The Life and Times of E.H. Taylor

Perhaps the most remarkable man to enter the whiskey industry during the post-Civil War years was Colonel Edmund Haynes Taylor, Jr.*, who was born in Columbia, Kentucky, in 1832.  He was a grand nephew of General Zachary Taylor whose aide told the Mexicans at a ticklish moment “General Taylor Never Surrenders,” a declaration which was molded into many a whiskey flask and did the old General no harm in his successful campaign to become President of the United States.

     Colonel Taylor was a man of education and cultivation, plus all the Taylor grit and stubbornness.  He represented a sharp break with the tradition of distilling as a simple manufacturing operation.  Taylor had the instincts of the merchandiser.  To modern eyes he would have looked quaint enough, sitting at his roll top desk clad in formal striped trousers, wearing a high silk hat and disposable white lawn string ties.  Taylor was actually an early example of the professional executive.  He was able to project himself into all phases of business—production, finance, sales promotion and, beyond that, to render important services to the industry.

     Taylor placed the emphasis upon “pure goods” and made his Old Taylor, Hermitage, O.F.C. (the initials for Old Fire Copper) and Carlisle brands a standard of bourbon quality, his barrels commanding about twenty cents more on the gallon than other whiskeys.  And every tumblerful of the Old Sinner which emerged from the Taylor warehouses had a beautiful bouquet about its person and was sold long before it was released.  The Colonel had a firm hold on the concept of the uniform product and the consumer package, and labored long and fruitfully for the passage of the Bottled-in-Bond Act which would compel the seller to state on the label what was in the bottle.  Bottling History

     Until the late 1890’s, a distiller’s brand might be six-year-old whiskey in one locality and three-year-old goods in another, both bearing the same label.  A café-owner or barkeep could purchase a barrel of the best bourbon and do with it as he pleased.  Once the proof gallon tax was paid and the barrel withdrawn from the warehouse, the supervision of the whiskey by the federal government ceased.  After hard lessons learned in the panic of 1893, after much debate, a bottled-in-bond bill backed by, among others, Taylor and John G. Carlisle, fiscal expert and Secretary of the Treasury, passed Congress, President Cleveland, in the last hours of his second term, signed the bill into law.

     Colonel Taylor, who lived to be ninety years old, was a bridge between the old ways and the new.  He had known Dr. James C. CrowOscar Pepper, Judge William B. and John H. McBrayer and W. F. Bond.  He remembered the uneven gravities, the unreliable temperatures and attenuations.  (Attenuation: reduction in density, a thinning which occurs in the distiller’s beer as fermentation advances.)  Taylor discarded the uncleanly wooden beer still.  His beer was a creamy liquid, rich in yeasting power.  His fermentation was faultless.  One can still hear the voice of this aristocratic Kentuckian down through the years as he raised it against “carelessly made whiskeys, whose aim is quantity and whose objective is”—what perfect nineteenth-century English!—“mere chaffering for cheapness.”

     Most whiskey plants of the last century looked something like a sawmill.  For steam, there was a boiler house and a tall, thin, black smokestack.  Such a frill as landscaped grounds was not thought of, except by Colonel Taylor.  He thought of everything, including what inevitably we now call public relations.  The Colonel built pergolas and pools.  He had turrets, too.  The Old Taylor Distillery on Glenn’s Creek, near Frankfort, looked like a medieval castle with thick stone walls, arched windows, red slate roof, towers and crenelated battlements, stone bridges, a sundial and sunken rose garden.  Over his spring, Taylor erected a springhouse with Roman columns, sheltering the water gushing from the birdseye limestone in what amounted to a shrine.  This structure is still there and looks about the way it did in the Colonel’s heyday.

     Perhaps it was wildly romantic—or was it?—this setting of a Rhenish castle in the Kentucky landscape, surrounded by grounds groomed like a gentleman’s estate.  Tourists and picnickers gladly came to look at the water, sniff appreciatively the aroma from the distillery and accept complimentary “tenth pint” bottles of Old Taylor.  They were not likely to forget the experience.  And that satisfied Edmund H. Taylor, Jr.