The new master distiller of Crestwood’s Kentucky Artisan Distillery doesn’t think he has the right last name for the job.
He’s not a Beam or a Brown Forman, but Jade Peterson has worked his way up to his current position at Oldham County’s only distillery and he’s poised to launch the distillery’s first homemade whiskey.
Named after a street with storied history of racing, Billy Goat Strut is the soon to be released North American whiskey dreamed up by Peterson.
The Crestwood-based distillery, a contract distiller and bottler, is home to bourbon brands that often don’t have a place to call home: Jefferson’s bourbon, their largest and most well-known, Whiskey Row bourbon and Iron Quarter.
But Billy Goat Strut is the distillery’s first go at creating their own whiskey, which as Peterson explained is meant to serve as an homage to Louisville’s whiskey history.
“Louisville was the melting point where everything would come together,” he said. “You had the grains and the whiskeys made stateside and then everything coming down the rivers from the north.”
Kentucky is known for bourbon, but before bourbon became the spirited mascot of the state there was rye whiskey. As for Canada, their rye whiskies have gone done in the history books for being illegally exported to the United States during Prohibition.
These Canadian whiskies would eventually find their way down into Louisville and be unloaded at the docks of Shippingport, a small island in the Ohio River near Louisville.
Before the advent of the steamboat, the Ohio River was only navigable for a couple of months a year during high-water periods.
So when the water was low there would be a lot of merchants, gamblers, workers and travelers in Louisville before they could continue on with their journey. So they did what any person would do: race goats.
“A lot of the dock hands and people that were waiting for their rides would be around, and have a little bit too much too drink. Horse racing wasn’t a thing at the time, so they would race goats,” Peterson said.
Peterson is adamant that Billy Goat Strut isn’t just his brainchild but rather a combination of work by himself and Steve Thompson, the president and majority owner of Kentucky Artisan Distillery.
He said Thompson brought a lot of ideas about the label and branding to the table and they both sat down to develop the recipe for the whiskey. He said they wanted to make sure it had something of their own taste and included other North American style products.
The end result is a whiskey that combines the spicy rye whiskies of Kentucky and the aromatic Canadian whiskies from the north.
Thompson, who opened Kentucky Artisan Distillery following his own retirement from Brown Foreman, has overseen the distillery’s growth since it opened in 2014.
A drastic increase in barrel capacity, the addition of more barrel warehouses and the distillery’s growing tourism operation has allowed them to start investing money into developing their own brand.
“Up until now we’ve made products for other people, and now we’re making our own products for ourselves,” Thompson said.
Before becoming master distiller, Peterson spent about six years in the logistics and manufacturing side of the whiskey industry. He started at Kentucky Artisan Distillery part-time on the bottling line.
Over time he moved from the bottling line to assistant distiller, regular distiller, lead distiller, head distiller and then finally master distiller.
“It’s kind of a humbling thing to have reached that title in that amount of time,” he said. “And I know I’ve got a long way to go to get up to where some of these other guys that hold the some title are.”
Peterson is one of two current employees who have been at the distillery since 2014, and as such as had a first-hand look at the distillery’s progress and growth over the years.
He said it’s been encouraging to have the distillery reach a point where a majority of people in Oldham County are no longer unaware of their existence and have actually visited.
But there was no guarantee of the distillery’s success five years ago, especially since a good part of it hinged on whether the county voted to go wet or not. Looking back though, Peterson said his newness to the industry and innate curiosity led him to stick around.
“I think it was the opportunity to learn the business from the ground up and really be part of it,” he said. “It’s exciting to see the growth to and to be part of it and say, ‘I helped make that.’”