Tuesday, 12 November 2013

Roll out the Barrel !

Tucked away in a small corner of Lairs Station near Cynthiana (home of Post-It notes - yes, really), Harrison County, Texas, stands the now abandoned Old Lewis Hunter Distillery. 

Built for making whiskey, the buildings date back to the late 1850's and presumably were owned originally by a Mr Lewis Hunter, young or old. 

But by the early 1900's, it was the short-lived home of the Sharp Distilling Company. Short, sadly, because in 1902, the unfortunate Mr Sharp was killed in the Pacific when his boat exploded, and so his business was sold on. 

By 1914, the distillery was owned and operated by "Uncle" Julius Kessler, a charming travelling door to door whiskey salesman turned booze magnate, who was said to have sold more of the grain-based drink, at the turn of the Century, than any man alive.

The Distillery closed during prohibition; the years from 1920 to 1933, when alcohol production was banned and everyone pretended they didn't drink, but re-opened straight afterwards, in 1934. At that time its registered offices were at 112 Esplanade, in nearby Lexington (according to a list of Kentucky Distillers and Rectifiers published by one Lee W Mida).

Old Lewis Hunter became a brand name, although it's not clear when, but Master Distiller Charles L Beam, of the Jim Beam whiskey family, apparently had a hand in the production of the new swig on the block.
Old Lewis Hunter Distillery in 1935

Although tip top at whiskey sales, Old "Uncle mine's a large one" was apparently not quite so good at book-keeping... 

Perhaps following in the footsteps of Mr Lewis Hunter himself, who was rumoured to have moved to Lairs Station in order to start the distillery, to avoid higher taxes in another state. 

The Distillery became embroiled in a dispute versus the Kentucky Tax Commission regarding what the US tax man saw as "deficiencies in income taxes for the years 1936, 1937, and 1938".

In 1943, the business was acquired by Canadian drinks company Joseph E. Seagram and Sons Inc who appear to have forgotten to file the trademark until 1958, then cancelled it again in 2001.

It's unclear when the Distillery stopped actually distilling the brand and closed for good, but the general consensus is that it was about 1974.

Which is a bit of a puzzler.....

As the Old Lewis Hunter Distillery Sour Mash whiskey barrel tucked away in a small corner of the garden of No 1 Heatherside Corner is dated '87.

It's definitely a real, hard wood whiskey barrel, not a cheap pine replica, a fact confirmed when I finally managed to cut it open to install a door* and the smell of pure alcohol and carbon hit me.

*Now starting a new career as a BBQ table,  with a door allowing access to a large plastic bucket which sits inside it, which we can fill with ice and beers and wine and other lovely stuff.

And it's got all the hallmarks of the Old Lewis Hunter Distillery, including the date it was filled.

Our Old Lewis Hunter Distillery barrel

But I am entirely bemused by how a genuine 1987 Kentucky whiskey barrel, from a small distillery in Knowheresville, which in theory stopped making the stuff 13 years earlier, ended up in a garden centre in a tiny Surrey village, 36 years later, which is where I found it this Summer.

The text on our barrel reads as follows: 

Old Lewis Hunter Distillery
D.S.P - KY
Sour Mash Bourbon Whiskey
Serial no. 425763
Filled Feb - 27 - 87

But it's final journey, thankfully, is not such a mystery. 

With a little help, I jammed the entire thing onto the back seat of my old battered Saab estate, scraping the paintwork as I went, suspension groaning under the weight, and when I got it home, opened the car door, and well, quite literally, rolled out the barrel......

I've now copied it in miniature. Although, as I have two of them and one has a duck egg blue top but the other has the writing on it, I used artistic licence and amalgamated the two, for my version.

My miniature interpretation of our Old Lewis Hunter Distillery barrel,
started life as a miniature solid wood barrel shaped block.
The text on our barrel is quite faint but still legible
Although hard to read on the real barrel,  the text on the mini one is an exact copy.
The strap work is made of printer's lead strips and painted card,
and the door handle is an old jewellery finding.

DISCLAIMER: The account of the history of the Old Lewis Hunter Distillery has been pieced together from articles found on the web. It may not be historically or factually correct in every detail.
 Or in any detail for that matter. But it does make a good story.....

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