Eighth-generation distiller Jacob Call gets his whiskey bona fides honestly — his family’s been doing it since his ancestor, Samuel Call, began distilling in what is now Bourbon County in 1791.
“He had two stills and a dozen fermenters,” Jacob Call said of Samuel. “It definitely wasn’t a hobby with all that equipment.”
The blood in the whiskey runs deep for Call, who spent time as a child growing up in Nelson County, and still has some family members here.
Recent years, however, have found Call re-establishing the history of the Old Medley Distillery, later transforming it into Green River Distillery in Owensboro, and now he has a new venture where he will bring distilling to Ohio County in Western Kentucky for the first time.
Once operations begin in May 2023, Western Kentucky Distilling Co. will be able to produce up to 50,000 barrels per year and store up to 250,000 barrels.
Call said he liked the spot they found for the distillery, in an industrial park in Beaver Dam shared by Ohio and surrounding counties. Eventually the distillery will join the Kentucky Bourbon Trail, and Call expects the distillery to undergo future expansions.
“It was almost shovel-ready, right off of the Western Kentucky Parkway,” Call said. “It made a lot of sense for us. … We’re kind of serving a region.”
The fact that the industrial park was ready with the necessary infrastructure will speed up the construction process.
“They have the roads already there,” he said. “It cut through a ton of red tape.”
Along with partner J.B. Edwards, who is the company’s controller, Call touts their all-Kentucky approach, with Kentucky ownership, Kentucky-made equipment, and local corn and rye. For their first offering, they have blended together a mix of Indiana rye and Kentucky rye, calling it First Edition Hemingway Rye, with Call working with Angel’s Envy founder Steve Groth and his family on the blend in honor of the famous writer, Ernest Hemingway.
“It’s just about getting to build my own thing from the ground up and make Ohio County, Western Kentucky and Kentucky proud,” Call said.
The master distiller took a circuitous route to find his way into the family business. He grew up in the Cedar Creek area of Nelson County, while his grandfather, John, worked for Jim Beam, as did his father, Ron, as they learned under Booker Noe.
Ron took a job with Cruzan Rum, however, relocating the family to Florida. Jacob eventually went to college at Murray State and went into banking initially, but he had worked in distilleries for his father, so he got hands-on training in all aspects of distillery work.
“He kind of made sure I had all the ‘not-so-glamorous’ jobs growing up,” Jacob said of his father. When the chance to head up the Old Medley distillery, he took it.
“Now we’re building our own distillery,” he said.
Over time, Jacob found himself researching his family’s distilling history, finding old recipes, equipment inventories, as well as old correspondence between Samuel and the Rev. Elijah Craig, another bourbon luminary.
Call said Western Kentucky Distillery will specialize in bourbon and rye whiskeys, with a target of four years of aging, but that may change. In the meantime, the facility will engage with partners at other labels for contract distilling to make their products.