Historic Bourbon Labels Revived

Glass of whiskey on board next to barrel

Today’s bourbon boom is bringing back to life some long-lost historic bourbon labels.

Glass of whiskey on board next to barrel
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In case you haven’t noticed, bourbon is everywhere — from bars, restaurants, and tasting rooms, to dinner parties, home bars, and liquor store shelves, so long as they can keep it in stock. Some call it a “bourbon boom” or the “bourbon surge.” However, terms like surge might suggest the increase in bourbon sales will eventually come back down. Although that is indeed possible, it’s tough to predict, and as of now bourbon still remains wildly popular and in demand.

It may have been the cocktail revival and shows like “Mad Men” that brought bourbon and classic drinks like the old-fashioned back to life, or the entrance of new small-batch and single-barrel bourbons from distilleries that piqued everyone’s interest in bourbon whiskey, its history, and how it’s made. However the boom occurred, one of the greatest benefits of our rekindled love for bourbon is how it’s helped to revive historic bourbon labels that were once forgotten. Bourbon has been in America since the land was settled in the 1700s. It’s a deep-rooted history, and seeing old historic bourbon labels come to life again is nostalgic and exciting for collectors and newbies alike.

Old Ripy

James Ripy, an Irish immigrant created Old Ripy bourbon shortly after the Civil War around 1868 and stopped production in 1950 when Prohibition and other issues caused them to have to cut back (via Whiskey in my Wedding Ring). The distillery which shut down is now where Wild Turkey distillery in Lawrenceburg, Kentucky sits. That’s why when the Campari company which actually owns Wild Turkey, decided to distill the revived Old Ripy at the Wild Turkey distillery, it was if it had come home again.

Old Ripy is at a middle-of-the-road price point of around $50 for a 375 ml bottle. Some might buy it because of the gorgeous label which includes an old, rugged tree wrapped around the name of the bourbon, in shades, colors, and lettering that looks like the bottle came right back from where it left off in the 1800s. Buy it for the label, the history, the taste of oak, banana, caramel, and vanilla, or for your collection that is never opened. Either way, you’ll be happy to own a piece of history and a beautiful bourbon.  

Bond & Lillard

Bond & Lillard bottle and Wild Turkey glass
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Sweet Mash writes that Bond & Lillard began in 1869 and came to end during prohibition, just as Old Ripy did, and has been revived in the same way through Campari’s Whiskey Barons collection at the Wild Turkey distillery in Lawrenceburg, Kentucky. It’s said that when Bond & Lillard won the Grand Prize at the World’s Fair in St. Louis in 1904, as an outstanding bourbon, Campari found the tasting notes and started their own bourbon journey with them in hand. Thankfully, they did, and now Bond and Lillard is back on the shelves.

Legend has it that a great-grandmother in the family, Sadie Hanks, otherwise known as Mam-Momma, and a devout Southern Baptist, kept the bottles filled in the distillery before Bond & Lillard lost its well-known name. That’s reason enough to be intrigued and grab a bottle to honor the world’s coolest teetotaling grandmother.

Bond & Lillard is distilled using charcoal filtration, which is fairly unique in the bourbon industry and is said to remove carbon dioxide for a smoother, less bitter bourbon. This historic bourbon label somehow still carries the notes of way back when, which include an array of them from the bourbon tasting wheel, such as florals, fruits, oak, vanilla, herbs, spices, and caramel.

King of Kentucky

bottle of King of Kentucky
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King of Kentucky began as a straight bourbon in 1881, and was distilled by Kentucky Distillers, then was lost when the company was acquired by Brown-Forman, and the formula was changed to create a blended bourbon. That was around 1940, and by 1968, the King of Kentucky label had disappeared completely. Today, the Brown-Forman distillery has proudly brought the King of Kentucky back as a straight bourbon and a historical bottle to be remembered for the time period it originated in as Kentucky became the “bourbon state.”

Unfortunately, you won’t easily find a bottle of King of Kentucky since the distillery only releases limited amounts at a time. The last release in 2022 was a 15-year and an 18-year with very limited supplies of about 3,500 bottles of the 15 and only 250 of the 18, and hefty price tags around $250 and $350 retail. Still, it would be an impressive addition to any bourbon collection.

O.F.C.

O.F.C. bourbon
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O.F.C. stands for Old Fire Copper and is full of history, beginning with the distillery that was established in 1869. Colonel Edmund Haynes Taylor, Jr. of Colonel EH Taylor bourbon, began Old Fire Copper Distillery and had a reputation of an intelligent man who began distilling whiskey differently than other Kentucky folks had been doing it. Colonel Taylor, who lived to be 90 years old, was one of the first to understand the importance of good marketing and paved the path toward merging excellent bourbon and advertisement.

George Stagg purchased the Old Fire Copper distillery back in 1878, and eventually, it became George T. Stagg distillery, which was the distillery that bottled O.F.C. bourbon after Old Fire Copper. The Stagg distillery was fortunate to be one of the few distilleries to receive permission from the government to produce whiskey for medicinal purposes during prohibition. Eventually, Buffalo Trace would acquire the distillery and only produce O.F.C. for charitable causes, for use at auctions. However, today, O.F.C. is back on shelves for the public to enjoy.

Old Elk

Old Elk is an old label, recently revived by an up-and-coming distiller in Colorado, Old Elk Distillery. Originally created by the Stoll, Clay, and Co. Distillery near Lexington, Kentucky in 1880, the whiskey was and is now a blended straight bourbon. After going through some changes as many distilleries do through the years, eventually, Stoll, Clay, and Co. became Edge Cliff Distillery, and during prohibition, after being acquired by Stitzel Distillery, Old Elk was fortunate to be bottled for medicinal purposes. Fast forward to 1972 when Norton-Simon purchased Stitzel-Weller and they let the Old Elk label fade away. It only came back to life recently when the new Old Elk Distillery revived the label.

As a blended straight bourbon, Old Elk is unique in its “slow-cut proofing” process, which entails adding fresh mountain water at several intervals, over many weeks at a time with the goal of preserving the flavor of the bourbon while also mellowing the barrel proof whiskey. The result of Old Elk’s patient proofing is one of the smoothest bourbons you’ll find.

Cream of Kentucky

bottle of Cream of Kentucky
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Cream of Kentucky struck it big in the 1940s when Norman Rockwell was chosen to do the artwork for the company’s ads. At that time, the Schenley Corporation owned Cream of Kentucky, although it began with a different Cincinnati-based company in 1888. Thanks to Rockwell’s classic Americana artwork and clever advertising, Cream of Kentucky sky-rocketed in popularity and sales when Collier and Life Magazine placed full-page ads in their magazines, along with Norman Rockwell’s signature. The ad read, “No finer whiskey is made than the “Double-Rich” Cream of Kentucky…the largest-selling straight Bourbon whiskey in the world because its rich quality and rare flavor-character give more pleasure to more people. Win or lose. It’s the perfect end for a day of golf or any other day!”

Today, the historic bourbon label, Cream of Kentucky is alive and well again after taking a hiatus as many bourbons did when bourbon wasn’t the spirit of the times. The revival is due to Jim Rutledge, a master distiller, and his vision to bring back to life the premium bourbon with a “creamy” feel as it rolls across the tongue. J.W. Rutledge Distillery is in the process of building a modern, sustainable distillery; however, for now, Rutledge distills and bottles Cream of Kentucky at the Kentucky Artisan Distillery in Crestwood, Kentucky.

President’s Choice

Old Forester’s President’s Choice is a historic bourbon label that faded away when the barrels had nothing left to give. The label began with the Brown-Forman company in the 1940s when George Garvin Brown II wanted to do something for his employees to show his appreciation, so he decided to bottle up hand-selected barrels of bourbon and labeled them with a “President’s Choice” label. He cleverly left a blank spot on the labels so he could write the name of each employee on their own bottle, giving them a memorable keepsake and making every bottle one of a kind. In 1968, President’s Choice bottles became available for the public to purchase; however, by 1972, three years after Brown’s death, the barrels ran out and so did President’s Choice.

Old Forester came along in 2018 as they were opening their new distillery in downtown Louisville and wanted to celebrate by offering an impressive bottle of bourbon. And just like that, President’s Choice was resurrected, and each bottle carries Campbell Brown’s name only after he has tasted the barrel and approved.

Kentucky Peerless

Small Batch Peerless Bourbon
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After 102 years, Kentucky Peerless was brought back to life in 2019. Like so many bourbon labels, Kentucky Peerless was successful early on, producing about 10,000 barrels a year by 1913 and then 23,000 by 1917, until the ultimate block of distilling emerged…prohibition. Production ceased, and so did Kentucky Peerless bourbon.

In 2014, Corky Taylor, the great-grandson of Henry Kraver, who began Kentucky Peerless in 1889, and Carson Taylor, his son, started renovating a historic building in downtown Louisville, now the beautiful distillery of Kentucky Peerless. In March 2015, the Taylor family rejoiced as they filled the first barrel with Peerless bourbon since 1917, and by November 2017, Kentucky Peerless was named one of the best bourbons in the world by Whiskey Advocate. Fred Minnick writes, “Delivering a buttery mouthfeel with toasted rye and baking spice notes, Peerless is the only craft producer on our list… Peerless is paving the way, and we expect more craft distillers to join them.”

Green River

Green River distillery
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After its founding in 1885 by John W. McCulloch, Green River left the scene when prohibition entered it. Green River was well known back in the day as “The Whiskey Without Regrets,” a tagline that made them famous as they collected awards at the Paris Exhibition in 1900 and the Liege Exhibition in Belgium in 1905.

Green River has deep roots in Kentucky as the 10th oldest distillery in the Bluegrass state and is located in Owensboro, Kentucky. After 100 years of rest, Jacob Call, a master distiller with a long lineage of distillers before him, brought Green River Bourbon back to life at the same distillery in which it was born. Call’s family history in bourbon dates back to the 1700s when Samuel Call distilled bourbon on his own farmland. Shortly after Call resurrected the bourbon, Green River was acquired by Bardstown Bourbon Company, and today the legacy lives on along the Bourbon Trail in Kentucky.  

Pike’s Magnolia

The vintage design of Pike’s Magnolia bourbon label makes the bottle look like it came right off the shelf in an old western, and today’s founder, Ed Carey, wouldn’t have it any other way.

Though Pike’s Magnolia bourbon began in Cincinnati in 1849, it didn’t last long due to, you guessed it…Prohibition. Up until then, it was quite popular, and the original company, owned by Samuel Napthali Pike, enjoyed sales throughout the United States and Europe. Rather than develop his own bourbon, Pike sourced bourbon from multiple distilleries, blending them until he came up with the perfect blend he could bottle and sell.

When Carey discovered the old label, he decided to stay true to its beginnings and bottles Pike’s Magnolia in the same way.  Carey tells 614 Now, “Our spirits are coming from a distillery in Lawrenceburg, Indiana, our bottles are coming from Pennsylvania, and labels are from Virginia.” Pike’s Magnolia is now sold in some US states and Alberta, Canada.

Kentucky Senator

three bottles of Kentucky Senator bourbon
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After originating with Crigler & Crigler of Covington, the historic bourbon label, Kentucky Senator bourbon, was eventually bought by Double Springs Distilleries of Bardstown, Kentucky. The label faded away, and today it’s been revived by Kentucky Senator Spirits, LLC. The bourbon makes itself unique by naming releases after Kentucky senators. The first release after its comeback was a 15-year small-batch bourbon, whose namesake is Senator Alben W. Barkley of McCracken County. As Kentucky Senator Spirits says, their bourbon is a blend of history and commitment.

The brand has too many awards to mention. Still, it includes the prestigious American Spirits Council of Tasters award in recognition of its first small-batch bourbon, including the taste and overall craft, and then another ASCOT (the double platinum award) for marketing. They also made Fred Minnick’s top 100 list in 2022 for best American whiskeys, where whiskeys are judged by taste, aroma, and finish using a scale of 100 to score.

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Meet Melissa

Bourbon stole my heart a few years ago when I had several opportunities to write about it. Food stole my heart when I was lucky enough to be raised by a mom who managed to make nearly everything from scratch when we were growing up.