Sunday, August 1, 2021

Beams in My Home Town and Other Personal Stuff (Part 5)


This is 'Johnny Appleseed' as most people remember him, an apple-loving Disney character.
Growing up in Mansfield, Ohio, my home town, you heard a lot about John Chapman, better known as Johnny Appleseed. I grew up around the corner from Johnny Appleseed Junior High School and my family often shopped at the Appleseed Shopping Center on the south side of town. From 1962 to 1980, high school sports teams around Mansfield competed in the Johnny Appleseed Conference.

There is a monument to him in Mansfield's South Park, close to the reconstructed blockhouse.

The stories we were told about him as kids weren't much different from the Disney version. He lived in Mansfield during frontier times and planted a lot of appleseeds, hence the nickname. He just liked apples.

John 'Johnny Appleseed' Chapman (1774–1845) is significant to our story because during the War of 1812 he often traveled between the far-flung homesteads, such as Beam's Mill, to warn people of Indian activity and other danger. He plays this role in Hugh Nissenson's novel, The Tree of Life, too.

Chapman was a lay missionary, influenced by the writings of scientist and Swedish Lutheran theologian Emanuel Swedenborg. He never married and never really had a permanent residence. He was around Mansfield a lot for a time but as the frontier moved west, so did he. 

Back east, Chapman had apprenticed as a nurseryman. A nurseryman grows trees from seeds. The strongest seedlings are then transplanted to form orchards. The apple varieties Chapman planted in his nurseries were not 'eating apples,' they were intended for the production of hard cider. Chapman believed apples and the hard cider made from them would be an excellent pioneer industry. Naturally, the alcoholic beverage part of the story never made its way to our young ears.

We did hear he was eccentric, dressed shabbily, and often went barefoot. He was friend to both settlers and natives, kind and generous to all, and so on. In the 60s, he sometimes was portrayed as a sort of proto-hippie. At my Catholic school he was compared to Saint Francis of Assisi.

According to Harper's New Monthly Magazine, Chapman was present when an itinerant missionary was exhorting an open-air congregation in Mansfield. The sermon was severe and tedious on the topic of sinful extravagance, because the early Mansfielders were buying luxuries such as calico and imported tea. "Where now is there a man who, like the primitive Christians, is traveling to heaven barefooted and clad in coarse raiment?" After hearing this exhortation several times, a fed-up Chapman stepped to the front, put his bare foot on the stump that had served as a podium and said, "Here is your primitive Christian!" The sermon ended abruptly.

Next time, in Part 6, we leave Mansfield and the Beams for one last bit about Ohio and the War of 1812. 

Thursday, July 29, 2021

Beams in My Home Town and Other Personal Stuff (Part 4)


The War of 1812 is often called the Second War for American Independence. It was fought on several fronts, including the Ohio frontier and the Great Lakes.

When the War of 1812 began, the U. S. Army joined local militia protecting settlers in and around the tiny frontier community of Mansfield, Ohio. A diary kept by an American soldier on a march through northern Ohio tells about a visit to Beam’s Mill while his company was camped at Mansfield. 

The entry for November 20, 1812, reads: “We got orders to march and got ridy (sic) and orders was countermanded we went to Beam's mill to press corn and got it by paying 62 1/2 cents per bushel then returned to camp.”

This may have been war profiteering, or perhaps Nissenson got a detail wrong in his novel, The Tree of Life. Nissenson has his protagonist pay Beam about 30 cents to mill 300 pounds, which is around 5 1/3 bushels of shelled corn. If both accounts are accurate, then Beam was charging the U.S. Army more than 10 times the going rate.

Assuming "press" means the same as "mill" or "grind," that is. If it meant something more like "get," then perhaps 62 1/2 cents per bushel was a fair price.

Whichever it was, the Army in those situations typically 'paid' with promissory notes, not gold, and the U.S. government’s promises weren’t as good then as they might be considered today, so perhaps both sides were indifferent to the price being charged as neither expected any actual money would ever change hands.

Arriving as he did in November, the diarist missed the most significant war-related events involving the Beam settlement.

A few miles southeast of Beam’s Mill was a small Indian village known as Greentown. It was close to where Perrysville is today. The inhabitants were mostly Delaware but a few were Mohawk and Mingo. Although the Greentown Indians were considered peaceful, there were concerns about rising tensions, exacerbated by British agents.

American policy in the region was to concentrate the Indian population as much as possible. Late in August of 1812, the people of Greentown were ordered to relocate about 140 miles to the southwest, to Piqua (near present day Dayton) “for their own good.”

The people of Greentown had been assured that the relocation was temporary but immediately after they left, U. S. troops torched the village. The inhabitants were still close enough to see the rising smoke and realized they had been deceived. 

No one can say for sure if what happened next was retaliation for that betrayal, but it always has been assumed that it was.

A few weeks after the torching of Greentown, troops bivouacked at Beam’s Mill were patrolling the area and discovered the bodies of four dead settlers at the nearby farm of George Zimmer. Although it was known that Zimmer had some personal conflicts with local Indians, it was assumed that the Zimmers, their daughter, and a neighbor were killed because of the destruction of Greentown. Maybe not, but their deaths caused many settlers to flee to Beam’s Mill for the security of its blockhouse and bivouacked troops.

Four days later a small detachment of soldiers was dispatched from Beam’s Mill to the nearby farm of James Copus as a precaution. Captain Martin, who was in command of the troops at Beam’s Mill, promised to send more the next day, but his scouts failed to detect any Indian presence so he concluded the danger had passed.

He was wrong.

That night, Indians attacked the farm killing three soldiers and one settler, and wounding several others. The event, known as the Copus Massacre, is commemorated with a small stone monument at the site. Most kids who grow up in Mansfield go there on a field trip at some point. 'Massacre' is probably an overstatement, as the settlers were well-armed and fought back. 'Skirmish' may be closer to the truth.  

There is nothing to mark the graves of approximately twelve soldiers who died of disease while stationed at Beam's Mill. The exact location of their remains is unknown.

After the war, things settled down at Beam's Mill. The blockhouse was taken down and grain milling became the principal activity there. The Beams sold it and after several owners it became known as Campbell's Mill. In the 1840s, a new mill building was constructed on the original foundations. It continued until the 1930s. Today the property is Hattery & Chatlain Nursery. Nothing marks the site today, but that is really where Mansfield began.

Descendants of Jacob Beam still live in the Mansfield area.

Next time, in Part 5, we will meet one of Mansfield's favorite and most famous native sons.

Monday, July 26, 2021

Beams in My Home Town and Other Personal Stuff (Part 3)


The blockhouse, a basic log cabin with a distinctive overhanging roof, was a common type of fortification on the early 19th century American frontier. (This one is at Fort Ouiatenon in Indiana.)

Near the time Rev. Bowman preached his sermon at Beam’s Mill, Beam and his neighbors erected a blockhouse at the site. Blockhouses were an indispensable part of frontier defense during the run-up to the War of 1812 and throughout the war itself.

Blockhouses are fairly simple; a square, two-story cabin made of hewn logs. Their one unique feature is that the second story overhangs the first on all four sides. There are firing positions on all four sides and both levels, and through openings in the overhanging floor.

Beam’s Mill needed a blockhouse because despite the 1783 treaty that officially ended the Revolutionary War, the British--working from Canada--had continued to harass American settlers in Ohio and other parts of the vast frontier territory. Usually they acted through their Indian allies. The Indians, of course, had their own issues with the Americans. Conflicts increased as the settler population steadily grew and was one cause of the 1812 conflict.

Most of the defense for people living on the frontier was self-provided through local militia organizations. Because people were so spread out, on farms often miles apart, designated places were needed for mustering the militia. Strengthening the defenses of those places also seemed prudent.

Whenever folks sensed trouble, they rushed to the nearest blockhouse.

In the countryside around Mansfield there was a blockhouse every few miles. The next nearest one to Beam’s was in the center of Mansfield, about three miles away.

The downtown blockhouse stood for many years and, after the war, it became the town's first courthouse. In a desire to preserve it, the building was moved a couple times until arriving where it stands today in Mansfield's South Park. The first floor consists of wood from the original building, the second floor was augmented with lumber from another period cabin. The building, an important part of Mansfield's identity, got a facelift in 2007.

No trace of the Beam's Mill blockhouse remains.

Once the War of 1812 began in earnest, U. S. troops in the area made use of the blockhouse network because in addition to being defensible, blockhouses usually were part of a larger settlement where soldiers could re-provision, gather intelligence, and take care of other needs.

Soldiers back then considered whiskey an essential provision. At the siege of Fort Meigs, about 100 miles from Mansfield, the Americans were short of shot for their twelve pound guns. Their commander, future president William Henry Harrison, offered a gill of whiskey (about 4 ounces) to any man who retrieved one of the enemy’s twelve-pounders and delivered it to the magazine keeper.

Harrison got the ammunition he needed and it only cost him 30 gallons of whiskey.

Next time, in Part 4, the Ohio Beams play a major role in two early tragedies of the War of 1812.

Friday, July 23, 2021

Beams in My Home Town and Other Personal Stuff (Part 2)


The Tree of Life, by Hugh Nissenson, was published in 1985. It was a small sensation in Mansfield, Ohio, my home town, because it is set there around the period of the War of 1812. 

When I read it back then, I knew about Jacob Beam of Kentucky, ancestor to all the whiskey-making Beams, who according to family tradition was a miller and distiller, and sold his first barrel of whiskey in Kentucky in 1795.

As Nissenson's novel includes a character named Jacob Beam, I assumed the author had appropriated the name and profession of Kentucky's Jacob Beam, relocated him to Ohio, and created an otherwise entirely fictional character. My assumption was wrong. Although they cannot be the same person, Ohio’s Jacob Beam was just as real as the Kentucky one. He was a miller, as was Kentucky's Jacob, and Ohio's Jacob was most likely a distiller too. 

Beam's homestead and mill were about three miles southeast of Mansfield, on the Rocky Fork of the Mohican River, near what is today the intersection of Ohio Route 39 and Interstate 71. The Beams were among the earliest settlers in the area. Jacob Newman, the first European-American settler in what became Richland County, arrived there in 1806. In 1809, Newman built a sawmill and followed that with a gristmill in 1810. In 1811, he sold the entire operation to the Beams (some accounts give the purchaser’s name as Michael Beam, others as Jacob Beam) and it would be known as Beam’s Mill thereafter.

Just like the Kentucky Beams, the Ohio Beams came from western Pennsylvania. We know the Kentucky Beams went back east to Maryland before joining a group of Catholics who were migrating to Kentucky. Another Catholic family making that Maryland-to-Kentucky trek was mine, the Tuckers. (My paternal grandmother was a Tucker.)

These Catholics (along with the Mennonite Beams) would lay the foundations for Kentucky's whiskey industry in what came to be known as the Kentucky Holy Lands.

Back in Ohio, Beam’s Mill was the first in Richland Country, but milling would come to be a key part of the local economy. At its zenith, Richland County had more than 180 gristmills, sawmills and linseed oil mills. Initially, Beam’s grist mill ground only corn, not wheat, although it too was grown in the area.

Beam could afford to specialize because in the beginning his was the only mill for miles around. During his busiest times, customers might have to wait days to have their grain processed. While they waited, Beam’s wife, known familiarly as 'Mother Beam,' fed them her famous corn-cakes, corn-dodgers, and other specialties.

We have to assume whiskey was also available to help pass the time. Frontier millers like Beam were typically paid for their services by keeping five to seven percent of the grain they milled for customers. But since everyone grew grain there wasn't much market for it, so most millers either kept livestock or distilled, or both. From what we know about this sort of frontier outpost, it probably offered a little of everything, serving both the sparse local community and travelers who might come through.  

We know whiskey was produced in the Mansfield area from the earliest days. Some of the evidence for that comes from an unlikely source.

Many of the early settlers in Richland County were Methodists and a Methodist preaching circuit was established in Ohio in 1802. While working that circuit in 1811, Rev. Elisha W. Bowman preached a sermon at Beam’s Mill, the first sermon preached in Richland County. Years later, Jacob Newman’s son recalled that, “in all there were about eight or ten persons including work hands” in attendance.

Later another circuit rider, Lemuel Lane, visited Mansfield and chose for his meeting place the town’s largest building, which happened to be William’s Tavern, “where they sold and drank whisky very free,” he recalled. Lane preached among the revelers for several nights but on Sunday morning he locked them out, much to their consternation.

Mansfield wouldn't get a dedicated house of worship until 1815, after the war. It was built by Rev. William B. James, a Methodist, and stood at the corner of North Adams and East Third Streets. Among the settlers who contributed to its construction were members of the Beam family.

Next time, in Part 3, Beam's Mill will play a role in the War of 1812.

Wednesday, July 21, 2021

Beams in My Home Town and Other Personal Stuff (Part 1)

The Blockhouse, South Park, Mansfield, Ohio (2009)
(This post, and several others to follow, will be more personal than usual and only peripherally about bourbon. You have been warned.)

I grew up in Mansfield, Ohio, the seat of Richland County. After college I moved away but visited often while my parents were alive, so until 2010. I still have friends and family there. 

In the summer of 2019 I attended my 50th high school reunion, at which I met the spouse of a classmate who just happened to have a notable surname: Beam. "No relation," he assured me. As I told him then, I knew there had been Beams in Mansfield in the early 19th century, but I didn't know if any were still around. I have subsequently learned that he is descended from the Beam family member the rest of this post is about.

Because this is a story about Jacob Beam, but not that Jacob Beam, the one who founded the Kentucky Beam distilling dynasty in the late 18th century. This is about Mansfield's Jacob Beam.

In his 1985 novel, The Tree of Life, Hugh Nissenson tells a story of the American frontier during the War of 1812. He set it in Mansfield, Ohio, and did extensive research to make it as historically accurate as possible. It was a finalist for the National Book Award and the PEN/Faulkner Award. I recommend it. It is a quick read (159 pages in the edition I have) and satisfying on many levels.

The novel is in the form of a diary kept by one of the settlers, a former New England minister named Thomas Keene. In his book, Nissenson skillfully melds actual and fictional history. One of his minor characters is named Jacob Beam, one of the tiny community’s principal landowners and, more importantly, its sole miller. The protagonist, Keene, and the miller, Beam, are also two of the town’s distillers. The first page of Keene’s journal is an inventory of his possessions, followed by their worth, which includes:

1 hammered copper Still, well-tinned, of 27 ½ gall. ...................14.30
1 hammered copper Head, with pewter charging pipe, etc ...........4.30
1 set of maple Worm tubs, hickory hoops .....................................0.90
2 vials for testing whisky’s proof ..................................................0.30
6 bushels of malt ...........................................................................0.30

Later he adds: Bought of Barr & Keys, Chillicothe, 1 copper Worm, 6 convolutions, 2 ½ ft. long... $3.00

In another entry, Keene pays 28 cents to the Beam Mill for cracking 300 pounds of his corn into grist suitable for whiskey mash. Keene visits Beam’s Mill often. Selling whiskey he makes from the corn he grows is Keene’s principal occupation. He is also his own best customer. Many of his diary entries are the date and one word: “drunk.”

When relations with local Indians deteriorate, a defensive structure called a blockhouse is built at Beam’s Mill. 

When I read the novel, I assumed the author had picked the most famous frontier distiller and dropped him into Ohio instead of Kentucky. I was wrong. Both Jacob Beams were real. More about the Ohio one in Part 2.

Thursday, June 24, 2021

Caveat Emptor

One of the warehouse receipts for the whiskey that became A. H. Hirsch Reserve.

There is an old saying among card players. When you sit down to a game, if you don’t know who the mark is, it’s probably you. That’s not to say someone is always trying to rob you, just that you should be skeptical and cautious whenever you’re asked to put money at risk.

Earlier this week, Louisville’s WDRB aired a story about CaskX, an “international investment firm … busting into bourbon territory by offering unique opportunities for individuals to bank on Kentucky’s spirit.” It featured the firm’s relationship with Kentucky Artisan Distillery in Crestwood. 

Although billed as a business story, the piece is more sales pitch than news. You can read it/watch it for yourself. I won’t rehash the details here.

The online version also conveniently provides a link to the CaskX web site. That you can also read for yourself.

One thing you won’t see in either of WDRB’s presentations is the word “risk,” but risk is an inevitable part of all investing. The type of investment CaskX is promoting is unusual. Here are some of the specific risks identified by CaskX in their hard-to-find, hard-to-read ‘Safe Harbor Statement’ (as required by law).

“These risks and uncertainties including, but are not limited to the following: the highly regulated nature of the whiskey industry and the requirements that may be imposed on you due to changes in law after you acquire your whiskey cask; changes in consumer and commercial demand for whiskey; loss of whiskey due to evaporation or failure to appropriately monitor the cask as it is maturing; loss of whiskey due to leakage, damage or theft, competition for the sale of whiskey with other investors or distilleries having greater resources than you; negative perception for the distillery who manufactured the whiskey in your cask or lack of brand loyalty; and lack of public market for whiskey casks and the requirement to hold your investment for quite some time due to the long maturation of whiskey and applicable United States securities laws. Please review our Notice to Investors and related Risk Factors for a further description of these and other factors you should consider before making an investment in whiskey casks. CaskX is under no obligation to update any of the forward looking statements after the date of publication for this website and associated documents to conform such statements to new information.”

CaskX’s product appears to be a revival of something that was pretty common at one time, investment in warehouse receipts. One famous investor in warehouse receipts was Adolph Hirsch, who bought some barrels of bourbon made in 1974 at Michter’s Distillery in Pennsylvania. (One of the receipts is pictured above.) Bottles of that bourbon now sell for thousands of dollars each, but that money isn’t going to Hirsch (who is long dead anyway). That whiskey has been bought and sold many times. We don’t know exactly how much Gordon Hue paid Hirsch for it back in 1990 but we know it wasn’t much. The whiskey was distressed property. Hirsch only sold it because the distillery was bankrupt. If he hadn’t sold it when he did, he might have lost it.

That also is a story you can read for yourself in a book I wrote.

Friday, June 4, 2021

Remembering the Bucket


Despite its name, Bucket O’Suds owner Joe Danno claimed his joint on Cicero was a bourbon bar. I met him there in 1992, long before bourbon bars were a thing. The supporting evidence for his claim was convincing. If you ordered ‘bourbon,’ without a call, you got a healthy free pour of a top shelf brand. Water was by request and ice may not have been available. In those days, Danno's ‘well’ pour was Very Very Old Fitzgerald, the now-legendary 12-year-old made at Stitzel-Weller. He swore he would pour it until it was all gone, but he couldn’t buy more because the Japanese had cornered the market.

The name ‘Bucket of Suds’ may have been inspired by another Chicago bar, The Bucket of Blood, an infamous saloon on the southwest corner of 19th Street and Federal in the Levee District, notorious during the late 19th and early 20th century. It was still operating in 1916 even though the District had been officially cleaned up in 1910.

On the backbar at the Bucket, Danno had brands that hadn’t been sold in years. Many bottles were empty, just there to take up space. In some, the remaining whiskey was undrinkable. I know, I tried. He had a Fairfield McKenna, a unicorn so rare most people have never even heard of it. It is a wonderful whiskey when in good shape, but the little bit in The Bucket's bottle was not in good shape. It tasted like vanilla extract, and not in a good way. Other bottles bore names like Belle of Nelson and James E. Pepper, brands that died in the 60s. 

I wasn’t a regular. I was only there a few times. Lots of people knew it much better than I did. Joe was a craft mixologist before that was a thing too. He created all sorts of drinks, frequently described as “crazy,” often using ingredients he invented with names like Elixer Lucifer, Apple Knocker, and Meister Likker. It was just Danno and his sister-in-law, Fena, who I remember passing around a tray of deviled eggs.

Danno opened The Bucket in 1964. It was a neighborhood tavern then, a family place. By 1992 it was an idiosyncratic dive bar, open Wednesday thru Saturday starting at about 7:00 PM. Often the outside lights would be off and the door locked. You had to knock. 

The Bucket is long gone but there will be places like it as long as people drink. At least, there should be.

Tuesday, May 25, 2021

A Tale of Two Troublemakers: Alcohol and Firearms


Although the Federal Excise Tax (FET) on distilled spirits was lowered recently for small producers, it remains $13.50 per proof gallon* for most beverage spirits sold in the United States, a rate that was set in 1985. Raising taxes on beverage alcohol products even higher has been part of some health care plans presented to Congress. Sixteen dollars per proof gallon has been widely proposed. Increasingly, health care costs related to alcohol consumption are cited as justification for higher beverage alcohol taxes at all levels of government, and beverage alcohol (beer, wine and spirits) is taxed at all levels of government.

It may surprise you to learn that a federal excise tax of 10-11 percent on the import and production of guns and ammunition has been in effect, at the same rate, since 1919. The National Firearms Act of 1934 (NFA) imposed a $200 tax on manufacturers for the transfer of a very narrow set of weapons and that too has not changed since its enactment.**

The argument in favor of these punitive taxes is simple and superficially attractive. The use of tobacco and alcohol, the usual suspects, is unhealthy and increases healthcare costs. Gasoline is taxed the same way for similar reasons, related to the cost of motor vehicle infrastructure and, increasingly, to reduce climate change harms. Higher taxes on products deemed inherently unhealthy or harmful are justified to help pay for the healthcare and other expenses caused by those products and borne directly by government programs such as Medicare and Medicaid, and infrastructure grants. In this way, tobacco, alcohol, and gasoline users pay for the consequences of that use, whether through healthcare, pollution abatement, or highway maintenance. 

The money raised by the firearms FET funds wildlife conservation and hunter education programs. 

If you buy a bottle of whiskey for $25, a nice bottle of Wild Turkey 101 perhaps, you have just made an FET payment of about $7.50, plus another few bucks for state and local taxes, all of which are much higher for Wild Turkey bourbon than they are for, well, actual turkey.

Rarely considered for similar higher taxation due to harms caused are firearms, ammunition and related products.  

Before you unholster your best 2nd Amendment rant, consider this a thought exercise in how policy toward these two different product categories is approached. Considering how often alcohol and gun violence go together, the exercise would seem to have some validity.

In addition to funding care for the harm they cause, higher taxes on disfavored products cause prices to go up, thus discouraging consumption and reducing the harm and associated healthcare costs. According to RAND, "a wide body of research has found that taxation can serve as an effective policy lever for reducing consumption and consumption-related harms." Studies show price increases prompted by higher taxes may or may not affect consumption depending on many factors, but even when they don't, money is raised to fund mitigation. Either way, it seems like a logical bit of social engineering so far. 

If it makes sense to engineer society in this way with regard to alcohol, tobacco, and gasoline, why not include other harmful products?

There are many possible candidates in the category of foods and beverages, especially products that are high in saturated fat, sugar, or salt that have minimal nutritional value, such as ice cream, candy, potato chips, and soft drinks. The harm they cause is comparable to that caused by alcohol and tobacco.

The same logic suggests fattening foods, guns, and ammunition should be taxed the same way alcohol and tobacco are, but just as alcohol, tobacco, and gasoline are taxed at all levels of government, food production is often subsidized, and taxes on firearms and ammunition are rare. 

They are also disfavored. In 2016, a U.S. territory passed a $1,000 tax on all pistol sales but it was struck down by a federal court as imposing "an undue burden on individuals' ability to exercise their constitutional rights."

One advantage of an excise tax increase is that it would be levied on manufacturers and thereby become part of the price each time the weapon changes hands, even extra-legally. Since handgun sales impact both law enforcement and healthcare costs, the argument for recovering some of that cost through taxation is very strong, even if the higher prices don't directly impact gun violence by reducing consumption. The Second Amendment is not impacted unless the tax is so high it unreasonably limits the ability of people to lawfully bear arms. No one has construed the Second Amendment as saying the right to bear arms has to be free or cheap.

Using the Federal Excise Tax on Distilled Spirits as an example, a proportional excise tax on firearms and ammunition would raise the price by about 30 percent. Since no one is harmed by mere ownership of a gun, perhaps it makes more sense to only tax ammunition this way. That would be more parallel to alcohol, tobacco, and gasoline taxes.

At present, regulations for ammunition sales are less stringent than those for firearms. No license is required for sellers and no background checks are required for buyers. In a survey at Cook County Jail (Chicago), inmates arrested for gun offenses said ammunition was easier to get than guns, yet reducing gun violence by tightening up and taxing ammunition sales has never been tried. 

If high taxes are okay on Bulleit Bourbon but not on actual bullets, why not?

If nothing else, this thought exercise should persuade you that all taxation is essentially arbitrary and like everything else in our society, it is a function of power and privilege merely obtained and held and not, in any sense, earned or justified.


* A 'proof gallon' is one gallon of beverage alcohol that is half alcohol and half water, i.e., 100° proof, or 50 percent alcohol-by-volume (50% ABV).

Saturday, May 22, 2021

The Lost History of a 30s Supermodel (From My Hometown)

 WARNING: No Bourbon Content.

Dana Jenney, photo by Lusha Nelson, Vogue 1937

Dana Jenney Horvath (1914-1992) grew up in Shenandoah, Ohio, a tiny town 12 miles north of Mansfield (my hometown), where her parents ran a general store. I've driven past it thousands of times on OH-13. The store's sign is how you know you are in Shenandoah. 

She went on to become one of the most successful models of the 1930s and early 40s, appearing on covers of every major fashion magazine. She was one of the first supermodels, yet she is little remembered today. 

Dana Jenney then, she attended and graduated from Mansfield Senior High School rather than Union High, a much smaller school closer to Shenandoah. While still in high school she met Charles King, who ran the Ohio Brass Company and whose elegant mansion was a short walk from the school. King's nephew was one of Jenney's classmates and she often swam at the mansion's pool.

King was new money. He entertained often, liberally, and sometimes scandalously. The main business of The Brass (as we always called the company) was selling insulators, conductors, resisters and other components to streetcar lines. In the 20s, new streetcar lines were being built all over the U.S. and King's business was booming.

Jenney graduated from Senior High in 1931 and immediately eloped to Kentucky with her high school sweetheart, the son of another wealthy Mansfield family. Even in my day, growing up in Mansfield almost 40 years later, it was still popular knowledge that if you wanted to get married before age 18, you ran away to Kentucky or West Virginia.

When the young couple returned to Mansfield, both families insisted on having the marriage annulled. King then helped Jenney launch her modeling career, first in Cleveland, then New York. They remained friends until his death in 1952. Whenever she visited her family in Shenandoah, King put his car and driver at her disposal. 

In New York, her social circle included Vanderbilts, Rockefellers, and Whitneys. She was one of the first American models to work extensively in Europe. In the early 1940s, Jenney married a wealthy industrialist named George Anton 'Tony' Horvath. They owned two homes in New York, and also in Miami, London and on the French Riviera. Each had their own yacht. 

They had one child, a daughter. Tony died in 1990. Jenney and her daughter moved to Arizona, where she died two years later, age 77. She is buried beside her parents in Shenandoah. 

Charles King is still remembered in Mansfield today because, childless, he left his mansion and its beautifully landscaped grounds to a generously endowed foundation. Today known as Kingwood Center, it figured prominently in my young life and that of many other Mansfielders. The swimming pool where Dana Jenney likely launched her glamorous life was filled in years ago.   

Tuesday, May 18, 2021

Bourbon History Echoes in Today's Craft Distilleries


Stamping Ground is a small town in Kentucky's Scott County, about 25 miles northwest of Lexington. It was named by its first settlers who saw herds of bison trampling the grass around a fruitful spring. Not long after the buffalo departed, the spring was turned to production of whiskey. There was a distillery on the site for about 100 years.

The last one, known as Buffalo Springs Distillery, was founded early in the 20th century. It produced several bourbon brands including Boots and Saddle. The plant was substantially rebuilt after Prohibition and Otis Beam, one of the seven sons of Joseph L. Beam, was distiller. Eventually purchased by Seagram’s, which owned 14 Kentucky distilleries at one time, Buffalo Springs ceased production for good in the 1960s and stood vacant for many years thereafter.

The spring at Buffalo Springs Park today.
The buildings, some made of locally quarried limestone, are gone but the spring still flows. The former distillery site is now Buffalo Springs Park. Another remnant of the distillery is a concrete and rock structure with several large, concrete circles. On September 12, 1935, the distillery held a burgoo party for the town and the circles provided a firm base for the large pots of burgoo. (Burgoo is a traditional Kentucky stew. A recipe is here.)

Buffalo Springs was typical of the many small town distilleries that once abounded in the region. It operated seasonally, from late fall until early spring, and employed as hands local farmers who might otherwise be idle for the period between harvest and planting. As one of the few sources of non-farm employment, it dominated the local economy and was a powerful part of the town’s consciousness.

Modern craft distilleries are playing a similar role in many parts of the country today. Not by employing farmers necessarily, but by providing jobs and tax revenue and complementing existing agricultural, tourism, and hospitality businesses. 

Thursday, May 13, 2021

Did This Government Pamphlet Launch the Craft Distilling Movement?

In 1982, the U.S. Departments of Agriculture and Energy teamed up to publish Fuel from Farms, a Guide to Small Scale Ethanol Production. This 168-page document encouraged farmers to set up small distilleries to produce ethanol from their grain or other agricultural products. By converting their tractors and other farm equipment to run on ethanol, they could become energy self-sufficient. (That was just one of the benefits.)

In addition to publishing this helpful tome, the government streamlined licensing and regulation. It also made a stern effort to exclude beverage alcohol from the equation. 

Although the fuel part never took off, the simplified applications and lower fees were extended to beverage alcohol licenses, triggering a revolution.

Got some spare room in the barn?
Why not start a distillery?
There were other factors too, of course, and craft distilling did not catch fire overnight. But from a handful the movement has grown to more than 2,000 distilleries, all over the U.S., and is adding about 200 new producers each year.

In the new issue of The Bourbon Country Reader, we deep dive into the roots of this dynamic movement. In this issue, in Part 1 of this two-parter (or maybe three), we explore the movement from its humble beginnings up to today. Next time we'll survey the contemporary craft distilling landscape. 

It's all in the new issue of The Bourbon Country Reader. Current Reader subscribers should receive their copies in a few days. New subscribers can get on the bandwagon by clicking here.

The Bourbon Country Reader is the oldest publication devoted entirely to American whiskey. It is a charming mix of news, history, analysis, and product reviews. Do you worry that advertising spending influences coverage in other publications? No chance of that here since The Bourbon Country Reader is 100 percent reader-supported. It accepts no advertising.

To experience The Bourbon Country Reader for yourself, you need to subscribe. Honoring history, The Bourbon Country Reader still comes to you exclusively on paper, in an envelope, via the USPS. Doing our part to keep the USPS solvent, we use only First Class Mail.

A subscription to The Bourbon Country Reader is still a mere $20 per year for addresses in the USA, $25 for everyone else. The Bourbon Country Reader is published six times a year, more-or-less, but your subscription always includes six issues no matter how long it takes. For those of you keeping track, this new one is Volume 20, Number 4.

Click here to subscribe with PayPal or any major credit card, or for more information. Click here for a free sample issue (in PDF format). Click here to open or download the free searchable PDF document, "The Bourbon Country Reader Issue Contents in Chronological Order." (It's like an index.)

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Thursday, May 6, 2021

What Company Makes the Most Money from Bourbon? The Answer Might Surprise You (But Probably Won't)

We are about 20 years into the 'bourbon boom' and craft distilling renaissance. Much has been said in that time about all the new brands and new producers who, according to some, are bound to replace the tired, old legacies. How is that going? Who holds the largest dollar share of the bourbon category today? 

According to Wine and Spirits Daily, nearly one-third of all the money spent on bourbon, rye and other American-made straight whiskey products is spent on this company's brands.

It is Brown-Forman. B-F holds the largest dollar share of the bourbon category at 28%.

Brown-Forman's lead dog, of course, is Jack Daniel's. Woodford Reserve and Old Forester also contribute. The other big contributor to the company's bottom line is Herradura Tequila. 

And Brown-Forman is about as legacy as legacy gets, founded in 1870 to sell bourbon, it is publicly owned but still controlled by its founding family. 

How do they do it? I worked for a Brown-Forman marketing agency in the early-to-mid 80s. If they couldn't get a brand to at least #2 in its segment (sometimes narrowly defined), they sold or killed it. They also had very high return-on-investment requirements. They made an exception for Old Forester because it was the company flagship, but otherwise they were ruthless. 

That was a long time ago but speaking as a close observer of the industry, I don't think their philosophy has changed much. 

I would love to tell you how the other 72 percent of the bourbon category breaks down but I'm not willing to spend $545 to get past the Wine & Spirit's paywall and I'm not sure they know precisely anyway, because two of the biggest producers, Heaven Hill and Sazerac, are private companies that don't report results.

But based on what we peasants can see, the Bourbon Big Four (Beam Suntory is the other one) all seem to have so far weathered the craft distilling threat pretty successfully.

Wednesday, April 28, 2021

The Mint Julep. You're Drinking It Wrong, Probably

More mint juleps are consumed on Kentucky
Derby Day than the rest of the year combined.
Mint juleps and the Kentucky Derby go together like all those other things that go together. You almost cannot mention one without the other.

Invariably at this time of year, you hear complaints about what a bad drink the mint julep is. One famous Kentucky writer famously urged his readers to go through the ritualized preparations, then throw all that muck away and drink the bourbon neat.

For those who don't know, a mint julep consists of fresh mint leaves, muddled with a little sugar, doused with bourbon and served over crushed ice with a mint sprig for garnish. It is a venerable, old drink. It is not a "bourbon mojito."

The problem with mint juleps is not with the drink, but with people who don't know how to drink it. A mint julep is most perfect the moment it is made and should be drunk quickly, not necessarily in one gulp, but without dawdling. If you sip on it, it quickly becomes a watery mess. 

Derby Day is back where it belongs, on the first Saturday in May, which this year also happens to be the first day of May, so feel free to sing "The Internationale" right after "My Old Kentucky Home." 

This has been a public service announcement.

Thursday, April 22, 2021

Sazerac Sends Fireball to China and Experiments with Baijiu at Home. What Could Possibly Go Wrong?

A Baijiu sampler.

So this was in the inbox: "Budweiser China today announced a strategic partnership with The Sazerac Company to bring Fireball Whisky to China."

Also this: "Sazerac's Buffalo Trace Distillery announces the limited release of a Baijiu-style spirit." 

An international incident is imminent.

Fireball is a very successful product, marketed as 'whiskey' with the barest possible legal justification. For most drinkers of actual whiskey it is the punchline to a joke, much as Budweiser is ridiculed by many beer drinkers.

The disrupter.

In China, however, Budweiser is a premium product and leads the premium segment of the Chinese beer market. Budweiser China, which also sells Stella Artois, Corona, Hoegaarden, Cass, Harbin and other brands there, is the most profitable brewer in Asia. In addition to China, the company distributes to South Korea, India, Vietnam and other Asia Pacific regions.

China also is the world's principal baijiu producer. Although little known outside China, that vast market alone makes it the best-selling type of distilled spirit in the world. It accounts for about 31 percent of spirits volume globally, according to the International Wine and Spirits Record (IWSR, 9L volume, calendar year 2019). 

The Buffalo Trace Experimental Collection Baijiu-style spirit is distilled like whiskey but uses traditional Baijiu ingredients of sorghum and peas. After aging the distillate for 11 years in three separate casks--uncharred, charred and toasted white oak--the spirits were married together and bottled at 90 proof. 

In addition to Fireball, Budweiser China will act as the exclusive distributor for other premium alcoholic offerings from Sazerac such as Goldschlager, Southern Comfort, Seignette, Buffalo Trace and Seagram's V.O. in the Chinese mainland.

Baijiu is the 24th experimental release from Sazerac's Buffalo Trace Distillery. The first was in 2006. The Experimental Collection includes thousands of different recipes and barrel treatments which examine a variety of unique variables from changes in the mash bill, types of wood, barrel toasts and more.

Experimental Collection Baijiu Style can be found in select markets. Quantities are extremely limited. Suggested retail pricing is $46.99 per 375ml bottle. 

America's whiskey makers have longed for more opportunities to penetrate the Chinese market. Much of the industry's recent investment in increased production capacity is premised on steady, strong export growth, for which China is the principal target. 

It is not known if Buffalo Trace is experimenting with cinnamon-flavored Baijiu.

Tuesday, April 20, 2021

Sagamore Spirit Should Leave Cinco de Mayo Alone

Sagamore Spirit’s 'Rye-Garita' and 'Paloma' cocktails,
for an authentic Maryland Cinco de Mayo celebration.

Sorry, Sagamore Spirit, but you caught me in a grumpy mood. I didn't know I was in a grumpy mood until I learned, from your helpful press release, that "the countdown to Cinco de Mayo has officially begun." Already? And officially! 

It continues, "But what if you’re bored of traditional tequila or have made one too many margaritas at home this past year?" 

Yes, by God, I am bored with traditional tequila and have made one too many margaritas at home this afternoon...I mean, this past year. But what's a boy to do?

Sagamore Spirit has the answer. First, rush out and buy a bottle of their straight rye whiskey finished in Tequila barrels (because that's a thing). It's just $69.99/750ml from Drizly. Use it to mix up a batch of Cinco de Mayo cocktails using that instead of, well, something actually Mexican.

Sagamore Spirit is a Baltimore-based whiskey brand with an increasingly fractured persona. In the beginning (just a few years ago), Sagamore Spirit was all about reviving the heritage of Maryland rye whiskey. "Our spirit flows from a spring house, built in 1909, at Maryland's Sagamore Farm," they cooed. "Naturally filtered spring water, fed from a limestone aquifer. The same water that fuels our champion thoroughbreds also cuts the rich spice of our rye, creating a spirit as revolutionary as America’s risk-takers and history-makers. Our story is one of passion, of old meeting new, and crafting a timeless American whiskey."

Is it?

Well financed by the owner of Under Armor, Sagamore Spirit built a beautiful, state-of-the-art distillery on the waterfront in Baltimore’s Port Covington neighborhood, just off I-95 and close to the Inner Harbor. It opened in 2017 and celebrates its fourth anniversary this month. Today's press release mentioned none of that.

No whiskey made there has been bottled yet. Their current product is a mixture of two straight ryes made at MGP in Lawrenceburg, Indiana. In fact, they designed their Baltimore distillery to duplicate those whiskeys as nearly as possible. That famous Maryland water is used to dilute the barrel-proof Indiana whiskey down to bottling proof.

The whiskey's actual provenance has never been a secret. Other than scattershot messaging, they've done everything right. They've established the brand solidly throughout the region and stand a good chance of transitioning to house-made liquid without a noticeable change in taste. That's been a challenge for many new producers. 

So naturally, as one does when one is trying to revive an early American regional whiskey tradition while transitioning from a sourced to a house-made product, Sagamore Spirit decides to finish some of its rye whiskey in 'Extra Añejo Tequila barrels.' The result of this pairing, they claim, "is remarkably unique tequila finished whiskey with notes of agave and vanilla on the nose and honey, peppercorn and orange citrus to taste." (I assume that was translated from the original Mexican.)

It might have been interesting to mention that most Tequila aging is done in used barrels that previously held bourbon or rye or some other new-barrel American whiskey, maybe even one made at the same distillery in Indiana where Sagamore Spirit's whiskey is made, which would be a neat story indeed, remarkably unique even; barrels made from Ozark oak, first used to age Indiana rye, then dumped and shipped to Mexico, where they hold Tequila for 3+ years, are dumped again and shipped to Baltimore where they're used to finish some of that same Indiana rye so it can be used in a lame Cinco de Mayo promotion by a distillery that thought it had an image but now isn't so sure.

The press release also helpfully reminds us that "pairing tequila and whiskey is always a risky move," which is, apparently, why they didn't do that. This is not "tequila-finished whiskey" as claimed. It is tequila barrel finished whiskey. That's different. The claimed "notes of agave" are not bloody likely.

I visited Sagamore Spirit in the summer of 2019. It's a beautiful and modern facility, right on the water, paired with a small hotel and upscale restaurant. They have a lot going for them, but in addition to being a young brand, Sagamore Spirit is a small brand. It can't afford such a fragmented image. Successful brands, including the biggest ones, are focused and consistent They know who they are and stay on message. The best example is the most successful American whiskey, Jack Daniel's. Their message hasn't changed in 100 years! 

Sagamore Spirit should decide who it is and be that, and probably skip Cinco de Mayo altogether. Consider instead a May promotion involving a little local horse race called The Preakness.

Wednesday, February 17, 2021

If You Like Rye Whiskey, Thank a Natufian

A rye-lovers dwelling.
If you like rye whiskey, you may owe it all to the Natufians. They were among the first humans to use rye grain. 

The Natufian culture emerged along the eastern Mediterranean coast about 15,000 years ago. They were just starting the transition from nomadic hunter-gatherers to farmers by collecting and then cultivating wild cereals, especially rye, which originated in nearby Anatolia. They didn’t have stills (they didn’t have metal), but they did make beer. 

In 2018, the world's oldest brewery was found in a prehistoric cave near Haifa in Israel. The residue in it was 13,000 years old. As their knowledge increased, early brewers learned that barley is better than rye for beer because it dissolves more easily and more readily converts from starch into fermentable sugar. But rye never fell out of use.

Like many rye whiskey lovers the Natufians were semi-sedentary, able to meet their needs without constant nomadic roaming. 

Two lovers expressing rye love.
The Natufians were the last Middle Eastern culture that didn’t have bricks. Their buildings were partially below ground, with dry stone foundations, the upper part of brushwood. Although they stayed in one place for long periods, their settlements were not quite permanent. Much like the pre-Columbian cultures of North America, they most likely exploited their immediate environment to exhaustion, then moved to a similar unspoiled area not far away. 

That pattern of behavior continues to the present day, except now when we exhaust a resource there is nowhere else to go. 

As people of the late stone age, the Natufians reached a high level of sophistication in stone implement manufacture, specializing in small and sharp cutting tools.

They also made stone art. The oldest known depiction of a couple having sex is a small Natufian stone carving found in a cave in the Judean desert. 

Some of the earliest archaeological evidence for the domestication of dogs comes from Natufian sites.

Sunday, February 14, 2021

Before 97X, There Was WOXR


I rise today to add a minor footnote to a story that is itself obscure, so be forewarned. Also NO BOURBON CONTENT.

In 1981, Douglas and Linda Balogh, two Cincinnati advertising executives, bought a 3,000 watt FM radio station in Oxford, Ohio, for $375,000. They changed the call letters to WOXY and it became an alt-rock phenomenon branded as “97X,” whose influence far outstripped its humble size and reach. 

In 2004, the Baloghs sold the station and took their format online, which lasted until 2011. If you want to know more about their story, just search “97X WOXY” for a wealth of resources. 97X WOXY is not to be confused with 97X WLXY, a radio station in western Illinois.

I’m here to do a Paul Harvey and tell you the rest of the story.

The station’s original call letters were WOXR and it was licensed to and located in Oxford, Ohio, the home of Miami University, a public university with about 17,000 students. Oxford is the quintessential college town. It is about 50 miles northwest of Cincinnati.

Like many of the earliest FM stations, WOXR was started in 1959 by an electrical engineer. He had another station in Kokomo, Indiana, where he lived. The story was that he had invented some device, which he also manufactured and sold to the Defense Department, and that’s where he made his money. He was an interesting guy, an Indian immigrant, nice enough but a little crooked and he ran the station on a shoestring. On payday, the station's employees raced each other to the bank because there was a good chance the last checks presented would bounce.

Rick Sellers was my friend, teacher, and fellow radio enthusiast. He was a few years older than me, with a master’s degree from Miami. In about 1972, he was hired by WOXR as station manager and ‘morning man.’ Rick is legally blind but had enough vision to get around Oxford on a bicycle. He could read the teletype printouts from which we got our news and weather, though he had to hold the paper directly against his thick glasses and move it from left to right, imitating the motion of the teletype machine. His disability limited him very little.

Another notable Miami Radio & TV classmate and friend from that era was Rick Ludwin, who went on to fame as a television producer and longtime NBC programming executive, generally credited as being the person who got “Seinfeld” on the air.

The two Ricks were leaders of a group of younger radio enthusiasts that included me. When Sellers got the job at WOXR, we were all anxious to join him there. I got my chance part-time late in 1972, then full-time after I graduated in June of 1973. I was Operations Manager and the early evening DJ. Most of the people who worked there were close friends, so we hung out together most of the time when we weren’t working. We used to joke on the air that we all lived together in a big house at the edge of town, which was true metaphorically if not literally.

At the time, the station was on North College Ave., just north of High Street. Not long after I went to work there we moved to High Street, into the center of the ‘uptown’ commercial area just west of the Miami campus, in the lower level of a commercial building that included a Burger Chef fast food restaurant. 

Like everything at the station, the move was done on a tiny budget. We were, apparently, the first tenants in that space as it was entirely undeveloped. I designed the floor plan and we all participated in the construction up to the limits of our specific skills. I could help with most of the construction but not the electronic stuff, although I did successfully solder a patch panel, of which I was proud. The two mixing consoles were homemade, though not by me. 

The station’s programming was eclectic. Prior to Sellers the station, like its sister in Kokomo, tried unsuccessfully to be the typical small town radio station. Sellers convinced the owner that Miami students were an untapped audience, and he found a couple of local businesses who were willing to buy advertising to reach them. I sold advertising too and we eventually hired a fulltime salesperson. The first person to briefly hold that position was Bob Michelson, a Miami grad from New York who went back to Manhattan to manage syndication for the "National Lampoon Radio Hour," a steppingstone for most of the original cast of “Saturday Night Live.”

Naturally, WOXR was one of the first stations to carry the show. We also ran Bob's next project, a serialized radio drama based on the Marvel Comics "Fantastic Four" stories. Bill Murray was the voice of Johnny Storm, 'the Human Torch.'

Sellers’ morning show was on the ‘service’ model; lots of local news, weather, and sports; stories and guests of community interest; a limited amount of mostly top 40 and oldies music; and Rick’s very winning personality. The rest of the daytime programming was similar, becoming a little more progressive rock as the day went on. Although there was a program director and a music director, we had pretty much free reign to program our shows as we saw fit.

I came on in the early evening and transitioned into what was a full-on progressive rock format in the later evening and, eventually, overnight. I sometimes took shit from the daytime people for rocking too hard and from the late-night people for not rocking hard enough. I snuck in classical music, jazz, and novelty records, and read poetry and short essays on the air. Some of it was planned in advance, but most of it was spontaneous.

It was a lot of fun. 

Like the people who came along later with 97X, we played the most progressive music being recorded in the rock genre, much of it music that few other stations were playing. The Cincinnati market progressive rock pioneer was WEBN, an FM station started by a wealthy man who thought Cincinnati needed more classical music on the radio. It failed to catch on, so he let his son and daughter play 'their' music at night. Pretty soon, the progressive rock format was making the whole station a commercial success.

Like 97X, WOXR aspired to be more progressive than WEBN. Also like them, we aspired to penetrate the Cincinnati market even though our signal just barely reached that city’s northern suburbs (unless you had a pricey antenna). One of our proudest moments during my tenure was making the Cincinnati ratings book for the first time, albeit with the lowest number needed to qualify for inclusion.

I left the station in June of 1974. I was 22 and afraid that if I stayed in Oxford much longer, I would never leave. That wouldn’t have been a bad life but, at 22, I wanted to see what else I could do. I continued to be close to Rick Sellers and some of the other people there for another year or two, coming back once or twice for the annual Easter holiday “Roll Away the Rock Weekend,” during which we played oldies and station alums like me came back and pulled on-air shifts. Rick left in 1975, eventually buying and running a station in Iowa. WOXR went back to more of a straight Top-40 format until the Baloghs bought it in 1981. They moved the station again and the old High Street space became a pet shop.

When “WKRP in Cincinnati” went on the air in 1978, we fancied that it was based on our little station. We even had a ‘Jennifer,’ an exceptionally attractive receptionist who was nice enough but romantically out-of-reach for her many admirers. 

I like to think that although I had nothing whatsoever to do with 97X, we helped lay the groundwork. We were popular with many local high school kids, some of whom were still around when 97X came along and who recognized the connection, but most of the people who worked there never knew about us or what we did. That’s okay. For me it was a great experience during my formative years and gave me a lot of confidence going forward. I had a few more radio jobs, then transitioned into advertising. The freedom of the WOXR experience may have made it hard for me to work for anyone else. In 1986, I started to freelance and remained self-employed for the rest of my career. 

Thursday, February 4, 2021

The Medicinal Use and Misuse of Alcohol

During Prohibition, you could buy whiskey legally with a doctor's prescription. Many years ago, I posted the picture above and it prompted a correspondence with a medical student who was also a whiskey fan, who wrote the following on the medical use of alcohol, what we know, and what we don't.

"Up until the 1980s, alcohol was given by I.V. to (of all patients) pregnant women as a "tocolytic," to help relax the uterus and stop contractions during premature labor. It was titrated to the slurred speech of the woman! It is hard to believe that it took until the 1980s for the medical world to realize that it also caused respiratory depression in neonates. 

"I consider this to be one of the more absurd uses of 'medicinal' ethanol use in history, despite the fact that it did in fact relax the uterus. Other uses have certainly been better thought out. The early anesthesiologists gave ethanol (before the advent of ether) to the wounded in the Civil War during emergency surgery. This was probably whiskey and was moderately successful. Ingested alcohol is actually a pretty good anesthetic, the problem being the amounts needed to reach an adequate blood concentration sufficient for surgery tend towards the lethal. 

"Another interesting use of alcohol in the hospital is its administration in the event of a methanol or ethylene glycol (anti-freeze) overdose. Ethanol reverses the toxic effects of those other poisons, preventing blindness, and liver and kidney failure. 

"My understanding is that during Prohibition, when physicians wrote prescriptions for whiskey, these tended to be for other reasons. I'm guessing the practice centered on the idea of whiskey as a 'general tonic,' a 'constitutional' of some sort. Perhaps even an early psychiatric medicine? Which would be interesting because of what we now know about the physiology of alcohol's depressive effects on the central nervous system. 

"What I find so interesting about all this is that humans have known for a long time that alcohol has a medicinal use, but we've often been very mistaken in our understanding of the physiology. This is a fascinating chapter in the history of medicine, not just in the history of whiskey. 

"Numerous papers have been published in journals such as the New England Journal of Medicine about the health benefits of moderate alcohol consumption. Wine gets all the publicity in the lay press, but every paper unequivocally states that the form of the alcohol one ingests makes no difference. Reductions in heart attacks are well documented, as are reduced rates of strokes, as well as reduced cognitive decline and dementia in the elderly. There has even been some work on the antioxidant effects of spirits, but the funding of these papers renders some of their conclusions questionable. 

"While the scientific understanding of alcohol's effects is expanding, it is still based primarily on outcome studies rather than on biochemical experiments. Animal models are useful only up to a point. Most conclusions thus far about the salubrious effects of alcohol are based on controlled, double-blind randomized population studies. Those conclusions are pretty darn solid, but when it comes to the hypothesized mechanism of actually how alcohol induces its effects, no one really knows, other than to say that there is something 'anti-atherogenic' about alcohol. Which is kind of like defining a horse as a horse. No shit. 

"I wonder what effect the anti-alcohol movement has had historically on developing our scientific knowledge of alcohol. An analogy is the debate about stem-cell research. Politics and moralists have our scientists hog-tied while the rest of the world moves forward with life-saving insights and technologies. The medical understanding of alcohol is one of the many casualties of American theocracy, one of the great ironies in our history." 

Friday, January 8, 2021

Local, Craft Whiskeys Hold Pride of Place, at Least in My Neighborhood


North Buena Deli & Wine is a joint in my neighborhood. They have good sandwiches and are right next to a good bar, The Bar on Buena. Klein's Bakery and Café is right across the street, so it's a pretty tasty intersection, where Broadway crosses Buena.

All three have online menus, naturally. I was just browsing North Buena's. My interest was primarily sandwiches, but part of my pathology is that I can't look at a liquor store (or bar, or restaurant) and not look at their bourbon list if they have one. It's a pretty obvious truth of retail that you can read a lot into what a retailer chooses to sell. It tells you how they view their business and their actual and prospective customers. The more limited their offering is, the more it tells you.

This may not be everything they stock in the store, but this it what they list online under "Bourbon Whiskey." It's a short list, just six items.

  • Koval Bourbon Whiskey $49.99. (Koval is nearby, maybe a mile west.)
  • FEW Bourbon Whiskey $49.99. (Also local, a few miles north in Evanston.)
  • Bulleit Bourbon Frontier Whiskey $34.99
  • Maker's Mark Bourbon Whiskey $29.99
  • Four Roses Bourbon $24.99 
  • Woodford Reserve Bourbon Whiskey $37.99
Under "Rye Whiskey" they offer two selections.

  • Koval Rye Single Barrel Whiskey $45.99
  • Low and Slow Rock and Rye $29.99 (Not local, but from a small producer in New York. Also not whiskey.)

The most interesting fact is that, on such a limited menu, three of the eight offerings are from local craft distilleries, and their products are the most expensive products on the list. This is where the best craft producers are right now. This store believes its customers want artisan and local, and are willing to pay for it. You will find FEW and Koval products next door at Bar on Buena too. North Buena Deli & Wine also features Koval and FEW gins.

The rest of the bourbon list tells you what national brands their customers are buying, the space in which (at least to this retailer's way of thinking) FEW and Koval play. Bulleit, Woodford and Maker's are high end offerings (but still mainstream) from Diageo, Brown-Forman and Beam Suntory, three of the industry's giants. Most bourbon fans won't be surprised to see the Four Roses name, but might find it curious that it's the so-called 'yellow label' expression, not the more prestigious small batch or single barrel. That's why it's the least expensive bourbon on offer.

People who buy bourbon at North Buena are doing so for convenience, after they get off the #36 bus on their way home, while picking up a Sicilian (Prosciutto, Genoa Salami, Capicola, and Provolone cheese on a 6" or 9” French Roll. Topped off with red roasted peppers, lettuce, tomatoes, red onions, and our Italian dressing) and some Joe's potato chips. This is Chicago, after all. There are several other places to buy booze within a few blocks in any direction, so this is a neighborhood place with a very definite idea of who its customers are and what they want.

And what they want, in addition to tasty sandwiches, is locally-made craft spirits.

Saturday, January 2, 2021

The Buffalo Trace Antique Collection and How It Got That Way

For the last few issues of The Bourbon Country Reader, we have been running a series of "How It Got That Way" features. This time we look at the Buffalo Trace Antique Collection, including an exclusive interview with Sazerac President Mark Brown about the impact of this iconic collection, now in its 20th year.

We also ponder the question "What Is Truth?" as it applies to marketing communication about American whiskey. There is true, false, and something in between.

It's all in the new issue of The Bourbon Country Reader. Current Reader subscribers should receive their copies in a few days (or weeks, depending on how the USPS is feeling). New subscribers can get on the bandwagon by clicking here.

Born in 1993, in the 201st year of Kentucky statehood, The Bourbon Country Reader is the oldest publication devoted entirely to American whiskey. It is a charming mix of news, history, analysis, and product reviews. Do you worry that advertising spending influences coverage in other publications? No chance of that here since The Bourbon Country Reader is 100 percent reader-supported. It accepts no advertising.

To experience The Bourbon Country Reader for yourself, you need to subscribe. Honoring history, The Bourbon Country Reader still comes to you exclusively on paper, in an envelope, via the USPS. Doing our part to keep the USPS solvent, we use only First Class Mail.

You may notice that this issue, mailed on January 2nd, says "December, 2020." Can't blame the USPS for that, that's 100 percent my fault, to prompt me to get another one out on schedule in February. Hey, it says "idiosyncratic" right there on the first page.

A subscription to The Bourbon Country Reader is still a mere $20 per year for addresses in the USA, $25 for everyone else. The Bourbon Country Reader is published six times a year, more-or-less, but your subscription always includes six issues no matter how long it takes. For those of you keeping track, this new one is Volume 20, Number 3.

Click here to subscribe with PayPal or any major credit card, or for more information. Click here for a free sample issue (in PDF format). Click here to open or download the free searchable PDF document, "The Bourbon Country Reader Issue Contents in Chronological Order." (It's like an index.)

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