Colonel Edmund Haynes Taylor, Jr. was born on Friday February 12, 1830 in Columbus, Kentucky to John Eastin Taylor and Rebecca Edrington Young. Edmund’s father was born on Saturday September 23, 1803 in Kentucky. He died at an early age when he fell ill of typhus. At the age of 32 on Thursday February 5, 1835 in Pointe Coupee Parish in Louisiana, while on his way back to Kentucky, he died. Typhus is a bacterial infection that can come from infected lice, mites and fleas. After his father’s death, young Edmund was sent to live with a distant relative of his, Zachary Taylor, in New Orleans, Louisiana. General Zachary “Old Rough and Ready” Taylor was born on Wednesday November 24, 1784. He was in the United States Army and served in several wars including the War of 1812, Black Hawk War, Second Seminole War and the Mexican-American War. He worked through the ranks and by the end of his military career had reached Major General. Zachary eventually became the twelfth president of the United States of America, serving one of the shortest terms in United States history. He served as president from March 4, 1849 to July 9, 1850 before passing away from a stomach ailment. During Zachary’s time in the army, he found himself stationed in various places in Louisiana and at the time when young Edmund was sent to live with him he was stationed in New Orleans. Edmund attended school at Boyer’s French School located on Conti Street in New Orleans.
Edmund eventually returned back to his home state and attended the Sayre School in Frankfort, Kentucky. During this time he was sent to live with his uncle by the name of Edmund Haynes Taylor, the same name as Edmund. As a way of distinguishing the two, the junior was added to the younger Edmund. Edmund Sr. was born on Tuesday June 4, 1799 and was the brother of Edmund Jr.’s father, John. By trade Edmund Sr. was a banker and Edmund Jr. followed in his footsteps. Edmund Jr. started out working under his uncle at the Bank of Kentucky but then eventually began working for the Commercial Bank of Kentucky. He eventually started his own banking practice opening the doors of Taylor, Turner & Company.
Edmund Jr.’s work in the banking business helped lead him into the distilling industry by working with distilleries by lending them money and seeing their financials. With an interest in the industry, he opened Gaines, Berry & Company in 1862 and then reorganized the company in 1868 as W. A. Gaines & Company along with partners Hiram Berry and W.A. Gaines in 1868. Taylor went abroad and spent some time in Europe and studied the distilling industry and operations to be able to bring back that knowledge to help benefit the company he was a part of. He traveled to Scotland learning from the Scotch whiskey industry, to Ireland to study the Irish whiskey market and to Germany to get immersed in the beer industry. On his journey in Europe he gained a great appreciation for the quality of the whiskey and copper distillation equipment. Taylor played a background role in establishing the company while Hiram Berry was more on the forefront, but the knowledge that he returned with allowed the company to become successful.
In 1856 Doctor James C. “Jim” Crow passed away. Crow worked heavily with sour mash technique in whiskey making and spent two decades in charge of the Oscar Pepper Distillery. The sour mash process is a method of using some of the used grains and dead yeast that is left over from a previous batch and using a portion of it in the new batch. Crow created the brand Old Crow, a brand of sour mash bourbon whiskey that is still produced to this day. After his passing, W.A. Gaines & Company picked up the brand name and continued to produce it using the original recipe. W.A. Gaines & Company erected the Hermitage Distillery in 1868 in Frankfort, Kentucky. The distillery name, Hermitage, was named after the home of President Andrew Jackson in Nashville, Tennessee by the same name. At this distillery they produced sour mash whiskey and rye whiskey. Taylor left the partnership in 1870.
In 1867 Oscar Pepper, the owner of Oscar Pepper Distillery, died and left his estate to his young son James E. Pepper. Oscar Pepper was a distiller whose father Elijah Pepper was also in the distilling business. James Pepper was born on Saturday May 18, 1850 to Oscar Pepper and Nancy Ann “Nannie” Edwards Pepper. James was a minor at the time of his father’s death so he could not own the distillery, so it remained in control of his mother. After his father’s death, James took his mother to court to gain ownership of the distillery. Since James was a minor, Taylor Jr., a longtime friend of the Pepper family, was named his guardian. Edmund Jr. and James were able to win the inheritance of the distillery and Edmund Jr. was to help until James came to age. Taylor helped obtain finances for the distillery’s expansions over the years which helped the distillery grow in size and capacity.
In 1869 Edmund Jr. purchased the Leestown Distillery located in Frankfort, Kentucky from the Swigert family and renamed the distillery Old Fire Copper (commonly referred to as O.F.C). In 1873 he had the original distillery torn down and rebuilt a brand new facility. He focused on making the distillery as great as he could by using copper fermentation tanks, updated grain equipment, column stills and even steam heating systems in warehouses to help regulate the temperatures for controlled aging of the whiskey. All of these improvements were great innovations at the time, but they also didn’t come cheaply. Most of the improvements to the distillery were made on credit and Edmund Jr. was having difficulties paying off his debt. Hardship found Taylor once again in 1879 when he was near becoming bankrupt, so his debts were purchased by a St. Louis liquor firm Gregory and Stagg. Since Taylor could not repay his debts, as payments he sold the Old Fire Copper distillery to the firm. The firm also took possession of and sold off the Oscar Pepper Distillery. Taylor had tied the Oscar Pepper Distillery’s finances with his own personal financial struggles, therefore causing him and James E. Pepper to lose the company. The Oscar Pepper Distillery was sold to James Graham and Leopold Labrot and the distillery was renamed Labrot and Graham Distillery. The Oscar Pepper Distillery/Labrot and Graham Distillery still exists today and is the home of production for Woodford Reserve.
The firm that was taking over Edmund’s whiskey ventures was made up of James Gregory and the legendary George Thomas Stagg. Despite selling the company, Taylor remained working at the Old Fire Copper Distillery. The company eventually reorganized itself and changed its name to E.H. Taylor, Jr. Company, although by this time Edmund had very little ownership shares of the company remaining after the sale, however the company used his name. This would eventually be an area of conflict between Taylor and Stagg. The firm at the time was in the whiskey business as a broker, but didn’t have a name for themselves and a producer, thus keeping the Taylor name on the product was necessary at the time since Edmund Jr. was already established and well known.
Construction began on a new distillery nearby the Old Fire Copper Distillery in 1879. This distillery was known as the Carlisle Distillery. In 1882 hardship struck the Old Fire Copper Distillery when lightning struck the facility causing a fire that destroyed the plant. Edmund helped to oversee the new construction of the distillery and in 1883 the plant was back up and running. This same distillery is still standing and operating today as the current Buffalo Trace Distillery. Another blow to Taylor came in 1882 when the Gregory and Stagg firm took over the J. Swigert Taylor Distillery, a distillery that was being run and operated by Edmund’s son Jacob Swigert Taylor. Like Edmund, Jacob stayed on with the company and managed the plant.
With tensions rising between the rivalry between Taylor and Stagg, Edmund sought to leave the company that he once founded. He reached a deal with Stagg that allowed him to regain possession of the J. Swigert Taylor Distillery in exchange for Edmund Jr. giving up his remaining interest in the Old Fire Copper plant and leaving the company. In addition, Edmund Jr. wanted his name removed from the company and at first it was agreed upon, however, Stagg changed his mind and continued to use the likeliness of Taylor’s name on his products. With a deal finally met, the Taylors parted ways from Gregory and Stagg in 1885 and focused back on whiskey production at the J. Swigert Taylor Distillery.
The Taylors changed the name of the J. Swigert Distillery to the Old Taylor Distillery and formed the company E.H. Taylor, Jr. and Sons. In 1887 the Taylors rebuilt and expanded the distillery and formed the signature look of a castle. While many distilleries of the time were mere factories, the shape and style of the distillery proved to be great for the marketing of the brand as it attracted tourists to visit the grounds of the distillery. Here at the distillery they produced the Old Taylor brand of bourbon whiskey. The Old Taylor Distillery allowed Edmund Jr. to reestablish himself as a great distiller that focused on the production of quality products. The distillery operated until the start of Prohibition forced the closure of the plant in 1917. In 1935, after Prohibition, National Distillers acquired the Old Taylor Distillery and brand. They continued to produce the brand until 1987 when National Distillers was acquired by Jim Beam, however operations at the Old Taylor Distillery had ceased years before in 1987. For several decades the distillery was abandoned and started to dilapidate. In recent history the distillery was attempted to be reopened and was sold several times. Cecil Withrow and Robert Sims purchased the property in 1996 with hopes of opening a whiskey distillery and a spring water bottling plant from a limestone spring nearby. The idea was short-lived and was never successful. In 2005 Scott Brady purchased the property and tore down several warehouses and sold off the wood from the structures. In 2014 Will Arvin and Wes Murry purchased the property with plans to open a distillery. After investing millions of dollars into the restoration of the former distillery, they successfully opened their distillery and the Old Taylor site is now the home of the Castle & Key Distillery. The Old Taylor brand was acquired in 2009 by Buffalo Trace from Jim Beam where it remains today. The Old Taylor brand, although owned by the same owner of the Colonel E.H. Taylor, Jr. line, are two separate brands.
Edmund’s focus on quality bourbon whiskey products didn’t just stop at his own production of liquor. He was a heavy supporter for getting the Bottled in Bond Act of 1897 passed. There were many whiskey producers in the industry who were not as honest in their practices as the Taylors were. Many times consumers were sold whiskey products that lacked in quality, had colorings added to them to make it appear aged when in reality it wasn’t or was lightly aged or even having added poisonous substances. There was no regulation of the industry, and honest producers such as the Taylors wanted regulation and rules. They were one of the ones pushing for it and in 1897 the federal government passed the Bottled in Bond Act which was a way of protecting both the consumers and the honest distillers. The Bottled in Bond Act is credited with being one of the first consumer protection acts in all of the food and beverage industries in North America. The Act allowed producers to label their products as bottled in bond if they met a series of regulations and this helped to guarantee to consumers that the product was of bottled in bond quality. The regulations were that in order to call a product bottled in bond it had to be distilled at a single distillery, in a single distilling season (January through June or July through December), aged a minimum of four years in a government supervised bonded warehouse, list where the product was distilled at and bottled at exactly 100 proof (50% alcohol by volume). Some consumers looked at this designation as a sign of quality in products at a time where quality was not regulated. Even to this day, over a century after its passing, products can identify as being Bottled in Bond and still must adhere to the strict standards set forth.
In Taylor Jr.’s personal life, he was married to Frances Miller “Franny” Johnson on Sunday December 21, 1851 and the two of them had seven children; Jacob Swigert, Mary Belle, Rebecca, Kenner, Margaret, Edmund Watson, Frances Allen. Although Edmund Jr.’s father passed away at an early age, his mother, Rebecca was born on Wednesday July 16, 1806 and went on to live to the age of 68. She passed away on Tuesday April 20, 1875 and was buried at Greenwood Cemetery. He has two siblings, Eugenia Taylor and John Taylor. Edmund Jr. had also founded Hereford Farms in Woodford County, Kentucky where he owned cattle. For seventeen years, he served as mayor of Frankfort, Kentucky. E.H. Taylor, Jr. is commonly referred to as being a Colonel. Colonel, a name usually associated with an army officer ranking, was given to him as an honorary title from the Commonwealth of Kentucky.
On Friday January 19, 1923 Colonel Edmund Haynes Taylor, Jr. died in Frankfort, Kentucky at the age of 92. He was buried at the Frankfort Cemetery. The Sazerac Company of New Orleans purchased the George T. Stagg Distillery in 1999 and renamed it the Buffalo Trace Distillery. In 2013 the Buffalo Trace Distillery released a premium line of the Old Taylor brand, Colonel E.H. Taylor Jr., which honors the Colonel himself and his efforts put towards the Bottled in Bond Act. The premium collection expands its offerings to small batch, single barrel, barrel proof and other special releases.
Although the Colonel has passed on, the legacy, advancements in the industry and his emphasis on quality products precede him. The innovations that he introduced into distilling were years beyond his time but it helped to modernize the industry and make it to what it is today. Many in the bourbon industry refer to him as the “Father of the Modern Bourbon Industry” and it’s a title that was earned by the years of hard work and dedication to the craft of producing quality bourbon despite the many struggles he faced along the way. Without E.H. Taylor, Jr. as a part of bourbon history, the industry would be far less advanced than what it is today. It’s only fitting that the Old Fire Copper distillery that the Colonel put so much time and effort into building and growing is the same distillery that produces the bourbon line that honors his legacy and the same distillery that produces his own brand that he created. Although he once lost the distillery, the Colonel is now back home. The next time you sit down with a pour of Colonel E.H. Taylor, Jr. sit back and think about the great accomplishments of the man the bourbon is named after and all that he did for the bourbon industry as a whole. No matter how you enjoy your bourbon, you are sipping more than just what’s in your glass, you are sipping history.