Street view of Kentucky Peerless Distilling | Photo by Steve Coomes
Street view of Kentucky Peerless Distilling | Photo by Steve Coomes

Louisvillians have grown used to microbreweries opening in the area, but come Thursday, June 4, it’ll get its newest bourbon distillery in the form of Kentucky Peerless Distilling.

Located at 120 N. 10th St., next door to Old 502 Winery, KPD is owned and operated by Corky and Carson Taylor, father and son, and owner and operator, respectively.

Bourbon wonks may recognize the Peerless name as one of many killed off in 1920 during Prohibition. At its death, it was Kentucky’s second-largest distiller and located in Henderson, Ky. Then-owner Henry Kraver, Corky Taylor’s great-grandfather, bought the facility in 1889, when it was run under the Worsham brand.

All that history has come to life at the new computer-controlled, state-of-the-art production site in what served as a tobacco warehouse and sack factory 115 years ago. Designed with tourism in mind, the distillery allows guests to see up close every stage and process required for making bourbon and rye whiskey.

Carson and Corky Taylor | Photo by Steve Coomes
Carson and Corky Taylor | Photo by Steve Coomes

Production of both spirits began in March, and now 100 barrels of Peerless Rye and 150 barrels of Henry Kraver Bourbon are resting in its onsite rickhouse. When full, the rickhouse will contain 1,830 total barrels.

“We wanted this to be a distillery where everything happens under one roof,” said Carson Taylor, KPD president. A wood worker and construction veteran, he oversaw the gutting of the 42,800-square-foot building and its reconstruction as a distillery. “People are excited about bourbon right now, and they want to know everything that happens to make it. This was designed with that in mind.”

Distillery tours here will begin as do many — at the gift shop — before moving directly to the manufacturing area. All its grains (corn, malted barley and rye) are milled onsite as needed by an automated system that produces the correct amounts in 3,500 pound batches for each of two mashbills.

That grain is moved to a 2,500-gallon cooker and then to a series of fermentation tanks and a final beer well that pumps the mash to a 26-foot-high continuous column still. The spent grain “slop” is pumped to storage containers and sent to cattle farms, and the final distillate is pumped to a barreling room where it enters casks at 107 proof. Moved to the ambient temperature rickhouse, the rye will rest two years; the bourbon, four years.

Distiller Caleb Kilburn fills a barrel with new make bourbon. | Courtesy of Kentucky Peerless Distilling
Distiller Caleb Kilburn fills a barrel with new make bourbon. | Courtesy of Kentucky Peerless Distilling

Distilling is overseen by Caleb Kilburn, who has shadowed at distilleries such as Old Pouge and Alltech (Town Branch) and Sugarlands Distilling (Sugarlands Shine).

What is now a three-year-long project began with Corky Taylor’s failed retirement. The former Bencor CEO didn’t take well to strolling Florida’s beaches every day, so he and his son began working to bring back his family’s Peerless brand.

Since the two are direct descendants of Kraver, they were allowed to recover Peerless’ DSP (distilled spirits plant) permit number of “50,” which illuminates the brand’s history and its place in the line of today’s DSPs.

“DSPs are into the 20,000s now, which shows you how many new distilleries have come on since Prohibition,” Carson Taylor said. At Peerless’ tasting bar, “DSP 50” is displayed prominently across the front. “It took some work with the TTB (Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau) to get No. 50 back, but we wanted that part of the heritage.”

For now, the only products available to taste are seven flavors of Lucky Kentucky Moonshine. Peerless sources grain-neutral spirits, redistills and rectifies those spirits, and then adds flavors to what become 44-proof moonshines. They are bottled and labeled on premise. (Click here to see the list of flavors.)

“You’ll get to taste the rye at Derby 2017, and the bourbon at Derby 2019,” said Carson Taylor. “We’re as curious as you are as to what it’ll taste like.”

For what it’s worth, I tasted the bourbon new make coming off the still, and it was delicious. But the Taylors have no plans to sell it unaged.

“We’re devoting all of our production to those barrels,” Corky Taylor said. “When they’re ready, we think they’ll be pretty special.”

Barrel No. 1 from DSP 50 | Photo by Steve Coomes
Barrel No. 1 from DSP 50 | Photo by Steve Coomes

For information on tours and directions, click here.

This story was updated with additional details about the distilling process.

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Steve Coomes
Steve Coomes is a restaurant veteran turned award-winning food, spirits and travel writer. In his 24-year career, he has edited and written for multiple national trade and consumer publications including Nation's Restaurant News and Southern Living. He is a feature writer for Louisville magazine, Edible Louisville & The Bluegrass and Food & Dining Magazine. The author of two books, "Country Ham: A Southern Tradition of Hogs, Salt & Smoke," and the "Home Distiller's Guide to Spirits," he also serves as a ghostwriter for multiple clients.