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Search the Distillery Database

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During colonial times, distilling was a common practice.  There were no laws regulating production and use of alcohol, so farmers and mill owners who had ready access to grains such as rye and corn commonly ran a still.  Not only was liquor easy to sell if production outstripped a family's needs, jugs of moonshine were also far easier to haul to market than bulky bushels of grain.  The recent discovery that George Washington operated a distillery on the grounds of Mt Vernon may have come as a surprise to many, but production of whiskey was a normal part of everyday life during the early years.

The Federal Government soon realized that taxes on the production of alcohol could provide a ready and reliable source of revenue.  When the taxes were first introduced, many of the distillers living in Pennsylvania rebelled and fled south rather than pay their dues.  Here they found a distiller's haven; land that was fertile and perfect for growing raw materials for fermentation, and ground-water that was sweet after having percolated through the native limestone.  Thus Kentucky and Tennessee became a center for the country's distilling industry, states whose names are synonymous with fine American whiskey and bourbon.

The tax man eventually caught up with the rebel distillers and a country-wide taxation system was organized and imposed.  The states were divided up into multiple tax districts and distilleries were registered so that their output could be monitored and the appropriate dues levied.  The unique identifier "Registered Distillery No. 354, 5th Dist. Louisville, KY" seen beneath the engraving in the header above reflects the common use of this system as a way of establishing the source of liquor being sold by the retailers and mail-order vendors. Surprisingly few traces of the Registered Distillery system as it existed in the years leading up to Prohibition (1920) survive in the public record.  The www.pre-pro.com distillery database is an attempt to recreate and archive this distillation landscape for the benefit of collectors, researchers and genealogists.

The database as it stands is little more than bare bones and is far from being comprehensive. Individual distillery listing pages (see example) will be fleshed out as new information becomes available and time allows, but to date 2,887 individual distilleries are identified an the basis of their Registered Distillery number and tax district.

Five principal sources of information have been used in compiling the database:

  • The basic scaffolding of the database was created using Treasury Department records.  The Commissioner of Internal Revenue published a summary of bonded warehouse transactions for all states and tax districts at the close of each fiscal year.  Copies of these records for the years 1898, 1901, 1903, 1904, 1914 and 1920 were obtained from the US government by Bob Snyder (founder of the Snyder Whiskey Research Center) and were subsequently purchased from him so as to make them available here.  The tax records (over 10,000 total) are organized by state and tabulated, showing the name of the distiller, the distillery number and the nature of the transaction, the tax district, the closest post office or town and the county and section of the state in which the bonded warehouse was located.   All of these records have been transcribed and collated and are available here in undigested form.  Individual distillery listing pages are generated by integrating the raw warehouse transaction data with information from city business directories (the City Database) and other information obtained from sources listed below.

    Bob Snyder had also acquired records of an insurance underwriter, published in 1892 and updated in 1896.  The records only cover distilleries located in Kentucky, but they contain information about the construction of each distillery and its warehouses, its location, who owned and operated them, and which of the major wholesalers it might be supplying.  Incorporation of these records is around 80% complete as of 4/2008.
     
  • Ephemera: considerable amounts of advertising material survives from pre-Prohibition times.  Often, letterheads or flyers contained snippets of information about a distillery, its owners, and its location: the Registered Distillery # seen on the image above is a prime example.  The website systematically acquires such material as it becomes available, but much of it has yet to integrated into the databases.
     
  • Research texts: most books to date have focused on Kentucky distilleries and the information they contain is often anecdotal in nature and frequently misleading.  When information from prior texts has been incoporated into the database, the source is cited.
     
  • Websites and collectors like you:  modern heirs of the old distillation industry often have websites containing historical information that has been incorporated (with attribution), but one of the most important sources of information are collectors and researchers who hunt down information about hometown distilleries as a hobby.  If you are such a collector and are willing to share your findings, they will accepted with gratitude. Credit is always given when due. Contact the glassmaster for more details on how to contibute!

State # stills
Alabama (61)
Arkansas (61)
California:  
    District #1 (4)
    District #4 (1)
Colorado (7)
Connecticut (4)
Florida (3)
Georgia (80)
Hawaii (1)
Illinois:  
    District #1 (4)
    District #5 (9)
    District #8 (7)
    District #13 (4)
Indiana:  
    District #6 (14)
    District #7 (12)
Kansas (13)
Kentucky:  
    District #2 (143)
    District #5 (134)
    District #6 (28)
    District #7 (116)
    District #8 (264)
Louisiana (2)
Massachussets (4)
Massachussets:  
    District #3 (9)
Maryland (34)
Michigan (1)
Minnesota (2)
Missouri:  
    District #1 (40)
    District #6 (56)
Montana (6)
North Carolina:  
    District #4 (428)
    District #5 (576)
Nebraska (2)
New Hampshire (2)
New Jersey (1)
New Jersey:  
    District #5 (1)
New Mexico (2)
New York:  
    District #1 (3)
    District #14 (3)
    District #21 (4)
    District #28 (3)
Ohio:  
    District #1 (11)
    District #10 (3)
    District #11 (11)
    District #18 (17)
Oregon (7)
Pennsylvania:  
    District #1 (22)
    District #9 (41)
    District #12 (20)
    District #23 (80)
South Carolina (64)
Tennessee (12)
Tennessee:  
    District #2 (106)
    District #5 (59)
Texas (1)
Texas:  
    District #4 (17)
Virginia:  
    District #2 (14)
    District #6 (236)
Washington (4)
Wisconsin:  
    District #1 (5)
West Virginia (8)
   

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