Mike's message was not particularly private, and I felt the question might be of interest to others here. So I asked him if he minded my copying it to the public discussion areas and answering there so that we can share with the other members. He said that would be fine, so here it is.
Mike Maguire wrote:From: Mike Maguire
Posted: Wed Feb 20, 2008 4:28 pm
...[E]ver heard of a bourbon named OLD RIPPY, probably in either Baltimore or Long Island areas?
"Old Ripy Bourbon" (only one "p", but pronounced "rippy") was not a Baltimore brand. Nor was it from Long Island, although in a roundabout way there could be a distant relationship there. Old Ripy is considered one of Kentucky's premier pre-prohibition brands of bourbon. It was produced beginning around 1868 at the T.B. Ripy Distillery, and at the Anderson County Distillery, built 13 years later, both of them located in Anderson County, Kentucky, and operated by the ubiquitous Ripy family. The Ripys were involved in several distilleries before Prohibition, including one, Old Hickory Springs, that was rebuilt afterward and opened around 1935 as the Ripy Bros. Distillery, making bourbon by that name and also under contract for other merchants. Without making any statements that I'd have to back up, let's just say I have a strong suspicion that the Ripys managed not to lose their talents during 14 years of The Great Experiment and the quality of Ripy Bros was quite reminiscent of how it was before the Volstead Act.
Meanwhile, in far away New York City there was a very successful wholesale grocery firm by the name of Austin, Nichols & Company that had also been around since the late 1800s. To whatever extent they handled wines and spirits, that part of the business ended in 1920, but was again available after Repeal. Not only available, but lucrative. So much so that, by 1938 Austin, Nichols & Co. had closed down most of its other product lines and concentrated its attention on fine wines and liquor. They contracted with distillers who sold them product bearing the Austin, Nichols label, and among those was the Ripy Bros. According to legend, in 1940 an executive with the firm, Thomas McCarthy, got the idea to further designate their bourbon whiskey as "Wild Turkey", in order to capitalize on its popularity among his fellow turkey hunters -- perhaps out on Long Island (I've heard South Carolina, but that may have been substituted because it seems more "Southern"-sounding; the company was located in Brooklyn). The actual whiskey in a bottle of Wild Turkey was not specific to any one distillery, nor did Austin, Nichols have their whiskey custom-made to a proprietary formula. Over the years, however, they came to be more and more pleased with the flavor and quality of the Ripy Bros' bourbon, and by 1971 that was the only distillery they were using. In that year they purchased it outright. Along with it came its master distiller, Jimmy Russell, who had been making bourbon there since the early 1950s. Some of it had been labeled Ripy Bros. Bourbon, some labeled Wild Turkey (and a few other contract brands), but it was all Jimmy's bourbon, the only kind they make there.
It still is, even though the distillery, along with the rest of Austin, Nichols, was sold in 1980 to Pernod Ricard. Times change, of course, and so do manufacturing processes and marketing requirements. And we've never had the luck to get our hands on a bottle of Ripy Bros. (let alone a pre-pro Old Ripy). But we've certainly drunk our share of bourbons made before the '70s and '80s, and of all of them, Wild Turkey has maintained its profile the closest over the years. That's about as near to "Old Rippy" as you're likely to find these days. But we'll keep an eye out.