The distillery also features a copper still system from Vendome Copper in Louisville, and its design was inspired by the archives of historic mechanical drawings from the old distillery.
Several people were in attendance to celebrate the filling of the first barrel, including Lexington Mayor Jim Gray.
Plans for the distillery include a museum, using Peay’s collection of Pepper memorabilia. Distillery tours are scheduled to begin next spring. Peay said the distillery’s bourbon will be aged for at least two years before it is released.