The Old Louis Hunter Distillery, located in Lair, Kentucky along the banks of the South Fork Licking River, operated from around 1850 until 1974.
The first instance of a distillery at Lair came around 1850 when T.J. Megibben constructed the Megibben & Bramble Distillery and sold bourbon under the “Excelsior” brand.1 In 1868, Megibben’s nephew purchased the distillery and operated it as the T.J. Megibben and Company. Upon his passing in 1891, the company was acquired by G.S. Sharpe. It manufactured not only the “Excelsior” brand but the “G.R. Sharpe” brand as well. Sharpe died in a boat explosion on the Pacific Coast in 1902.
Julius Kessler and Company purchased the distillery shortly after and introduced the “Old Louis Hunter” brand.1 Kessler claimed the name originated from an early settler who manufactured whiskey in the area. Shortly after, Kessler was sued for infringement by the “Hunters Rye” brand of Baltimore, Maryland, but despite this, Kessler continued to use the name.1
On May 2, 1913 did much damage to Kessler’s Paris Distillery in adjoining Bourbon County.2 As a result, Kessler planned to introduce the “Sam Clay” and “Paris Club” brands to the Lair facility. The mashing capacity was increased from 600 to 700 bushels and a new 16,000 barrel warehouse was constructed to handle the increased production.1
Prohibition closed the distillery and by 1932, the plant had deteriorated to the point that it needed rebuilt.1 The company reorganized in that year, headed by Sam B. Walton, and a new plant with a capacity of 950 bushels and six new warehouses was built by the middle of the decade. Seagrams purchased the complex in 1942 and produced high-proof spirits under the guise of the War Production Board during World War II. It resumed bourbon manufacture after the war ended until 1947. It reopened in 1958 but closed completely in 1974. At the time of its closure, the distillery had a capacity of 1,200 bushels and could hold 60,000 barrels in its warehouses.
A group of investors purchased the old Seagram plant around 1980 and attempted to manufacture fuel alcohol production, but the production process was never fully implemented.1 The warehouses were dismantled shortly after and the rest of the plant was abandoned.