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.
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?
) -- 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?
) have made a very judicious and intelligent choice there, as well.