Wednesday, April 10, 2013

The McCormick Distillery in Better Days

Looks like Kentucky, doesn't it? But it's not, it's Missouri, near Weston, northwest of Kansas City. It's an old picture postcard, sent to me by a reader. Here's what the back says: "McCORMICK DISTILLING COMPANY. Here in the rolling hills near Weston, Missouri, 'The Town That Time Forgot', historic McCORMICK DISTILLING COMPANY, the Oldest Operating Distillery in America, was founded in 1856.

Then -- as now -- pure natural limestone springwater was used exclusively in production of McCORMICK BOURBON and PLATTE VALLEY CORN WHISKEY. The Ancient Cave -- build in 1839 -- was used for ageing barrelled whiskey."

They lost their 'oldest operating' title when they stopped operating decades ago, but it was dubious to begin with. The company still exists, though, as a small, regional bottler and rectifier. Today their most popular product is Tequila Rose, a combination of strawberry-flavored cream liqueur and tequila.

McCormick does have a rich history. During Prohibition, it was controlled by Tom Pendergast, the legendary political boss of Kansas City and most of western Missouri. It never stopped making and selling whiskey. Pendergast also had interests in some Kentucky distilleries during and after the drought.

One of McCormick's claims to fame is as creator of the Elvis Presley ceramic decanters, which contained McCormick bourbon of course. Many of the decanters included a music box that played a Presley hit.

Whiskey distilleries never went much further west than Weston because the railroads did and because there is no point building a bourbon distillery unless there's corn and water around. The railroads sent whiskey west and brought beef cattle east.

9 comments:

Anonymous said...


Chuck-

Post card photo does look like Kentucky.

Maybe that's why Daniel Boone settled in Missouri when he became disenchanted with Kentucky.

Daniel and Rebecca Boone now high Buried atop hill at cemetery overlooking Frankfort Kentucky.

Back Home In The Land Of Bourbon

EllenJ said...

McCormick Bourbon may still exist. At least it did in 1994, as a 3-year-old straight bourbon "distilled in Illinois" and "selected and bottled" by McCormick, of Weston (although that doesn't mean it was actually bottled there). I know Hiram Walker had an operating distillery in Peoria up to the '80s or so, and I think you've mention that there's an operating distillery in Pekin (the old American Distillers place?). Plus, McCormick itself, when they were distilling, didn't distill bourbon in Weston; they had a distillery in East St. Louis. My guess is that the whiskey came from there.

Chuck Cowdery said...

I assume they're still bottling and selling a bourbon, bought from one of the usual suspects.

Chuck Cowdery said...

Pekin is now a fuel ethanol plant.

Rob K said...

I strongly suspect Platte Valley Corn Whiskey is LDI/MGP's corn whiskey. It would be nice to have that confirmed, though since MGP is listed as one of their business partners on this page,
http://www.mccormickdistilling.com/content/forest360.php, it could hardly be in doubt.

EllenJ said...

This is kind of interesting: McCormick's Weston (and East St. Louis) distillery (and brands) belonged to MGP Ingredients a long time before most of us ever heard of that company. Cloud Cray, a member of MGP's board of directors (and STILL a director, later serving as COB and CEO, bought it in 1950, and that was a LONG time ago. Interestingly, MGP SOLD McCormick in 1993, long before most of us (even those who were familiar with McCormick, Lawrenceburg Distillers Indiana, or Angostura) ever heard of MGP Ingredients. I'm gonna have to take your lead and buy me another bottle of McCormick bourbon (called Gold Label, now) and see how it compares to my Illinois-distilled example. I also have some from 1970, distilled in Missouri (Weston?) which, as you can imagine, is superb.

And yes, while the distillery existed, it really was the second-oldest continuously-operating distillery in America until Pennco (Michters) went cold in the early 1970s, when it BECAME THE OLDEST and continued to distill until 1995.

sam k said...

McCormick was indeed great bourbon.

Michter's, however, stayed America's (and perhaps the world's) oldest distillery until Valentine's Day 1990.

Chuck Cowdery said...

I apparently missed McCormick's golden age, as the only McCormick bourbon I've had was garbage.

EllenJ said...

sam k said "...Michter's, however, stayed America's (and perhaps the world's) oldest distillery until Valentine's Day 1990."

That depends on what criteria you're using to determine the dates. As I recall, the Pennco (nee Bomberger) distillery ceased operations in or around 1978. The "distillery" continued to exist and product was still being warehouse-aged and bottled there for several years afterward. The tourist still, which was used at the Michters Jug House on-site, dated only from the 1980s.

But, regardless, 1990 was still five years before Weston went cold.

And, whatever such dedicated American Whiskeyheads like you and I (and Chuck) would LIKE to recognize, there are TONS of distilleries still operating in the world that were cranking out rum, brandy, aarak, and other spirits (even whiskey, sure & begorrah, and with an "e" yet!) before the good ol' USA was a glint in our collective forefathers' eye :)