Bardstown Beckons

Popoo got into the spirits game the moment prohibition ended. While he had dabbled during prohibition and certainly sold perscription alcohol through his pharmacy, he was certain the country was headed toward repeal in the months leading up to the ultimate demise of the Volstead Act. His first endeavor was to purchase a beer distributor affiliated Los Angeles Brewery. This quickly moved in to rectification and his first brand, Hollywood Gin. I might try to recreate that one day! Apparently, that went well so he started to develop cordials and shop the market for other products to sell. He spent the next 20 years distributing spirits throughout Southern California and Arizona. He became very close to the famous Al Hart, who developed some of the eras biggest brands and is still remembered by some here in Kentucky. Sometime in 1951, Ben Maltz of Chicago offered Popoo the opportunity to buy the Glencoe Distillery in Bardstown. It was actually the second Glencoe Distillery (KY-4 & KY-230 according to Sam Cecil), the original being in Louisville and sold some famous brands like Old Bardstown & Old Fiddle. The capacity was nearly 100 barrels a day and had more than 40,000 barrels aging in it’s 80,000 barrel warehouses. To give you a context Heaven Hill produces 1000 barrels a day and the little Willett Distillery is pumping out a solid 22. There was also a new bottling line and access to the Glencoebrand despite the fact that the original distillery was still owned by National Distilling Co.

 His first visit to Bardstown to check out the condition of the distillery, he describes a picturesque little town, just a quaint as we found it today. The distillery was 5 miles outside of town, located in Nelson County. Nelson County was famous even then for making the best Kentucky whiskey. Among the legitimate distilleries operating at the time (Weatherfill & Frazer, Heavenhill, Beam, Barton, Dant, etc.) there were stillmany illicit alcohol producers set up throughout the county’s hilly countryside. According to Al, the few liquor stores in the county had nearly gone out of business and would have gone under if not for the illegal sale of what he calls, "white mull." He made sure to describe just how vile this backwoods whiskey really was, although apparently that's all locals drank at the time. While homemade hidden stills chugged 

Old Glencoe warehouse still in use by Heaven Hillalong producing illegal hooch, the gleaming Glencoe Distillery was in impeccable shape on his arrival. Ultra clean and organized, the distillery managers name was Ned Simpson, who my grandfather admired greatly for his efficient management style. He was also enamoured with the fact that the "distillery slop" or the spent mash could be sold to the farmers around the distillery. One of his first moves was to actually start charging the neighbouring farm nearly twice as much for the slop, which they'd been getting at wellbelow market prices. He was promptly served with an injunction and forced to sit down with the farmer, a lawyer, and the judge to hash out an agreement. The farmer reluctantly agreed to accept slightly higher price and concead that there was no legal reason why the price shouldn't be raised. Certainly, Popoo was a bit of hardass when it came to getting what he thought he deserved. Of course, these days distillers give that nutritious by product away to anyone willing to haul it out of there.

No surprise that he mentions the most incredible southern fried chicken and cornbread in Bardstown. He actually describes this meal more than once, although I can't tell if he's describing subsequent visits or just reminding us how good it was. After seeing the incredible potential of the distillery he returns to Los Angeles to contemplate the sale. Needless to say, he contacts his fellow investors and immediately sets out setting up financing. He also enlists my grandfather to take over as head of the distillery, who quickly moved my mother to Kentucky to begin studying the distillery and it's innermost workings. After seeing this special little town and seeing the rundown remains of the distillery he once owned, I know exactly why he made the decision. I mean 40,000 barrels and a distillery for his first trip to Bardstown. Let’s see if we’ll be as lucky!

David Othenin-Girard