By Gregory A. Hall
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) – Drinkers of Kentucky bourbon or Tennessee whiskey cite cities like Bardstown, Ky., and Lynchburg, Tenn. as the birthplace of their drink. But tracing the line back a bit further often takes them to Louisville’s Butchertown neighborhood.
For 108 years, Vendome Copper and Brass Works on East Franklin Street has been making the copper stills used at distilleries big and small and around the world.
The company, now in its fourth generation of ownership by the Sherman family, makes its gleaming copper stills and related copper and stainless steel equipment with about 70 employees – 55 of them shaping, cutting and joining metal into fixtures as small as 100-gallon pots and as large as stills that hold more than 1,000 gallons of bubbling corn mash.
Whatever the shape or size or the direction of the pipes and pressure gauges, they’re all stamped with a cursive “Vendome Copper & Brass Works Incorporated, Louisville, Ky.” Six members of the Sherman family own the business – two from the third generation and four from the fourth.
“If they were interested in doing it, we made room for them,” said Tom Sherman, a grandson of the company’s founder Elmore Sherman. As for a fifth generation, the Shermans said it’s too soon to plan since the oldest is in high school.
When the bourbon business was smaller, Vendome was able to claim that it supplied stills, condensers, fermenting tanks and other equipment to every distiller in Kentucky. But the advent of small craft distilleries popping up around the state has made it harder to make the claim.
Today, its main competitor is Stuttgart, Germany-based Carl Artisan Distilleries and Brewing Systems.
But Eric Gregory, president of the Kentucky Distillers’ Association, which operates the Kentucky Bourbon Trail, said Vendome is “an integral part of our signature industry.”
“I’ve toured distilleries that have been abandoned for decades that still have the equipment in it,” he said, “and it all has that beautiful Vendome plaque.”
Vendome, originally located on Main Street and a few blocks from the Ohio River, survived Prohibition by supplying Brown-Forman’s medicinal and fuel alcohol business, in addition to building a Canadian liquor still.
In World War II, distillers were ordered to make alcohol used in production of neoprene.
By 1937 the factory had moved to Shelby Street where floodwaters reached the rafters.1 2 next >>