Friday, July 12, 2024

The House that Old Crow Built


Seaview Terrace, also known as the Carey Mansion, in Newport, Rhode Island.
If you recognize the mansion pictured above, it probably has nothing to do with Old Crow Bourbon. The house is famous in its own right, as the fifth-largest of Newport's famous summer houses. (The Breaker's is number one.) It has appeared in movies and TV shows, most famously as Collinwood, the palatial home of the fictional Collins family in the 60s gothic soap opera, "Dark Shadows." (Lots of bad stuff happened in that tower in the middle.)

Unlike Collinwood, Seaview Terrace was not built in the 18th century. It was completed in 1925 by Edson Bradley, president since 1882 of W. A. Gaines & Co., makers of the most successful bourbon of the Gilded Age, Old Crow.

The Old Crow enterprise was begun in Versailles, Kentucky by James Crow, a distiller; Oscar Pepper, a farmer/distiller; and a local banker, E. H. Taylor. The business was reorganized several times, usually after a death, such as Crow's in 1856, and Pepper's in 1865. Taylor found two new investors, one of whom was William Gaines. The new firm was called W. A. Gaines & Co., and he became its president. His death shuffled the deck again, although his name would remain on company letterhead to the end and appears on the Old Crow label to this day.

Old Crow was very successful, but a growing whiskey company constantly needs more capital. Taylor found it at a New York investment firm. In 1870, Taylor exited the company, selling his interest to the president of that firm, George Allen. After Gaines died, the president of Allen's New York investment firm also became president of W. A. Gaines & Co. Bradley took the reins in 1882 and held the job until Prohibition put them out of business in 1920.

But Bradley was, by then, already crazy-rich. A New Yorker, he had moved to Washington, D. C. to be closer to the government that was increasingly sticking its nose into his whiskey business. In 1907, he built a French-Gothic mansion on the south side of Dupont Circle. It covered more than half a city block, and included a Gothic chapel with seating for 150, a large ballroom, an art gallery, and a 500-seat theatre.

The onset of National Prohibition disgusted Bradley so he decided to quit Washington for Newport, Rhode Island, but he liked his house, so he took it with him. Disassembly began in 1923. He added it to an existing mansion, known as Sea View, completing the combined house in 1925. He died in 1935, age 83. His descendants kept the house until the 1940s. It has had many owners since but is still privately owned. 

Nothing now is the way it was back then, but people still chase whiskey fortunes.

Wednesday, June 26, 2024

I. W. Harper Deserves Better


I. W. Harper Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey, 41% alc/vol

In 2015, Diageo relaunched I. W. Harper bourbon, a 19th century brand created by the Bernheim Brothers. 

The relaunch did not set the world on fire. 

Some old brands have been successfully reintroduced or rebooted. Brown-Forman revived its flagship, Old Forester, even gave it its own distillery. Sazerac acquired Old Taylor from Suntory and has gone great guns with it. Beam even had mild success with its pre-Pro Old Tub bourbon. The Limestone Branch Beams have revived Yellowstone.

But I. W. Harper not so much. It made some noise in 2015, when they put money behind it. It is still, ostensibly, available. The website has a 2024 copyright. But Binny's in Chicago doesn't carry it, and as they're fond of saying, "If you can't find it at Binny's it's probably not worth drinking."

Historically, I. W. Harper is an important brand. It was launched in 1879 by the Bernheim Brothers, Issac and Bernard. Issac was company president and "I. W." were his first two initials (Issac Wolfe), but he hesitated about using his own last name and went with the safely Anglo-Saxon "Harper" instead.

During WWI, many families with German-sounding names changed them, the most famous example being the British royals. One of Bernheim's sons changed the spelling to "Burnham." His son, Issac Wolfe Burham, founded in 1931 the investment firm that became Drexel Burnham Lambert (using some money from grandpa).

The brothers had two distilleries in Louisville, the first one in Shively, the second in west Louisville where Heaven Hill's Bernheim Production Facility is today. The brothers sold the company when they retired. After Prohibition it became part of Schenley, which became part of the Guinness roll-up that created what we know as Diageo today. They tore down the old distillery and built a new one in 1992, then sold it to Heaven Hill in 1999.

In retirement, Issac Bernheim became a major philanthropist. Probably his greatest gift was the vast nature preserve in Bullitt County known as Bernheim Forest. He and his wife, and one of his sons, are buried there. Although open to the public it is privately owned by the Bernheim Foundation. It just happens to be right across the street from the Jim Beam Distillery, just off I-65 at exit 112 (KY-245 toward Bardstown / Clermont).

In about 1990, I. W. Harper Bourbon was withdrawn from the U.S. market. By then it was a forgotten, cheap, bottom shelf brand in the U.S., but had, remarkably, become the best-selling bourbon in Japan, where bourbon sales were booming, and where it sold for a premium price. So great was the price differential that clever entrepreneurs began gray market exporting it, buying it at U.S. prices and shipping it to Japan outside of sanctioned distribution channels. The only way to stop them was to kill the brand in the U.S., which they did.

It returned briefly a few years later in the Bourbon Heritage Collection, as a super-premium called I. W. Harper Gold Medal, a 15-year-old. When Diageo bailed out of bourbon in 1999, that product was one of the first casualties. 

In 2012, I. W. Bernheim was inducted into the Kentucky Bourbon Hall of Fame. Several of his descendants were at the induction ceremony. He was the only 2012 inductee.

One clue to the brand's future may be in the address shown on the website, which says it is a product of the I.W. Harper Distilling Company, Tullahoma, TN. 

Saturday, June 15, 2024

Prohibition Is an Awful Flop. We Love It!


The repeal of Prohibition in 1933 was widely celebrated.
National Prohibition in the United States (1920-1933) was always divisive, and many otherwise law-abiding Americans never accepted its legitimacy. Several years in, the “noble experiment” was losing public support but remained a political hot potato.

The Association Against the Prohibition Amendment (AAPA), buoyed by a burst of fundraising success, launched a nationwide publicity campaign in 1928. They printed and distributed millions of pamphlets arguing for repeal. Also in 1928, the American Bar Association, the largest national association of lawyers, came out in favor of repeal. The ball was rolling.

When it came, repeal was widely celebrated. Only now, 90 years later, are we beginning to grapple with the shackles that remain on the beverage alcohol business.

In part 2 of 2, we finish the story begun in the previous issue of The Bourbon Country Reader. Also, in this issue (which is Volume 22, Number 3), you can read an exclusive excerpt of Dr. Jerry O. Dalton's new book, The Way of Bourbon. Dr. Dalton is the former master distiller at Jim Beam and, before that, at Barton. As you'll see, he's a bit of a philosopher.

Finally, there's a short piece entitled "Don't Cheat Yourself with Mystery Whiskey." Forewarned is forearmed, or something like that.

Proudly anachronistic, The Bourbon Country Reader remains paper-only, delivered as First-Class Mail by the United States Postal Service, which is not allowed to deliver bourbon but can handle this.

A six-issue, approximately one-year subscription is just: 

$32 for everybody else. (That is, on earth but not in the USA. Interplanetary service is not yet available.)

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If you are unfamiliar with The Bourbon Country Reader, click here for a sample issue

If you prefer to pay by check, make it payable to Made and Bottled in Kentucky, and mail it to Made and Bottled in Kentucky, 3712 N. Broadway, PMB 298, Chicago, IL 60613-4198. Checks drawn on U.S. banks only, please.

Since its inception (1994), I have made back issues of The Reader available. I still do, but henceforth that service will be limited to what's currently in inventory. No new ones will be printed and bound. Some of the more recent issues (last several years) are available in loose form. I'm still thinking about it. If you're interested in back issues, check out "The Bourbon Country Reader Issue Contents in Chronological Order." (It's like an index.) Then get in touch with me. I hate to put my email address out in the open here, but I'm pretty easy to find. If you can't, send me a note as a comment. I'll read it and get back to you, but I won't post it.

Thursday, May 16, 2024

What’s in a Name? (Beam’s Version)


Fred, Freddie, and Booker Noe, at the Jim
Beam Distillery, Bullitt County, Kentucky.

What's in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet;
So Romeo would, were he not Romeo call'd,
Retain that dear perfection which he owes
Without that title. Romeo, doff thy name,
And for that name which is no part of thee
Take all myself.

That’s my message to members of the Beam family who were saddened by the May first corporate name change, from Beam Suntory to Suntory Global Spirits. As Juliet says, that name is no part of thee. The Beam name and all it represents can never be erased.

When Jacob Beam came to Kentucky from Maryland at the end of the 18th century, he had already undergone a name change himself, from Johannes Jacobus Boehm to Jacob Beam. 

He had at least one son, David, who joined and followed him in the whiskey business. The third generation produced three successful whiskey makers. By the fourth generation, Beam family members were everywhere in bourbon country. 

That takes us to the end of the 19th century, when brothers Jim and Park Beam, along with their brother-in-law, Albert Hart, took over the operation begun by their great-grandfather. The distillery was called Beam & Hart. Their uncles and cousins were making whiskey too, at other companies.

The Beam & Hart Distillery was on Nazareth Road (now Old Nazareth Road), about three miles north of Bardstown, near the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth religious community. Beam & Hart’s main bourbon was called Old Tub. They operated at Nazareth until Prohibition (1920).

During Prohibition, the brothers bought the property where the Jim Beam Clermont distillery is now, about 20 miles northwest of the Nazareth place in Bullitt County. It had been a distillery, but the property also included a gravel quarry, a going business at the time. 

After Prohibition, with their sons, the Beam brothers rebuilt and reopened the distillery at Clermont. There were some problems with ownership of the Old Tub brand name, so Jim Beam became the name of the brand and company. 

In the 1940s, the family sold the company to a trio of Chicago investors. The new owners kept the name, and the family. Jim’s son, Jere (pronounced “Jerry,” short for Jerimiah), continued to run the business side while Park’s sons, Earl and “Shucks,” made the whiskey. Now called Jim Beam Brands, the company was based in Chicago. 

Jim Beam Bourbon’s popularity soared in the 1960s. Harry Blum, by then sole owner, sold the company to American Tobacco. Today, Blum’s grandson runs a cannabis company.

At the distillery in Kentucky, on the whiskey-making side of the business, Park Beam’s grandsons, Baker and David, were joined by their cousin, Booker Noe, son of Jim Beam’s daughter, Margaret. The company bought a second distillery, in Nelson County, and had Booker run it. It now bears his name. There were other family members here and there in the company.

Meanwhile, the new owner, American Tobacco, morphed into a diversified conglomerate called Fortune, which used its Jim Beam Brands subsidiary to acquire additional assets in the beverage alcohol space. They successfully converted Jim Beam Brands from a bourbon company into a diversified beverage alcohol company with a broad portfolio. In 2006, following a major acquisition that brought Maker’s Mark into the fold, Fortune changed the subsidiary’s name to Beam Global Spirits and Wine.

By that time, diversified conglomerates like Fortune Brands were out of favor with investors. Fortune began to sell off pieces of itself. In December 2010, it was split into three chunks, representing its three remaining businesses: distilled spirits, home and security, and golf products. 

Earlier in 2010, Pershing Square Capital Management, Bill Ackman’s hedge fund, became Fortune’s majority shareholder. Ackman pushed hard and publicly for a break-up. In 2011, Fortune became a "pure play" beverage alcohol company and changed its corporate name to Beam, Inc.

Company management hoped that would be good enough, but Ackman wasn’t finished. He kept pushing for more divestment. Almost exactly 10 years ago, Ackman got his way. Beam Inc. was sold to Suntory Holdings Limited, a privately held company based in Japan. Its distilled spirits division became Beam Suntory. In 2022, Beam Suntory moved its headquarters to Suntory’s offices in New York. Earlier this month, “Beam” was deleted from the name. That division is now called Suntory Global Spirits.

Meanwhile, and apropos Juliet’s admonition, nothing has changed in Kentucky, where all the company’s bourbon and rye whiskeys are made. Beam descendants still have a large say in how those whiskeys are made. The revived American whiskey business is full of Beams, whether they have the surname or not. For all of them, it is better to not share their name with a huge, international company they do not control and have not controlled for 80 years. Beam for the Beams.

Romeo, after all, has the final word on the subject: “Call me but love, and I'll be new baptized.”

Friday, May 10, 2024

Have I Learned Anything About Life? Maybe

Grant Wood "American Gothic" (detail)
In 2003, two of my friends were getting married. They'd both been around the block a few times and requested, in lieu of gifts, that we offer them our advice "on conflict resolution and the making of a successful partnership." It seems weird to me now, but that's how I remember it. 

Anyway, this is what I wrote. I think I printed it on a scroll or something. It's not bad advice, really.

And, yes, they're still married. 

Considering my track record, my first thought was to suggest that you study my recommendations and then do exactly the opposite.

But maybe I have learned a few things.

Trust. There is nothing more important. If I am certain of anything it is that. To be with a person you can trust completely, that is the only reason to even be in a relationship. To have such people in your life in any capacity is a treasure.

Figuring out if you can trust another person is not nearly as important as being trustworthy yourself.

The best way to resolve conflicts is also the easiest: give in. State your position, explain why you feel the way you do, then let it go. Compromise quickly and generously, or simply fold altogether, then forget about it.

That doesn't mean be wishy-washy. You can have an opinion. You can even argue, just don't care about winning. Yes, someone is keeping score, but not the way you think.

No matter how hard you try, it is impossible to be too nice. Kindness does not come naturally or easily to anyone. It is counter-intuitive, you have to work at it. There is no chance that you will overdo it.

Gentleness, patience; also good.

Understanding, on the other hand, is overrated. Acceptance is more satisfying and conducive to happiness than understanding.

Shut up and listen. Of course you have to talk at some point, but the risk that you will listen too much or talk too little is very small.

Other very small risks: that you will laugh too much, smile too much, hug too much, have too much fun, see too much beauty or hear too much music. You can, however, eat too much cake.

Events you do not control will always turn out to be more interesting than events you do control. Also more entertaining, educational and, yes, more frightening, but still better.

Despite all indications to the contrary, your partner will not be improved if he or she becomes more like you. Do not try to understand why this is so. Instead, relax and enjoy the ride.

In fact, that’s probably the single best advice I can give: relax and enjoy the ride. That doesn't mean be passive. You should be engaged and involved, but also utterly open to life’s surprises. Another very small risk: that you will be too open to new experiences.

What about love? That’s the prerequisite. You won’t get very far with any of this other stuff without love. Love is the presence of all things good and the absence of all things bad. Trust, kindness, acceptance, listening – those are behaviors that require your attention. Love takes care of itself.

Thank you (names deleted for privacy) for prompting me to think about these matters. I don’t mean to suggest that I successfully follow all of my own advice all of the time, but right or wrong these are the lessons life has taught me so far.

Be nice. Have fun. Prepare to be surprised.

Wednesday, May 1, 2024

Prohibition: How It Happened, How It Ended, Why It Still Sucks


An anti-prohibition parade in Newark, New Jersey in 1932.
Apologists for the Prohibition disaster dubbed it the "noble experiment." There was nothing noble about it. A century ago, the American people were sold a bill of goods. They were promised an end to crime, poverty, depravity, abuse, neglect, and just about any other evil you can think of. All they had to do was ban beverage alcohol.

They fell for it. 

No one, apparently, realized that meant they themselves would have to stop drinking. Most Americans either opposed Prohibition or assumed it applied to someone else, not them. 

Nothing noble about it.

Like a hangover blooming on the morning after, American voters regretted Prohibition almost immediately. But they had changed the damn Constitution! This fuck-up wouldn't be easy to fix.

The previous edition of The Bourbon Country Reader went out in January, so a new one is a bit overdue. Sorry about that. I hope it's worth the wait. Prohibition is our subject this time. Sure, you know about Prohibition, you watched that interminable Ken Burns thing on PBS. But this is the story as you've never seen it, about the peculiar way it ended, and the burdens we still carry because of it.

It's a two-parter but, happily, you won't have to wait too long for part two. Part one should be out in the next few days and part two will follow a few weeks after that.

Also, in what I am calling the April issue, you'll read about A. Overholt Straight Rye Whiskey. Finally, 37 years after it acquired the brand, Suntory Global Spirits is doing something interesting with it, returning it to its roots as a 19th century "Pure Rye."

Liquor companies are forbidden to make purity claims, so Overholt won't use the term, but The Reader can and will.

Who is Suntory Global Spirits? That's the new name of the company that was called Beam Suntory until, well, today.

Proudly anachronistic, The Bourbon Country Reader remains paper-only, delivered First Class by the United States Postal Service, which is not allowed to deliver bourbon but can handle this.

A six-issue, approximately one-year subscription is just $25 for mailing addresses in the USA, $32 for everybody else. Those links take you directly to PayPal. 

If you are unfamiliar with The Bourbon Country Reader, click here for a sample issue

If you prefer to pay by check, make it payable to Made and Bottled in Kentucky, and mail it to Made and Bottled in Kentucky, 3712 N. Broadway, PMB 298, Chicago, IL 60613-4198. Checks drawn on U.S. banks only, please.

Since its inception, I have made back issues of The Reader available. I still do, but henceforth that service will be limited to what's currently in inventory. No new ones will be printed and bound. Some may be available in loose form. If you're interested in back issues, check out "The Bourbon Country Reader Issue Contents in Chronological Order." (It's like an index.) Place an order and I'll let you know what's available.

Monday, April 22, 2024

A Train Ride to a Distillery? Yes, Please!


For special events, you can park at the Kentucky Railroad Museum
in New Haven and ride the train to Log Still Distillery.
Okay, I'm a sucker for a train ride.

Log Still Distillery’s premier event venue, The Legacy, kicks off its Southern Supper Series on Friday, May 10th. Lee Brice performs that night at The Amp, Log Still's concert venue. You can drive to Log Still and park at the venue if you want, but for a $20 up-charge you can park at the Kentucky Railroad Museum in New Haven and ride a vintage train to Log Still. At the end of the evening, the train takes you back to New Haven. The ride is about seven miles and offers "a scenic view of Kentucky’s landscape." Ticket information is here.

Wait! You can take a train there? How is that possible?

As you may know, Log Still is an entertainment complex that happens to include a whiskey distillery. It is about 50 miles south of Louisville and about 140 miles north of Nashville. 

Log Still is the work of Wally Dant and other members of the Dant family. They chose the site for many reasons. Their ancestors made whiskey there before Prohibition and many living family members grew up nearby. But the people who built the first distilleries there, which included members of the Beam, Head, and Pottinger families as well as Dants, chose the site in part because it was located on a new branch of the Louisville & Nashville Railroad, the Lebanon Branch, which opened in 1857.

Although regular service on that line ended in about 1987, the tracks are still there. The section going northwest out of New Haven, toward Boston (Kentucky, not Massachusetts) is maintained by the Kentucky Railroad Museum, which uses it for excursions. (The museum was originally located in Boston.) Log Still is in the other direction, at what the railroad called Gethsemane Station, a reference to the nearby Abbey which, apparently unbeknownst to the railroad, spells it Gethsemani. Distilleries all along the Lebanon Branch were the railroad's biggest customers.

Back in the day, of course, you could get the train in Louisville, Frankfort, or Lexington and ride to Gethsemane, Lebanon, New Haven, Athertonville, and many other places. The main line connected Louisville and Nashville. Athertonville had its own, short branch that connected it to New Haven. North of the Lebanon Branch there was another branch for distilleries called the Springfield Branch. That's the line the Kentucky Dinner Train uses, starting in Bardstown.

Some of Kentucky's distilleries still have rail access for shipping grain, new barrels, and empty bottles in, and full bottles out. Only Log Still, and only for special events, has passenger service. (Which, by the way, includes cocktail service.)

The Kentucky Dinner Train goes as far as Chapeze Station before heading back to Bardstown. The  Chapeze Distillery used to be there (it played Czechoslovakia in the movie "Stripes"). What's left is now part of Beam's Clermont complex, which is where all their visitor attractions are located. The train doesn't stop there but it could. Beam's bigger distillery, named for Booker Noe, doesn't welcome visitors but it's on the Lebanon Branch, close to where the Kentucky Railroad Museum excursions turn back to New Haven. 

Many other distilleries have train tracks near their sites, even though in some cases they haven't been maintained. How cool would it be if you could do the whole Kentucky Bourbon Trail by train?