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Kentucky ABC raids Justins’ House of Bourbon, seizes bottles

Two prominent Kentucky liquor stores known for buying and selling vintage bourbons were raided Tuesday by Kentucky Alcoholic Beverage Control.

According to the Kentucky Public Protection Cabinet, on Jan. 17 the Kentucky Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control “conducted inspections at two retail locations of Justins’ House of Bourbon, one located at 101 West Market Street, Louisville, KY and the other located at 601 West Main Street, Lexington, KY.”

The raid was first reported by Whiskey blogger Fred Minnick.

Because this is seemingly the first major enforcement action under Kentucky’s vintage whiskey law, there is global interest among collectors in the bourbon community.

Justin Thompson, left and Justin Sloan, right, in the vintage bourbon room at their Justins’ House of Bourbon at the corner of Jefferson and West Main streets. They opened in 2018. Bottles and other evidence were seized on Tuesday by Kentucky ABC inspectors. Charles Bertram 2018 staff file photo

What did the ABC seize at Justins’ House of Bourbon?

The state has not released the citation listing the alleged violations.

According to the state, “ABC received complaints alleging several violations associated with Justins’ House of Bourbon for the improper acquisition, possession, transport, and sale of bourbon, including Vintage Distilled Spirits,” prompting the inspections.

The state seized “numerous bottles of bourbon and other items of evidence were seized associated with suspected improper purchasing and sale of these products.”

The investigation is continuing, according to the state.

Cabinet spokeswoman Kristin Voskuhl said the state is not planning to release more information at this time.

“Under KRS 241.090, Kentucky ABC may inspect any premises where alcoholic beverages are manufactured, sold, stored, or otherwise trafficked in, without first obtaining a search warrant and may confiscate any contraband property. We routinely conduct inspections of our licensees to ensure their compliance with all statutes and regulations governing the alcohol industry,” the cabinet said in a statement.

Justins’ House of Bourbon is in downtown Lexington at 601 West Main St., at the intersection of Jefferson Street and near the Mary Todd Lincoln House. Janet Patton

Justins’ House of Bourbon response to raid

Justin Thompson, co-owner of Justins’ House of Bourbon, in an email Thursday morning declined to comment on the ABC action other than to say: “At this moment all I will say is our license is active and we will be in business. We won’t have any more comment until the investigation process is complete.”

According to the ABC licensee database, Justins’ House of Bourbon is owned by Thompson, Justin Sloan and Phillip Lee Greer.

Greer, a well-known Lexington developer, is an investor in Justins’ House of Bourbon and not involved in the day-to-day operations, according to his attorney, J. Guthrie True of Frankfort.

“The business is cooperating with the regulatory inquiry,” True said in a statement. “Given that Mr. Greer knows nothing about the details of the inquiry, we are unable to comment further.”

Thompson also is a co-owner of Belle’s Cocktail House in Lexington, which has not been implicated in the ABC actions.

The Lexington location of Justins’ House of Bourbon was scheduled to open at 10 a.m. Thursday but a “closed” sign was tapped to the front door. According to the state, both licenses remain active while the investigation continues.

A closed sign on the front door of Justins’ House of Bourbon Jan. 19, 2023 at 601 West Main St. in downtown Lexington. Janet Patton

What is Justins’ House of Bourbon?

Thompson and Sloan, who also are co-owners of “The Bourbon Review” magazine and website, opened their Lexington store in 2018 after the Kentucky General Assembly passed legislation in 2017 legalizing the purchase and sale of “vintage spirits” not regularly available from regular distributors.

The idea behind the law is that collectors of vintage “dusties” as the bottles are sometimes called, could legally sell to a licensed store who could then offer the unique items to the general public.

The vintage whiskey bill was passed in 2017 and signed into law by then-Gov. Matt Bevin and requires notification of purchases of the bottles by licensed retailers.

The Kentucky ABC was not able immediately provide details Thursday on how many purchases have been made since the vintage distilled spirits regulation took effect in January 2018.

This story was originally published January 19, 2023 10:16 AM.

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Janet Patton covers restaurants, bars, food and bourbon for the Herald-Leader. She is an award-winning business reporter who also has covered agriculture, gambling, horses and hemp.
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