Louisville is famous for a number of things, Mohammad Ali, the Louisville Slugger baseball bat and as a centre of the Bourbon industry. Peerless Distilling is little more than a home run hit away from the Louisville Slugger factory and is certainly one of the new kids on the block, well kind of. Peerless actually has a history which takes it back years and they are now really looking to re-establish the family’s name and brand into the bourbon market and they have some story to tell.
It begins with Henry Kraver who arrived in the US as a Polish Jewish immigrant. He clearly had an entrepreneurial side to him as he started selling newspapers from a very young age. He looked West for his fortune and travelled as far as his money would take him where he worked in a series of odd-jobs. Through these he saved enough money to set up in a couple of businesses before settling on banking as his career. This proved fruitful for Henry and allowed him to invest in a number of business’s notably taking over the Worsham Distillery in Henderson as that company ran into some difficulties. Kraver set about improving the premises and operations and at it’s peak was overseeing the production of 10,000 barrels per year. Also around this time he changed the company name to The Kentucky Peerless Distilling Company
The slowing of production due to World War One and then the effects of prohibition eventually meant that Henry had no option but to close the distillery.
So to the modern day and you’ll find Corky Taylor, a guy with infectious enthusiasm and his son Carson, have resurrected the families Peerless brand and opened up a stunning facility in downtown Louisville. Carson saw the building they are housed in and, through his previous experience, was able to craft out both a functional and beautiful production facility converting the ex- tobacco/ ex- grain packaging plant into a beautiful red brick distillery. Corky and Carson are four and five generations on respectively from Henry Kraver but you can see that the energy and entrupreuneurial drive are in the blood to this day.
I was taken on a tour of the place by John Wadell who was keen to give me an insight of the plant and some of the great features of Peerless.
Some beautiful attention to detail with table legs in the shape of bottles and stills
John explained that the distillery had a particular affinity with the military as Corky’s dad had served his country with distinction and had been General Patons right hand man. Indeed the General’s gun is on display at the distillery. As a result of this Peerless is pretty popular with veterans.
The distillery itself centres around a 2500 gallon mash cooker (c 9500l) that feeds 6 fermentation tanks. Grain is milled on site and mixed with around 1200 gallons city limestone water with the rye and corn being held around 100C to aid extraction. The temperature is reduced down to around 62C for the addition of the malted barley and the action of the enzymes from the barley allowed to progress for around 30 minutes. The temperature is further reduced to around 25deg for the addition of yeast. The FV’s do have cooling coils on them to help to maintain this temperature.
The mash cooker with grain feed via the white pipe and agitators and one of the FV’s in full flow
Systems at Peerless are pretty impressive with PLC control being evident throughout the plant. FV’s are dropped to a beer well after fermentation prior to being sent onto the 25ft column still.
The 25ft column still with the entry point of the beer being around 2/3rds of the way up with the copper doubler to the left side
Again there are beautiful touches to the facilities at Peerless with you being left in no doubt as to where you are.
Some of the branding touches around the plant with the high wines and mingling tanks
Prior to to the spirit being placed into barrels it is proofed down to 107 (53.3%abv) and then placed into storage in barrels sourced locally from the Kelvin Cooperage (see our previous article on them).
Rickhouse room in Louisville is not plentiful and expansion plans for this part of the operation are already being looked at.
One other aspect that bears testimony to the fine standards the company set is the quality of the packaging they have. The bottle is beautifully constructed with the address of the distillery on the bottom and topped with bold closure. There is an image of Henry Kraver on the label and overall it makes it a really attractive stand out product.
The beautiful packaging in use at Peerless
For such a young distillery, with a remarkably young head distiller in Caleb Kilburn, there has already been some outstanding reviews of it’s straight Rye product. It was the only craft producer that made Whisky Advocate’s 20 best whiskies of 2017. Peerless certainly is making a fine run at living up to it’s name.
With huge thanks to John for showing me around and Corky for making me so welcome.
John Wadell, myself and Corky Taylor