This is a story that I love because it combines bourbon, history, and law. Sound familiar?
Judge William Harrison McBrayer wrote a letter to E.H. Taylor, Jr. on November 10, 1870, concerning their discussions about Taylor purchasing some of the Judge’s whiskey. The back side of the letter contained the Judge’s mash bill, and now, about 150 years later, the Judge’s descendants used that very mash bill to revive the family legacy. But they used more than a recipe—they used local heirloom grains and 105 barrel-entry proof, harkening back to the bygone era.
Judge McBrayer’s distillery in Anderson County was wildly popular, with the value of his distillery and “Cedar Brook” easily making him a multi-millionaire in today’s dollars. McBrayer’s Ex’r v. McBrayer’s Ex’x, 16 Ky.L.Rptr. 18 (1894) tells the story of how the Judge’s legacy was almost extinguished after his death in 1888.
Before he died, Judge McBrayer had contracted with Levy & Bro. of Cincinnati to sell all of his existing barrels and all future distillery production through December 1, 1891. So, the distillery essentially had to be operated to fulfill the production contract. The Judge wrote in his will that the distillery could only be operated for three years after his death, at which such time he ordered that his name should be stricken from the business. He also wrote in his will that his wife should be given the most prominent role in deciding the affairs of his estate if the Executors were ever in disagreement.
The Judge’s only heirs were his widow and three grandchildren (children of his only daughter, who had died earlier), and the lawsuit set up a fight between grandmother and grandchildren. The Judge’s widow wanted to enforce the provision stripping the McBrayer name from the distillery and prohibiting her granddaughters from using the valuable Cedar Brook trademark, while the granddaughters wanted to continue to use the McBrayer and Cedar Brook names. The court engaged in linguistic gymnastics to rule that Judge McBrayer was so wise, and was such a savvy businessman, that what he really meant was that he did not want the distillery to be operated by the estate for more than three years, but it would be just fine for the granddaughters to form a new entity to operate the distillery, and of course the valuable McBrayer and Cedar Brook names should continue to be used. Essentially, the court held that the McBrayer and Cedar Brook names were just too valuable to let them go to waste.
W.H. McBrayer Tasting Notes
Bourbon: W.H. McBrayer Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey
Distillery: Contract distilled at Wilderness Trail
Age: Unstated, but four years and four months old
Mash Bill: 88.4% corn; 5.8% rye; 5.8% malted barley
ABV: 51.8% (103.6 proof)—Barrel Strength
Butterscotch galore and chocolate, with a slight alcohol sting.
Butterscotch carries through on the flavor too, with honey and a buttery mouthfeel.
Short-ish but flavorful finish that is predominantly sweet.
Start with a story, follow the old ways, and then close with a great bourbon. Far too many brands make up stories just to hustle us with the same old sourced whiskey that we can all buy for half as much from the real brand. Here though, McBrayer did it right. My only surprise is that McBrayer didn’t produce a Bottled-in-Bond bourbon, at least for historical accuracy.
Be on the lookout for future McBrayer releases!
Disclaimer: The brand managers kindly
sent me a sample for this review,
without any strings attached.