T. B. Ripy
The First Whiskey Baron
James Ripy an immigrant from Northern Ireland settled in a small town in Kentucky called Lawrenceburg around 1830. In his twenties James became a clerk in a dry goods store. Ripy later became a successful merchant and distributor of household goods including whiskey in the mid 1840’s and 1850’s. He started buying up a number of small distilleries in and around Bourbon County (the local area later became Anderson County). James had two sons that lived to adulthood, James P. Ripy was born in 1844, and Thomas Beebe Ripy referred to as T. B. was born in 1847. T. B. was sent off for a fine education for both prep school in Louisville and then college in Frankfort.
In 1853 the father James, now in his 50’s along with two partners bought a good sized distillery a few miles east of town called the “Steamville Distillery” since built right where the steamships docked on the Kentucky River. Within a year James had the plant churning out over 120 barrels of mash a day. One year later at the peak of their production, the older James, owner financed the sale of the distillery to a prominent local Judge McBrayer and his younger son T. B.. Another year after that the judge left and T. B. became a sole proprietor of a newly re-christened factory that he called “T. B. Ripy Cliff Springs Distilling Company” at the young age of 21.
In 1869 James and his two sons together built their own larger distillery on the Kentucky River in on Wild Turkey Hill, later that year James and T. B. renamed the town Tyrone after the County in Ireland that family hailed from. The distillery was called the Ripy Brothers Distillery named after the two sons that James had hired to run the plant. The town of Tyrone blossomed around the distillery, it grew up to a population of 1,500 with stores along a square, a city hall, a post office and a wharf to service commerce coming Frankfort along the river.
T. B.’s father James Ripy began having health problems and his wife Artemesia was not physically able to take care of him. So T. B. and his older brother James, pitched in to help care for their parents. But in June 1872, James Ripy at only 61 years of age passed away. He and his wife who died several years later were both buried in the Walker Cemetery near the downtown area of Lawrenceburg.
Over a decade later, his son T. B. paid homage to his father James by putting the slogan on every bottle of bourbon, “From Father to Son Since 1831." Thomas Ripy would go on to become the largest distiller in the world over two decades between 1880 and 1905.
Thomas Ripy's Bourbon called “Old Ripy” was chosen from over 400 to represent the State of Kentucky at the Chicago World's Fair in 1893. The brand name changed later to reflect their owners success and was simply called, “T. B. Ripy.” Their slogan used throughout their marketing efforts was “From Father to Son Since 1831.”
In 1935 Earnest W. Ripy, the son of Thomas Beebe Ripy rebuilt the distillery from scratch after prohibition, that facility would one day produce twenty plus brands whiskey including Wild Turkey. Earnest also assumed the title of Wild Turkey's very first Master Distiller. Two of Earnest’s sons; T. B. Ripy III and E. W. Ripy Jr. ran the distillery and helped expand the production four-fold during their time.
In 1949 the Ripy brothers sold their distillery to Robert and Alvin Gould and renamed the facility the J.T.S. Brown Distillery. T. B. Ripy III and E. W. Ripy Jr. continued on at the JTS Brown Distillery and Junior (as E. W. Ripy, Jr. was referred to) stayed on as Plant General Manager until late 1972.