Green River Whiskey, which billed itself as “The Whiskey Without A Headache,” will be made in Owensboro again more than a century after the historic distillery burned to the ground.
Simon Burch, CEO of Terressentia Corp., the parent company of O.Z. Tyler Distillery, made the announcement Thursday during the Greater Owensboro Chamber of Commerce’s Rooster Booster Breakfast at the Owensboro Convention Center.
He said later that it may be late next year before the distilling of Green River Whiskey begins.
“We just acquired the rights to it,” Burch said.
But he said Green River Whiskey has “a rich, rich heritage. It will be an icon, the finest whiskey.”
From 1885 until it burned in 1918, John Wellington McCulloch’s Owensboro-based Green River Distilling Co. produced some of the best whiskey in Kentucky.
His distillery sat on the same site as O.Z. Tyler does today. In 1893, McCulloch won a medal for excellence at the Chicago Colombian Exposition.
He took some of his whiskey to Europe and won a gold medal for quality at the Paris Exposition of 1900 and later the grand prize at the 1905 Exposition Universelle de Liege, Belgium. He also took the grand prize at the Lewis and Clark Centennial Exposition in Portland, Oregon; at the Louisiana Purchase Exposition in St. Louis; and the Jamestown Tercentennial Exposition in Norfolk, Virginia.
But McCullouch’s distillery burned in 1918, with the loss of 43,000 barrels of whiskey.
Prohibition began before he could rebuild.
And he died in 1927 — six years before Prohibition ended.
But the brand has returned in recent years.
Last year, Rob McCulloch was making Green River Whiskey in Ohio with his great-grandfather’s recipe.
It was selling online for $199.99 a bottle.
“Since Prohibition, we’ve never been able to produce enough to supply stores,” Rob McCulloch said then. “Green River used to be aged 12 to 16 years. Now, it’s around 2 to 4 years. We’re bottling at 4 years now. But I’m trying to get it back to 10 to 12 years.”
The brand was iconic.
And last December, 17 bottles of 1910 Green River Straight Whiskey sold for a combined $45,938, at Christie’s Auction House in New York.
Burch said he expects the brand to be good for Terresentia.
He said the O.Z. Tyler Distillery site is the 10th oldest in Kentucky.
“We’ve brought history back to life,” Burch said of his company, which started making bourbon here in 2016.
It was the first time bourbon had been distilled in Owensboro since 1992.
Today, the distillery in northwestern Owensboro produces 90,000 barrels a year — about 2.7 million bottles of whiskey.
It employs 90 people today, Burch said.
But employment is expected to grow, he said.
O.Z. Tyler is the western gateway to the Kentucky Bourbon Trail, which draws more than 1 million visitors a year.
And the local distillery saw 4,800 visitors in 2018, Burch said.
“It’s not Disneyland,” Burch said. “It’s a real working distillery.”
That number is expected to grow, especially when the Duke Tasting Room and John Wayne Experience opens in April.
O.Z. Tyler crafts the whiskey for Duke Spirits, a company that makes bourbon and rye based on the actor’s 1962 handwritten recipes.
And Duke Spirits said the John Wayne Experience at the visitors’ center will include some of Wayne’s memorabilia.