Two important milestones took place in Kentucky along the Ohio River in the 1860s. In Louisville, water was pulled from the Ohio River from the first time, thanks to the Water Works (known today as Louisville Water Company). In Henderson, a different liquid — bourbon — was also starting to flow.
The Ohio River was integral to both companies. In Louisville, it provided water to fight fires and “sprinkle the streets” to keep the dust down, while 128 miles upstream in Henderson, distillers used the Ohio as a form of transportation for their spirits and as an integral ingredient in their bourbon recipe.
In 1889, one Henderson distillery was taken over by Henry Kraver. He incorporated in 1907 as The Kentucky Peerless Distilling Company and produced 20,000 barrels of bourbon at its peak until prohibition hit in 1917 and they ceased operations.
Why are we mentioning the shared history of both companies? In 2014, Henry Kraver’s great-grandson, Corky Taylor, revived the Peerless brand and opened a distillery in Louisville, bottling under the original Distilled Spirits Plant number, DSP-KY-50*. Once again, the iconic brand sits on the Ohio. But this time instead of relying on the river for transportation, the distiller relies on the Ohio for the water used to start its mash bill (the first step in producing their bourbons and whiskeys). The water goes through Louisville Water’s treatment process first but is then added straight to the mash.
Louisville Water and Peerless recently collaborated to create a display piece to tell the story of their shared histories. The display can be viewed during all tours and is a talking point for tour guides to help visitors understand how important high quality, great tasting water truly is to the taste and color of bourbon. From the mash, to the barrel, to the bottle and glass, it’s easy to understand why water is bourbon’s best friend.
As Peerless’ Master Distiller, Caleb Kilburn, notes, “Making great whiskey starts with sourcing great ingredients. Most people know that it takes fresh grains and quality barrels, but water is sometimes forgotten.” Kilburn goes on to state that “thanks to our rich distilling culture here in the state, we understand the importance of using high-quality water. Heritage distilleries throughout the state sing the praises of limestone filtered water and its impact on the high quality of their whiskey. Low iron, high calcium, and an overall fresh, crisp taste are all qualities that they cite, and I am happy to say that those are all qualities that Louisville Water provides to us. Louisville reliably delivers the water that is so crucial to the production of our awarded products.”
*Peerless was able to obtain the original Kentucky Distilled Spirits Plant Number from the first Peerless Distillery in Henderson in the 1800s. DSP-KY-50 represents the history behind the Peerless family and the legacy behind Peerless bourbon. Today, Distilled Spirits Numbers are established in the 20,000s.