Monday, January 10, 2022

Top 10 Best-Selling Distilled Spirits Brands in the United States, in 1971

But what were they drinking?
My fellow baby boomers will not appreciate being reminded that 1971 was half-a-century ago. Much has changed. We wore Nikes and polyester bell bottoms when we went skateboarding with Farah Fawcett, but what did we drink? The answer may surprise you. Here are the top 10 best-selling distilled spirits brands in the United States in 1971.

1.   Seagram’s 7 Crown (American blended whiskey)
2.   Seagram’s VO (Canadian blended whisky)
3.   Smirnoff (Vodka)
4.   Canadian Club (Canadian blended whisky)
5.   Bacardi (Rum)
6.   Gordon’s Gin (Gin)
7.   Jim Beam (Bourbon whiskey)
8.   Cutty Sark (Blended scotch whisky)
9.   Gilbey’s Gin (Gin)
10. (3-way tie) Dewar’s (Blended scotch whisky), Kessler (American blended whiskey), Calvert Extra (American blended whiskey)

Several things stand out. Seven out of twelve are blended whiskeys, three American, two Canadian, two Scottish. As for white goods, there is one vodka, one rum, and two gins. Jim Beam is the lone American straight whiskey. Jack Daniel's Tennessee Whiskey? It was Nowheresville 50 years ago, way back at #36. 

Another chart in the same presentation told me that the all-whiskeys share of the U.S. distilled spirits market in 1961 was 73.1 percent. By 1972, whiskey's share had declined to 62.1 percent. The all-non-whiskeys share increased similarly, led by vodka. Whiskey's crash was just getting started. Whiskey's share would continue to contract for another 20 years.

Today, only Smirnoff, Bacardi, and Jim Beam remain big category leaders. Seagram's Seven is still the #1 American blended whiskey but that segment is a fraction of its former self and the Jos. A. Seagram Company no longer exists. 

In 1971, I lived in Ohio, where 3.2 percent beer was legal at 18. I couldn't legally buy spirits until September of 1972. It was mostly Seven & Sevens (Seagram's 7 and 7Up) for me then, though I soon switched to J&B and other blended scotch. Although my parents drank nothing but bourbon, I didn't start until I moved to Kentucky in 1978, where it is required by law.

Not really, but when I showed up in Kentucky drinking cheap scotch, my friends would say, "why are you drinking that cheap crap when bourbon is even cheaper and a lot better," and they were right! That's how it all began for me. Then I wrote a book and everybody started to drink bourbon again. The end.

Today, Tito's and Smirnoff top the leader board. Crown Royal (Canadian blended whisky) is third and the only blended whiskey of any kind in the top ten. Jim and Jack are both top ten but so is Fireball. Four of the top ten are vodkas. Two are rums. There is no gin or scotch anywhere in the top 20. 

Now we know how it all played out, but if you studied this list in 1971 you might, despite knowing how much whiskey had fallen since 1961, still think whiskey looked pretty strong. That's why trend-spotting only looks easy in retrospect. 

Thursday, January 6, 2022

Are Basil Hayden and Old Grand-Dad the Same?


A little knowledge goes a long way. 

Are they? Short answer, no; but here is why this question is asked and why that ‘no’ is nuanced and will bear some explaining. (Fair warning: It may not need as much explaining as it's about to get.)

Basil Hayden is a brand that offers several different expressions, but its flagship is a straight bourbon bottled at 80° proof (40% ABV). Once upon a time it had an 8-year age statement. It is NAS (no age statement) now, but probably 6-9 years old in practice. The brand was created in the early 1990s as part of Jim Beam’s Small Batch Bourbons Collection.

Old Grand-Dad is a brand that originated in the 19th century. It was started by R. B. Hayden and had several different owners on both sides of Prohibition, eventually becoming part of Seton Porter’s National Distillers. In 1987, National sold all of its beverage alcohol assets to the parent company of Jim Beam, which landed Old Grand-Dad in the Beam portfolio.

Old Grand-Dad was just one of many brands Beam acquired in that deal, but it was unique. National’s other bourbons, such as Old Crow, were similar enough to Jim Beam that when the whiskey inventory acquired in the deal ran out, they could put Jim Beam liquid into Old Crow bottles and no one would be the wiser, which is exactly what they did (and no one was).

But they couldn’t do that with Old Grand-Dad because it used a different recipe, a particular yeast strain and a mash bill that contained about twice as much rye as Jim Beam and, consequently, that much less corn. If they put Jim Beam liquid into Old Grand-Dad bottles, it would taste different and people would notice. That would be bad because even in the dark days of the 1980s, Old Grand-Dad was considered a premium brand and was very profitable.

Bourbon pricing in those days was simple. ‘Value brands’ were the cheapest; your off-brands, house brands and generics. Next was ‘popular price.’ That’s where most of the major brands were, including Jim Beam. The highest category was ‘premium.’ Old Grand-Dad was considered ‘premium.’ The leader in the premium segment was Jack Daniel’s. The Beam marketing folks thought maybe they could ‘squeeze’ Jack Daniel’s with Grand-Dad on its upside and Beam on its downside, but that strategy went nowhere.

As the brand settled in, executives at Beam saw little opportunity to grow Old Grand-Dad, but they very much wanted to preserve what sales it had.

They didn’t guess about any of this. They meticulously researched it with consumers and concluded that the additional cost of producing a separate recipe would be offset by the estimated sales they would lose if they changed how it tasted. Spending more to keep it the same was worth the investment, so that's what they did; same yeast, same high-rye mash bill, same distillation proof, same barrel entry proof, everything. 

The only change was the distillery. Although the deal included the place where National had been making Old Grand-Dad, Beam didn’t need additional capacity so they moved distillation to Clermont. Owning the former distillery was good, however, because it gave them easy access to everything they needed to keep everything the same, including some of the crew who had been making it there. 

Today, Old Grand-Dad is straight bourbon bottled at four different proofs: 80°, 86°, 100°, and 114°. The 100° proof is bottled-in-bond. Old Grand-Dad doesn't have an age statement, so it is at least 4-years old. It’s probably in the 4- to 6-year range.

The story of the Basil Hayden brand starts with Booker’s Bourbon. That whiskey, with retired master distiller Booker Noe as its spokesperson, was one of the first to herald the bourbon renaissance. Its success prompted Beam to create the Small Batch Bourbons Collection. Booker’s was basically an extra-aged (6- to 8-year), barrel proof version of Jim Beam. Two other brands in the four-brand Collection, Knob Creek and Baker’s, also used the Jim Beam base distillate. It was decided that the fourth one would use the Old Grand-Dad recipe. 

At the time, Old Grand-Dad itself did not have an 80° proof expression, so they made the small batch version 80° proof and 8-years old, and named it after Basil Hayden, the actual grandfather of the brand’s founder and an important participant in the earliest history of Kentucky’s bourbon heartland. It was the lowest proof of the four, so they positioned it as an entry-level offering. “A good starter bourbon for scotch drinkers.” That was the idea.

Making Basil Hayden just an older version of 80° proof Old Grand-Dad, right?

This is where the nuanced ‘no’ comes in or, more precisely, ‘not exactly.’

One aspect of bourbon-making that many enthusiasts miss is the flavor profile. Beam has many thousands of barrels of the Old Grand-Dad base distillate aging in its warehouses. After aging, each barrel is a little bit different and mixing whiskey from different barrels together is how you create a flavor profile. 

Every brand, and every expression within a brand, has a flavor profile that must be maintained from batch to batch. They still do that the old-fashioned way, with human tasters who compare each candidate bottling batch to a standard for that expression. Maintaining the standard itself can be complicated but its essence is, “what it tasted like last time.”

Deciding which barrels to dump for bottling starts by identifying barrels that are the right age, but it doesn’t end there. Candidate combinations are done on a small scale, tweaked until they get it right, then scaled up to the hundreds of barrels and thousands of gallons that can make up a bottling run. Even after the scaled-up batch is prepared it is subjected to additional taste tests and tweaks before it goes into production. 

There probably is nothing producers take more seriously than consistency from batch to batch. That consistency also applies to appearance, but it’s mostly about taste and aroma.

If Basil Hayden’s flavor profile is different from Old Grand-Dad’s, and it is, then they are not the same whiskey. Remember that Beam's objective with Old Grand-Dad, for 35 years now, has been to keep it the same. Basil Hayden was a new brand and wasn't targeted at Old Grand-Dad drinkers. It was crafted to appeal to that bourbon-curious scotch drinker and other entry-level bourbon drinkers. So, yes, it's the Old Grand-Dad distillate, but used in a completely different way. In fact, the Basil Hayden profile is probably as far as you can get from the Old Grand-Dad profile using the same distillate.

Even within the Old Grand-Dad line, the various expressions aren’t just 114 plus different amounts of water. Each proof has its own flavor profile, its own standard, that must be matched. It may not be much more than adding water, but it’s a little bit more.

Of course, it isn’t just Beam Suntory that does this with Old Grand-Dad and Basil Hayden. It is every brand at every company. Every expression of every brand has a flavor profile, maintained from batch to batch as described above. The big producers have thousands of samples, in bottles, so they can reference not only the current standard but also go back and compare current batches to previous ones from just about any period in the brand’s history. These are the kind of crucial business records you can't digitize.

In a small craft distillery, tasting may solely be the distiller’s job, but typically there is a panel of people who do this regularly. Many receive special training.

Most distillers make more than one recipe and derive multiple brands and expressions from each of them. It is common for two or more brands to have the same base distillate, and that is a big thing to have in common. It is useful to know what some of these ‘recipe families’ are because if you like one expression in a given family you may also like others, and likewise that knowledge can suggest labels to avoid, but being in the same recipe family, even being generally similar, does not make them the same whiskey.

Not exactly.

Thursday, December 23, 2021

Over the River and Through the Woods


Edna Catherine (Schwartz) Bunsey (1904-1994)
As a kid growing up in Mansfield, Ohio, I did not have to cross a river or go through a woods to get to my Grandmother's house. Okay, I could go through the woods on my bike, and that route crossed a creek or two, but in the car with my family at Christmas, we probably went down Abbeyfeale, up Midland, to Gadfield, then Austin, left on Woodhill Road to Grandma's house at the corner of Woodhill and Andover.

This post mostly is about this picture of Grandma, as a way to say "Merry Christmas" to anyone who reads this blog, but of course it brings back memories.

This grandmother is my mother's mother. That is the family I grew up with. All of Dad's 'people' were in St. Louis or Central Illinois so we rarely saw them. Grandma and Grandpa (Edna and Frank to everyone else) had six kids. Their three oldest girls, which included my mother, married and had six kids each. I am the senior cousin. 

I like this picture, not because it is how I remember Grandma, but because it is not. The woman in this picture looks too quiet and disengaged to be my grandmother. I wouldn't call Grandma loud. Aunt Lee, her sister-in-law, was loud. We are not a quiet bunch, but Grandma could hold a room without raising her voice. Our family was a matriarchy and she ruled. She had many arrows in her quiver, sarcasm not least of them. For most of my childhood, her mother, my Grandma Schwartz, was still very much in the picture too. It was quite the operation.

In my earliest memories of Christmas, Grandma and Grandpa's house figures more prominently than our own, probably because of the expanded cast of characters. Mom's two youngest siblings were teenagers. I had three younger brothers and, during the period in question, several cousins in our same age bracket. There always was at least one baby being passed around. 

The house had a cozy den. You had to go down a few steps to get to it. Their tree, in that space, always seemed much grander than ours. They had all these cool, old ornaments and--the best part--bubble lights! I could not get enough of the bubble lights.

Grandma and Grandpa had their six kids over a span of 17 years, so they had a collection of toys that they, cleverly, let us play with but did not let us take home. I remember an old chutes and ladders game, some weird blocks, and a thing with knobs that you turned to move marbles through a maze. My favorite was the stereoscopic viewer that was so much cooler than the View-Master I had at home. The pictures were all black-and-white but it was images of pyramids and the Eiffel Tower.

After our three families filled out, there were just too many people to have everyone over to the house on Andover on Christmas Day, so other traditions were established, but we would still get to their house during the season, usually more than once, and saw the cousins and their families in some combination.

This is the time of year when people like to tell you what Christmas is 'about.' Here is my take. 'Christmas' is a name some people give to an annual observance that has been going on, all over the world, since long before the birth of Christ. What is true in every culture, in the more northerly reaches of the northern hemisphere, anyway, is that the world is literally covered in darkness. Everything is dead. It's cold. It all seems to be ending, but we do not despair, because we know the darkness will lift, it is lifting already, a little more each day. That is why we celebrate, take stock, and build memories. 

Monday, December 13, 2021

When Alcohol Was Money

A collection of pioneer stills at the Oscar Getz Museum of Whiskey History in Bardstown, Kentucky.

Whiskey plays an outsize role in American history, largely because this continental nation had an active frontier for nearly 300 years and distilling was a typical pioneer industry. 

Whiskey enthusiasts tend to focus on a narrower window, the middle to late 18th century, a period that saw the beginning of bourbon and the birth of a nation, when the frontier was the land west of the Appalachian Mountains and east of the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers.

On the frontier, whiskey-making was an adjunct to farming. Almost everyone grew grain and distilled some of it into liquor, one way or another. If you didn't have a still somebody in the neighborhood did. Distilling was the only sensible thing to do with surplus grain. Wherever fruit was plentiful, it was fermented and distilled too. 

Distilled spirits were more than just another consumable. They were valuable. Where currency was scarce, as it typically was on the frontier, alcohol was a handy substitute. Fermented beverages such as beer, cider and wine were fine for drinking, but they were bulky and didn't keep. They weren't much good for high finance. Distill that beer down to about fifty percent alcohol-by-volume (100° proof), then you've got something.

Whiskey (or applejack) was like money in the bank. Everybody had a general idea how much a given quantity was worth, it was easy to divide, and always in demand. You could buy a nice farm with a barrel of whiskey. Abraham Lincoln's father did.

Businesspeople today talk about ‘liquidity.’ On the American frontier, ‘liquidity’ was literal. Alcohol was money. Before bourbon was bourbon it was a medium of exchange vital to the frontier economy.

On the frontier, most people were subsistence farmers. Communities were important but households had to be self-sufficient in food, clothing, and shelter. To live you needed a farm, and to farm you needed land. The constant need for more land inexorably pushed the frontier west. Since Roman times, governments have struggled to provide farmland for retired soldiers. The need for farmland following the French and Indian War (1754-1763) created friction between colonial administrations and the British government, leading to the American Revolution (1775-1783).

America’s original frontier had been the Atlantic coast, two fragile colonies of European immigrants in what would become Massachusetts and Virginia. Brewing and distilling began right away. Europeans brought with them barley, wheat, rye, oats and other Old World grains. The people who were already here introduced them to maize. 

The word ‘corn’ originally referred to any grain. Wheat and rye were types of 'corn.' This usage lives on today in terms like 'barleycorn.' When Europeans encountered maize for the first time, they called it ‘Indian corn.’ Eventually, English speakers in North America shortened that to simply ‘corn’ and the word’s original, broader meaning died out. 

Bourbon is whiskey made from maize, i.e., corn, a New World grain. That is what makes bourbon whiskey uniquely American. The first distilled beverages made in the colonies were not whiskey and the first whiskeys were not made from corn, at least not as the main ingredient. The first fermented beverages were made from fruit; mostly wild berries and grapes. Apples for cider were among the first cultivated fruit. When the first cereals the immigrants planted yielded their first harvests, food for animals and humans was the priority. Only when the fields yielded surpluses for those needs were cereals fermented and distilled. 

As trade got going among the New World colonies, the residue of Caribbean sugar production was shipped to New England where it was distilled into rum for local sale and export. Rum was America's first commercial distilled spirit. In the mid-18th century, bad mojo with Mother England created a clog in the molasses pipeline just as the growing colonial population began to spread into the interior. Only then did Americans start to make whiskey…spirit distilled from a fermented mash of grain…in earnest. 

At first they mostly used familiar cereals they brought from Europe: barley, wheat, rye, and oats, but by the 18th century they knew how to work with corn too. 

If a frontier grain farmer had a surplus of anything it was corn. Corn grew well and was very productive. It was excellent livestock feed, which is how most of it was used, but had limited applications as human food, to European tastes at least. Unlike barley and wheat, corn contains no gluten so it isn't much good for bread. Pioneers tended to eat corn only when they had nothing else, which often enough was the case.

So they turned their surplus corn into alcohol. That wasn’t easy either, nothing on the frontier was easy. Despite obstacles, corn became the go-to grain for distillation in the lands west of the Appalachian Mountains.

To make alcohol, you need a solution of sugar, water, and yeast. Since yeast is almost everywhere, you often don’t need to do anything except mix the sugar and water together. With fruit or any other direct sugar source, such as honey or molasses, starting fermentation is easy. Left alone, a sugar-and-water solution will ferment whether you want it to or not. 

It is harder with grain because you need an additional step. Cereals such as corn, barley, wheat and rye are mostly starch, so first you need to convert that starch into sugar. Seeds convert starch into sugar by producing certain enzymes. Any seed can produce the enzymes, but for our purposes the grain starches must be dissolved in water before the enzymes are introduced. Barley is favored because, when ground, its starches dissolve easily in warm water. Corn is tougher. To get its starches to dissolve takes hotter water, more time, and agitation. 

Corn beer never caught on as a drink, but it was (and is) a terrific base for distillation. Corn the hogs don't eat can be converted into something useful. 

The stage for bourbon was set. 

Tuesday, December 7, 2021

"That Night Was Scary." Pearl Harbor Remembered


Curtiss P-40 Warhawk

Eighty years ago today my father, Ken Cowdery, was at Schofield Barracks in Hawaii. He was a 21-year-old private in the United States Army, lined up for breakfast. Japanese bombers bound for Wheeler Field next door flew over his head, so close he could see the pilot's face.

Thirty years ago, for the 50th anniversary of Pearl Harbor, he wrote down some of his memories. Mostly they were stories we, his children, had been hearing for years. He passed in 2010, so it's nice to have them now in his own words.

The story of the morning attack I have posted on several of these anniversaries, most recently in 2018. This is what happened that evening.

In the immediate aftermath of the attack, chaos reigned on the island. Dad was company clerk, "like Radar on M.A.S.H.," he told us. His job that night was to monitor radio traffic, answer phones, and otherwise handle anything the officer in charge, Lt. Waid, needed him to do. Here is the rest of the story, in his own words.


That night was scary, we could hear random bursts of small arms fire from time to time but had no inclination to investigate. The headquarters building was designated as a pick up spot for dependents to gather. The alert plan had this spelled out and busses were provided to haul them down to Honolulu to get them away from any legitimate target areas. While this mob of women and children was gathering downstairs a long burst of automatic weapon fire was heard nearby. The screaming did not subside for at least 10 minutes.

Fortunately, our people were pretty lousy shots at that point because we never heard of anyone being hit.

The worst case of trigger happiness occurred in our battalion. We had a 50 caliber machine gun set up on the roof of the barracks, it was on an anti-aircraft mount and protected by sandbags. Shortly after dark we heard a P-40 coming in low, (under certain wind conditions the normal landing path for Wheeler Field was directly over our barracks). As the plane approached the barracks we heard the 50 caliber open up. We didn't hear a crash so we figured everything was OK. A little while later we got a phone call, it was a Corporal from Wheeler Field asking us to inform the machine gunners that the plane they shot at was a P-40 and they should make sure what they're shooting at.

We had a field telephone line, not connected to the regular lines, over to the roof so we called them and told them to be more careful. They said that they were sorry, that it was an accident and it wouldn't happen again.

About a half hour later we again heard the familiar sound of a P-40 coming in on its landing path, and again we heard the POM, POM, POM of the 50 caliber. A few minutes later the phone rang again, this time it was a Sergeant, he was a bit more agitated and pointed out that we didn't have very many P-40s left and that our guys should quit trying to shoot them down. We called the gun crew again and chewed them out a bit, and they again said that they were sorry, that they were sure that it was a Jap and that they wouldn't do it again.

Sure enough, a bit later we again heard the familiar sound of a P-40 coming in and, unfortunately, the all too familiar sound of the 50 caliber. This time the call from Wheeler was very quick, very loud, (he wouldn't have had to use the telephone) and very angry. It was the pilot of the last plane. After several minutes of invective he said to tell those jerks up on the roof that he was informing all the other pilots still up in the air that if it happened again they should shoot back. 

Lt. Waid and I went up to the roof ourselves and tried to impress these guys with the gravity of what they were doing and the probable consequences.

They seemed to be duly impressed and promised that it would never happen again. Lt. Waid and I got off the roof quickly and went back to headquarters, in time to hear yet another P-40 start its landing approach. You guessed it, again the 50 caliber opened up.

Then we heard the P-40 pilot pour on the coal. We could hear him circle around and approach the landing path again, only this time we heard his 50 calibers firing.

After that, no more phone calls, no more shooting at friendly planes--those guys probably never fired another shot for the rest of the war.

Lt. Waid and I went back up to the roof the next morning. There were several spots in the roof that we were convinced were 50 caliber bullet holes, none real close to the sandbags but close enough to scare the bejabers out of those gunners.

Wednesday, November 17, 2021

The World That Made Me: Nike Missiles


Guarding a Nike Hercules Missile, Fort Barry, CA; c. 1970-71

Nike was the Greek goddess of victory. Today it is a shoe company. Between those two uses, it was the name of an early missile defense system for the United States.

In the immediate aftermath of World War II, most Americans believed an attack by the Soviet Union was likely to come from high-flying Soviet aircraft armed with atomic weapons. By the time I came along (born in 1951) and became aware of such things, we worried more about intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs). Rockets, not planes. This was especially true after the Cuban Missile Crisis (1962), which I remember vividly. I was eleven.

Designed in that earlier period, the Nike Missile Program was imagined as the last line of defense for American citizens, so the missiles were placed in and around major metropolitan centers. 

My younger neighbors here in Chicago are surprised to learn that Montrose Point, a short and very pleasant walk from my apartment, used to house a Nike missile battery. At its peak there were 23 launch sites in the Chicago area. Two have been preserved for their historic significance, but not Montrose Point. It is now a bird sanctuary. 

All of the Chicago sites were decommissioned long before I moved here. The only active Nike base I personally remember was just outside of Oxford, Ohio, where I lived from 1969 to 1974. I only became aware of it during campus antiwar demonstrations at Miami University when we heard that the National Guard had placed some troops there in case of trouble. 

Subsequently, I drove out to see what I could see. Not much. I recall an imposing fence and gate and some kind of guard house and other structures. I couldn't see any missiles. The location of these installations was never a secret, although some were more public-facing than others. They wanted us to know about them because they were supposed to make us feel safe.  

Around the country, some of the missiles were on military bases but most were on farms, in parks, and in residential neighborhoods. By 1953, the U.S. Army had begun building Nike air defense systems around 40 U.S. cities and military/industrial installations. At its peak ten years later, the Nike defense system included approximately 300 batteries in the United States. The nation's first operational, guided, surface-to-air missile, Nike was an important technological breakthrough in air defense. The Nike system brought together an array of antiaircraft, missile, computer, and radar elements. Nike could detect, identify as friend or foe, track, and destroy enemy aircraft. 

Nike was just one part of continental air defenses during the Cold War. At the same time the U.S. Army was developing and deploying Nike, the U.S. Air Force produced its own surface-to-air missile systems. They were similar and a rivalry over them developed between the services. The U.S. Navy and the Canadian Air Force, as part of the North American Air Defense Command (NORAD), also shared the continental air defense mission.

Decommissioning of the Chicago-area batteries began in 1963. The end for the whole Nike system came in 1974.

Tuesday, November 9, 2021

The Significance of the Crow-Taylor Legacies in Making the World’s Best Whiskey

1869 Gaines, Berry & Company letterhead

My "Time Is Money" post from Saturday prompted a response from Chris Middleton and I'm always delighted when that happens. Chris has contributed here before. He is principal and director of the Whisky Academy, Founding Director of Starward Whiskey Distillery, and former Global Brand Director for Jack Daniel’s. What follows is all his although I have changed the order somewhat, to begin with his assessment of the significance of the legacy of E. H. Taylor Jr. and James C. Crow, followed by some biographical details. 

For more, I recommend his historical series on Whisky Wash, specifically "The James Crow Chronicles," and "Whiskey Chronicles of Edmund Taylor Jr." He begins by explaining how those two series came about.

These series took on a life of their own as I was drawn into the orbit of James Crow’s pioneering work (Chronicle of James Crow) and to how Taylor faithfully followed Crow’s production procedures (Chronicles of Edmund Taylor Jr.). And Crow’s acolytes too, who spread the principles and adapted new learnings and ideas to advance whiskey with emergent technologies and biological processes, all practiced within the proximity of the city of Frankfort. Not manufacturing inferior bourbon whiskey of the 19th century, but topmost ‘hand-made, sour mash all-copper whiskey.’ 

The significance of the Crow-Taylor legacies in making America’s, probably the world’s best whiskey, remained hidden until the human and technical patterns revealed themselves as a cipher awaiting decoding. I have explained some of this plant, processes and ideas that evolved and adapted as technical knowledge advanced over the last half of the 19th century.

Manufacturing of this exceptional whiskey took place at only about a dozen distilleries in and around Glenn’s Creek-Frankfort area, with Crow and Taylor the common dominators. 

The Oscar Pepper distillery was the epicenter, ground zero, due to Crow and later Taylor’s commitment to making whiskey of the highest sensory standards following the Crow principles. Outside of the modernized Buffalo Trace and Woodford Reserve distilleries, I cannot find another distillery approaching the deep history (Scotland, Ireland, Canada) that epitomizes the pedigree, provenance and pursuit of whiskey excellence these two distilleries displayed for more than 170 years. Both in their pre-Prohibition modes of manufacture and their late 20th-century commitment to manufacturing expressions of whiskey excellence. 

My goal was to understand and decode the allegedly secret Crow’s methods and the developments in the manufacturing practices of Crow plan whiskey, centered in the Inner Blue Grass region. After years of analyzing thousands of primary records, it proved richer and more innovative than I expected to discover.

JAMES C. CROW: After an exhaustive record search of student’s attendance rolls at all the Scottish universities teaching medicine and science between 1726 to 1866 (Edinburgh, Glasgow, Marischal College, St Andrews, and Kings College Aberdeen), not one Crow was awarded a diploma or any graduation certificate at any of these universities. 

Working with the Edinburgh University archivist, we deuced Crow may have attended ‘selected classes.’ In other words, he self-funded the particular lecturers and classes that he was keen to study, which did not entitle him to matriculate. At Edinburgh University at this time were some of the foremost scientists in fermentation and distillation. As a mature student, married with a child, and limited funds, this would have been a practical method to help advance his career prospects. Although why he abruptly left Scotland for Philadelphia in 1823 remains a mystery. Debts? 

The first use of the salutation ‘Dr.’ James Crow appeared decades after his death in the local Woodford Weekly, then later picked up by the New York Times and St Louis Register, both publishing a story on Crow in September 1897. After Prohibition, the Old Crow whiskey trademark owned by National Distillers began propagated this term in their advertising campaigns after the Second World War. And like so many misattributions, the doctor moniker moved from error or misdirected praise, to marketing artifice, to become unquestioning fact. 

EDMUND H. TAYLOR Jr.: Taylor joined Gaines, Berry & Company in April 1865. Previously, he ran a separate business as a commodity trader in cotton, corn and tobacco at Wolf Island, Missouri, after his finance ventures failed in Lexington and Versailles by 1860. 

Twenty-seven old William Albertus Gaines returned to Frankfort in 1859, where he worked as a clerk for Walter Carr Chiles for two years, then appointed Frankfort’s postmaster in March 1861. He held this position for four years until the death of President Lincoln in April 1865. That month he founded Gaines, Berry & Company to become a local whiskey wholesaler. Before Gaines obtained his government position, there are indications he had discussions with Berry about the pair starting a whiskey business. 

Hiram Berry held the majority of the shares in the new company, he previously traded livestock and cotton for the Union Army in Frankfort during the War years. At the same time, he established Gaines, Berry & Company, he also formed a trading pool for cotton with Samuel Pepper (Oscar’s brother), James Watson and Edmund Taylor Jr. However, the partners were unable to agree on terms, and the venture soon failed. 

Taylor’s uncle and namesake, Edmund Haynes Taylor senior, was the cashier at the Frankfort branch of the Bank the Kentucky from 1835 until his death in 1872. He served the Bank’s State board of directors and two Frankfort branch presidents (Peter Dudley and Thomas Lindsay). Under Kentucky regulations owners were not permitted to hold executive roles in a bank. Before the antebellum period, the president of the Lexington branch of the Bank of Kentucky was Robert Todd, father-in-law to President Lincoln.