View Full Version : the Welsh connection?

04-30-2001, 00:27
Hi all

Has anyone ever come across any evidence for the claim that Evan Williams (or his ancestors) had a distillery in Wales in the early
18th century? It's a story that is going around in connection with the new whisky distillery in Wales and I'm trying to find some evidence
for it. Tried a host of sources in Wales, but nothing so far.

I'm writing a series of four articles on the history of whisky distilling in Wales for "Celtic Spirit" and I'd like to explore as many avenues
as possible before I write the claim isn'tr based on anything solid ....

Any suggesions appreciated!!


04-30-2001, 04:46
Hi Lex, and thanks for visiting Straightbourbon.com

I really enjoy your Celtic Malts website. I'm familiar with Riannon from some of her postings on Bushido's "Beauty, Eh?" Canadian whisky forum.

I especially appreciated the article by Ralph Katzenell about his adventures in home vatting. There's been some discussion of such things here as well, but I think it deserves more. As is probably true with Scotch and Irish, many Bourbon enthusiasts have secret (and not so secret) dreams of being distillers and producing their own fine whiskey. But, in addition to being extremely illegal and unbelievably expensive, I think the actual distillation of whiskey gets more credit than it deserves. I think the real art is in barrel selection and flavor profiling. The master distiller at a bourbon distillery is supposed to select only from those barrels actually produced there (although some very well-respected bourbons turn out not to be that way if you look carefully at the label) but, as home-vatters, we would have no such restriction at all. I'd like to see some of us try this and report on their successes.

As for Evan Williams' origins and his contribution to American bourbon... As far as I know, Evan Williams' name (as used by Heaven Hill for the past 30 - 40 years) has had far more impact than the actual Louisville distiller ever had. His distillery is said to have been built in 1783, which is pretty darn early in the history of bourbon, although there have been others that were earlier. The selection of his name for Heaven Hill's higher-quality product appears to have been based more on the date than on the reputation -- Evan Williams was not noted as being a particularly GOOD whiskeymaker. I've never seen anything that would indicate he was part of an established distilling family in Wales, but if he was he certainly didn't carry that family's talent to America with him.


04-30-2001, 06:02
Hi John,

Thanks for your reply and for the compliments on the Celtic Malts site and the "Celtic Spirit" journal.

As to Evan Williams, the story as put out by the pr people of the Welsh whisky distillery, goes that his family had a distillery in Dale, Pembrokeshire, in the early 18th century. Before rubbishing it as pr myth, I'd like to try as hard as I can to find some evidence to back it up, but so far, nothing whatsoever. It is also claimed that the Daniel family had a distillery in Cardigan, sometime later in the 18th century and that they established Jack Daniel distillery after emigrating to the US. Here, I'm in firmer ground to dismiss it, because the JD distillery very kindly sent me all the genealogical data they had on the Daniel family. Of course, no indication at all for any kind of involvement in distilling until Jack himself took it up.

I really do wonder though where the myth is based on ...

Cheers, Lex

05-01-2001, 17:31
Here's what I have on EW. Back when they introduced the brand, Louisville's FS&M was their ad agency. I worked there a little later, but I knew very well the writers who put the initial stuff together. They were both active at the Filson Club and pretty serious about their history, so they were careful about getting the facts right, even though they "spun" them a certain way. I don't recall anything about his immigrant origins.

The following is something I wrote, but based on their materials.

Heaven Hill, which makes Evan Williams Bourbon today, claims he was Kentucky's "first commercial distiller." Evan Williams did establish a distillery in Louisville in 1783, just four years after the little settlement by the Falls of the Ohio was laid out and named. A few years later, he was indicted for making whiskey without a license, an offense that didn't prevent his neighbors from electing him to the town's first elected Board of Trustees in 1797. The new Board's rules included the requirement that any "ardent or spirituous liquors" brought to Board meetings would be forfeited "for the use of the board after adjournment." It was said that Williams always arrived for the meetings with a full jug and always left with an empty one. He also held the important post of Harbor Master for the young river town. Williams' distillery was still in operation in 1802, when neighbors had it declared a nuisance for polluting the water with distillery slop. He died on October 15, 1810.

--Chuck Cowdery (http://cowdery.home.netcom.com)

05-02-2001, 15:44
The fact of the matter is that there is uncertainty as to whether Williams was even in Louisville in 1783 since his immigration papers indicate that he came to America that year.
Mike Veach

05-03-2001, 00:14
Dear Mike,

Did those immigration papers also state where he came from? Wales/UK by any chance?

Cheers, Lex