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  • Writer's pictureJoseph Bourbon

Old Wm. Tarr Manchester Reserve

I've shared before that I'm a sucker for a cool-looking bottle. In an out-of-the-way liquor store in the Bluegrass, I came across Old Wm. Tarr Manchester Reserve proudly sporting a high proof and a 7-year age statement. I was already sold based on the bottle design, but the proof and age sealed the deal.

RD #1

In 1866, Horace Turner, Samuel Clay, and Thomas Mitchell established the Ashland Distillery along Manchester Street (now called Old Frankfort Pike) in downtown Lexington, Kentucky. The Henry Clay-James Pepper Distillery was located nearby in the area referred to as "The Distillery District". Ashland was the first federally registered distillery in Lexington and was assigned RD #1.

Five years later, William Tarr and Thomas Megibben purchased the operations and added a new label to the lineup - Wm. Tarr Whiskey. The distillery was rebuilt following a massive fire in 1879. 14 fermentation tanks, each capable of storing 9,500 gallons allowed production to increase to 6,000 barrels annually. The owners also learned from the fire, replacing wooden rickhouses with brick warehouses topped by metal roofs.

Tarr had a speculative streak, investing in real estate and railroads across the region. By 1897, with his finances stretched thin, Tarr filed for bankruptcy and the site, including whiskeys, ultimately were acquired by Stoll & Company (part of the Whiskey Trust). Prohibition shuttered the distillery and the remaining whiskey was consolidated to Louisville. The site remained vacant until the late 1960's when part of it was used by the Star Tool Company.

Today, you can still see the single remaining building of the distillery - Bonded Warehouse #1 - along Old Frankfort Pike. That warehouse has, itself, been reborn as Manchester Music Hall. The Wm. Tarr Distillery has been reborn, as well, by Jill Blakehorn and Barry Brinegar with hopes of returning to distilling operations in Lexington's Distillery District.

The Tasting

Old Wm. Tarr is bottled in a tall, shouldered bottle bearing a sketch of its namesake. This particular tasting is bottle 614 of batch A903. It carries a 7-year age statement and is bottled at a hefty 114 proof. It is labeled as Kentucky Straight Whiskey and indicated that it was bottled by Wm. Tarr Distillery, Bardtown, KY (I suspect this might be Bardstown Distilling, with access to hundreds of recipes and whiskeys).

The label also shares the story of how the master distillers searched rickhouses for months and married together an 8-year rye with a 7-year bourbon. The finished spirit is 90% 8-year rye (37% corn, 51% rye, 12% malted barley) and 10% 7-year bourbon (75% corn, 13% rye, 12% malted barley).

Color: Deep copper with thin legs on the inside of my Glencairn glass.

Nose: Warm vanilla custard drizzled with maple syrup, dark stone fruits, and caramelized brown sugar.

Palate: Chewy vanilla caramel candy, raisins, and freshly ground green peppercorns.

Finish: Long with a spicy oak-laden dry finish. It is balanced by another burst of vanilla custard.

Overall: Priced at around $80, this is towards the higher-end for a craft whiskey. The 7-year age statement along with the high-proof makes this a versatile pour, delicious neat or able to hold its own in a cocktail, and worthy of adding to your collection. Cheers Wm. Tarr - I'll be keeping my eyes open for future releases as you return RD #1 to its former glory.

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