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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:
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