Monday, May 4, 2009

Boys of bourbon: The lore behind the labels

By Diane Heilenman

Source: Courier Journal

May 3rd

Bourbon drinkers, who are never so legion as in the days before and after the Kentucky Derby, want to know:

Who is Evan Williams? Ezra Brooks?

Who is Basil Hayden? Elijah Craig? Pappy Van Winkle? T.W. Samuels?

Mike Veach, of Louisville's Filson Historical Society and a bourbon history specialist, illuminated us:

Evan Williams is considered Kentucky's first distiller, according to legend, said Veach. Williams set up his stills on the banks of the Ohio River in Louisville in 1783. Evan Williams bourbon is produced today by Heaven Hill Distillery in Nelson County.

Rev. Elijah Craig was a late-1700s Baptist preacher, teacher and distiller, often (but erroneously) credited as the inventor of bourbon whiskey, Veach said.

Craig had plenty of other firsts, however, such as forming in 1787 the first classical school in Kentucky, where scholars could learn Greek and Latin (it is today's Georgetown College); building the state's first cloth-manufacturing mill; building its first paper mill; and starting its first ropewalk to make hemp rope. Today, Elijah Craig bourbon is from Heaven Hill Distillery.

Bourbon County claims the honor of invention, again by legend, Veach said, noting that by the time the county formed in 1785, there were dozens upon dozens of small farmer-distillers making a corn-based whiskey that came to be called "bourbon" after the county. Currently, only such whiskey from Kentucky can be called "bourbon."

Henry McKenna is another important early name. He brought his family's whiskey recipe with him from Ireland in 1837 and, when he settled in Fairfield, Ky., founded a distillery, said Veach, adapting his recipe to local grain, especially corn. His 1855 product, billed as "Kentucky's Finest Table Whiskey," is still made today as Henry McKenna from Jim Beam Brands Co. of Bardstown.

J.T.S. Brown was the older brother by 20 years of bourbon great George Gavin Brown of the Louisville-based Brown-Forman wine-and-spirits corporation that started making bourbon in 1870. Moviegoers may know "J.T.S. Brown" from the patter between "Fast Eddie" Felson and "Minnesota Fats" in the movie "The Hustler," where Fats calls for White Tavern whiskey, with a glass and some ice, and Eddie (Paul Newman) asks for "J.T.S. Brown. No ice. No glass."

You can get J.T.S. Brown from Heaven Hill, which is named for early Kentucky distiller William Heavenhill, who owned a Nelson County farm and let the printer's mistake stand when his first labels were issued, Veach said.

Old Forester is another name with a change over time.

This famed Brown-Forman product is named after Dr. William Forrester of Louisville, a renowned Civil War physician, who endorsed the bourbon that young George Gavin Brown was clever enough to distribute only by the bottle, rather than from the barrel, said Veach. A barrel of whiskey could and, indeed, often did become an altered product, and since liquor was a major sedative, doctors complained about the uneven quality of whiskey by the jug.

Brown put his bourbon in a bottle and added a handwritten label of assurance.

Veach said Brown is sometimes mistakenly believed to be the first to bottle bourbon. That honor likely goes to E.G. Booz, a 19th-century Philadelphia distiller who sold whiskey in bottles, but stopped because the handmade bottles were so expensive. The first bottle-making machine was not patented until 1904.

Old Forester is touted as the only bourbon in existence today that has been sold continuously for more than a century, including during the Prohibition years of 1919 to 1933, when alcohol sales were otherwise illegal in the United States. The distillery received one of only 10 government permits to produce whiskey for medicinal purposes.

Basil Hayden Sr. moved from Maryland to Nelson County, Ky., in 1785. His bourbon was created with more rye than most, Veach said, and his taste was honored by his grandson's creation of Old Grand-Dad, now produced by Jim Beam along with four different "Basil Hayden's" varieties. That recipe, if not the whiskey production, dates to 1796.

Col. James B. Beam is the man behind the Jim Beam label, which appeared in 1933 to honor the man who rebuilt the distillery after Prohibition. The original distillery was founded in 1795 by Jacob Boehm, who produced Old Jake Beam Sour Mash from the distillery known as Old Tub. Although the Beam and Noe families are still involved, Jim Beam Distillery is owned by Beam Global Spirits & Wine, which is owned by Fortune Brands of Deerfield, Ill.

Frederick Booker Noe II is the name behind Booker Noe's, a bourbon named for the grandson of distiller Jim Beam. Noe was a master distiller, and his Booker's Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey helped spark the flagging bourbon business, said Veach, when it was eroding due to the new popularity of gin and vodka in the '60s and '70s. He created a new market around 1988 for small-batch bourbons straight from the barrel.

Elmer T. Lee, a master distiller emeritus at Buffalo Trace, helped create the first single-barrel - in the modern sense - bourbon, said Veach. Lee developed the Elmer T. Lee label that apparently has no age requirement, but is bottled when Lee deems appropriate. Sibling brands at Buffalo Trace include Eagle Rare and Blanton's.

Pappy Van Winkle is the man behind Pappy Van Winkle Family Reserve and other Van Winkle bourbons now produced in a joint venture with Buffalo Trace. Julian P. "Pappy" Van Winkle Sr. was a traveling salesman for William LaRue Weller and Sons wholesale liquors in Louisville. Pappy and Alex Farnsley (father of former Louisville Mayor Charlie Farnsley) bought that business and Stitzel Distillery and merged the two into Stitzel-Weller Distillery in south Louisville. Their brands include W.L. Weller, Old Fitzgerald and Rebel Yell - which was named by Charlie Farnsley as a marketing device to Civil War buffs. Pappy Van Winkle was succeeded by son Julian Jr., who sold the distillery in 1972, retaining one pre-Prohibition label, Old Rip Van Winkle. He and his son, Preston Van Winkle, create a "wheated" bourbon that does not use rye, Veach said.

W. L. Weller is a distilling great with a long and important business history, but his biggest contribution, said Veach, may have been continuing the recipe of Arthur Philip Stitzel, using wheat rather than rye. The brand named after Weller and variations on it are currently made at Buffalo Trace Distillery.

T. W. Samuels founded a family occupation when he started a distillery in 1844 at Samuels Depot, Ky., which is where William Clark Quantrill brought his band of Confederate irregulars - including Samuels' stepsons, Jesse and Frank James - to raid at the close of the Civil War. The Samuels distillery shut down during Prohibition. When great-, great-, great-grandson Bill Samuels Sr. got out of the Navy, he sold the business in 1943 and began to revise the bourbon recipe, said Veach. His wife, Marge, came up with the name Maker's Mark and the distinctive red wax seal. The first bottles of Maker's Mark bourbon came out in 1958. Bill Samuels Jr. became CEO in 1975. Today, Maker's Mark is owned by distillery giant Allied-Domecq and T.W. Samuels brand is owned by Heaven Hill.

Monday, April 20, 2009

My Whiskey

So I posted this at the beginning of January in my personal blog - but figured I'd post it here as well... A few bottles are gone - and a few new bottles have been added to the collection.

I'm also looking for a few bottles - specifically Pappy Van Winkle 15yr and the Pappy Van Winkle Rye. If anyone happens to have one of these and are willing to part with it - let me know - we can work out a trade or something...

So I decided to take all the whiskey I had and count up the bottles and see how much they are worth... I counted the full retail value, even for open bottles, and and found the prices on, or other retail sites. For the items that are no longer available I used ebay as a guide (those items are marked with an *). Including all of the signed bottles, it is around $4000 worth of whiskey (mostly bourbon).

If anyone is interested in partaking just let me know and come on over!

Here is the list with the pricing.


Four Roses 120th Anniversary $80
George T. Stagg 141.2 pf $150*
Makers Mark 1.75-liter $36
Pappy Van Winkle 20yr $100
Very Old Barton 6yr 100 pf $12
Wild Turkey American Spirit $100
Wild Turkey Kentucky Spirit $50
Willett Single Barrel 25yr $200
Willett Single Barrel 28yr $260

Jim Beam Rye $17
Old Overholt Rye $14
Rittenhouse Rye 23yr $160
Templeton Rye Single Barrel $35

Other American Whiskies
Buffalo Trace Experimental Collection Zinfandel Finish $90*
Charbay Series I $300
Charbay Series II 50ml $23
Stranahan’s Colorado Whiskey $60

Ardbeg Uigeadail $100
Bowmore 18yr $100
Bowmore Darkest $76
Bowmore Legend $30
Compass Box Hedonism $100
Glenrothes Select Reserve $50
Kirkland Macallan 19yr $70

Other Whiskies
Canadian Club Classic 12yr (Canada) $23
Crown Royal Reserve (Canada) $37
Penderyn Single Malt (England) $70
Yamazaki 12yr (Japan) $40

Whiskey Liqueurs
Cutty Black 100pr $??
Makers Mark Mint Julep $35
Wild Turkey American Honey 375-ml $15


Ancient Ancient Age 10yr 100pr $15
Eagle Rare 17yr 2006 $100*
Eagle Rare 17yr 2008 $60
Elijah Craig 18yr $44
Four Roses Single Barrel $46
Four Roses Small Batch $40
George T. Stagg 140.6 $170*
George T. Stagg 144.8 $100*
Jim Beam $14
Jim Beam Black $20
Jim Beam Choice 1-liter $21
Makers Mark 1.75-liter $36
Old Grand Dad 100pr $20
Old Rip Van Winkle 10yr 107pr $36
Parker’s Heritage Cask Strength 122.6pr $80
Parker’s Heritage Cask Strength 127.9pr $180
Willett Single Barrel $43
William Larue Weller 2008 $60

Jim Beam Rye $17
Old Overholt Rye $14
Old Potrero Rye $70
Sazerac Rye $25

Other Whiskies
Michter’s American Whiskey $45
Yamazaki 12yr (Japan) $40

Whiskey Liqueurs
Celtic Crossing $23
Jeremiah Weed $15
Wild Turkey American Honey $23
Yukon Jack 100pr $19


Evan Williams Master Distiller’s Select 375-ml
(bottled special for Shannon and I @ Heaven Hill)
Maker’s Mark 375-ml
(hand dipped by Shannon at the Maker’s Mark Distillery)
Maker’s Mark 375-ml
(hand dipped by me at the Maker’s Mark Distillery)
Bulliet Bourbon 1.75 signed by Tom Bulliet
Evan Williams Single Barrel 1997 signed by Craig Beam
Glenfarclas 21yr signed by George Grant
Knob Creek signed by Fred Noe
Parker’s Heritage Cask Strength 122.6pr signed by Parker Beam
Wild Turkey Rare Breed signed by Jimmy Russell and Eddie Russell

Campari Buys Wild Turkey

Rumors have been bouncing around since the Nov/Dec timeframe that Pernod Ricard was looking to sell Wild Turkey, when the company announced their "focus" brands and the bourbon was not among them. I put my money on Skyy Spirits as they did not have a bourbon and from talking with the Director of Sales for California, I knew they were in the market for one.

Well as of about a week ago or so those rumors have come to fruition, and my guess was acorrect. Campari aka Skyy Spirits in the U.S., picked up Wild Turkey for about $575 million. Campari controls a number of spirits brands ranging from vodka (Skyy), scotch (Glenrothes), tequlia (Cabo Wabo), liqueurs (Campari, X-Rated) and Wild Turkey will definitely round out their portfolio.

I'm pretty excited about this change. It seems that Pernod never really did much with Wild Turkey, which in my opinion is fantastic bourbon. I think Skyy will change that and put a lot of focus on building the brand.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

We Are Back!!

Hi Everyone!

It has been far too long since we have gotten together!  You can thank my school for that. However, now that I'm finished we will be starting up the Tri-Valley Whiskey Society again!

Mark your calendars - Saturday May 9th at 7pm we will be doing a Rye Whiskey Tasting featuring a number of great products such as:

  • Old Overholt
  • Jim Beam Yellow Label
  • Sazerac
  • Templeton
  • Old Potrero
  • Thomas H. Handy
  • Rittenhouse 23yr.
We will be meeting at Mr. Ronald Gantt's house in Alamo.  The address is:

2845 Litina Ct. 
Alamo, CA 94507

We will be BBQ'ing so please bring $10 to chip in for food & beverages.

Looking forward to seeing you there!

Thursday, March 27, 2008


Hello all...

Just a few quick things...

Our next meeting will be on Saturday May 3rd at 7:30. We will be tasting blended scotches as well as eating some fantastic Mexican food that my mom is making - yum!

As usual please bring $5 to chip in for food. Also, if you have a bottle of blended scotch that you would like to bring, please let me know by April 18th so we can prepare the tasting notes.

I've found a great whiskey blog written by the editor of the magazine Malt Advocate, John Hansell, I encourage you to check it out - What Does John Know?

Speaking of Malt Advocate, their annual WhiskyFest is coming to San Francisco on October 10th. You can order tickets at Malt Adovocate's website.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Web is 'fakers' paradise' for whisky crooks

Source: The Scotsman
March 15th, 2008
It's A dangerous combination of the mob, money and single malt.

The Italian mafia is targeting the rapidly growing fake antique whisky market by selling counterfeit bottles for thousands of pounds online. The industry has tried to clamp down on bogus bottles being sold in auction houses. But experts now claim the trade has now moved to the internet - which has been described as a "faker's paradise". Unwitting collectors are being fleeced after discovering the whisky they have bought is little more than modern-day spirits poured into old bottles.

Whisky enthusiast Serge Valentin has launched a website exposing the dubious trade after paying a "substantial" sum for a bottle of vintage whisky that turned out be a sophisticated forgery. The Frenchman said the scam had been driven underground and online. He said: "Internet auction sites like eBay have become a faker's paradise. You can buy old bottles, old labels, capsules and display boxes. "There is nothing illegal about this, but obviously it can be misused by unscrupulous individuals."

Valentin said fake vintage whiskies online ranged from the downright crude to sophisticated forgeries. "Labels can be laser copied, tax stamps produced and stains can be added. All that is needed is an empty bottle." His website, whiskyfun - features a rogue's gallery of dubious bottles.

Whisky writer Dave Broom says the fake whiskies may have been put on the market by organised criminals from Italy. "When anything becomes collectable, whether it is paintings or whisky, the forgers will move in," he said. The bottles usually come from distilleries such as Bowmore, Macallan and Highland Park, he said. "If an offer seems too good to be true then it will be exactly that. But I know of a number of collectors who have been duped by forgers."

Whisky merchant Sukhinder Singh, director of the London-based Whisky Exchange, said: "There have been some classic cases when an empty bottle is sold on eBay. Four weeks later it will appear for sale again, this time filled with whisky. "I'm seeing vintages being offered for sale that I have never seen in more than 20 years in the trade. "I'm seeing bottles dating back to 1941, '42 and '43. I have never ever seen them before and, believe me, I have tried hard. If you are in any doubt you should do a bit of research and contact the distilleries directly for advice."

Dominic Roskrow, consultant editor of Whisky Magazine, believes the trade has been fuelled by the rising financial clout of tycoons from the former Soviet Union. "I understand the new Highland Park 40-year-old is retailing for just under £10,000 and the Russians are more than willing to pay it," he said. Last year an anonymous Russian collector set a new world record when he bought a bottle of vintage Bowmore single malt for £29,400. The Mutter Bowmore was sold on the basis that it dated back to 1853, but this has been disputed by a number of whisky experts. Carbon dating has failed to resolve the controversy, although Glasgow auction house McTears, which sold it, insists it is completely satisfied that its provenance is genuine.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Jack Daniel's Master Distiller to Retire

Source: AP


For lovers of Jack Daniel's Tennessee Whiskey, Jimmy Bedford has the dream job. As the brand's sixth master distiller, Bedford is responsible for making the world-famous whiskey at the Jack Daniel Distillery, which was registered in 1866.

He's been featured as the face behind the product in advertising. And he's traveled from the tiny Tennessee town of Lynchburg around the world to promote the brand. In recent years, Bedford took on the added role as a global ambassador for the brand, traveling to every state as well as 40 countries to promote Jack Daniel's.

Once he's retired, Bedford won't be far away. His farm is about two miles from the distillery. Soon the role of maintaining the whiskey's consistent taste will fall to someone else. Even while sticking with tradition, that doesn't mean there won't be a few tweaks by his successor. "The master distiller prior to me didn't do some of the things I'm doing," he said. "Maybe the next person's not going to do exactly the same things I'm doing."

On Tuesday, the 68-year-old Bedford said he'll retire effective March 31 after working 40 years at the distillery, including the last 20 as master distiller. "It's been 40 enjoyable years for me," Bedford said by phone in his deep baritone voice, as smooth as the whiskey he makes. "Being part in making a product that's shipped around the world, I've had a lot of satisfaction in doing that." The job is important for Louisville-based liquor producer Brown-Forman Corp. Jack Daniel's is the company's flagship brand, with yearly worldwide sales surpassing 9 million cases. "We're going to miss Jimmy here in the hollow and around the world," said Tommy Beam, the distillery's senior vice president and general manager. "We thank him and wish him the best."

Brown-Forman spokesman Phil Lynch said the company has been preparing for Bedford's retirement for several years, including training potential successors. He said the company will announce a successor soon. F. Paul Pacult, editor of Spirit Journal, said Bedford represents the best of American distilling. "He's been a creative, insightful force; a stickler for quality; and a fine, thoughtful gentleman to boot," Pacult said. "The success of Jack Daniel's has not been a surprise to the people who know Jimmy and his high standards of excellence."

Bedford grew up on a farm near the Jack Daniel Distillery and worked there as part of the construction crew during his high school and college days. He thought about becoming a veterinarian but was talked into coming back home to work at the distillery. He eventually went to work full time in 1968 as a supervisor-trainee under the tutelage of master distiller Frank Bobo. The trainee designation soon was dropped, and the supervisory role gave him a broad knowledge of the distilling process. "Back at that time, being a supervisor just didn't mean that much," he said. "I worked with my hands, ran the still, helped in the yeast room, helped in the mash room รข?" whatever had to be done."

When Bobo retired, Bedford was promoted to master distiller in 1988. He oversees the entire whiskey-making process of milling, yeasting, fermentation, distillation, charcoal mellowing and maturation. As the brand's ads long proclaimed, Jack Daniel's isn't ready for bottling until Bedford says it is.

Bedford has overseen a dramatic surge in production as the brand's popularity soared. When Bedford started 40 years ago, Jack Daniel's sales totaled fewer than 800,000 cases. Sales had reached 4 million cases when he took over as master distiller. Last year, sales exceeded 9.3 million cases and Brown-Forman predicts sales will approach 10 million cases in 2008. The brand is now sold in 135 countries. But some things haven't changed through the years. "We still use the same grain formula, the same process," Bedford said.