History of the Distillery
Tarr may not sound like the perfect word to describe bourbon, but in 1860’s Kentucky, it was known as ‘Golden Tarr’ to the locals.
Bourbon that William Tarr distilled was a golden caramel and smelled just as sweet, unlike the name. Customers loved it.
1897: Having been significantly weakened financially by the railroad, Tarr soon found himself defaulting on numerous loans. To stay afloat, Tarr invited into the management members of the Stoll family of Lexington, who controlled a number of distilleries in central Kentucky.
On January 1, Tarr issued $50,000 in first mortgage, gold bonds as a last ditch effort to save his distillery. Four months later, in May 1897, the end came. Tarr declared bankruptcy and all assets were assigned to James S. Stoll and Richard P. Stoll as receivers. The aftereffects of the Panic of 1893 and depression in the whiskey industry only compounded Tarr's defaulted notes to family and friends. Tarr's personal assets included 2,000 acres of farmland in Bourbon County, commercial real estate in Paris, the Ater Spring in Lexington, and a number of lots in Superior City, Michigan. The distillery assets included 10,000 barrels in bond of “Wm. Tarr” bourbon. Liabilities included ordinary payables and the first mortgage bonds.
1899: Wm. Tarr & Company was auctioned at a Master Commissioner's sale to Leonard G. Cox, of Graves, Cox & Co., for $60,001. He was bidding against G. G. White (distiller of Paris), Lewis LeBus (of Cincinnati), and Squire Basset (of the Fayette National Bank of Lexington). These three were the larger creditors of the company. Cox turned out to be a straw bidder for Charles H. Stoll and The Whiskey Trust. The Stoll brothers liquidated the distillery, while at the same time they were involved with the formation of The Whiskey Trust.
After the sale of the Stoll family’s Commonwealth Distillery in 1899, James S. Stoll operated his brokerage business as Stoll & Company (as successor to Stoll, Vannatta & Company). “Old Elk” was the company’s proprietary brand of whiskey. He also controlled the market in “Old Tarr” and “Bond & Lillard” whiskies, owning large numbers of warehouse receipts for these two brands. This whiskey was stored in the bonded warehouses at the former Wm. Tarr distillery, and Mr. Stoll marketed these brands.
1902: In December, Stoll & Company was incorporated. Later that month, the former Wm. Tarr Distillery and the Bond & Lillard Distillery - located in Anderson County - were sold by The Whiskey Trust to Stoll & Company. The company now controlled the “Bond & Lillard”, “Old Tarr,” “Ashland,” and “Old Elk” brands.
1905: In March, Stoll & Company purchased the Belle of Nelson and E. L. Miles & Co. Distilleries in Nelson County, Kentucky. The purchase price was $486,655.32 for both. They also obtained 25,000 barrels of bonded whiskey with the deal. With these two additional distilleries, Stoll & Company became the largest distilling conglomerate in Kentucky, with four operating distilleries. They also picked up two additional brands - “Belle of Nelson” and “E. L. Miles” - for a total of six brands of whiskies.
1907: The Stoll family consolidated their wholesaling whiskey businesses - Stoll & Company and Stoll, Hamilton & Company - into Stoll & Company Inc. The new firm distilled and marketed seven brands: “Ashland,” “Old Tarr,” “Old Elk,” “Bond & Lillard,” “Belle of Nelson,” “E. L. Miles & Co.,” and “New Hope.” They engaged sales representatives to cover the entire United States. Their main office and warehouse was retained in Lexington, while the firm had six other warehouses around the state. They employed over 100 workers.
1908: After the deaths of Richard P. Stoll (in 1903) and James S. Stoll (in 1908), the Stoll distilling interests were consolidated into The Whiskey Trust. The former Wm. Tarr Distillery plant was dismantled. Operations continued under the name Stoll & Company until Prohibition in 1919.
1909: In March, Maurice Greenbaum, of the S. J. Greenbaum Company of Louisville, purchased the entire whiskey inventory in the Wm. Tarr warehouses. Greenbaum was associated with The Whiskey Trust and owned a distillery in Midway (destroyed by fire the prior year). The bonded warehouses held a total of 18,000 barrels of whiskey produced from 1902 to 1907. Greenbaum paid the distillery $375,000 and assumed $600,000 in warehouse receipts, paying roughly $1.75 per gallon. Greenbaum also purchased a plot of land, consisting of a 3/4 acre adjacent to Bonded Warehouse #1, and immediately began the construction of a bottling house. The fast-paced construction was completed in less than three weeks. A bottling plant at the distillery was required to bottle in bond. Over the next 10 years, Greenbaum bottled whiskey from this stock.
1910: “Old Buckhorn Whiskey” (an old Commonwealth Distillery brand) and “Sam Clay Bourbon” were re-introduced into production.
1913: The rear portion of the property (where the distillery was located) was sold to the L & N Railroad to expand its yard at the rear of the distillery; the Ater Spring was included in this purchase. Further operations were moved to the Nelson Distillery in Louisville.
1920: One night in March, a masked gang of thieves - believed to be from Ohio - raided the warehouses at the distillery. Overpowering two guards, they took 96 cases of bonded whiskey valued at $20,000 from the government-controlled facility. In April, the remaining 76 barrels of "Old Tarr" were removed to the concentration warehouses in Louisville, controlled by The Whiskey Trust. The William Tarr Distillery and associated brand name were retained for a time by subsequent ownerships, but the plant finally was closed down by National Prohibition. It was not until 1966 that the warehouses were remodeled for other use, and the bottling house burned in 1986.
2020: Today the remains of Tarr’s distillery can be found at the NorthEast entrance to Lexington’s Distillery District. Manchester Music Hall, also known as Bonded Warehouse #1, is the only surviving building.
Wm. Tarr Distillery has been reborn in Lexington’s historic Distillery District by co-founders Jill Bakehorn and Barry Brinegar, who are excited to bring back this quality bourbon that signifies Kentucky’s inheritance.