Why the McBrayer family decided to resurrect a 150-year-old Bourbon recipe

Bill and Bill Tasting

Our legacy is one that’s been in the making for 175 years. But what if we told you that resurrecting one of W.H. McBrayer’s iconic mash bills was entirely up to chance? That bringing back The Judge’s Bourbon and the McBrayer family legacy was never the original plan?

It’s no secret that some of the best discoveries come about by accident or through an unexpected twist of fate—and McBrayer Legacy Spirits is one of them. While our story begins back in 1844, it wasn’t until 2012 that we decided to dig deeper.

In honor of our first limited release, and the bicentennial of The Judge’s birth, W.G. (Bill) McBrayer IV is sharing how McBrayer Legacy Spirits came to be.

Rediscovering a Whiskey Legend

The most common question I get asked when I’m talking about McBrayer Legacy Spirits is “How did it all begin? What was the spark that led you down this path?”

Well, it began quite by accident. I wasn’t looking to get into Bourbon, I was researching colleges for my daughter and Centre College was on the list as a possible option. When I mentioned it to my dad, he laughed and made a comment about the McBrayers donating to the university.

“Which McBrayer would have done that?” I asked. He said it was “the McBrayer in the whiskey business.” My first reaction was to see if there was a McBrayer-sponsored scholarship. A McBrayer scholarship did not exist, however, what I did find when I started Googling McBrayer whiskey was a history so rich I had to know more.

Looking back, I knew about the blended Old McBrayer whiskey product made by National Distillers in the 1970s that was bottled in Cincinnati, which is where we now live. As a kid, my dad used to tell the story that he would hand it out to his customers around the holidays, only to have it handed right back! It was terrible.

What I didn’t know, however, was the incredible history of the McBrayer family who settled in Lawrenceburg, Kentucky after the Revolutionary War, and how William Harrison (W.H.) McBrayer became one of the early contributors to Kentucky Bourbon’s reputation around the world with his famous brand, Cedar Brook. It was said that Cedar Brook “was the whiskey that made the crowned heads of Europe turn from Scotch to Bourbon.”

Pouring Into Research

I first read a blog post by Jack Sullivan called “W.H. McBrayer: The Judge of Good Whiskey.” After reading the article, I spent weeks digging deep into Google searches, pictures and historical events dating back to the 1800s. During this research I learned about W.H.’s legacy and about his second cousin John H. McBrayer, who started the Old McBrayer Distillery in New Market, Kentucky around 1870.

The Kentucky McBrayer family history included Gold Medal Awards, family lawsuits, an old mash bill letter and famous brands that survived Prohibition through the 1980s. I found the history so interesting, I literally became obsessed.

After tracing the history of the brands, I found the trademarks had expired. So in 2013 I re-registered the family brand trademarks and told my wife, “Honey, it looks like I’m getting into the Bourbon business!” And here we are today, preparing to share The Judge’s classic Bourbon recipe with a new generation of Bourbon lovers worldwide.

Why Now?

Back in 2012 when I started this journey, I didn’t have a specific timeline in mind. I wanted to resurrect the McBrayer family brands and reintroduce W.H. McBrayer to the Bourbon community. In order to retell his story, and truly pay homage to the other McBrayers, we didn’t just want to source Bourbon like so many brands are doing today. It took time, but we were able to create a new product that we believe celebrates him, his timeline and the history of Kentucky Bourbon.

It’s very gratifying to know that with each pour of our Bourbon, the spirit of “The Judge” and our family’s namesake will be honored. While my wife of 26 years is extremely supportive of this endeavor, the Bourbon business also became an opportunity for me to share my passion project with my dad and for us to spend more time together as he moved into retirement.

Bourbon for the founding McBrayers was a family business. And while I’m the main driver of McBrayer Legacy Spirits, it has been incredibly rewarding for my dad to join me as a business partner and share my vision with my family. My parents, my wife, and our two grown children are all helping to spread the word on social media and networks with friends.

What’s Next?

Since deciding to revive our family’s deep-rooted history in making Kentucky Bourbon, we’ve launched a website, an online store with merchandise, and joined social media to share our story. Our website is also where we welcome Bourbon enthusiasts to be a part of our family by becoming a member of the Legacy Club. In addition to receiving quarterly newsletters, Legacy Club members will be the first in line to purchase new releases.

Will you join us in sharing the story of the man who introduced Kentucky Bourbon to the world?


W.G (Bill) McBrayer IV

Founder & President of McBrayer Legacy Spirits