The historic James E Pepper Distillery is revitalized and ready for tours! It's also host to a new entertainment district in Lexington, KY.
Located in downtown Lexington, Kentucky, the James E Pepper Distillery has a history stretching back more than 200 years! Although its facilities fell out of use for the last half of the 20th century, it's now been brought back to life and is welcoming visitors.
We were excited to get to check it out on a recent day trip in central Kentucky. (Besides this one, we also visited Whiskey Thief in Frankfort on the same day.)
This distillery is listed as part of the "Craft Tour" on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail. See my guide to the original nine Bourbon Trail distilleries for more ideas on where to visit.
Intrigued by what James E Pepper has to offer? Here's what you can expect!
The Distillery District
The Lexington Distillery District is a fairly new entertainment destination in the downtown area.
The entire 25-acre property was once home to the James E Pepper Distillery, but now it's shared by another distillery, Barrel House, and several restaurants (including one of our fave ice cream shops, Crank and Boom, and the delightful coffee shop Brevede).
It’s a cute little area along Town Branch Creek.
While you're in town, don't miss out on Lexington Brewing & Distilling Co., about a five-minute drive away!
Touring James E Pepper Distillery
When we visited, tours were $20 per person. We made our reservations online ahead of time.
We checked in for our tour in the gift shop. While we waited, there was time to enjoy an Old-Fashioned. I love making a honey old fashioned at home!
There's a nice outdoor area for lounging (and a pizzeria right next door, too).
As our tour got underway, we heard a brief history of the distillery. The brand was a huge success throughout the 19th century, but had some reversals towards the 1960s and was then abandoned for decades.
Fortunately, the history and reputation of the brand were rediscovered, leading to a new start (but the same recipe!) in 2017.
Next, we moved on to the distillery, where we learned more about the bourbon-making process.
Interested in a more detailed look at the industry? We recommend the book Bourbon Curious by Fred Minnick.
We got to check out the sour mash as it fermented, see the bottling area, and taste the “high wine” (moonshine), which is their bourbon before it goes into the barrel to age.
We also tasted rye straight from the barrel before moving into the tasting room.
In the tasting room, we tried a rye, a bourbon and a bourbon ball. We got to keep a souvenir shot glass.
The 1776 brand is an homage to the whiskey produced by the Pepper family all the way back in the Revolutionary era.
The gift shop had some great bourbon-adjacent merchandise, including coffee beans aged in whiskey barrels and chocolate bourbon balls.
This was a great afternoon out in Lexington, and we recommend the tour! The distillery district is definitely an up-and-coming place that foodies and bourbon-lovers will want to keep an eye on.