The Old Taylor Celebration at Buffalo Trace Distillery

Back cover of OFC distillery bookI had the pleasure of attending a party at the Buffalo Trace Distillery on July 29th.  The purpose of this party was to celebrate the purchase of the Old Taylor brand from Fortune Brands, the company that owns Jim Beam bourbon.  E. H. Taylor, Jr. founded the OFC distillery in Frankfort, Ky. and that distillery is now the Buffalo Trace Distillery.  The Filson Historical Society has the papers of E. H. Taylor, Jr. from the time that he owned the distillery in the 1870s.  These papers illustrate how important Taylor was to the distilling industry in Kentucky.

Edmond Haynes Taylor was born near Fulton in the Jackson Purchase region of Kentucky in 1830.  His father died while returning to Kentucky from New Orleans in 1835.  E. H. Taylor spent time in Louisiana with his great uncle Zachary Taylor before coming to Lexington, Kentucky to live with his uncle Edmond Haynes Taylor. It was in Lexington that “Jr.” was added to his name to distinguish him from his uncle Edmond.  E. H. Taylor, Jr. was educated in Lexington and got his start in banking in the 1850s.  For various reasons the bank closed its books by late 1857 and Taylor tried his hand in various other enterprises before getting into the distilling business.  After the Civil War, Taylor became the “Company” in the firm of Gaines, Berry and Co. who purchased the Old Crow brand from the Old Oscar Pepper distillery in the 1860s.  Taylor spent a year in 1866 touring European distilleries in Scotland, Ireland, France and Germany before returning to America to help design the new distillery for Gaines, Berry and Co. 

In 1870 Taylor took the knowledge he has gained in distillery design and purchase a small distillery on the banks of the Kentucky River and started to build it into the “OFC” (Old Fashioned Copper) distillery that is now Buffalo Trace Distillery.  From the beginning Taylor had two goals in mind for his distillery. First, the whiskey made at the distillery had to be top notch quality that was equal to the whiskey made by Dr. James C. Crow.  Second, the distillery would be as attractive as possible so that visitors to the distillery would know that it was not simply another Kentucky distillery.  In an era when most distilleries were simple wooden buildings with iron clad warehouses and nearby hog lots, Taylor decided to build his distillery and warehouses out of bricks.  He took time to add architectural details such as arched windows and keystones inscribed with “OFC”.  Inside the distillery he insisted on modern pot stills and other equipment made from copper that would shine and impress the viewer.  Modern steam boilers heated not only the stills, but also the warehouses in the winter.  Taylor recognized the importance of packaging to consumers and during the 19th century that was the bourbon barrel.  Taylor designed a fancy brand for the barrel head that included his signature and had the coopers use brass hoops in order to make his barrels stand out from other brands.

Over production of whiskey nationwide drove down whiskey prices and a run on the banks in the late 1870s caused Taylor to get into financial trouble.  The distillery was saved only after the St. Louis firm of Gregory and Stagg came to Taylor’s rescue.  Gregory and Stagg were one of Taylor’s largest customers and gaining control of the distillery was a way to increase their profits at the expense of the quality of whiskey.  This caused E. H. Taylor, Jr. to cut his ties with the distillery in 1884 at which point George T. Stagg became the manager of the distillery.

Today, Buffalo Trace celebrates this history. Mark Brown, the President of Buffalo Trace Distillery, is familiar with the Taylor papers at the Filson and makes no attempt to hide the fact that Taylor and Stagg parted on unfriendly terms and why it is important to remember this conflict in their history.  The general plan is to let the Old Taylor brand return to its roots as a super premium bourbon in the same category as the Van Winkle brands of bourbon.  It is exciting to see that for Buffalo Trace, heritage does mean something other than a marketing ploy.

Mike Veach

15 comments on “The Old Taylor Celebration at Buffalo Trace Distillery

  1. Paul Schroder

    Very nice first blog Mike well done.

    Reply
  2. Doug Frick

    Great blog Mike. I really enjoy reading about distillery and bourbon history. I thought OFC stood for Old Fire Copper. I learn something new every day. I look forward to your next blog.

    Reply
  3. Dan Murray

    I came searching for the Old Taylor name and found this site. I have an old bottle that says Old Taylor. It also says Namona Distillers, Frankfort Ky. and has a picture of the brick distillery. Cab you tell me about how old the bottle may be?

    Reply
  4. Mike Veach

    Mr. Murray,
    The short answer is no. There is a lot of information needed to date a bottle. Several factors such as size and quality of the glass of the bottle are impostant. Label information such as design or color as well as government mandated information on the label are bits of important information. Even an image of the bottle is important to setting the date. With the information you have given there is no way to date the bottle.

    Mike Veach

    Reply
  5. Jen

    I have a decanter with glass and cork stopper that says “Old Taylor” in gold and the back says:

    Old Taylor Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey
    Bottled in Bond – 100 Proof – 4/5 Quart
    Distilled and Bottled by THE OLD TAYLOR DISTILLERY COMPANY, FRANKFORT, KY.

    Caution Notice. This bottle has been filled and stamped under the provisions of sections 2903-2909, inclusive. Internal Revenue Code. Any persons who shall reuse the stamp affixed to this bottle, or remove the contents of this bottle without so destroying the stamp affixed thereto as to prevent reuse, or who shall sell this bottle,or reuse it for distilled spirits, will be liable to the penalities prescribed by law.

    It also has the following on the bottom:

    Federal Law forbids sale or reuse of this bottle.
    01 66 53 2

    Can you tell me anything about it? I found it in my grandmothers basement and I think it’s pretty neat to I cleaned it up and put it out at home.

    Thank you for any information you can give.

    Jen

    Reply
  6. Mike Veach

    Jen,
    I would have to look at the decanter in order to give any real information. From your description, I would say that it is a 1960’s reproduction of an Old Taylor Bar Decanter.

    Mike Veach

    Reply
  7. Rick

    Mike,

    I have an unopened and sealed bottle which is dated 1960 on the seal. It has all the above markings and sounds just like the above mentioned decanter, very cool bottle. Think it is still good to drink? Secondly, is it worth anything?

    Regards,

    RW

    Reply
  8. Mike Veach

    Rick,
    As a rule if the cork is in good condition and there is little evaporation so that the whiskey is still in good condition and not cloudy, then I would say that it is good to drink. As far as value, there is not a market for American Whiskey as a collectable because it is illegal to sell it without a license. There are people on ebay that sell whiskey but they are breaking the law unless they have a wholesale license to sell it. With that said, such a bottle as yours would probably go for less than $100 on ebay, so I would say drink it and enjoy and let me know what you think of it.

    Mike Veach

    Reply
  9. Paul

    I found an old empty bottle with that noted above on it about the illegality and such. The bottom of the bottle has glass of noticeably varying thickness so I kept it. Is it worth anything?

    Reply
  10. Brittany

    mike,

    my father found an old glass bottle of Old Taylor and we were wondering if it is worth anything and if so how much.

    The bottle is made of very thick clear glass, it stands 7 1/4 inches tall and the base is 3 1/2 inches. it says OLD TAYLOR at the top of the bottle. On the cap is has a signature stamped in cursive but i’m unable to make it out. On the lower portion of the bottle it says:

    HALF PINT

    Federal Law forbids sale or reuse of this bottle

    4 69 8 903

    Can u tell me anything about it?

    Reply
  11. Mike Veach

    I really can not tell you much without seeing the bottle. From your description it does sound like an Old Taylor bottle of some years of age. I am not a bottle collector, so I do not know the value of the bottle, but you might try looking in your local library or bookstore for a copy of Ralph and Terry Kovel’s Bottle Collecting Guide.

    Mike Veach

    Reply
  12. joann giesbrecht

    joann nov.25,10 at 140pm

    I have a bottle that says the old taylor distillery company and is shaped like the old distillery as shown in pics I have found in my search . it is grey in color , the tall tower is the opening part to pour from . On back it says, old taylor kentucky straight bourbon whisley ect frankfort ky. louisville,ky one quart # on bottom d1-185-68

    can you help me place a year and value on it thank you joann

    Reply
  13. Mike Veach

    Joann,
    That is a decanter from the 1970s. I don’t recall the exact year and it may be etched on the bottom of the decanter. Once again, I recommend you visit your local library or bookstore and look for Kovels’ Bottle Collecting Guide for a precise date and collector’s price.

    Mike Veach

    Reply
  14. Rick Riney

    Mike, I have been trying to locate a copy of the Rev. Elijah Craig’s signature to compare with one I recently purchased. Do you have a document by the Rev Elijah Craig, Inventor of Bourbon, builder of Kentucky’s first fulling mill (for cloth manufacturing), its first paper mill, its first ropewalk (for manufacturing rope from hemp), and the first lumber and gristmill at Georgetown. He also founded Rittenhouse Academy, which later became Georgetown College. I understand that there is another Elijah Craig of Port William, who was the son of Capt. John Craig and the nephew of Rev. Elijah Craig of Georgetown. Elijah Craig of Port William, sometimes called “Elijah Craig Jr.” had a noted feud with Martin Hawkins, who was another prominent character in Port William. Elijah Craig of Port William was later killed at the Battle of the Thames during the War of 1812. Any help you could provide would be much appreciated! Thanks! Rick

    Reply
  15. Mike Veach

    Rick,
    I ahve not seen Craig’s signature myself. The University of Kentucky has some ledgers that are case books from Judge Innes that mention Craig quite often since he owed back taxes on his distillery, but I don’t believe they have his signature in them. You might contact Georgetown to see if they have a Craig document or two in their archive. You might also try the State Archives in Frankfort since Craig spen a lot of time in court for his bad debts. They may have some documents that were signed by him as well.

    By the way there is no evidence that Craig “invented” bourbon. Read Crowgey’s “Kebtucky Bourbon” for more details on that subject.
    Mike Veach

    Reply

Leave a Reply to joann giesbrecht Cancel reply