Saturday, March 8, 2008

Sold For Parts.

What's worse than being sold? Being sold for parts. Maybe not. Dead is dead.

Old Crow is a brand of bourbon whiskey. The distillery where it was made from 1878 until 1987 is being demolished. You can find out how to buy some of the pieces here.

Old Crow today is a bottom-shelf product but once it was considered the finest whiskey in the land. United States Senators asked for it by name. It was one of the first whiskey brands and, as such, one of the first branded products of any kind.

Old Crow was not the first American whiskey but it was one of the first to be sold under a brand name. Before Old Crow, whiskey was a commodity. People only rarely drank the product of one distillery. Instead, distilleries sold to distributors, who combined spirits from several plants, filtered it through charcoal or bone dust, then treated and flavored it in various other ways before selling it to the public, generally by the barrel. A saloon or general store would buy a barrel. If I wanted some whiskey, I would take my own ceramic jug or other container down to the store and fill 'er up.

Sometime in the 1840s, James C. Crow, physician and distiller; and his employer, Oscar Pepper, distillery owner; began to sell their whiskey by name, either as Old Pepper or Old Crow. Pepper continued to sell Old Crow after Crow's death in 1856. Even though the distiller was dead, his whiskey only grew in popularity. When Pepper died too his son sold the distillery and the Old Crow brand. A few years later, the distillery went one way and the brand went another. A new Old Crow Distillery was built close to Frankfort--that's the one they're tearing down now. The original one is today's Woodford Reserve.

After Prohibition, Old Crow was the flagship brand of National Distillers and the #1 bourbon in a country that, in those days, didn't drink much other than bourbon. When bourbon tanked in the 1970s, no brand fell harder than Old Crow. By the time Jim Beam bought National in 1987, it had reached its present lowly condition.

Jim Beam got the Crow distillery, and several others, when it bought National. It closed them all immediately. (There was a whiskey glut.) For awhile, Beam used the warehouses at Old Crow, and at Old Taylor next door, but they didn't age very well because of their location. Whiskey warehouses in the country tend to be on hills, for air circulation. Crow and Taylor are in a narrow valley.

So when the whiskey that was put there originally aged out, they didn't put any new whiskey in. Years went by and the buildings and grounds deteriorated. Roofs caved in, brick walls collapsed. Beam sold Taylor first. It has had several owners since but no one has done anything much with it. Not long ago, Beam sold Crow to these guys.

Beam still owns the Old Crow brand. Here's what I'd love to see them do. Take one more look at the Old Crow site. Pick one cool thing. Pick two if you want, but pick at least one. I don't care what it is. Maybe it's that big limestone sign. I don't even care. Pick one cool thing and find a home for it, somewhere people can see it, like at Clermont where you have the visitors center. It wouldn't have to cost very much. I'm talking about bricks and stone, something that's already been outside for a century and can stay outside. Something that doesn't need a building. Do the same thing with Old Taylor and Old Grand-Dad. Is there anything left at Old Overholt?

These companies all say they care about the history. Show us how much you care.

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