Old Louis Hunter Distillery

The Old Louis Hunter Distillery was an operational bourbon distillery from 1850 until its closure in 1974, located in Lair, Kentucky.


In 1850, T. J. Megibben established the Megibben & Bramble Distillery in Lair, Kentucky, marketing bourbon under the Excelsior brand. 1 By 1868, Megibben’s nephew had taken over, operating under the name T.J. Megibben & Company. After his uncle’s death in 1891, G.S. Sharpe acquired the company, producing both the Excelsior and G.R. Sharpe brands.

Following Sharpe’s demise in a boat explosion on the Pacific Coast in 1902, Julius Kessler & Company bought the distillery, renaming it Old Louis Hunter Distillery and launching the Old Louis Hunter brand. 1 5 Kessler claimed this name was inspired by an early local settler who also made whiskey. Subsequent legal challenges by Hunters Rye brand from Baltimore over name infringement were resolved in Kessler’s favor.

After a fire in 1913 at Kessler’s Bourbon County distillery, the Sam Clay and Paris Club brands were moved to the Lair site. 1 To accommodate this, they increased the mashing capacity from 600 to 700 bushels and built a new warehouse capable of storing 16,000 barrels.

The enactment of Prohibition from 1920 to 1933, which outlawed alcohol production and sales, led to the distillery’s shutdown. 1 Equipment was dismantled and the buildings were abandoned. 3

Upon the repeal of Prohibition, Sam B. Walton took steps to restructure the company. 1 The renovation of the distillery commenced in September. 3 This decision was publicized after a gathering of the Old Lewis Hunter Distillery Company’s shareholders and board members at the provisional headquarters within the Citizens Bank building in Cynthiana. Existing structures that were suitable for the distillation process—totaling four—were undergoing refurbishment. In addition, two new buildings were being constructed, which included a warehouse, at an expense of $150,000. Upon its completion in February 1935, the distillery had a daily production capacity of 4,000 gallons of whiskey 3 and six warehouses. 1 The brands manufactured included Old Kaintuck, Old Hood, and Old Arab. 11

Old Louis Hunter Distillery

A new bottling house was finished in 1936, 8 and construction of a fifth warehouse for the distillery commenced in October. 6 Upon completion in January 1937, this new warehouse had the capacity to hold 15,000 barrels. 7

Old Lewis Hunter Distillery closed in June 1939 but reopened on December 19, 1940. 9 It had a daily output of 50 barrels, down from 90 barrels per day previously.

Seagrams assumed control of the distillery in 1942 to produce high-proof alcohol for World War II, as mandated by the War Production Board. 1 4 Operations were suspended on August 31, 1945, when Seagrams could not secure the necessary grain to produce whiskey. 4 After a brief reopening, the distillery shut down again in 1947, though its warehouses continued to be used to age whiskey brought in from other locations, at a rate of 20,000 barrels annually, providing jobs for 10 people. 10

In 1958, the Calvert Distilling Company, a subsidiary of Seagrams, initiated efforts to restart the distillery. 10 The revival included installing a new smokestack and fermenters, along with other equipment updates, enabling the distillery to produce 2,500 gallons of bourbon daily. This operation provided employment for sixty workers in production and warehousing. The distillery closed in 1973 because of declining demand. 1 12

In March 1980, the National Gasohol Corporation, together with Jacobs Engineering from Pasadena, California, acquired the old distillery to repurpose it for gasohol production. 12 Gasohol, a blend consisting of one part alcohol and nine parts unleaded gasoline, offered drivers an improved gas mileage of 3% to 5% and slightly enhanced performance due to its high octane rating. The company planned to invest $10 million in renovations starting in April, with completion expected by September. This initiative was anticipated to create jobs for 50 to 60 employees and produce 10 million gallons of alcohol annually, requiring about 650,000 bushels of corn each year. The produced gasohol was destined to be transported to Texas, where the Xcel Corporation of Houston would blend it with gasoline.

The selling price for gasohol was estimated to be $1.29 per gallon, slightly higher than the $1.17 to $1.23 price range for regular unleaded gasoline. 12

The gasohol project did not come to fruition, with the warehouses dismantled for scrap and the plant falling into abandonment. 1




  1. Cecil, Sam K. “Megibben & Bramble Distillery.” The Evolution of Bourbon. Paducah: Turner, 1999. 78-79. Print.
  2. Cecil, Sam K. “Paris Distillery.” The Evolution of Bourbon. Paducah: Turner, 1999. 58-59. Print.
  3. “Work is Begun on Distillery.” Lexington Herald-Leader, 27 Sept. 1933, p. 14.
  4. “Old Lewis Hunter Distillery Closed.” Lexington Herald, 2 Sept. 1945, p. 2.
  5. “A Strange Coincidence.” The Courier-Journal, 2 Apr. 1902, p. 5.
  6. Courier-Journal, 4 Oct. 1936, p. Magazine 2.
  7. “Hunter Keeps Pace.” Courier-Journal, 1 Jan. 1937, p. C7.
  8. “Harrison Distillery Will Build Addition.” Lexington Herald-Leader, 21 May 1936, p. 18.
  9. “Lewis Hunter Distillery Will Reopen Thursday.” Courier-Journal, 15 Dec. 1940, p. A8.
  10. “$40,000 Expansion Plan Is Under Way At Distillery.” Lexington Herald-Leader, 14 Dec. 1958, p. 14.
  11. “Distillery Operating.” Lexington Herald-Leader, 15 Feb. 1935, p. 19.
  12. Jordan, Jim. “Gasohol Plant Will Open Soon Near Cynthiana.” Lexington Herald, 6 Mar. 1980, pp. A3-A4.


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