Whiskey Nips: Col. James E. Pepper

Colonel James E. Pepper was a third generation distiller of the Pepper family. He took over the distilling role for the family brand in 1867 when his father, Oscar Pepper, passed away. Colonel Pepper’s grandfather, Elijah Pepper, started the family brand in 1780. He used his grandfather’s old recipe and decided to call his whiskey “Old 1776,” since the recipe was from the revolutionary-era.

In 1879, Colonel Pepper ran into financial problems, and was forced to sell the distillery. He decided to move out of state, but eventually returned to Kentucky, and built the James E. Pepper distillery in Lexington. At the time, it was the largest whiskey distillery in the United States. During this time, distilleries could only sell their whiskey by the barrel, rather than by the bottle. But whoever purchased the barrels could bottle it themselves. Colonel Pepper was not a fan of this, because his product could be tampered with and tarnish his name.

Colonel Pepper fought hard to get these laws changed and succeeded. Distillers were finally  able to bottle their own whiskey in 1890, when the laws in Kentucky changed due to his advocacy. But he did not stop there. He began putting a paper strip on the top of his corks with his signature on it. If someone were to try to sell their whiskey as Pepper’s they would have to copy that strip. And because that strip had his signature, it would fall under forgery laws, which were very strict at the time. This helped to deter frauds and let his consumers know that his product was authentic as long as the seal was intact.

The paper strip over the cork became popular and was included in the Bottled-in-Bond Act of 1897. The government decided to use his idea of a strip to guarantee authenticity with bottled-in-bond products. In addition to being part of Bottled-in-Bond Act, he was instrumental with the passing of the Trademark Act in 1905, and backed the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906, before passing away in December 1906. These laws and consumer protection rights that he fought for are still part of today’s law, and his impact on history should be revered.

If you have any questions about whiskey and would like me to cover them in this blog, please send me a message on Instagram @glassofwhiskey86 or email tony206@gmail.com.


Tony Freund

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