Saturday, September 11, 2021

Every Label Tells a Story, Don't It?


Front label

This pint bottle, probably from 1937, has me hooked. It raises so many wonderful questions. Such as: how can a blend of straight whiskies contain whiskey that is just eight months old? Clearly this product was made when fully aged whiskey was in short supply. Back then, the definition of straight whiskey was vague. Today, straight whiskey has to be at least two years old.

Even so, Mr. Dant wants you to know that although some of it is very young, this is all aged whiskey. It is not a little bit of aged whiskey blended with neutral spirit, like most of what was sold in those days. This is something different. Because it also has a nice, rich hue, they note that it contains no "artificial coloring." 

This feels like someone trying to get an innovative product to market, one that makes the most of what little aged stock is available through careful, even 'scientific,' blending (whatever that means). Making young whiskey taste good was a challenge for producers in the years immediately following 1933, just as it was a decade ago in the early days of craft distilling. 

Back label (partial)
The extra, overlaid back label suggests they met some regulatory obstacles.

They tell us all the whiskeys were made it Kentucky, but where? Members of the Dant family were involved with several post-Repeal distilleries. Members of the extended family had connections to even more. It is clear this was a sourced product, maybe from within the family, maybe not. 

Now to the other major question, which Dant is this? There never was a W. W. Dant Distillery in Louisville or anywhere else. Obviously, this is either W. W. Dant himself or a member of his family using the Dant name and reputation to convey expertise. "3rd Generation of Distilling Experience," it says on the label. It's also clear they are carefully avoiding any trademark conflicts with the owners of the then very well-established and popular J. W. Dant brand of bourbon. 

The 'grandfather' is presumably J. W. Dant, but he is not named.

J. W. Dant bourbon is still sold today. It is made by Heaven Hill. Back then it was made by Uncle George.

Hang tag
I don't recall ever seeing a W. W. Dant product before. This was never a big brand. It probably was a one-shot for one reason or another. Yet the tax stamp shows it made it at least as far as Wisconsin, so that's something. 

There were and are a lot of Dants in Kentucky. Mike Veach has a good overview of the family's role in Kentucky's whiskey history here. I tell it from a slightly different direction here.

The family patriarch was Joseph Washington Dant (1820-1902), best known as J. W. Dant. Some Dant family trees show a "Wallace W. Dant" as one of J. W. Dant's seven distiller sons, but that's a mistake. His name was William Wallace Dant. He was known as Wallace, which probably explains the mistake.

In the picture on the label, the grandfather is J. W. Dant, the father is Wallace Dant, though neither is named. Presumably, the son in the picture is the W. W. Dant in question.  

Recently, two groups of Dant descendants have gotten back into the whiskey business. Steve and Paul Beam are Dants on their mother's side. Their Limestone Branch Distillery is in Lebanon, in Marion County. Wally Dant and some other family members have opened Log Still Distillery near New Haven in Nelson County.

The hang tag above is included mostly for amusement. While they seem scrupulous in describing the product, they play fast and loose with the story. The idea that "Grandfather's Distillery in Marion County" was some kind of 'cross-roads' connecting Louisville, Frankfort and Lexington is easily debunked by glancing at a map. More realistically it was on the 'cross-roads' leading to Bardstown, Elizabethtown and Lebanon. But "gentlemen" in "colorful coaches drawn by thorough-breds"? Please!

So who is this W. W. Dant? The answer is not as straightforward as you might think. J. W. Dant, the 'grandfather' in this exercise, had seven sons and many grandsons, several of whose initials were "W. W."

This guy is William Washington Dant, known as Will, a son of Wallace Dant. Will Dant is Wally Dant's great-grandfather. Will Dant's sister, Mary Kathleen, is grandmother to the Limestone Branch Beams, so Wallace Dant is their great-grandfather and Wally Dant's great-great-grandfather.  

Although Wally Dant is descended from J. W. Dant, like all of the Dants, his Log Still Distillery is not on the site of J.W. Dant's Distillery, the place described in the hang tag as "Grandfather's Distillery in Marion County." Log Still is on the site of a much more important Dant family distillery, established by J. W. Dant's eldest son, Joseph Bernard (J. B.), to make Yellowstone bourbon. The J. W. Dant Distillery was nearby, just a few miles east, about one mile inside Marion County, where Dant Station Road intersects with KY-52 today. No trace of that distillery remains. 

J. W. Dant retired in 1891, at age 71, and his son Wallace (Will's dad) took over. Wallace died in 1910 and control passed to George, the youngest brother. Then Prohibition shut them all down.

After Prohibition, J. B. Dant and his sons sold their Nelson County distillery and took the Yellowstone name up to Louisville (suburban Shively, actually), where they built a huge, new distillery that was later sold to Glenmore. Will Dant and a partner bought and restarted the Nelson County place, while uncle George reopened the family's original Marion County distillery. Will wanted to call his place W. W. Dant but uncle George sued him, saying that was too close to J. W. Dant, which George controlled, so they compromised on Dant & Head, Joe Head being the other principal.

In keeping with family tradition, Will Dant and his wife, Martha Jane Ferriell, had a whole bunch of kids. Their eldest was John Wallace Dant, known as Wally. Log Still's Wally Dant is his grandson and namesake, John Wallace Dant III. 

The 'Wally' in between those two, John Wallace Dant Jr., is an interesting story unrelated to the whiskey business except it reminds us how Catholic that area is. Wally Dant Jr. grew up in Louisville, graduated from St. Xavier High School, then Notre Dame, and worked for UPS in Louisville for 33 years, retiring as VP of Air Operations. He had several children, the eldest of whom is Log Still's Wally. After he retired he became very active in his parish church in Louisville, becoming a deacon. After the death of Barbara, his wife, he entered the seminary, became a priest, and served in several different parishes in Marion and Nelson Counties. He died in 2010, age 70.

I grew up Catholic in northern Ohio. Mom was from Cleveland, dad was from St. Louis. From my family history and from American history, I always associated Catholics with urban immigrant communities; Germans in mom's case, but also Irish, Italians, and Poles. Only after I became interested in bourbon history did I learn about the English Catholics from whom I also am descended, who were so instrumental in starting the Kentucky bourbon industry, who brought their Catholic faith and English heritage to the mostly-rural Kentucky Holy Lands a century before the better known Catholic migrations to the big cities of the Northeast and Midwest. Among them were John Baptist Dant, J. W. Dant's father, and my ancestor, Joseph 'Short' Tucker.

This is a long post but I am still nowhere near finished with this label. There is also the box it came in! This is not my bottle. I thank the owner who took these pictures and gave me permission to share them.

One remaining mystery is why, if Will Dant co-owned Dant & Head, isn't this a Dant & Head release? Why did Will Dant do it as a side hustle?

And does anybody know what "Ma Ri Me Scientifically Blended" means? The reference to 'License No. 1' leads me to suspect this was another Will Dant enterprise.


Donna said...

I will get back to my reading to see your complete story, but my thoughts on the name "Dant Crossing" might be from the old Dant Distillery there in Dant Station that I recall from my youth, just past St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church. THAT is the Dant CROSSING I remember well.

Tim Dant said...

Donna... clarification on our Dant distilleries (yes, there were two of them)... the current Log Still Distillery at Dant Crossing is located in Nelson County on the same "Gethsemane" site where my grandfather William Washington Dant & Joe Head distilled after Prohibition ... they built the existing 120-foot water tower in 1933 which also beared the Dant name for many years... William Washington's Gethsemane Dant Distillery transitioned in the 1940's, to multiple companies, National Distillers, Armand Hammer, United Distillers and eventually Schenley Distillers who built the "quonset hut" style buildings for their bottling plant in the 1950's... after Schenley moved out of the Gethsemane site, it sat dormant until the 1990's when the Affordable Truss Company moved in and began their wooden truss operation... my cousin Wally reacquired those 300-acres in 2019 and relocated Affordable Truss a mile away... the "Dant Station Distillery " is located in Marion County which is the location of J.W. Joseph Washington Dant's distillery that he began in 1836... when the L&N Railroad opened in the 1850's, J.W. moved his distillery closer to the railroad tracks, featuring a post office and train depot, hence the name Dant Station ... Dant Station Road currently is located along Highway 52 directly across from the Dant Station Distillery site... some remnants of the train track, distillery lake and foundation remain among the overgrown pasture and is adjacent to the large Peterson Farm on Highway 52... which means that after Prohibition in 1933, William Washington was operating the Gethsemane Dant Distillery at the same time that the Dant Station Distillery re-opened (it shut down between 1920-1933) and was operated by J.W. 's youngest son George Dant... make sense? ... Dear Mr. Cowdery... many thanks for featuring a little bit about our Dant Family in your blog which also made its way to Facebook... Steve Beam, who you correctly tagged as part of our Dant Family tree, Wally Dant, myself and our entire family appreciate all of the plugs Bourbon Industry experts like yourself have given us over the last couple of years... I will post a few pics on Facebook for your perusal and would be honored to discuss any of this at your convenience.
Sincerely, Tim Dant.
Dant Family Historian. 9241 Charles Street. Lantana, TX 76226 (suburb of Dallas). 817-706-4244. 5th-Generation and great great grandson of J.W. Dant

Richard Turner said...

GREAT STUFF, Chuck! ...And, nice, interesting reply by Tim Dant. I'd love to see those pix, Tim; but, am not 'on the Facebook'. I look forward to more of the story about this interesting bottle and label(s), Chuck. Thanx!

tom said...

Chuck, many thanks for the fascinating read and deep dive into the old label and Dant History. There is always more story than meets the eye!

I have two hypotheses about the "Ma Ri Me". I have no knowledge whatsoever of it's historical use, though as qualifying preface:

1.) phonetically, and somewhat obviously, Ma Ri Me could be "marry me" or "merry me" blending technique, perhaps a tongue in cheek reference to blending practices at the time or in terms of the latter a personal style of blending... whereby the compounding blender keeps tasting and mixing, until it tastes good enough to sell and the blender is fully inebriated.

2. Ma Ri Me, could simply be a reference to some practice, guidance, or whiskey rule/regulation for/ of/ or by the states Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Maine.

In the end analysis, your guess is probably better than mine!