The Letter Behind the Legacy: How We Discovered Our Mash Bill

McBrayer Legacy Spirits Barrels

New Bourbon brands are born every daysome recalling the past and some looking to the future. But not every new whiskey has a story so rich that it’s been in the making for 175 years. 

When we decided to resurrect the McBrayer family Bourbon legacy, we knew we were taking a chance. This industry is a competitive space, and it seems that another Bourbon release is always right around the corner.  So what compelled us to take a leap of faith and bring back W.H. McBrayer’s world-famous brands of Kentucky Bourbon?

It All Started With a Handwritten Letter

When we started our research, we stumbled on a discussion posted on Bourbon Enthusiast in 2005. The conversation was between Kentucky Bourbon hall-of-famers Michael Veach and Chuck Cowdery—along with a few others. While our interest in “The Judge” and his pre-Prohibition-era Bourbon was already well underway, what we discovered inspired us to take the next step.

  • On November 10, 1870, W.H. McBrayer wrote a handwritten letter to E.H Taylor, Jr. in which he discussed a deal for Taylor to buy some of his Bourbon in order to help him make his whiskey tax payment to the federal government. Veach, a true whiskey historian, had obtained the letter through his work with the Filson Historical Society in Louisville. While the contents of the letter would interest any history buff, it’s what was written on the back that caught our attention. 
  • On the back of the letter was a mash bill “The Judge” used to make his Kentucky Bourbon. There is some speculation as to whether disclosing his highly-coveted recipe was intentional, or if it was the result of him writing the letter on existing scrap paper from his office. 
  • This mash bill was 88.4% corn, 5.8% rye and 5.8% barley. By modern standards, this low malt mash would likely produce a low yield with a high grain flavor. Veach pointed out that a lower yield may have added flavor to McBrayer’s Bourbon. 
  • His whiskey represented a bygone era in Bourbon production. It’s no secret that whiskey made in the 1800s would taste different from what we drink today. One reason is that pre-Prohibition-era whiskeys were made using heirloom and heritage grains, whereas many of today’s distillers now rely on industrial grains. It was also common for whiskey to enter the barrel at a low entry proof of 90 to 105 to ensure that the product was palatable straight from the barrel, after only a few years of aging. This is a costly method that most modern distillers have strayed away from. “I would love to see a craft distiller make this whiskey today,” said Veach in the discussion.  

And so it all began.

Heritage, History and High Corn

The history of W.H. McBrayer and his impact on Kentucky Bourbon are the roots of our story, but uncovering his legacy-style mash bill is what planted the seeds for our first product release. “The Judge’s” first brand of Kentucky Bourbon carried his nameW.H. McBrayerand keeping with that tradition, ours will too. 

From ideation to fruition, we’ve spared no expense in crafting a Bourbon that honors one of Kentucky’s founding distillers, while also utilizing modern distilling techniques to ensure the highest quality product. Inspired by the traditions and ingredients McBrayer relied upon in the mid-1800s, we’ve come as close as possible to replicating a Bourbon from that time period. 

To honor “The Judge” and the land where his legacy took root, every bottle of W.H. McBrayer Bourbon is Kentucky Proud® certified and made using local ingredients. 

  • Heirloom grains grown only a few miles from McBrayer’s original distillery in Lawrenceburg, Kentucky, recreate the compelling flavors found in pre-Prohibition-era Bourbon. 
  • By contract distilling our Bourbon locally in the Bluegrass region, as McBrayer’s original was, we were able to source more local ingredients and support Kentucky’s rich agricultural heritage. 
  • Bloody Butcher corn produces a flavor and character that’s unlike traditional white or yellow corn. As one of the original heirloom varieties of corn grown in the area, it serves as the perfect base for our legacy-style mash bill. When combined with Heritage rye and malted barley, the result is an unmistakably distinctive flavor profile. 
  • A low barrel entry proof of 105 ensures a full flavor spirit with exceptional drinkability. When bottled, our Bourbon is unfiltered and at barrel strength.

As a tribute to his commitment to quality, every bottle of W.H. McBrayer Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey features a replica of his authentic signature traced from the letter that started it all. 

Our Kentucky Bourbon celebrates the life, the legacy and the original brand of W.H. McBrayer. Drawing from the very mash bill he used, we’ve created a new product that honors the past while benefiting from today’s modern distilling techniques. We think you’ll enjoy our spirit, but we’ll let you be “The Judge.” 

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