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Peerless brand

Delete this post Submitted by Frank Boyett on 3:22 pm, Mon. 5-Dec-2016


Here's a local history column I wrote back in 1999 about the machinery of the Peerless distillery being hauled off to Canada after Prohibition:

Peerless distillery did spirited trade until Prohibition
Publication: Henderson Gleaner
Pub. Date: 11/21/1999
Frank Boyett Yesterday's News
Peerless distillery did spirited trade until Prohibition

At one time distilleries were pretty big business in Henderson; we did our part in building the fine reputation Kentucky bourbon enjoys. In fact, about the time of World War I Henderson had the largest Kentucky distillery west of the Green River.

That distillery was the Kentucky Peerless Distilling Co., which was located on McKinley Street between Washington and Second streets. Seventy-five years ago this week the distilling equipment in the huge complex began being packed onto 30 rail cars for shipment to Vancouver, British Columbia.

The distillery had been shut down since Sept. 9, 1917. During World War I the government dispensed with manufacturing such fun things as whiskey in order that the country's energies could be better used to promote the war effort. That experiment gave impetus to the national Prohibition movement, which took effect a few years later.

At the onset of Prohibition there were approximately 8,600 barrels of fine whiskey warehoused for aging at the Peerless distillery. At first the federal government provided armed men to guard the whiskey night and day. By mid-1923, however, the amount of whiskey had evaporated by more than 3,300 barrels.

No word on whether that evaporation was legal or not. Probably a combination of the two.

At any rate, in July 1923 the remaining 5,265 barrels of whiskey were removed to a warehouse in Owensboro, and the Peerless distillery was pretty much abandoned until the United Distilleries Co. of Vancouver bought the distilling equipment.

Canadian distilleries did a booming business during Prohibition, largely because their product was in high demand for smuggling into the United States.

The Peerless distillery had relatively modern equipment for that time, because it had undergone extensive improvement by Henry Kraver, who bought the distillery from the Worsham family about the turn of the century.

The operation was founded in the summer of 1881 as the Elijah W. Worsham Distillery. Worsham's initial partner in the business was Capt. J.B. Johnston. That fall the distillery began producing 20 barrels a day.

Production was later reduced to eight barrels a day, with Worsham apparently concentrating on quality instead of quantity. The distillery's "Peerless" brand of whiskey soon developed a valuable reputation for taste and purity.

That reputation was so valuable that the "Peerless" brand name was specifically mentioned in the deed that transferred ownership to Kraver. By that point, however, production had crept back up to 50 barrels a day.

Kraver greatly increased that, although he kept the Worsham name until 1910. By the time the distillery was shut down in 1917 it was producing 23,200 barrels of whiskey a year. In the process of expanding Kraver built a couple of huge bonded warehouses as well as several other buildings. At its peak, as you can see from the accompanying illustration from about 1913, the complex included about a dozen buildings.

In recognition of its most famous brand, Kraver changed the name of the business in 1910 to the Kentucky Peerless Distilling Co. On June 30, 1919, the board of directors of Peerless voted to dissolve the company. Nowadays the name is all that's left of what was once the largest distillery west of the Green River.

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