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Whiskey History: Atherton Whiskey

As a whiskey enthusiast, I not only love whiskey, but I also love learning about its history. During my research, I came across a Kentucky whiskey brand that I had not heard of but was quite big in the industry before Prohibition. I thought the story was interesting enough to share here.

So, let’s step back in time to the late 1800s, a period of booming whiskey production in Kentucky. One name that stood out during this era was Atherton Whiskey, a highly regarded Kentucky Straight Bourbon brand produced by J M Atherton & Co. This brand was first introduced in 1867 and quickly became part of the largest whiskey making operation in the state.


The J. M. Atherton Company, founded by John McDougal Atherton in Athertonville, Kentucky, experienced rapid growth and became the largest employer in LaRue County. The company expanded its operations to include distilleries such as Atherton and Mayfield, solidifying its position in the whiskey industry.


By the end of 1881, the J. M. Atherton Company had received orders for an astounding 55,000 barrels of its various whiskey brands. Recognizing John M Atherton's influence and expertise in the industry, he was involved in the Distillers and Cattle Feeders' Trust, known as the "Whiskey Trust," and even testified before Congress on matters related to taxation and whiskey regulations.


During this time, the whiskey industry faced challenges from unscrupulous distillers who would bottle subpar products and pass them off as whiskey. In response to protect consumers and maintain product standards, the Bottled-in-Bond Act of 1897 was passed. This legislation required whiskey to meet specific criteria, including being from a single distillation season, aged for at least four years, and stored in bonded warehouses. The J. M. Atherton Company adhered to these regulations and proudly labeled their products as "Bottled in bond" to reassure consumers of their quality.


After more than three decades of success under John M Atherton's leadership, the J. M. Atherton Company was acquired by the Whiskey Trust in 1899. This marked a new chapter for the company as it was transferred to the Kentucky Distilleries & Warehouse Company. The company's production capacity reached an impressive 350 barrels a day, with warehousing space for over 200,000 barrels.


Unfortunately, the Prohibition era took its toll on the Atherton distilleries, and most of them did not survive. The Whiskey Trust eventually became part of the American Medicinal Spirits Company, producing "medicinal whiskey" under the Atherton brand for patients. However, once Prohibition ended, the original Atherton brand names were not revived.


In the 1930s, Arthur J. Cummings Jr. acquired the mothballed Atherton distillery and renamed it the Cummings Distillery Corporation of Athertonville. Production resumed after a seventeen-year hiatus, but the distillery fell into disrepair and was eventually purchased by the Seagram Company in 1946. Seagram's Athertonville distillery supported its portfolio of blended whiskeys until a devastating fire in 1972 led to the cessation of all distillery operations on the site.



The story of Atherton Whiskey takes us on a journey through the rise and fall of the Kentucky whiskey industry. It showcases the resilience and adaptability of distillers in the face of challenges and the rich history of the Atherton brand. Though the original Atherton distilleries may no longer exist, their legacy lives on in the history of Kentucky Straight Bourbon whiskey.

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Apr 16
Rated 5 out of 5 stars.

Love the history lesson. Thank you!

Tony George
Tony George
Apr 16
Replying to

Seagrams owned it until 1987. I believe the distillery property now belongs to ZAK cooperage for making whiskey barrels.

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