James E. Pepper Rye 1776

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James E. Pepper Rye 1776

Unread postby EllenJ » Wed Oct 17, 2012 7:07 pm

I'm not sure how to enter an actual review here (I'm normally only a phorum phreak), so perhaps the moderators can add this to the official "reviews" section. Anyway, I picked up a bottle of James. E. Pepper 1776 100% rye, 100-proof whiskey today in Ohio and I'm really REALLY impressed with it. It's a sourced bottling, from Lawrenceburg Distillers Indiana (LDI) through Kentucky Bourbon Distillers (KDB) (at least I believe, since they list their bottling as Bardstown, KY). The actual bottler is Barrel House Distillery. And it is very VERY good.

Barrel House Distillery has been around for awhile. Apparently they reside in Lexington, Kentucky in a warehouse once owned by Schenley, when Schenley owned the James E. Pepper brand. Now Jeff Wiseman and Peter Wright have gained ownership of the brand and are producing "James E. Pepper 1776 Straight Rye Whiskey". Okay, they're not REALLY producing the whiskey, at least kinda-sorta... the juice is distilled at LDI, as is true of about a dozen or more "sourced" whiskies. But one could certainly find a lesser-quality vendor than LDI (and many have). What Wiseman and Wright have done is kind of interesting, especially to someone like myself who appreciates the desire to revive a fine old whiskey, which is apparently the goal of these gentlemen.

Their original idea was to revive the brand. In internet forum postings one of them made it very clear that they were not distillers, but rather marketers with a special interest in this brand and its history. I won't go into much more here, because we'll have a page coming out on them soon that will cover a rather fascinating story of a side of modern brand development that rarely gets the attention it deserves. Suffice it to say that they established what they wanted to do, and then went about finding a distiller who could do that for them. Lawrenceburg Distillery - Indiana (LDI) couldn't have been a better choice.

Barrel House didn't start out with a Kentucky (style) bourbon. As is true of most startups, their first products were gin and "moonshine". And there is some abiguity as to whether they can market a "Bourbon" called James E. Pepper, as Diageo may still own rights to that brand. But not to James E. Pepper "Rye". And this is really good rye whiskey. They claim to own the original mashbill recipes, and that might be true, although I suspect what they're doing is selecting what they consider to be excellent examples from LDI 100% rye whiskey originally purchased by Kentucky Bourbon Distillers in Bardstown. Drew Kulsveen is no slouch when it comes to selecting honey barrels, and since this whiskey is bottled in Bardstown, I'm assuming Drew had something to do with selecting the sort of rye whiskey that Peter and Jeff wanted to present to the world as their version of James E. Pepper rye.

Good choice.

Okay, my "tasting notes" aren't like y'all's. I'm not good at nuances, or at least the accepted NAMES of nuances. To me, "chocolate" is such an ambiguous term as to be laughably inept as a descriptor. Did the taster mean Godiva? Hershey? White chocolate (which isn't even chocolate), M&M's? See's? Oh, come on; give me a break. And "dark, pitted fruit"? Uh, y'mean like... olives? I don't think I'd like a whiskey that tasted like olives. So, I'm not knocking folks who can identify lavender, or smokey rosemary, or rutabagas; I'm just unable to do that myself. What I CAN do, is tell whether a whiskey's flavor matches that of another whiskey. I'm pretty good at that (1st place in every Bourbon Academy tasting contest I've participated in). And, when I compare the new James E. Pepper rye to a sample of Old Crow Rye (bet ya didn't know Old Crow made a rye, did you. Well, they did) bottled for H.B. Kirk & Company back in the late 1800's, guess what? It doesn't taste like that. But it tastes a lot more like that than, say, Heaven Hill's excellent Rittenhouse Rye (also 100-proof), or my beloved Sazerac Thomas Handy (reduced to 100-proof). One factor is probably that, unlike many bottlers of LDI rye, James E. Pepper 1776 isn't chill-filtered (YEAYYYYYY!!), although Handy isn't, either.

Bottom line: this is one really tasty Kentucky-(style) rye whiskey. I think Handy is still my favorite overall, but at $80 bucks a bottle (IF you can even find any), I think I'll keep a couple bottles of James E. Pepper on my shelf for normal usage. At $28.99 a bottle (in Ohio, probably less anywhere else) it's the only rye you really need to have.
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Re: James E. Pepper Rye 1776

Unread postby PaulO » Sun Oct 21, 2012 12:07 pm

I hope we see this in indiana. Of the LDI ryes, so far I like Willett, and Bulleit. My understanding of the Pepper bourbon is that it has been an export only brand for many years (like IW Harper).
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Re: James E. Pepper Rye 1776

Unread postby ethangsmith » Wed Dec 05, 2012 6:42 pm

I got a bottle of the Pepper rye and I've been enjoying it. It's 2 years old and 100 proof, which makes it pretty peppery and hot- but it works with the very high rye content mashbill. Imagine this as Bulleit Rye with more youth and the volume turned up. And for only $25 a bottle, it's worth picking one up!
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Re: James E. Pepper Rye 1776

Unread postby RHarwood » Fri Dec 07, 2012 3:50 pm

You're correct EllenJ, it is being done by the KBD fellows, and Drew Kulsveen definitely had a hand in it (or at least had a lot of information about what/why information on it before it came out. Cheers!
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Re: James E. Pepper Rye 1776

Unread postby shoshani » Sun Dec 23, 2012 12:22 am

I grabbed a bottle of this at Binny's in Niles tonight. Very interesting; first 100 proof LDI rye I've had, and although young it had a fullness about the mouthfeel. Also very minty, which is typical of LDI.

The label and website both reference some super secret mashbill from 1887 that the proprietors have, and they have a reproduction on their website with the ingredient proportions and processes blacked over. However, this is not a secret at all because it's a printed document. As in FROM A PRINTING PRESS, typeset in normal and bold typefaces, and I presume it was sent to people who wrote in to the distillery or to their local distribution agents because it urges the reader to "ask your dealer for it". (Any private correspondence or notes from 1887 would have been hand-written.) Whatever information is on the "secret mashbill" at http://jamesepepper.com/images/recipe.jpg was printed in quantity, and I presume more than one still exists. I'd bet our good Professor probably has one himself. (I'm curious as to how closely it hews to Van Johnson's testimony of William Mitchell's disclosure of James Crow's recipe and methods, being that it was Crow who set the standard that Pepper had to uphold.)
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Re: James E. Pepper Rye 1776

Unread postby Squire » Sun Dec 23, 2012 1:22 pm

Hmm, rather incongruous document, hand dated 1887 yet printed in a type face developed in the 1930s. Why does the producer feel the need to give us a fake history unless it's to draw attention away from the whisky itself.
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Re: James E. Pepper Rye 1776

Unread postby EllenJ » Sun Dec 23, 2012 6:03 pm

It's good to see folks beginning to take a closer look at the logic behind spirits labelling and purported histories (not just American whiskey either, THAT's for sure). Just don't let what you discover or deduce ruin for you the true enjoyment of a good product. OF COURSE it's fake. They (nearly) all are. Certainly the label and advertising information dating all the way back through Prohibition (when medicinal whiskey was bottled (IN BOND, no less) and sold as whatever of the brands owned by the licensed bottler happened to be ordered by a "pharmacist". As if a medication's quality was dependent upon the "old secret family recipe" used for the tincture alcohol. :roll: RIGHT!! :roll:

Bourbon, Rye, Scotch, Rum, and these days even Vodka, Gin, and Tequila all owe nearly as much (or maybe even more) of their appeal to the mythology and romance surrounding their (supposed) history as to whatever juice is actually in the bottle. The same is true of motorcycles and musical instruments. In some cases the history is real (i.e., Harley, Indian, Martin, Stradivarius) in other cases, not so much. But Harley-Davidson actually had to sue another bike maker who added a recorded "Harley" sound to their look-alike bike (and the newer Harley's, which are better-engineered, can be ordered with an intentionaly-mismade cam that reproduces the "heritage" loping sound), and just about every acoustic guitar or violin is made to emulate the Martin or classic Italian styles (exceptions include Taylor guitars and Ted Brewer violins... and Corsair whiskies, as we shall see later here).

With the exception of Old Forester, NONE of the brands of bourbon or rye available today are made by the distilleries that made them before Prohibition, and even Old Forester wasn't "bourbon", distilled by them; it was a blended whiskey sourced from wherever Garvin Brown felt he could get a reputable whiskey made for a reasonable cost when it came time to produce another batch of "bottled at the distillery" whiskey.

The ORIGINAL Jas. E. Pepper brand, distilled in Lexington, was one of the earliest to flood the market with made-up history, including the assertion that, since his grandfather Elijah had supposedly begun distilling whiskey in 1780 (although the distillery building itself wasn't built until 1838), which would have been during the American Revolution (I'm also not sure how that got translated into 1776, but, hey, what's four little years in an otherwise none-too-accurate-anyway history? :wink: ) -- that therefore, claimed his ads, HIS particular brand of whiskey also dated back to that time. The fact is that Pepper sold his ORIGINAL distillery (I think that might have been his father Oscar's distillery in Versailles, which is now the Woodford Reserve distillery) and moved to the east coast. He then returned to Kentucky in 1878 and built a new distillery (the one in Lexington). The ownership of that plant took a few interesting turns toward the end of the century, but Pepper remained the president and chief distiller until he died in 1906. A year later his widow sold the Pepper interest to a group of Chicago businessmen, who were the ones to coin the phrase, "Born With The Revolution". The distillery closed even before Prohibition, with the advent of WWI production restrictions.

The James E. Pepper brand that was marketed by Schenley after Prohibition bore about the same relationship to that history as did any of Schenley's brands, considering that the Schenley company itself dates back no further than 1933, other than as Schenley Products Company, which was formed in 1920 to purchase numerous existing respected brands, among them James E. Pepper. Schenley was never particularly married to the idea that the contents of a bottle of whiskey needed to be made in any particular one of their distilleries, any more than a stick of Land O' Lakes butter needs to come from any one particular Minnesota dairy farm. Or the contents of a bottle of Woodford Reserve, for that matter.

The historical "heritage" of today's James E. Pepper is no less "made-up" than those... but neither is it any more so. In fact, a good portion of the "legacy" of the brand *IS* the development of such "old-time" stories. In that respect, it falls right in there with Four Roses, Wild Turkey, Old Crow, Old Taylor, Jack Daniel's, and George Dickel, all of whom depend greatly upon histories and traditions that have been, shall we say, *heavily embellished* since at least before the Pure Food & Drug Act of 1906. Well, except for Dickel, which took a sort of reverse twist. Originally another Schenley brand, Dickel's near-totally fictitious history was created to associate the output from a particular distillery (the Cascade Hollow distillery, which Schenley built from scratch around 1958) with a 19th-century wholesaler, the George A. Dickel Company, who once handled the original Cascade distillery (and actually owned it on paper, though Dickel was not a distiller, nor did he ever set foot on the site).

Does that make George Dickel a brand unworthy of our attention?
Wow, you'd sure be missing a fine and distinctive brand of whisky if you felt that way.

The same can be said for James E. Pepper 1776 Rye. And probably for their bourbon, too, which I've heard is distilled, in Bowling Green Kentucky, by Corsair. I told you we'd be back to them. I've never tasted Pepper bourbon (old or new), but I've tasted Corsair bourbon, and I believe the Pepper People (OMG, you don't suppose that they're DOCTORS, do you? :D ) have made a very judicious and intelligent choice there, as well.
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Re: James E. Pepper Rye 1776

Unread postby Bourbon Joe » Sun Dec 23, 2012 9:21 pm

Very interesting, as always, John.
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Re: James E. Pepper Rye 1776

Unread postby EllenJ » Mon Apr 01, 2013 2:41 pm

Have you tried this one yet, Joe?
I believe you're gonna like it a lot.
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Re: James E. Pepper Rye 1776

Unread postby Bourbon Joe » Mon Apr 01, 2013 2:53 pm

I'll look for it in Kentucky.
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Re: James E. Pepper Rye 1776

Unread postby EllenJ » Mon Apr 01, 2013 3:16 pm

I didn't see it at Party Source; it might be available only in Ohio.
Oh DAMN! That means you might have to visit us again in order to get some! :D :D
(P.S. if so, bring some Dad's Hat (aged) with you)
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Re: James E. Pepper Rye 1776

Unread postby jacksmith » Wed Jul 03, 2013 8:00 am

I share the history of James E. Pepper Rye 1776.
E stablished in 1776, the beginning of the American Revolution, and distilled more than three family generations through 1958, the family Pepper brand of whiskey in a whiskey & oldest brand is legendary both Kentucky and American history. Starting was Elijah Pepper (Distiller c. 1776-1838) and Oscar Pepper (Distiller 1838-1867), Colonel James E. Pepper (Distiller 1867-1906) Third Generation distilling heritage.
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Re: James E. Pepper Rye 1776

Unread postby Squire » Thu Jul 04, 2013 7:09 pm

Jack I'm trying to find the point in your post. The current Pepper brand has no connection with the family of that name.
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