Tuesday, November 9, 2021

The Significance of the Crow-Taylor Legacies in Making the World’s Best Whiskey

1869 Gaines, Berry & Company letterhead

My "Time Is Money" post from Saturday prompted a response from Chris Middleton and I'm always delighted when that happens. Chris has contributed here before. He is principal and director of the Whisky Academy, Founding Director of Starward Whiskey Distillery, and former Global Brand Director for Jack Daniel’s. What follows is all his although I have changed the order somewhat, to begin with his assessment of the significance of the legacy of E. H. Taylor Jr. and James C. Crow, followed by some biographical details. 

For more, I recommend his historical series on Whisky Wash, specifically "The James Crow Chronicles," and "Whiskey Chronicles of Edmund Taylor Jr." He begins by explaining how those two series came about.

These series took on a life of their own as I was drawn into the orbit of James Crow’s pioneering work (Chronicle of James Crow) and to how Taylor faithfully followed Crow’s production procedures (Chronicles of Edmund Taylor Jr.). And Crow’s acolytes too, who spread the principles and adapted new learnings and ideas to advance whiskey with emergent technologies and biological processes, all practiced within the proximity of the city of Frankfort. Not manufacturing inferior bourbon whiskey of the 19th century, but topmost ‘hand-made, sour mash all-copper whiskey.’ 

The significance of the Crow-Taylor legacies in making America’s, probably the world’s best whiskey, remained hidden until the human and technical patterns revealed themselves as a cipher awaiting decoding. I have explained some of this plant, processes and ideas that evolved and adapted as technical knowledge advanced over the last half of the 19th century.

Manufacturing of this exceptional whiskey took place at only about a dozen distilleries in and around Glenn’s Creek-Frankfort area, with Crow and Taylor the common dominators. 

The Oscar Pepper distillery was the epicenter, ground zero, due to Crow and later Taylor’s commitment to making whiskey of the highest sensory standards following the Crow principles. Outside of the modernized Buffalo Trace and Woodford Reserve distilleries, I cannot find another distillery approaching the deep history (Scotland, Ireland, Canada) that epitomizes the pedigree, provenance and pursuit of whiskey excellence these two distilleries displayed for more than 170 years. Both in their pre-Prohibition modes of manufacture and their late 20th-century commitment to manufacturing expressions of whiskey excellence. 

My goal was to understand and decode the allegedly secret Crow’s methods and the developments in the manufacturing practices of Crow plan whiskey, centered in the Inner Blue Grass region. After years of analyzing thousands of primary records, it proved richer and more innovative than I expected to discover.

JAMES C. CROW: After an exhaustive record search of student’s attendance rolls at all the Scottish universities teaching medicine and science between 1726 to 1866 (Edinburgh, Glasgow, Marischal College, St Andrews, and Kings College Aberdeen), not one Crow was awarded a diploma or any graduation certificate at any of these universities. 

Working with the Edinburgh University archivist, we deuced Crow may have attended ‘selected classes.’ In other words, he self-funded the particular lecturers and classes that he was keen to study, which did not entitle him to matriculate. At Edinburgh University at this time were some of the foremost scientists in fermentation and distillation. As a mature student, married with a child, and limited funds, this would have been a practical method to help advance his career prospects. Although why he abruptly left Scotland for Philadelphia in 1823 remains a mystery. Debts? 

The first use of the salutation ‘Dr.’ James Crow appeared decades after his death in the local Woodford Weekly, then later picked up by the New York Times and St Louis Register, both publishing a story on Crow in September 1897. After Prohibition, the Old Crow whiskey trademark owned by National Distillers began propagated this term in their advertising campaigns after the Second World War. And like so many misattributions, the doctor moniker moved from error or misdirected praise, to marketing artifice, to become unquestioning fact. 

EDMUND H. TAYLOR Jr.: Taylor joined Gaines, Berry & Company in April 1865. Previously, he ran a separate business as a commodity trader in cotton, corn and tobacco at Wolf Island, Missouri, after his finance ventures failed in Lexington and Versailles by 1860. 

Twenty-seven old William Albertus Gaines returned to Frankfort in 1859, where he worked as a clerk for Walter Carr Chiles for two years, then appointed Frankfort’s postmaster in March 1861. He held this position for four years until the death of President Lincoln in April 1865. That month he founded Gaines, Berry & Company to become a local whiskey wholesaler. Before Gaines obtained his government position, there are indications he had discussions with Berry about the pair starting a whiskey business. 

Hiram Berry held the majority of the shares in the new company, he previously traded livestock and cotton for the Union Army in Frankfort during the War years. At the same time, he established Gaines, Berry & Company, he also formed a trading pool for cotton with Samuel Pepper (Oscar’s brother), James Watson and Edmund Taylor Jr. However, the partners were unable to agree on terms, and the venture soon failed. 

Taylor’s uncle and namesake, Edmund Haynes Taylor senior, was the cashier at the Frankfort branch of the Bank the Kentucky from 1835 until his death in 1872. He served the Bank’s State board of directors and two Frankfort branch presidents (Peter Dudley and Thomas Lindsay). Under Kentucky regulations owners were not permitted to hold executive roles in a bank. Before the antebellum period, the president of the Lexington branch of the Bank of Kentucky was Robert Todd, father-in-law to President Lincoln. 

1 comment:

Richard Turner said...

Please thank Chris Middleton, and thank you Chuck for once again offering us some very interesting, factual, 'behind the veil' views of some quite important folks in the development of what we now expect to always be 'The Finest Whisk(e)y in the World'... BOURBON. Great Stuff!!!