Hundreds of cases of whiskey sit on the ground floor of the James E. Pepper Distillery in Lexington, Kentucky, waiting to be shipped — but none of it will go to thirsty customers in other countries because President Joe Biden hasn’t moved to end trade disputes started by former President Donald Trump. When Amir Peay first started making these bottles four years ago, he had big plans for selling James E. pepper in Europe. He rented space in a European warehouse and set up a completely new distribution system. But then Trump began a series of trade wars with the European Union, which retaliated by imposing a 25% tariff on American whiskey, making Peay’s bottles prohibitively expensive for European consumers.
Peay’s European sales fell steadily, and James E. Pepper lost 75 percent of its international business over time. He hoped for a change after Biden took office, but he’s been disappointed, as have other exporters. Despite recent signs that American and European officials will begin trade negotiations, it’s unclear how long the tariffs will remain in place. Biden is meeting his foreign counterparts this weekend at the G7 summit in Britain, but it’s unclear how long the tariffs will remain in place.
“We’re still on death row,” Peay said.
The James E. Pepper Distillery, owned by Amir Peay, lost 75 percent of its foreign business as a result of Trump’s tariffs.
Whiskey must be aged for at least two years to be considered straight bourbon. Spirits from James E. Pepper usually take a little longer.
It is one of the oldest whiskey brands in the United States, with production beginning during the Revolutionary War and is deeply rooted in American history. Colonel James E. Pepper was honored with the creation of the Old Fashioned cocktail, and the distiller was instrumental in the passage of the Bottled in Bond Act, one of the first federal consumer protection laws.
Peay began distilling under the name again in 2008, after the brand and distillery had been abandoned for decades. He rebuilt the business on the original property and reopened it in 2017, naming the flagship label “1776.”
“When we fill whiskey barrels today, we’re thinking about what we’ll do with them in four years. We also made plans and projections based on stocks set aside for Europe that are unlikely to materialize “Peay, an entrepreneur and history buff who discovered the James E. Pepper brand’s rich history and resurrected it, said.
Distillation is a lengthy procedure. Peay explained that it all starts with grinding the grain, which is then fermented on the distillery’s upper level, as he dipped his finger into the vat for a taste one day this week.
“This one’s been cooking for about 42 hours and will be stilled tomorrow,” he said.
It will then be aged in an off-site structure known as a rickhouse, which means today’s barrels will most likely appear on shelves in 2025. Peay, on the other hand, has no idea whether James E. Pepper whiskey will be in demand in European bars and restaurants by the time it arrives.
“There’s no guarantee we ever get that momentum back. Once you lose that spot on a shelf, the consumer has tried something else,” he said.