April 28, 2012
SOMETIMES DREAMS REALLY DO COME TRUE. Back in January of 2003, we received an email from a fellow in Indiana whose family once owned a major distillery in Maysville, Kentucky before prohibition and who was interested in the possibility of re-starting the old family business. His name was (and still is, of course) Peter Pogue, great-great-grandson of Henry Edgar Pogue and, along with his father, uncle, brothers, and cousins, was seeking as much historical information as he could find. He found a lot (and we are honored to have been a source of some of that). And there was a lot to find.
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To begin with, the town itself dates back far before the Pogues' involvement here. Originally known as 'Limestone', the area consisted mainly of a few wharves at the natural harbor where Kentucky's Limestone Creek joins the Ohio river. As such, it became a major shipping point for goods produced throughout the mid-eastern part of what was then the Bourbon County area of Virginia. It was where all the goods and products of Boonesboro and the white settlers were shipped, and through which most of everything they bought from the east arrived. It was either the most important port on the Ohio River or the second-most (after Falls-of-the-Ohio, later called Louisville), depending on whose history you accept.
Limestone wasn't really a community of its own back then; it was considered part of the village (and fort) called Washington, founded by Simon Kenton in the late 1700s. The village of Washington was, for awhile, the capital of Mason County, and today a portion of it has been restored, à la Colonial Williamsburg, to its historic original appearance.
Well, more or less. This is an example of an 'authentic' 18th century log cabin drive-up deposit bank..
The area gained enough permanent residents to qualify as a town of its own in 1787, and, although the name was officially changed to Maysville at that time, it continued to be known as Limestone well into the 1800s.
Whiskey was not Maysville's main product of export, though. The area also was a source of tobacco, hemp, and other goods, but it was mostly known for the ironworks shipped from there. Much the ornate wrought-iron balconies and decorations that we associate with old New Orleans originated in and around Limestone, Kentucky.
In 1876, Henry E. Pogue built a distillery in Maysville. It was not a 'farmer-distiller'-type operation, but a rather large-scale enterprise, capable of producing 2,000 barrels a day and with a normal inventory of 15,000 barrels at any given time. They employed over a hundred people and sold their product in bulk to many whiskey merchants, as well as producing their own brands which included 'Old Pogue', 'Royal Club Rye', 'Old Time' and 'Belle of Maysville' brands.
Besides Pogue, there were other distilleries (or at least merchants) in the area. Perhaps the best known of these was, indeed, not Pogue but the James H. Rogers Company, which was originally located very close to the Pogue site prior to 1877, when they moved nearer to the railroad tracks above the first bridge on the Germantown pike.
After his death (in a distillery accident) in 1890, his son, H. E. Pogue II, continued the distillery operations and purchased a fine house on the hill above the distillery that had been built by industrialist Michael Ryan in 1845. He called it 'Star Terrace', and he lived there until his own death (also in a distillery accident) in 1918. His son, H. E. Pogue III learned of his father’s death while fighting overseas in World War I and returned home to run the distillery. Less than a year later, in 1919, the Eighteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was ratified, bringing in the Prohibition Era, which prohibited the sale of distilled spirits, including whisky, except for medicinal purposes. While the production of alcohol was prohibited, the possession of existing alcohol was not, and some distillers were licensed to bottle and sell highly-regulated portions of their existing stock to the medical and bakery industries. During the early years of Prohibition (which, remember, was assumed to be the end of liquor production FOREVER, not just fourteen years) the Pogue distillery sold limited quantities of its existing whisky for medicinal purposes under the 'Old Jordan' brand. 'Old Jordan' was an 18 year old, 91 proof whisky. At this time, the Pogue distillery also legally distributed significant amounts of its whisky through famed Cincinnati pharmacist George Remus. Remus, whose later adventures as the greatest bootlegger in history will be the subject of another (large) page in the future, was a major customer of the Pogue distillery during the '20s. The family also operated the New England Rum distillery in nearby Covington, Kentucky, although the rum produced there was primarily used by cigar manufacturers as flavoring for 'rum-soaked' cigars.
Unfortunately, like so many other successful distilling enterprises, the Pogue distillery did not survive Prohibition. It's last barrel of existing whiskey was transferred to the U.S. consolidation warehouse in Louisville in 1926. When Prohibition was repealed in 1933, H. E. Pogue III chose not to reopen the Pogue distillery. He sold the facility to a Chicago firm in 1935, who renovated it and brought it back into production. In 1942, Rose sold the distillery to the Schenley corporation, who operated the distillery as an industrial alcohol producer World War II for defense purposes. After the war, Schenley's operations at the distillery continued until 1963, and were once again ceased. The distillery buildings lay abandoned for a decade until they were razed in 1973. The site is now a coal-storage lot.
From the lovely home on the hill above the site, the Pogue family had also long since departed. The last Pogue to live there was Annabelle (Mrs. Henry Pogue II), who sold it in 1955. A series of owners since then allowed the house and grounds to deteriorate from their original splendor to a nearly unsalvageable state of disrepair. The most recent past owner actually abandoned the property, leaving it open to looters and the elements for nearly seven years. Eventually, it was discovered by Philip Breen, a Cincinnati developer and restorer of fine old homes and he purchased it with the idea of restoring it for use as a rental property. As be began to see the home coming back to its former life and glory, he really didn't have the Pogues in mind, but in 2008 he contacted the family and they purchased their old homestead back -- in far better condition than it ever was -- in 2009. The Pogue family had already been marketing a Kentucky bourbon whiskey for four years at that time, but it was only a revered brand, using excellent whiskey that they selected from other distillers, not whiskey they were actually distilling themselves.
That changed, and the acquisition of the restored Star Terrace home played an important role.
For what the Pogue brothers have accomplished is a dream that began even before 2003. In fact, it's probably safe to say that it was never NOT in the mind of Peter Pogue, his father and uncle, and his brothers and cousins.
In 2004, they made that happen -- sort of -- when they began bottling and marketing Kentucky bourbon whiskey under the brand 'Old Pogue' and proudly sent it off to win accolades, and medals, and sales. Which it did. And it still does. But the whiskey in the bottle was whiskey they SELECTED, not whiskey they actually DISTILLED, and what they wanted most to reestablish was the Pogue DISTILLERY, and in Maysville where it belongs.
On April 28, 2012 (or actually sometime prior to today), that dream has became a reality, and we are here today to celebrate the official ribbon-cutting ceremony at the Old Pogue Distillery in Maysville, Kentucky. The distillery itself is not the huge facility that H. E. Pogue once was. Located in a building about the size of a large garage (and which also contains a tasting bar and barrel storage), the all-copper pot still only holds 125 gallons at a time, and is capable of producing about one barrel a week.
It is located across the driveway from the house.
People often ask us, what is it that makes Kentucky the nearly undisputed capital of the bourbon-making world? There are, of course, many who believe that 'bourbon' can only be made in Kentucky, but that's not correct; bourbon can only be made in the United States, but it can be made anywhere in the U.S. Well, then, they ask, is it because of the legendary water that can only be found here? No, not really; although the legend is certainly well-known. The fact is that, while the quality of the water might once have been a factor, today's distilleries have access to whatever water quality they want by way of the same modern chemical technology you probably have in your own refrigerator. So what is it? It's an attitude, that's what. An attitude that simply doesn't exist anywhere else, at least not to the degree that it does in Kentucky. It's an attitude of PRIDE in the heritage of its history, even (maybe especially) the parts that others might prefer to cover up or gloss over. People here, even civic officials, are quick to point out the heritage of tobacco and alcohol production that was the backbone of frontier life here, as well as in other states where one might never suspect such industries had ever existed. And evidence of that attitude abounds at today's ribbon-cutting ceremony. Speakers include the mayor of Maysville, the executive judge of Mason county, the local State Representative and State Senator, the President Pro-Tem of the Commonwealth of Kentucky, and the field director for the Governor. All seemed to be very happy to be commemorating the birth of a new whiskey distillery. There are so many places we've been where such an idea would be, well, less likely.
It is raining lightly as we walked down the slight hill from the road to the home. It has been beautiful all week, but today it has decided to rain. The rain continues for a little while, as we explore the inside of the finely-restored home and enjoy hors d' oeuvres and drinks. By the time the ceremony is to begin, the rain has stopped, the sun is out, and it is nicely cool and dry.
Peter Pogue begins his opening speech with a little bit of history:
'It was a simple reference in the Maysville Morning Tribune on February 6, 1876,' he notes, 'two simple lines between a quip lamenting the sadness that the paper did not have a reporter at that week’s council chamber and a pronouncement of Reverend Dr. Taylor of the ME Church’s sermon for the following Sunday. Two simple lines announcing:
'The old coal oil property, just below the city, has been bought by Henry E. Pogue for $4,270. He proposes to fit it up for a distillery.'
Who could have ever imagined that after three generations of distilling on the site, a 13-year government-enforced Prohibition of distilling, bootleggers, and subsequent failed efforts at re-entering the distilling business that the fourth, fifth, and sixth generations of H. E. Pogue would -- almost to the day -- 136 years later, once again distill on the same hallowed ground. By any stretch of the imagination this is truly a historic day for the Pogue family, for the City of Maysville, Mason County, and the State of Kentucky, to welcome back distilling to the birthplace of bourbon..
Nelson County is rightfully and proudly the Bourbon Capital of the World with so many wonderful distilleries and wonderful people. Maysville, Mason County, right here is the Birthplace of Bourbon. This is a story that has been overshadowed. At its height before Prohibition there had been hundreds of distilleries in the original Bourbon County, which encompassed Mason County at the time. The settlers of Limestone Landing came west from Maryland and Pennsylvania to escape the whiskey rebellion and landed in the port of Limestone Landing, now Maysville. They brought with them their distilling heritage of making rye whiskey before turning to corn later on. The rye whiskey the settlers made was a clear spirit. It is in this spirit that our first product will be 'Limestone Landing Pure Malted Rye', a clear 100% rye.
Thankfully, our grandparents had the foresight to preserve much of the history of our distillery history and the history of the area, much of which is on display here today. From the original pilot still, to original recipes written down in 1907, to correspondence with George Remus, history and family heritage are what has always been our inspiration. And, now, as the Pogue family again begins to distill in this historic area our guiding principals will be those first noted by our great grandfather in the late 1800s in his little leather distilling notebook –Quality 'This is a term much used in whiskey circles. Kentucky bourbon whiskey is and has been from the earliest time a high and distinctive class of commercial spirit.' We will endeavor to uphold this standard.'
The Pogue brothers expect to continue bottling and marketing Old Pogue Kentucky Bourbon Whiskey which, as the label proudly states, is personally selected by their master distiller (from barrels of whiskey originally produced at other distilleries) and are now adding their very authentic, family-recipe rye whiskey which they are now distilling here in Maysville. They are, of course, making more than they're selling, the remainder of which they are barreling in standard-sized 53-gallon cooperage for aging and storage. It will continue to mature here until it is ready to release as aged whiskey. Most likely, it will be joined by Limestone Landing Bourbon before long. In the meantime, the Limestone Landing 100% malted rye product, unaged and barely cut to a healthy 106 proof, is the first product available. In a conversation with distiller John Pogue (sixth generation?), we learn that he is able to get a higher proof using the pot still than what was common in the early days, which ensures a purer product, but by barreling it at a relatively lower proof (most rye whiskey is barreled at around 125 proof), the final aged product will be much more flavorful. And he sees no reason to dilute the unaged product any further to bottle it (most 'white dog' whiskies are bottled at 80 to 100 proof). The result is a fresh-tasting, full-flavored white rye whiskey which expresses just a bit more authority as you drink it.
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Story and original photography copyright © 2012 by John F. Lipman. All rights reserved.
Dr. Gregory Pogue is Deputy Executive Director and Senior Research Scientist of the IC² Institute of The University of Texas at Austin.
He leads research, instructional and implementation programs surrounding technology commercialization, early venture creation and entrepreneurship. He organizes Institute-campus research programs and coordinates IC²’s regional and international programs with campus initiatives. He served as Interim Executive Director from 2016-2018.
Dr. Pogue has extensive technology commercialization experience through senior positions in venture capital, entrepreneurial ventures, technology transfer offices and as a scientific innovator. He has held vice-president or above positions in six startup enterprises: one realized a successful public offering on the NASDAQ Exchange; a second was acquired by a Fortune 500 company; three obtained large licensing deals with industry leaders; the last is in clinical stage development. He has authored over 60 original scientific articles and reviews and is an inventor on over 35 issued and pending U.S. patents.