J. T. S. Brown
John Thompson Street Brown, Sr.
The First Brown
John Thompson Street Brown, Sr. was the patriarch of the Bourbon whiskey making Kentucky family that left an indelible mark on the industry for the many generations that followed. Born in 1826, J. T. S. was part of a six generation family that grew into the largest whiskey producing company in the world. His two sons John Thompson Street Brown Jr., and George Garvin Brown were the original Co-founders of the company that was the predecessor to the Brown-Forman Corporation.
The story of JTS began when hill grandfather William Brown and his grandmother Hannah Street moved to the Commonwealth of Kentucky from Virginia. They settled in a rural area of Central Kentucky and built a home, William had an occupation of merchant and planter. His son John Thompson Street Brown, Sr. was born in April of 1793 as one of William and Hannah’s eight children. John, Sr. was 26 years old when he moved to Louisville where he would live for the rest of his life.
John Thompson Street, Jr. (JTS) was born in Louisville in October of 1829. In 1847 he met a friend named Joseph Allen in college. They left school and entered into a partnership running a whole sale liquor business. About that same time he met fell in love with a local girl named Emily Graham who was from a wealthy Tobacco family. John and Emily got married in 1856 and had eight children including six boys and two girls. In 1857 JTS bought out Joseph’s shares and had full control of the company.
John’s occupation included a liquor merchant, the Postmaster of Louisville and a Confederate Officer in the U. S. Civil War. During the war that he served in, the company he owned grew substantially and accumulated a great deal of wealth by selling liquor to the troops. under the supervision of his half-brother George Garvin Brown, who was seventeen years younger than JTS.
George with some help from a financier relocated the company to Main Street in Louisville on Whiskey Row in 1863. George was asked to become a partner and the name of the company changed to “J. T. S. Brown and Brother.”
After the war ended from 1865-1874 the brothers produced or blended the following brands; Mellowood Bourbon, Atherton Bourbon and Sidroc Bourbon. In 1874 the partnership between JTS and George was dissolved over a disagreement related to the quality of their products. George favored a higher quality, higher priced bourbon while J. T. S. came down on the side of generating more money and catering to a wider customer base by selling a cheaper, less potent bourbon. George moved out and created his own company.
As J. T.S.’s boys grew up into adulthood they started working at the company, Graham Brown (the oldest) started first. He was followed by Davis Brown and J. T. S. Brown, III. The name of the company was changed to J. T. S. Brown and Sons. Graham would later leave the firm to head to college and then venture out on his own, he was succeeded by his two youngest brothers Creel Brown and Hewitt Brown. They opened a second location on Whiskey Row which served as both its warehouse and bottling operations.
The business was busting at the seems and they needed to find a way to keep up with the demand. At that time they bought the old run down McBrayer Distillery on the Salt River in Lawrenceburg, Kentucky where the Wild Turkey Distillery stands today. At this plant, the sons of J. T. S. Brown thrived in their production. Their flagship brand was named after a newspaper editor turned Confederate General George D. Prentice. He was a lightning rod for rallying around the Southern cause and had a ship named after him in the S. S. Prentice. The brand, the Old Prentice was their best seller but the Brown boys also made the brands called, J. T. S. Brown, Old Lebanon Club and Vine Spring Malt. The Old Prentice brand and its iconic ship’s bell became so popular that the Browns became the first distiller to imprint their logo, the Bell on rocks glasses and shot glasses.
In 1904 the boys mother Emily Brown passed away from illness at the age of 65. Their father J. T. S. Brown, Jr. died less than a year later in 1905 after being hit by a street car in Louisville on the way home from work at the age of 74. After their parents death the Brown boys continued their very successful whiskey company. Some years later and after prohibition the Gould Brothers bought the distillery from the Ripy family and renamed it the J. T. S. Distillery. That name remained until 1971 when Austin Nichols & Company bought the distillery and renamed it the Wild Turkey Distillery.
Banner photo by Signde Drinks