The revival of Green River Bourbon

Green River Distilling
Green River Distilling is in Owensboro, Ky. | Courtesy

I’m going to admit something that I’m extremely embarrassed about. I have never visited Owensboro, Ky., and I’ve lived in the bluegrass state going on 23 years. I have no excuse, but now, I have a really good reason to head west. Green River Distilling Co. in the ‘Boro has revived a long-lost bourbon brand called Green River Bourbon.

Before Prohibition, Owensboro was actually bustling with bourbon production, and there were more than 20 distilleries in the city. In fact, the Green River Distilling Co. is the 10th oldest distillery in the state.

And while it changed names and owners several times throughout the past century — O.Z. Tyler, Old Medley, etc. — the current owners of the distillery quickly restored its original name once they learned of the site’s rich past.

The original Green River Distilling was founded in 1885 by John W. McCulloch. According to a news release, he was a traveling man who loved to tout his bourbon wherever his path took him.

Green River Bourbon was known as one of the finest Kentucky bourbons in the world, and it even won several international awards, including a gold medal and “best of show” at the Paris Exposition in 1900, and later a grand prize at the 1905 Liege Exposition in Belgium.

Green River Bottle
Check out the cool bottle design on Green River Bourbon. | Courtesy

Green River also was known as “The Whiskey Without Regrets.”

Unfortunately the distillery eventually shut down during Prohibition, and some of the original structures were lost to a fire. The distillery sat dormant for years until 2016, and now it’s once again producing bourbon by the barrel — about 94,000 of them in 2021.

“I’m proud of our team’s great work bringing Green River back to life in Owensboro after years of dormancy — not only because of what it means to our company, but what it means for this wonderful city,” said Simon Burch, CEO of Green River Distilling, in a news release. “In its heyday, Green River’s success was intrinsically linked to Owensboro’s proud whiskey making heritage. The revival of the brand will make this true once again, and we plan to sell it far and wide, just like the original Green River.”

I met with Green River Master Distiller Jacob Call and CEO Simon Burch on Tuesday at Neat Bourbon Bar as they chatted with some local media here in Louisville. They were excited to showcase the revived Green River Bourbon, and I could tell they genuinely were thrilled to be bringing back a piece of bourbon history.

The bourbon is about 5 years old and is bottled at 90 proof. And the actual bottle is super cool, rounded to match the horseshoe on the bottom. Apparently the design took cues from the brand’s past, including key icons like horseshoes, rivets and the original Green River colors.

Best of all, the bourbon is refreshingly affordable at a suggested price of $34.99! Call said he wants his bourbon to be consumed, not collecting dust on shelves. I shared a taste of the bourbon with Call and Burch, and I will definitely be adding it to my bar as a daily drinker.

With a mash bill of 70% corn, 21% rye and 9% malted barley, the bourbon has a nice spice from the rye and packs some rich flavors of caramel, nutmeg and apricot for being 5 years old.

They’re having the official Green River Launch Party tonight at the distillery, and you should start to see this on shelves around Kentucky very soon. Or you can join me in making a pilgrimage to the distillery to check it out in person!

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