Bourbon has a long and rich history in the Bluegrass Region of Kentucky. The distilling of whiskey began about as early as settlers arrived here from the north and east. The reason this area was so conducive to the making of whiskey was on account of the numerous limestone springs in the area that could provide cool clear water all year long. The importance of good water to the area’s distilleries cannot be overstated. One of the unique ingredients of Kentucky bourbon is the water that comes up from its limestone springs. The water that comes out of the springs has been filtered of impurities and unwanted minerals, such as iron. In addition, the spring water is rich in calcium. The calcium in the water reacts favorably with the yeast during the production of whiskey.
Though there are no distilleries any longer in use in Fayette County, some of the earliest of our Bourbon History took place along the Town Branch of the Elkhorn Creek in Lexington.
Elijah Culpepper, came from Culpepper County, Virginia to Kentucky when it was still a county of Virginia. Legend has it that some time around 1776, Elijah Culpepper settled at what came to be known as the “Old Pepper Spring” near Lexington on the Frankfort Pike. There he is said to have built a log cabin distillery about 1780. The story goes that Elijah Culpepper, finding his name “too long and too troublesome to write,” dropped the “Cul” and became Elijah Pepper.
Elijah Pepper’s son, Oscar Pepper, operated several distilleries in Kentucky including the current Labrot and Graham’s Old Oscar Pepper Distillery and another in Versailles. He hired James C. Crow as his master distiller. James Crow is known for using his knowledge of biochemistry to introduce scientific principles into the distilling process. Together the two men brought fame to the Old Crow and Old Pepper brands. Their whiskey became a big hit with men such as Henry Clay, Andrew Jackson, John Calhoun, Ulysess S. Grant, William Henry Harrison, and Daniel Webster. Labrot and Graham’s Old Oscar Pepper Distillery is named for Oscar Pepper.