The origins of the Kentucky Peerless brand dates back to 1881 when business associates Elijah W. Worsham and Capt. J.B. Johnston built the E.W. Worsham & Co Distillery in Henderson, KY, and started producing whiskey under the Peerless brand name. With production only peaking at around 300-400 barrels per year, the distillery was sold within a decade to local businessman Henry Kraver after falling into financial difficulties following the death of co-founder Elijah Worsham. Wasting no time, Kraver invested heavily in new machinery to expand capacity and added new warehouses, boosting production from 8 to 200 barrels per week, and having his new warehouses ready for federal bonding when the Bottled-in-Bond Act of 1897 came into effect. Over the decades that followed, the distillery grew to be one of the largest distilleries in the state (and the world) and so Kraver decided to incorporate it as ‘the Kentucky Peerless Distilling Company’ in 1907. By 1917 production peaked at 23,000 barrels annually with roughly 63,000 barrels in warehouses. With the advent of the Great War, operations took an unexpected turn with the distillery halting production for the first time in over 35 years. Nationwide Prohibition soon followed the end of the war and with it Kentucky Peerless suffered the fate of many other distilleries at the time and shut operations indefinitely. Whilst his whiskey was being prescribed medicinally throughout Prohibition, Kraver relied on other successful business ventures but a tragic fall, and his subsequent death due to complications resulted in the Peerless brand going dormant for 76 years.
In 2014, following this 76-year hiatus, Kraver’s great- and great-great- grandsons came together with the dream of reviving and restoring their family’s once-famous brand and legacy in Louisville, KY. The father and son team, Corky and Carson Taylor, built their state-of-the -art craft distillery from the ground up, obtained the original Distilled Spirits Plant number from the 1800s, and filled the first barrel of Kentucky Peerless whiskey since Prohibition in March 2015, starting a new chapter in the Peerless legacy.
Today, the brand is thriving under the watchful eye of Master Distiller Caleb Kilburn along with the Taylors. Kentucky Peerless has once again gained international renown for the quality of their whiskies, first releasing a 2 year old barrel-proof straight rye whiskey in 2107, and recently their first batch of 4 year old barrel-proof straight bourbon, both to massive critical acclaim. Their dedication to quality at every point of the distillation and ageing process combined with low barrel entry proof, very small batches of only 6 barrels, barrels sourced from a small local cooperage, and exclusive use of a sweet mash process (instead of the commonly used sour mash process) has set them apart from most of the other craft and larger scale distilleries in the US.
After a 102 year long interlude, June of this year saw Kentucky Peerless celebrate the inaugural release of their first bourbon whiskey. Blended from stocks distilled during the early days of production in 2015 Peerless’ bourbon , unlike their rye, was aged for a full 4 years to produce a whiskey whose quality satisfied the Taylor family and Master Distiller Caleb Kilburn. With the massive success of their rye whiskey, eager fans were quick to jump on the news and on the day of the release Peerless sold every single bottle from the first batch. Similar to their rye, the bourbon is also produced using a sweet mash, barrelled at 107 proof, is dumped and blended into a 6 barrel micro-mingling of straight bourbon whiskey produced by Peerless, and bottled at barrel proof with no chill filtration. Unlike their rye whiskey this whiskey has no age statement as it is older than 4 years and so isn’t legally required to have one. When I visited the distillery for a tour in February 2019 they had several barrels of the bourbon sitting in the rackhouse section of the building to tease visitors. The whiskey wasn’t yet for sale at that stage but it was enough to pique my interests.
Today I’ll be reviewing bourbon from the second release which came a couple of months after the first release.
Name: Peerless Small Batch Bourbon (Batch 150423202)
Age: 4 y.o.
Proof: 109.1 proof (54.55% abv)
Type: Kentucky straight bourbon whiskey
Mashbill: Undisclosed (minimum 51% corn)
Producer: Kentucky Peerless Distilling Company
Nose: The nose opens with big red fruit covered in powdered sugar followed by notes of earthy baking spices, caramel, vanilla, and a wisp of barrel smoke.
Palate: On the palate there’s deep brown sugar, fresh cherries, red fruit, earthy baking spices, a kick of black pepper spice, roasted nuts, toasted oak, leather, and dark chocolate oak notes with spice continuing to linger whilst the whiskey is being chewed.
Finish: The finish leads from the palate with earthy baking spices, brown sugar, and a tingling spice before an aftertaste of roasted nuts, leather, and toasted oak emerges to accompany the pleasant Kentucky hug that follows.
This bourbon is delicious. At roughly four years old what they have achieved is nothing short of incredible – a whiskey that *should* be grain-forward with harsh young oak notes is instead very well-balanced with complexity and classic bourbon flavours galore. Even at barrel proof it’s very accessible and carries its flavours excellently. Contributing factors to the success of this whiskey are numerous but is more than likely due to their use of low barrel entry proof, a sweet mash fermentation, very small batches, and barrelling at barrel proof without chill filtration to preserve flavour. Another key aspect of its success is no doubt down to their decision to keep the whiskey in the barrel until it was a minimum of 4 years old. By waiting for the whiskey to reach this age they have given it the best possible chance to become the powerhouse it is.
Since operations commenced in 2015 Peerless have crafted their whiskey with passion and a dedication to quality that has earned them a proud reputation and which still shines through even four years later when the fruits of their labour are bottled. This is an excellent whiskey and another feather in the cap of the Peerless team who have worked hard to earn every accolade that this whiskey receives. Despite a 102 year pause in the production of Peerless bourbon, the team at Peerless have done the brand and its history proud with such an impressive product. When I visited early in 2019 for a standard tour I saw this passion and dedication to quality first-hand and how it applied to everything from bottle design, their distillery operation, and everything in between. I left the tour excited for what was coming and I’m glad I now get to taste that future.
Try or Buy?
Peerless bourbon carries an SRP of $75 which puts it firmly in the buy category. Sure it’s $75 for a bourbon that is only 4 years old but flavour is king and this stuff tastes great. If you’re still unsure you can always pick up a 200ml bottle of it in the distillery gift shop!