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View Full Version : James Anderson is not the Father of American Whiskey.



cowdery
02-21-2009, 17:59
Why won't I let anyone have any fun, making up history to promote their products? Why do I have to be such a prick?

Here is my perfect explanation. Spencerfield Spirit, which markets the Pig Nose and Sheep Dip brands of blended scotch, has declared James Anderson, who started the distillery at Mount Vernon for George Washington, "The Father of American Whiskey."

They sent out a ton of press releases timed to coincide with last week's President's Day holiday and the story was picked up widely.

Nobody questioned it. They all ran the press release verbatim. Too bad it's all bullshit.

The thing is, it isn't all bullshit, in that Anderson was a real Scottish-American distiller, he just wasn't unique except for landing the job with Washington. Making whiskey for the father of our country does not make him the father of American whiskey.

But this is how crap like this winds up in Wikipedia and even in credible sources.

For more, go here (http://chuckcowdery.blogspot.com/2009/02/james-anderson-is-not-father-of.html).

Lost Pollito
02-21-2009, 22:26
Gotta tell it like it is. Nice post Chuck.

ratcheer
02-22-2009, 05:50
Chuck, I see your excellent post is not getting much response. I suppose the reason is that you made your case so correctly and completely that there isn't anything remaining to be said about the matter.

Tim

callmeox
02-22-2009, 06:32
I'm thinking that we will see Chuck on Mythbusters eventually.

ThomasH
02-22-2009, 07:12
I think we should promote him as the "Other Chuck". We hear about Chuck Norris brushing his teeth with a chainsaw and other silly cliches that are printed on school folders and other stuff at Walmart, Why not promote our Chuck as the whiskey myth slayer!

Thomas

barturtle
02-22-2009, 07:29
Gee, Chuck, I don't know...for some reason it sounds like you're saying that history doesn't change, when we all know that history changes all of the time. One day we may find letters showing that the upper class, political powers that be were still whiskey snobs that we devoted to the Scots-Irish whiskies, and it wasn't until someone as prominant as Washington started up his distillery, were they willing to entertain New World Whiskey. Such letters could suggest that without Mr. Anderson convincing George to undertake such construction, American Whiskey as we know it might not have gained acceptance and therefore not have developed into what it is today.:cool:

OscarV
02-22-2009, 08:50
Yeah of course J Anderson is not the "Father Of American Whiskey".
Being the Master Distiller at George Washington's operation meant that not only he ran a large operation but the biggest operation in America.
An operation the size of Washington's meant that it was not the first, therefore the "Father" was some generations prior to him.
Who ever that could be, any other suggestions?

craigthom
02-22-2009, 09:29
While it's just a matter of terminology, I think Sheep Dip is a vatted malt, and calling it a blend is misleading. Yes, it's a blend of different single malts, but Four Roses Yellow and Small Batch are blends of different bourbons, and we wouldn't call them "blended whiskey".

callmeox
02-22-2009, 09:38
According to the SWA, there's no such official animal as a vatted malt.

http://www.scotch-whisky.org.uk/swa/45.html

barturtle
02-22-2009, 09:56
It must be pointed out the the traditional usage of "Father of..." is not always the first, but tends towards the most influential. For example the "Father of Architecture" is commonly referenced as Imhotep, who "built the first pyramid", which itself is a debatable claim...but he sure as hell wasn't the first to build a building.

sotnsipper
02-22-2009, 10:22
I'm thinking that we will see Chuck on Mythbusters eventually.


Maybe he can start his own show. Bourbonbusters? They seem to have everything else on TV these days. This may be one worth watching!

craigthom
02-22-2009, 10:38
According to the SWA, there's no such official animal as a vatted malt.

http://www.scotch-whisky.org.uk/swa/45.html

Just because they don't define it doesn't mean it isn't useful as a descriptive term. They recently adopted those definitions, and they do call it a "blended malt", but it's still not a "blended whiskey".

cowdery
02-22-2009, 13:04
I stand corrected. Sheep Dip is a mixture of several different malts, and most people call that a vatted malt. Pig's Nose is a blend, in that it combines several malts with a nearly-neutral grain whiskey.

Many people are resisting the term "blended malt" because the term "blend" almost universally means that neutral or nearly neutral spirits are used.

If you read the Spencerfield stuff, they don't even try to rationalize the "Father" title, they just bestow it. Ironic since they care so much about whiskey that they resurrected these two so-called orphan brands, yet they play fast and loose with American whiskey history as if it matters not at all except as a vehicle to help them sell more scotch.

Squash
02-22-2009, 13:39
This thread seems to be going in a different direction than the title, but so be it.

I don't purport that Wikipedia is always the best place for accurate information, but I find the following useful, and more in line common experience and common sense: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Whisky

ILLfarmboy
02-22-2009, 13:42
Just because they don't define it doesn't mean it isn't useful as a descriptive term. They recently adopted those definitions, and they do call it a "blended malt", but it's still not a "blended whiskey".


I agree.

Didn't JW have to change the label of their "Green" to reflect the change in regs. I think they may have previously used the word "vatting" on the label.

Personally I think "vatted malt" is less confusing because of the word "blend's" association with blended scotch containing grain whiskeys and American blends containing GNS.

cowdery
02-22-2009, 16:48
This thread seems to be going in a different direction than the title, but so be it.

I don't purport that Wikipedia is always the best place for accurate information, but I find the following useful, and more in line common experience and common sense: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Whisky

Interesting that in that article the "types" section is almost entirely about scotch, without even a nod to anything relevant to the American experience. Although many scotch snobs equate American whiskey with Scottish grain whiskey, to do so is ignorant and wrong.

It would be an uphill battle to try to reform this section to be more balanced, and that's where Wikipedia often sucks. Overall I think it's great, but you usually need to verify what you find there from other sources. If you trust it completely you could get burned.

As for thread drift, the fact that this is a scotch company screwing with American history to sell scotch is a crucial part of my outrage.

callmeox
02-22-2009, 16:50
Just because they don't define it doesn't mean it isn't useful as a descriptive term. They recently adopted those definitions, and they do call it a "blended malt", but it's still not a "blended whiskey".

True, but a common lingo or common terminology makes it easier to talk about these things.

ThomasH
02-22-2009, 17:17
Diageo got into a hell of a firestorm in 2003 when they attempted to turn their Cardhu single malt into a vatted malt and then attempt to label it as pure malt in an attempt to keep up with rapid increases in the brands sales in the Spanish market. The SWA jumped all over them for it stating that the new labeling would confuse the consumer who thinks they are still getting single malt from one distillery when they in fact were getting a vatting of single malts from different distilleries. Diageo eventually went back to producing Cardhu as a single malt. To find any bottles of the Cardhu pure malt is to find a true collectors item. I actually got ahold of a mini of it that is in my collection!

Thomas

craigthom
02-22-2009, 20:46
True, but a common lingo or common terminology makes it easier to talk about these things.

I agree, except that I think more people are familiar with the term "vatted malt". The SWA people just did that last year, I think.

cowdery
02-22-2009, 22:00
We are not sheep. We are not even Scottish. We do not have to do what the SWA says. Bottlers may be bound by official lexicons, but I'm not.

"Pure Malt" was like "Small Batch," a term created by a marketing company for its own marketing purposes. Not necessarily a bad term or even a bad idea. The bad idea was using the Cardu name on it. When the brand name is the distillery name, it's hard to claim that the brand can mean more than the distillery.

It was consumers that forced them to back down. The SWA just followed on.

I'll probably prefer "blended malt" to "vatted malt" despite the official sanction. These are terms of art and "blend" has connotations in whiskey that outweigh its literal meaning.

callmeox
02-23-2009, 03:52
IIRC, the professionals who actually do the blending for the producers are called blenders and master blenders. Just because the word blend has a negative connotation in the US, why use the term vatted when talking about Scots whiskey that is officially labeled as a blend? To me, that only serves to confuse people.

cowdery
02-23-2009, 08:58
Except in this case, many more people know and are comfortable with the term "vatted malt" than have accepted and use the term "blended malt," although perhaps "blended malt" will become accepted eventually.

jane nicol
02-25-2009, 11:47
Well our little press release has certainly provoked some debate! And yes it was a press release and not a history paper.

Of course we are not trying to re-write history but as you say we can link James Anderson to Spencerfield Farm and Mount Vernon. That is historic fact and we did a lot of research to prove that and consulted a leading academic to validate our claims.

The parochial records held in Carnegie Library, Dunfermline, show that James Anderson was born at Pitadro and returned to farm Little Spencerfield, the land that is commonly known today as Spencerfield Farm. His wife Helen Gordon was also born at Spencerfield.

We are very proud of James Anderson and the history of our farm. This is why we have called for James Anderson to be recognised as an unsung hero.

One question: Who would you nominate Father of American Whiskey Whisk(e)y?

Josh
02-25-2009, 12:17
Well our little press release has certainly provoked some debate! And yes it was a press release and not a history paper.

Of course we are not trying to re-write history but as you say we can link James Anderson to Spencerfield Farm and Mount Vernon. That is historic fact and we did a lot of research to prove that and consulted a leading academic to validate our claims.

The parochial records held in Carnegie Library, Dunfermline, show that James Anderson was born at Pitadro and returned to farm Little Spencerfield, the land that is commonly known today as Spencerfield Farm. His wife Helen Gordon was also born at Spencerfield.

We are very proud of James Anderson and the history of our farm. This is why we have called for James Anderson to be recognised as an unsung hero.

One question: Who would you nominate Father of American Whiskey Whisk(e)y?

I think a number of people could be nominated based on sound history. The Peppers could claim the title, as could James Crow. An arguement could be made for Taylor as the father of modern American whiskey. Hell, even Jacob Beam, by virtue of being the ancestor of so many distillers, could be considered the father of American whiskey.

Or (not to go against the time-honored Great Man of History approach) maybe there isn't a father of American whiskey. (cue the patriotic music and flapping :usflag: in the background) It's a product of the many men and women who over the past 200+ yrs., through hard work and ingenuity, created what became (and continues to become) American whiskey.

cowdery
02-25-2009, 19:56
We know that John Winthrop Jr. was the first to brew corn beer, in 1662. Corn beer would be an essential precursor to corn spirits. Since we don't know who was the first to take that beer and distill it (though it probably happened soon thereafter), Winthrop is the best nominee I can muster.

fishnbowljoe
02-25-2009, 23:59
I think a number of people could be nominated based on sound history. The Peppers could claim the title, as could James Crow. An arguement could be made for Taylor as the father of modern American whiskey. Hell, even Jacob Beam, by virtue of being the ancestor of so many distillers, could be considered the father of American whiskey.

Or (not to go against the time-honored Great Man of History approach) maybe there isn't a father of American whiskey. (cue the patriotic music and flapping :usflag: in the background) It's a product of the many men and women who over the past 200+ yrs., through hard work and ingenuity, created what became (and continues to become) American whiskey.

I agree with Josh. It is simply too hard to pin the title of "Father Of American Whiskey" on just one person. From the time the first settlers arrived in America, to the early 19th Century, and even in some respect to today, American whiskey has been an evolving child. One farmer distilled in a certain manner. Another farmer distilled a bit differently etc. etc. etc.... Somewhere along the way, someone took different ideas and different ways of distilling, from different people and areas, and merged them into something a little bit different/better yet. Maybe someone else in some other part of the country did the same thing. Then again, someone else from yet another part of the country did the same thing too, only again, just a little bit differently. I liken it to a pyramid. There is a very broad base, that eventually reaches a pinnacle. (Have we even reached the pinnacle yet?) To me American whiskey had it's beginnings with people whose names we'll never know. The names we know, (those mentioned by Josh, and others) were the ones who managed to take different ideas and processes, and come up with something just a bit better, and nurture them to fruition. Lord knows how many times this happened during the history of our country before it all started coming together. Also, just how much luck was involved? Hmmmm, let's char some barrels.

I tend to think that some John Doe from Doodah County Delaware has more to do with the real evolution of American whiskey than James Anderson. James Anderson made whiskey for a president. John Doe made it for himself, his neighbors and to help himself eke out a living. That's one helluva motivator. (This is where we cue the music. Aaron Copeland's Fanfare For The Common Man is most apropos.) Throughout the history of bourbon and American whiskey, (at least what little I know of it so far) certain people have been acknowledged as having an important impact on bourbon and American whiskey. This even goes so far as being dubbed the father of bourbon, etc... All hail Elijah Craig! It is my belief that they all are step-fathers of a beautiful child that has yet to reach maturity. I know I won't see this baby reach maturity in my lifetime. In a way, I hope it never grows up. It's always growing, changing, and evolving. (Cue music again. This time, Also sprach Zarathustra by Strauss. For those that don't know it by name, it's the theme from 2001: A Space Odyssey.) Remember, the only thing constant, is change itself. Sometimes change is good. Sometimes it's not. We can only hope and work for the former. Well, I guess I've had my say. :soapbox: I usually don't get this preachy. Sorry. I guess I'm starting to feel comfortable with what I know and what I believe about whiskey and it's history. It's all good! Joe

PS. Besides, who the heck is Jane Nicol. Shoot, I know Chuck! :slappin:

bourbonv
02-26-2009, 07:54
President Taft, 100 years ago this year, made the decision that defined American whiskeys as we know them today. He would have to be the "Father of American Whiskey" because before the decision there was no definition of style.

Mike Veach

cowdery
02-26-2009, 11:06
Jane Nicol is one of the owners of Spencerfield Spirit, the company that is promoting James Anderson as "the Father of American Whiskey" as a promotion for Sheep Dip and Pig Nose scotch.

It's the use of corn/maize, a New World grain, that makes American whiskey American, so the first (unknown) person to distill a spirit from a mash containing corn could certainly claim the title, if we had any idea who that person was.

Such designations can be very subjective, and depend a lot on your criteria, as Mike demonstrates. Even allowing that, there's just no good way to rationalize giving it to Anderson, as by all indications his distillery and its products were typical of the period and not in any way unique.

Josh
02-26-2009, 12:10
We know that John Winthrop Jr. was the first to brew corn beer, in 1662. Corn beer would be an essential precursor to corn spirits. Since we don't know who was the first to take that beer and distill it (though it probably happened soon thereafter), Winthrop is the best nominee I can muster.

The first white guy in North America to do it maybe. They've been making it in South America for centuries. It's called chicha (or something like that) in Peru. Most art or history museums with a decent South American artifact collection will have some chicha jars.

A friend who lives in Ecuador has had it and describes it as "nasty", but she said that for some reason it tastes better with bugs floating in it. :skep:

Rughi
02-26-2009, 12:30
...They've been making it in South America for centuries. It's called chicha (or something like that) in Peru...

I've heard stories about chicha, it seems very...traditional.
I believe chicha is fermented but not distilled, so it's more similar to a mash than a whiskey.

Roger

cowdery
02-26-2009, 12:48
Let's say the first European then, as you're right that chicha de jora is corn beer.

pepcycle
02-26-2009, 13:22
Well it looks like this has been beaten well enough, so I'll hijack.

There is no father of anything without a mother.

I propose that Bad Tom Smith of Breathitt County be the declared the Mother of American Whiskey.

His gallows confession included, "Bad whiskey and Bad women have brought me to where I am", truly the words a BMF.

(If you need more info on Bad Tom, look up Eversole-French Feud of Eastern KY)

cowdery
02-26-2009, 13:56
That reminds me of a statement from Son House, in which he says that he had religion, but the whiskey and the women would not let him pray.

And you, Ed, should know as well as anyone that nothing here is ever beaten well enough.