The Oldest Brand of Bourbon Called Anderson County Home

Old Joe Distillery Before The FireWiley Searcy's Cooper ShopOld Joe Distillery After The FireHurd and OM Hawkins (Provided by Hiliary Trent)

Imagine traveling on the Kentucky River in a canoe almost 200 years ago, with a tent and some supplies.  Tall trees, cliffs, and streams abound as you move along with no bridges, modern roads, or much of anything besides nature.  Soon you spot a creek emptying into the river.  Traveling up the winding creek, you see tall hills and a nice level area and fresh water springs that would be the perfect campsite.  Pitching a tent, you call it home and start distilling a new whiskey, called bourbon, which would become the state’s first known brand name of bourbon.

Or that’s how the story is told about one of Anderson County’s first distillers, Joe Peyton.  Joe was born in 1787 and married Elizabeth McMichael in 1811 in Franklin County which at the time included parts of Anderson County.  Joe would make his historic trip on the Kentucky River in 1818 and travel up what is now known as Gilbert’s Creek where he pitched his tent and started up his still, the first in what would become Anderson County.

The Gilbert’s Creek location had a number of ideal characteristics to produce the newfangled whiskey called bourbon.  With bourbon invented less than thirty years prior to Joe making his trip, he definitely wasn’t the first to come up with the idea, but he was the first to create a bourbon brand.  Old Joe Bourbon marked a legacy for the many different bourbons Anderson County and the rest of the state would produce in years to come.

Joe would quickly move out of the tent and build a small proper distillery.  He used rough hewn logs to build his still-house and put in a two bushel tub.  His still was quite small ,and he would only get around 2 gallons of whiskey per bushel of meal.

However, Joe wouldn’t keep the still all his life.  He eventually sold it to Sheridan Hawkins in 1840 who, along with the rest of the Hawkins family, were also early pioneers out on Gilbert’s Creek.  After 17 years, the distillery would be sold out of the Hawkins family to Medley S Bond before being sold again to the original founder of Wild Turkey Distillery, TB Ripy.

The distillery wouldn’t stay long with the Ripys and would be sold again to Captain Wiley Searcy in 1886.  Wiley would turn what was a small distillery of two wooden warehouses and a still house into a thriving business, taking the Old Joe brand to new levels.  However, a fire would devastate the distillery in 1909.  Wiley decided to sell the remnants of the distillery back to the Ripys.  The distillery changed ownership one more time to Gratz Hawkins, nephew of Sheridan.

Gratz became the president of the Old Joe Distilling Company and would be the last when Prohibition hit.  The original distillery wouldn’t make it past Prohibition, but the name would continue.  Gratz, along with Hurd and OM Hawkins who were the distillers, became involved in bringing the Old Prentice Distillery on the Salt River back to life and brought the Old Joe Brand back in production.  The distillery, which would eventually become Four Roses, continued in the tradition of producing the oldest brand of bourbon for many years.

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Posted in History & Heritage.

3 Comments

  1. I have an “Old Joe Whiskey” jug . dated 1818–Sold by B.B.Hawkins, Gilberts Creek , Ky.
    It belonged to my Grandfather who lived in Woodford county, Ky

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