View Full Version : My Book
Just to let everyone know I am working on a book. Chuck has already figured this out from the nature of some of my inquiries on this site. I plan to write a history of the American Distilling Industry and my working title now is American Distilling History 301. I plan to write this book as if I were teaching an advanced survey course in distilling history and I do plan to use footnotes. It will be a survey because I realise that each chapter that I have planned out could be a book in its own right. I will welcome any comments that you might wish to make on the book and I hope the reaction will not be "History, how boring! Where is the tasting notes?". I do not plan to do tasting notes or comment on the qualities of any particular brands but I do want to try to set some myths and legends to rest because I feel the truth is always more interesting than marketing schemes, Old or New.
For the record so that people do know that I do enjoy a good bourbon my favorite is Weller Antique. I consider it the best drink for the buck. The best bourbon I have ever drank is a 15 year old Very Extra Old Fitzgerald Bottled in Bond bottled in 1981. I also have a very high respect for Maker's Mark, Wild Turkey and George Dickel. I do not think that bourbon should be bottled at less than 86 proof (90 is better) and that Pappy Van Winkle was right when he said you are stupid to pay for water when you can add your own to lower the proof.
I have just started the planning stage of the book and I have set a goal of having it written within 5 years. I have not talked to any publishers as of yet and really don't plan to until I get it written the way I want it done before they get a hold of it tell me such things like footnotes are boring and people don't want to see them. I feel that the footnotes and documenting my information is a must for the book. There are very few books of bourbon history with them now and that is how the myths continue.
I just wanted everyone to know what I am doing and I do hope to read your comments.
I'm certainly delighted to know that the rest of us will someday be able to reap the benefits of your knowledge. I sure hope that you'll be so kind as to share with us, from time to time,some of whatever you're writing about as you progress through.
please, PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE, <u>Puh-LEEEEESE</u> include a good index!!!! (see previous discussions of Sam Cecil's book)
I agree that an index is a very important part of any history. I plan to have an index, bibliography and footnotes. My goal is to write something that will allow future researchers to continue where I left off and to know where I found what information I have so they can judge the value of that information for themselves.
Mike, GREAT!! First, let me encourage you. Second, if you are as entertaining as John's style on his web site or as Chuck no one could accuse you of writing boring history. Third, if you need some assistance publishing I'd be glad to approach our Press with you. I've not written for them (I write magazine articles) but they are quite approachable and my one of best friends has helped them sell dozens of books.
Thanks for the voice of encouragement. This book is long over due and people have been asking me to write it for years. I finally decided the time was right when I purchased a new computer replacing the one I used in college in the late 1980's and early 1990's. I was also inspired by Sally Campbell. I helped her with some of her research and her enthusiasm for writing her book rubbed off some on me, so I want just started to put an outline together. I still have some subject matters that I want to research further and I do want to write this book at my own pace so I have not even considered a publisher but I will keep your offer in mind.
Mike, You have my encouragement and best wishes. Scholarly history is always instructive and satisifying to true lovers of a subject. You might want to throw in as many numbers and tables as possible so you can expand you audiance to us engineers (and probably some accountants too). I feel like dates and production figures help tell any history. A nice listing and history of DSP nunbers might sell a pile of your books alone. A cataloge of old distillery sites would certaintly whet the appetite.
It is true that tasting notes are covered by many of the books out today, and I sence that you do not want to duplicate documenting the taste of current stock, but a very important and undeveloped aspect of American Whiskey history is how the taste changed over time. This would be very useful.
Mark A. Mason, El Dorado, Arkansas
Mike, I've been devouring as many books on whiskey and bourbon as I can and would love to see another new one, especially one on the history of the various brands, distillers, etc. The older I get, the more clogged my brain becomes, so what I'd really appreciate in a book is something that breaks down each distillery/company into a graphical timeline - something easy to follow. I don't know about the rest of you (and God knows the knowledge and memory some of you have about these matters impresses the hell out of me), but I have a hard time keeping all these mergers, mega-companies, distributers and distilleries straight. Sure is a helluva lotta fun trying though!
Without taking anything away from Mike's proposed book (you better believe I'll be ordering the first copy available), you don't have to wait that long.
The historic paths of bourbon brands are not easy for anyone to trace, given that the industry (certainly more than most others) has always sat on (and sometimes <u>be</u>yond) the very edge of legality and social acceptance, while at the same time being composed of wealthy and powerful folks in the very inner circles of regional and state politics. And much misleading information has been distributed over the years, both in order to hide relationships and for the purpose of implying those that never really existed. When you add to that the "extended family" that the bourbon makers form among themselves, it gets really rough to sort it all out. While highly competitive as a whole among other liquor industries, the bourbon people of north central Kentucky are amazingly tight and cooperative among themselves. And well they should be... most of them are offspring, brothers, sisters, cousins, etc. (hell, it seems like every other one is a Beam!). And those who aren't are close family friends who've gone back for generations. So suppose I'm a bourbonmaker and my daughter marries my competitor's son, who then builds a still of his own. Does that distillery belong to his family or mine? You legal types out there never mind what the book says; we all eat Sunday supper together after church (well, except for Ike Bernheim over there; he goes to his church on Saturday but he shows up for Sunday dinner with us anyway). And afterward we'll sip a little of Old John-Boy, which is made by another distillery where my son is the master distiller. So now, whose family's bourbon would that be?
And if that weren't enough of a tangle to unweave, there's the fact that the law recognizes as completely separate properties the distillery facilities, the label and brand name, the formula, the yeast strain, the existing stock, and probably some other factors as well. Each of these things can be bought and sold separately from the others, and they often are. So if Old Grandma's name and label belong to Jim Beam but the formula was sold to Old Nolongerthere, it's actually ILLEGAL for Jim Beam to accurately duplicate the bourbon (don't laugh; that's happened. I didn't choose that phoney brand name for nothin' y'know)). The best they can do is come close. Yellowstone bourbon, once made by the now-closed Glenmore distillery in Owensboro, is available today from Barton Brands, who bought the label. They also bought the Glenmore distillery itself, but they use it only for bottling and Yellowstone is made at their distillery in Bardstown. The old Yellowstone stock, however, like all the Glenmore whiskey in the warehouses when Barton bought the the plant, was separate from that purchase. And Barton didn't choose to buy it. Various others did, however. One of those was Charles Medley, current paterfamilias of one of Kentucky's oldest and finest bourbon families. Well, actually two of them: the Medleys and also the Wathens' (see, it's just like I told ya above). Since 1812, a Medley had been master distiller somewhere continuously until 1991 when the company where Charles was the distiller was sold. And which company was that? Yup! Glenmore. He purchased a quantity of the old Glenmore stock and in 1996 Charles Medley began to issue bottles of Wathen's bourbon, which is none other than the same whiskey he himself had made for Glenmore years earlier. Of course it's aged much longer now, and hand selecting the barrels and marrying the product is far more carefully controlled now, but the whiskey itself is the actual product that would have been Yellowstone (or maybe Ezra Brooks). So if you're tracing the history of Yellowstone bourbon, which is the REAL one? Barton owns both the label and the facility where the product was distilled. Charlie Medley owns the actual whiskey, but he doesn't own the yeast or the formula so he can't make any more of it. You go figure it out.
Better yet, let Mike figure it out. But don't be surprised if it takes him a LONG time to do it. Yup, Mike is sure gonna have a challenge trying to present this in a comprehensive but easily-followed way. I've seen others try it and fail dismally. If anyone could do it Mike can, and I can hardly wait to see the results. But since he'll probably take a good deal of time writing it, there is another really good alternative available right now.
Haul your mouse over to <u>http://cowdery.home.netcom.com/page9.html</u> and order every available back issue of Chuck Cowdery's Bourbon Country Reader. Within those pages, along with tons of other juicy bits, are the stories of most of today's distilleries and some that are no more. No serious hobbiest should be without this information, and Chuck's presence here is a major part of what makes this forum so great. Of course you should also subscribe to current and future issues, but I figure that would be obvious.
Thanks for the plug, John. Your appreciation is always appreciated.
--Chuck Cowdery (http://cowdery.home.netcom.com)
Gee, if I get six of my friends to sign up can I get a free, personalized KY-DSP# decoder ring? Huh?
(P.S. - Are you going to be at the Kentucky Bourbon Festival this year?)
Okay, I give up. This was all a setup, wasn't it?
Not twenty minutes after I posted that last reply, and only a few hours after my longer answer to Scott and Mike, the long-awaited latest issue of the Bourbon Country Reader arrived in the mail. And what would the feature story be? Why none other than a perfect illustration of everything I'd just said!
For those who aren't already reading this in Vol 5 No 2, the author of a recent book of bourbon history took Chuck to task for what she interpreted as a slur on a dear family member's character in an article appearing in the previous edition. The article was titled, "Trouble With Bourbon History..." and dealt with exactly what poor Mike Veach will have to deal with if he is to try to sort out the tangled lines of events in the world of bourbon. Actually, I didn't see any personal criticism in the article, but then it wasn't my grandfather who was the subject either. At any rate, in working out the details with her and her historic advisor, Chuck learned even more about the subject and he passes that on in this edition. As with so many things about bourbon history, what starts out seeming to be just a little marketing story ends up involving all kinds of juicy little scandals, such as theft of controlled substances by federal agents, altering of photographs, blocking of proprietary information, and a historic line that wiggles its way through at least five distilleries. And for what? We're not talking about cloak 'n' dagger stuff here, just a harmless little tale about how a particular brand got started. And for her part, the author made a very plausible point that if her grandfather had indeed known the true story he would certainly not have covered it up since it's just the sort of tale he loved to tell. In fact it would have been darn near impossible to keep from telling it. Unless of course...
Since telling the true story might have involved "squealing" on a corrupt federal agent who was still in the business, and whose "exceptions" might not have been limited to only small quantities for his own personal use, the question of physical safety arises and the better part of valor might have been to stay with the "official" story. And for the sake of his family (which would have included his granddaughter) I suspect that may have been exactly what he did. Despite a little girl's memories, not everyone was nice during Prohibition.
Anyway, all the more reason to subscribe to Chuck's newsletter. And watch out, Mike. You go poking around in historical beehives, you better be wearing long sleeves.
P.S. - Chuck, do you think Max Shapiro is aware that Evan Williams didn't really sell his first-ever commercial bourbon distillery directly to Frank Heavenhill?
[big ol' grin]
Mike after reading everyones posts it sure looks like it is a distilling encyclopedia that is desired. Instead of a single upper lever course maybe the University of Kentucky would offer it as a Bachelors of Bourbonology.
Of course this means that there must be labwork in the methods of practical distilling. Rather than writting term papers an assortment of formulas would be distilled and barreled in handsome five gallon kegs. Waiting four to twelve years for a final grade would be tough.:)
Have Shotglass. Will Travel.
I want to start by thanking everybody for their comments and encouragement. I think you are seeing how hard of a task I have set for myself as well as how badly it needs to be done. You all have some very good suggestions and comments that I will take note of for future reference.
Now I think I will clarify what I do plan to do in this book so you all will have a little more understanding of my project. I think that nobody (including myself) will be completely happy with what I have planned but you must remember that this book is meant to be a starting point and not and end all history of the subject of distilling in America. First of all there are so many types of history that could be written on the subject. There is business history looking at taxation and marketing of whiskey. There is social history looking at the roles of women on the bottling lines. There is history of the industrial revolution with the impact of steam energy, improved transportation and and evolving stills. There is political history with the Whiskey Rebellion and the Whiskey Ring scandal. Any one of these subjects could be a book in itself. So now I will tell you what I do plan to put in the book and I think the best way is to give you a brief chapter outline.
Chapter 1 Bourbon Making
I plan to start with a chapter on what is bourbon. I will describe how it is made and how it is different from Brandy, Gin, Rum, and other whiskies such as Scotch and Irish whisk(e)y. This will define a lot of terms and procedures that I plan to talk about in the following chapters.
Chapter 2 The Still
This chapter will discuss the origin and evolution of the still. I will talk about early European distilling to some extent and how distilling came to America.
Chapter 3 The Farmer Distiller and the Whiskey Rebellion
This chapter will talk of early farmer distillers, how they made their product and where they sold it. I will talk of the whiskey tax and the rebellion by the farmer distillers. I will discuss the charring of barrels.
Chapter 4 The Industrial Revolution Part One
This chapter will discuss the improvements to distilling that led to the demise of the farmer distiller. The impact of Railroads and Steamboats and steam engines. I will also talk of improvements made by Dr. Crow and other factors such as the column still.
Chapter 5 The Civil War and after.
Here I will talk about the growth of government regulations and the tax that never went away. I will also discuss the Whiskey Ring Scandal of the Grant Administration.
Chapter 6 The Industrial Revolution Part Two
This chapter will discuss the improvements in technology in the late half of the century. I will also talk of the marketing revolution with the beginnings of Trademark Registration and advertisement of the product. The chapter will talk of the Pure food and drug act and the Taft decision.
Chapter 7 Prohibition
I will have some background on the Temperance Movement and the passing of prohibition. I will then talk of the industry and how it survived prohibition. This will include those who could sell medicinal whiskey as well as those that were not.
Chapter 8 Post prohibition and World War II
The sudden growth of the industry followed by a quick consolidation. The beginnings of the super large companies we see today.
Chapter 9 The 1950's through the 1970's
The start of bourbon's glory days followed by the decrease in popularity as gin, vodka and other products came about as competitors to bourbon.
Chapter 10 Rebirth
Here I plan to talk about the rebirth of the industry from de-regulation under Ronald Regan to the birth of Single Barrel and Small batch bourbons.
As You can see this will be quite a project. I do not know how much time I am going to dedicate to individual brand or distillery history. I think what I plan to do instead is to use individual brands or companies as case studies for the chapters. For example Old Crow is a natural for the Industrial Revolution Part One chapter and Heaven Hill is perfect for looking at new companies that were founded and survived in the years after prohibition.
Well now, This is the plan and I will welcome comments from this forum.
Haven't had time to read the entire thread, but it appears to be a very interesting work. If I can be of service concerning the Buffalo Trace Distillery, please let me know. We are the oldest CONTINOUSELY operating distillery in the US. Not only do we date back to the 1800s, we were also in operation through Prohibition. E. H. Taylor was the first to use steam heat (both for distillation and warehouse climate control) here and from what I have gathered, we were the first distillery to ship barrels of whiskey down the Kentucky, Ohio, and Mississippi Rivers to St. Louis and New Orleans.
The distillery at Leestown may have been the first to float whiskey on the Kentucky, but the first whiskey from the Kentucky territory most likely was sent from the port of Limestone (now Maysville) before 1784.
--Chuck Cowdery (http://cowdery.home.netcom.com)
Thanks for the offer. I would be interested in seeing what you have but I doubt that you have anything that I have not already seen. One of the advantages of having been archivist at United Distillers is that I had access to over 3,000 cubic feet of records from Schenley including the 3 volumes selling the Ancient Age distillery in 1983. When Elmer came and visited me at the archive in 1995 he told me that U.D. had more than he even thought existed about the distillery including the 1887 minute book incorperating George T. Stagg Company. Still you never know and I do like to check out every lead. I will try to get a hold of you and arrange a meeting.
My sources place the earliest date for distilling at the site as 1840 and that is a shakey source at best. The more likely date that I have comes from Schenley research that places a distillery on the property in 1865 after Benjamin Harrison Blanton returns from out west after earning a fortune in the gold rush but I suspect marketing even in that date. The most firm date I have is 1869 as the founding of the O.F.C. distillery. Any way you look at it bourbon was being shipped down to New Orleans a long time before E.H. Taylor was even born.
The earliest date I can document from this area is 1789, so you have me beat by five years.
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