It’s safe to say that you’ll never meet a distiller quite like head distiller Dave Meier of Glenn’s Creek Distillery. For starters, he’s a dead ringer for Ray Davies, front man for the Kinks, one of the most prolific of the 60’s British invasion bands.
“Never heard that one,” says Meier, a puzzled expression on his face, although “I do get Randy Travis a lot.”
Whether he resembles the rocker or the country crooner, what he doesn’t resemble is most of the distillers in bourbon country.
First, he doesn’t have a history in distilling. He worked at Toyota for 10 years, before leaving to become an independent consultant in industrial engineering.
Second, he admits he wasn’t much of a drinker until he hit 50, although he says, “I’ve sort of made up for lost time.”
Third, not only did he not much care for bourbon, but he also knew absolutely nothing about it. Far from having a master distiller instruct him in the fine points of bourbon-making, he got his education from the internet.
“I taught myself to distill in my garage using You Tube videos for instruction,” says Meier. “I spent two years experimenting with different types of water and different kinds of yeast.”
Finally, his idea of a bourbon tour “isn’t walking around and looking at yeast bubble.”
So, it comes as a surprise to learn that Meier oversees the distilling process at one of the most hallowed spots in bourbon history.
Glenn’s Creek Distillery on McCracken Pike is on the site of the former Old Crow Distillery, named for Dr. James Crow, a Scotsman often credited with perfecting the sour mash process while working for Oscar Pepper at what is now Woodford Reserve Distillery.
So impressed was Pepper that in 1860 he bought a second distillery (the site of the current one) and named it in honor of Crow, who had died several years previously.
During its heyday, Old Crow Distillery produced not only its namesake bourbon, but revered brands such as Old Grandad and Sunny Brook as well.
An interesting story goes that during the Civil War, one Pennsylvania brigade claimed that Old Crow was the only good thing to come from the South, inspiring the soldiers to pen a letter to President Lincoln proclaiming that “we must not let the fine gentleman Old Crow escape.”
The fine gentleman didn’t, but the distillery – in a manner of speaking – did. After the war, it went through name and ownership changes, as well as a war of another sort, Prohibition, before being purchased in 1987 by Jim Beam.
Beam, a major competitor, brought the distillery’s brands under its own umbrella.
“When Beam took ownership, there were about 800,000 barrels in the warehouses,” says Meier, “and they only had capacity for half that number at their facility in Claremont, leaving 400,000 bottles to age here.”
Beam continued to stock and ship bourbon from the distillery for the next 10 years. In 1997 the distillery sold it to a salvage company wanting it for scrap metal.
When that company finished depleting the distillery buildings of all their metal, they sold it to another salvage company interested in the wood and thinking nothing of demolishing five buildings in the process of getting it.
When Meier, who says that the “distillery was never abandoned; it was just not maintained,” bought the 16-acre property from the second salvage company in 2014, he was left with 10 buildings – charred black on the outside and empty on the inside.
Now that might discourage some men, but not Meier. He rolled up his sleeves and got to work. The first thing he did was ask for the return of a still that he had welded for a friend who had given up on the idea of making moonshine and no longer used it.
Inspired by his You Tube education, he expanded from one small still to four. Along with the additional stills, he also built a cooker and the large bar used to taste the whiskeys.
He began producing five different bourbons, rum, Blue Agave (“we can’t call it tequila because we aren’t in Mexico,” says Meier), and several specialty spirits “which don’t follow specific mash bills.”
But if you think Meier, whose business card reads “Old Cranky Dave” under his name, has gone corporate, think again.
“We make one barrel a day compared with Buffalo Trace which makes 2,000 barrels a day,” he says.
Admittedly, he has fine-tuned his knowledge since his days in the You Tube classroom. His best sellers are two bourbons – Cuervito Vivo, which leaves a spicy taste on the tongue, and OCD#5, which has a smoother, slightly nutty finish.
Meier cautions not to get too used to these flavor profiles.
All of our spirits are single barrel, so every time we change the barrel, we change the taste,” he says.
Open seven days a week except for Thanksgiving and Christmas, walk-ins are welcome for the introductory visitor experience which Meier says lasts about 15 to 20 minutes.
Reservations are required, however, for the one-hour sit down with Meier and his right- hand man John Kemper, for a sampling of five spirits and Meier’s brand of storytelling.
“If you come three times, you’ll hear three different stories,” he says.
In character for the man who refers to himself as head distiller rather than master distiller, he isn’t overly concerned with user reviews.
“Our one-star reviews usually say something like ‘the place is kind of rough,’ “laughs Meier. “We’re not glitzy or glamorous. We’re authentic.” That they are.