There are few men in bourbon history more legendary than Joseph Washington Dant. Known colloquially as J.W., Dant was born in 1820 in Marion County, Kentucky (now best known as the home of the Maker’s Mark distillery). Kids grew up fast in those days. By the time he was 16, Dant was a blacksmith and had developed a taste for bourbon. That happens a lot in Kentucky. Not the blacksmith part but the developing a taste for bourbon by 16 part. I think it must be something in the water.
Dant abandoned blacksmithing to become a distiller in 1836. He developed a vertically integrated operation that an MBA grad would love, growing his own raw materials, making his bourbon, and selling it to his customers. While he may have only been a teenager, he had great business savvy and quickly became a innovative bourbon distiller. Dant’s lasting contribution to the bourbon industry was the log still method of distilling. He was the first major distiller to utilize this process instead of the more traditional copper stills.
Dant had 10 children, and two of them followed him into the distilling business. Most prominently, his son George Washington Dant led the family distillery though the early 1900’s. Unfortunately, George was the last Dant to run the company. He sold it, and after passing through a variety of owners over a relatively short period of time, it was purchased by Heaven Hill in 1993.