Chicago Chef to Open Family Distillery in Kentucky

Jason Girard, the former executive chef at Buddy Guy’s Legends, is preparing to launch Old Dunbar Distillery in his grandmother’s birthplace of Henderson, Kentucky.

Girard’s great-­grandfather, Colonel Felix E. Dunbar, lived his entire life in Henderson County. The Colonel was the county’s rural mail carrier (on horseback, wagon, and eventually automobile) for more than 50 years, and family legend has it that he delivered more than just the mail, during Prohibition.

The startup distillery launched a Kickstarter campaign Tuesday, Nov. 18. The funds from the Kickstarter campaign will be used to purchase a handmade copper still and help pay for other costs (such as legal fees and licenses) involved in opening a craft distillery. The opening of Old Dunbar’s Downtown Henderson, a distillery and tasting room facility, is planned for September 2015.

“We realize that it takes a long time to produce and age a true Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey,” Girard says. “We understand that the process is a labor of love. It takes several years of barrel aging to do it right. Our first priority is to make a memorable whiskey that is true to its heritage and worthy of the top shelf.”

But it will take more than a family recipe and a few dollars to make Girard’s dream come true. “I want to create a legacy," he says. "Something my children, and their children, can participate in. A brand that will outlive me and a name, Old Dunbar, that will forever be synonymous with premium handcrafted Kentucky bourbon.”

As an awardi­winning chef, Girard understands the importance of using the best ingredients and plans to buy local, sustainably­g-rown grain. And the chef­-turned-distiller’s pride in his Kentucky heritage is evident.

“I used to visit Henderson, with my grandparents, as a child,” Girard says. “The family reunions, barbecues, and burgoo (a community stew served at church picnics in western Kentucky) festivals are some of my favorite childhood memories. I love Henderson and I couldn’t imagine doing this anywhere else on earth.

“The local economy has taken many hits, in recent years, while the craft spirits industry is booming. I believe that a destination distillery, in the heart of Downtown, could help get things turned back around.”

Plans are in the works to purchase and renovate a 19th century landmark for the distillery and tasting room. Taking a page from the boutique Napa Valley wineries that Girard represented for several years, he’s also planning a second historic renovation that will house a bed and breakfast (for the brand’s loyal followers), along with the distiller’s residence, at the westernmost point on the famed Kentucky Bourbon Trail.

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