Friday, May 24, 2019

Complete Your Chuck Cowdery Collection with My First Book, Blues Legends



Your Chuck Cowdery collection is not complete unless you have my first book, Blues Legendswritten and published in 1995. It is long out-of-print but I have a few copies, still in the original shrinkwrap, which I'm offering at the original price of $19.95.

I'm selling them through Amazon, rather than on my website, because it's a little easier for me and I don't have that many. (The ordering is through Amazon, but the books come from me.) This link will take you to the book on Amazon, where it is offered by multiple sellers. To get it from me, just make sure the seller is 'Made and Bottled in Kentucky.'

If you would like it autographed, send me an email (chuck@bourbonstraight.com). If you want a special inscription, just tell me what you want it to say. Of course, you'll also have to order the book, and make sure you give me enough information to match the autograph request to the order. Naturally, I'll have to remove the shrinkwrap to sign it.

I don't have very many and when they're gone, they're gone (although I suppose Amazon will still have the used ones).

A little bit about Blues Legends.

I call it a coffee table book for small coffee tables, as it is only 7.25" x 7.25". It is a hardcover book with dust jacket, 96 pages. It consists of biographies of 20 blues artists (listed below), with lots of photographs, most of them by my friend and legendary blues photographer Raeburn Flerlage. Until his book was released in 2000, Blues Legends was the largest published collection of his blues photographs.

I was given the opportunity to do the book because of some work I did for the National Afro-American Museum and Cultural Center in Wilberforce, Ohio. It was also through that project that I met Ray and was introduced to his work. We became good friends and I was excited by the chance to introduce his photographs to a wider audience. A few years later I also helped him with his book, Chicago Blues As Seen from the Inside.

Blues Legends also includes a CD with ten songs I chose, by Muddy Waters, B. B. King, John Lee Hooker and others. One peculiarity: the CD was supposed to contain "Wild Cow Blues" by Big Joe Williams. Instead it has "Every Day I Have the Blues," by Joe Williams, the jazz singer. It's a great song and performance, perfectly enjoyable, but it was a mistake.

Because I came to the blues through rock and roll, that's how I wrote the book, choosing the artists who most influenced people like Keith Richards and Eric Clapton. Happily, most of them performed in Chicago and were photographed by Ray.

As I was writing it, it was not unusual for me to write all day and then go see Buddy Guy or Otis Rush perform at a local club that evening. They were both very active in Chicago in those days.

I am grateful to the publisher, Gibbs Smith, for the opportunity and for teaching me enough about book publishing to be able to self-publish all of my bourbon books.

It was a crazy time for me. I was doing my regular freelance writing, and going to law school, and writing this book. As it happened, I was doing a three-week law school summer semester abroad on the Greek island of Rhodes when the book needed to be proofread. They FedExed the proofs to me and I reviewed them on the beach. I thought at the time, "This is how I want the rest of my life to go, proofreading my books on a Greek beach."

The Blues Legends are:

Blind Lemon Jefferson
Memphis Minnie
Big Joe Williams
Son House
Arthur Crudup
Roosevelt Sykes
Little Brother Montgomery
T-Bone Walker
Howlin' Wolf
Robert Johnson
Lightnin' Hopkins
Muddy Waters
Memphis Slim
John Lee Hooker
Jimmy Reed
B. B. King
Little Walter
Freddie King
Otis Rush
Buddy Guy

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

The Best Bourbons, Ever



Normally, I reject the idea of 'best.' For one thing, it's subjective. What is best for you is whatever you like best. There is no objective 'best.'

That said, here are some of the bourbons that have impressed me the most over the years.

Very Very Old Fitzgerald, 12-year-old. This 12-year-old wheated bourbon made at the Stitzel-Weller Distillery was just about perfect, as in perfectly balanced. It was generally available from the late 50s until about 1990. I’ve gone through several bottles. I have one left.

Abraham Bowman 18-year-old rye-recipe bourbon from Sazerac. This came out in about 2012. It was very limited. Very old bourbons are hit-or-miss. They miss more often than not or are okay but nothing special. Very rarely are they exceptional. This one was. I had one bottle. It is long gone.

A. H. Hirsch Reserve Bourbon, any bottling. This rye-recipe bourbon made by a doomed Pennsylvania distillery during a couple of weeks in 1974 became a phenomenon and is genuinely great whiskey too. Most of it was sold at 16-years-old but even the 20-year-old is terrific. I’ve tasted them all and still have one or two. I also wrote a book about it.

Weller 12-year-old. The closest you can get today to the taste of those great Stitzel-Weller wheaters of yore. Still made and widely available though often in short supply as its reputation as ‘poor man’s Pappy’ has spread.

Wild Turkey Kentucky Spirit. On the rye-recipe side of the ledger, Kentucky Spirit stands out as an exemplar. It is simply everything you want in a rye-recipe bourbon. Still made, widely available, and modestly priced for what you get.

Parker’s Heritage Collection Master Distiller’s Blend of Mashbills Bourbon (2012). On paper, it’s just a mixture of Heaven Hill’s 11-year-old rye-recipe bourbon with Heaven Hill’s 11-year-old wheated bourbon. The proportions were never revealed. To me, it is one of the best bourbons ever made and a great example of what a veteran master distiller at the height of his powers can accomplish.

Tuesday, May 7, 2019

What the Market Calls 'Flavored Whiskey' Is Not What TTB Calls 'Flavored Whiskey'



Jack Daniels, as everyone knows, is whiskey, Tennessee whiskey, to be exact.

But Jack Daniel's Tennessee Fire is not whiskey. As the label clearly explains, it is "cinnamon liqueur blended with Jack Daniel's Tennessee Whiskey." Since the first ingredient listed is typically the largest component, we can assume that's the case here.

The official classification of this product, according to the rules of the Treasury Department's Alcohol Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) is 'other specialties and proprietaries.' It is, in effect, a pre-mixed cocktail, the ingredients of which are cinnamon liqueur and Tennessee whiskey.

TTB has a 'flavored whiskey' classification, but no one uses it. Most producers of what the market calls 'flavored whiskey' use either 'other specialties and proprietaries' or 'whiskey specialty,' which are basically catch-alls. Or they use the liqueur classification.

TTB defines flavored whiskey as whiskey to which has been added, "natural flavoring materials, with or without the addition of sugar, and bottled at not less than 60° proof." That sounds like what most of these products are, so why don't they just use that? I don't know. Maybe it's too on-the-nose. For the specialty classification, "a statement of the classes and types of distilled spirits used in the manufacture thereof shall be deemed a sufficient statement of composition."

The American whiskey category's three biggest brands, Jack Daniel's, Jim Beam and Evan Williams, all have multiple flavored expressions. Canada's Crown Royal is also in the act. And don't forget Sazerac's Fireball. All of them are flavored whiskey to you and me, but not to TTB.

So, while the sticklers will stickle, we know what is meant by flavored whiskey, which since Tennessee Fire was launched in 2011, has grown into a 10 million case business.

Thursday, May 2, 2019

Roy Cohn Was Disbarred for Writing Himself Into Lew Rosenstiel's Will


Schenley Founder Lewis Rosenstiel in 1961.
Whenever the name of Roy Cohn is mentioned, which is frequently these days because President Donald Trump is such a fan, I think of a different name: Lew Rosenstiel. When Cohn was disbarred by the State of New York, shortly before his death in 1986, one of the reasons cited was his attempt to write himself into Rosenstiel's will as co-executor, a major legal ethics no-no because Rosenstiel was Cohn's client at the time.

But who was Lew Rosenstiel? And why is he fondling that whiskey barrel?

Born in Cincinnati in 1891, Rosenstiel belonged to one of the first families of the Queen City’s Jewish community. He was a grandson of Frederick A. Johnson, the first Jewish child born in that city.

The family had many business interests, including distilled spirits. Rosenstiel’s uncle was an executive at the Susquemec Distilling Co. in Milton, Kentucky, south of Cincinnati on the Ohio River. Rosenstiel went to work there as a teenager. By 1914 he was on the company’s board of directors. By 1918, at age 27, he was running the place.

Susquemec began as the Snyder Distillery in 1840 and was run by the Snyder family until it was destroyed by fire in 1879. Rebuilt the next year, it was renamed Susquemec and run by James Levy & Brothers, Cincinnati whiskey wholesalers. Rosenstiel’s family took it over in about 1910.

Distilleries being taken over by their customers was nothing new. Distilleries always had financing problems. Selling out to their best customer was a common solution. In most cases, the former owner stayed on as an employee and very little changed.

After Prohibition closed Susquemec and every other distillery in the country, the 30-year-old Rosenstiel and some of his associates formed a company called Cincinnati Distributing Corp. to sell medicinal whiskey. To obtain their license they bought an old Pennsylvania distillery that already had one. It gave Rosenstiel’s company a new name: Schenley.

Buying distilleries and their whiskey stocks throughout Prohibition positioned Rosenstiel and company to dominate the industry when it became legal again in December of 1933. They didn’t keep Susquemec, which never reopened, but did buy two distilleries in Lawrenceburg, Indiana, just west of Cincinnati, and merged them under the name Old Quaker.

By 1937, Schenley had outgrown Cincinnati and moved the company’s headquarters into the Empire State Building in New York. Schenley, largest of the ‘big four’ post-Prohibition liquor producers, would come to control about 25 percent of the United States distilled spirits market.

Schenley was a major player for more than 50 years. In 1987, a shadow of its former self, it was acquired by Guinness, making it part of what is now Diageo. Today, Diageo dominates the distilled spirits industry much as Schenley did a half-century ago.

Rosenstiel died in 1975. Cohn's gambit failed. Rosenstiel was luckier. Despite many salacious rumors, he is mostly remembered as a successful business leader and generous philanthropist.

What is he doing in that picture? It is unclear. As was the custom in those days with press release photographs, there is a proposed caption taped to the back. It reads: "BATTLE OF THE BARRELS was proclaimed by Lewis S. Rosenstiel, chairman and president of Schenley Industries Inc. in New York as he announced company's drive to break 'near-monopoly' of foreign producers in 'the large, profitable aged-whiskey field.' Barrels he displays here have special glass ends to illustrate the greater 'outage' or evaporation that occurs in longer-aged whiskey. Mr. Rosenstiel said his company is in good position to lead such a program because it has been 'building inventory continuity for a dozen of its major brands each year over the past decade.'"