When Cody Giles began his studies at the University of Kentucky in 2013, he said he was just going through the motions. But something clicked when he discovered the Distillation, Wine and Brewing Studies program. As a result of his hard work, Giles recently earned the head distiller position at Lexington’s James E. Pepper Distillery.

“I wasn’t really sure what I was going to do with my chemical engineering major,” said Giles, a native of Adair County. “But I started taking classes with Dr. Seth DeBolt and Jeff Wheeler, and I ended up working at the UK Horticulture Research Farm’s vineyard and I started thinking about the distilling world, too. I thought it would be a cool career path and Dr. DeBolt helped me make contacts in the industry.”

Seth DeBolt is the director of the UK James B. Beam Institute for Kentucky Spirits and a professor in the UK Department of Horticulture in the UK College of Agriculture, Food and Environment. He said Giles found his passion and interest himself and used the Distillation, Wine and Brewing Studies program as a canvas to create a career path where he could build on that passion.

Giles has been working at James E. Pepper Distillery, DSP-KY-5 since it recommenced distillation at the historic property in 2017. He started immediately after graduation and learned every facet of the operation. DSP refers to federal distillery permits, and the number has historical meaning—James E. Pepper was the fifth distillery in Kentucky to receive a permit.

The storied brand began in 1780, during the American Revolution, and along with the distillery in Lexington, was in operation until 1967. The brand and distillery went through various ownership changes, and the current distillery sat abandoned for more than 50 years before Amir Peay revived the brand and worked with partners in Lexington to rebuild the distillery. Peay has always been passionate about whiskey and American history. He discovered the lost legacy of the Pepper brand and distillery and became intrigued with the story and the project to relaunch, in his words, “a piece of Americana.”

Peay said he hired Giles when the distillery was nearing the end of construction.

DeBolt said partners like Peay and James E. Pepper Distillery are what make the program such a success.

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