View Full Version : U.S. Grant and Old Crow
From Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ulysses_S._Grant
"Grant's favorite brand of bourbon whiskey was Old Crow."
I wonder how close today's Old Crow is to the historic version?
As Chuck C. says in FAQ #29
"The Old Crow you buy today is essentially the same whiskey as Jim Beam White Label, or maybe not even quite that good. Beam considers it a "bottom shelf" brand. They don't give it much support and they certainly don't put their best whiskey in the bottles."
Old Crow was the first bourbon I ever purchased under the guidance of my father-in-law when assembling a basic bar collection. I tried it...did not think much of it...at that time...probably hated it...but my tastes have changed since then...though I doubt I would like it any better per Chuck's comment above.
I have a vague memory of seeing magazine ads in the 1950s that showed Old Crow being consumed in a Civil War setting. I don't recall whether Grant's name was invoked.
Considering that Kentucky was a borderline Federalist state I bet the existing distilleries were prized possessions! Of course, for medicinal purposes....;).
I don't know off hand of any war devastation to that area of KY that would have hampered bourbon production...but considering whiskey of all kinds was being produced all over it may not have been a critical source.
I am sure our local members can illuminate the history.
Kentucky was not as bloody Missouri but there were plenty of bushwakers from both sides fighting in the state. The Union taxed the distilleries to pay for the war and south considered distilleries as a valuable source of copper. It was not a good time for distillers in Kentucky.
I have never seen any evidence that Grant drank Old Crow, but then again I have seen any evidence that he drank any particular brand. Old Crow was very popular with Henry Clay and through him it became popular in D.C. If Grant wanted to drink something to impress his guests, then he would have drank Old Crow or Canadian Club - the two most well known brands of the time.
Canadian Club? I had know idea it was such an old brand.
P.S. I found this article by Chuck C.
"Dr. James C. Crow
James C. Crow was a physician and chemist, born in Scotland in 1789 and educated there. He came to Kentucky about 1825. His training made him a successful distiller because he understood more about sanitation and about the biochemistry of fermentation than his contemporaries. Oscar Pepper hired Crow as his master distiller and their whiskey became a big hit with big shots like Henry Clay, Andrew Jackson, John Calhoun, Ulysses S. Grant, William Henry Harrison and Daniel Webster. Crow died suddenly, at work, in 1856. He was 67 and left no heirs. After Oscar Pepper's death, his son sold the remaining Crow-made whiskey to E. H. Taylor, who eventually built the Old Crow Distillery where Old Crow Bourbon was made until 1985."
The Wiki article does not reference the source of the Old Crow preference.
Canadian Club was introduced in the 1850's and was so popular that Hiram Walker had many legal suits protecting his trademark. If you look at the trademark registery from Mida's Criteria circa 1900, you will find about 50 other brands that are something "Club" (Kentucky Club, Louisville Club, etc.) showing the amount of popularity the brand created and people wishing to ride his coat tails with their brands.
I think that if Chuck had a chance to re-write that article today it would be different. Old Crow was sold to Gaines, Berry and Co. E H Taylor Jr. was the "company" but he then went out on his own and built the OFC distillery and later Old Taylor. The brands were never part of the same portfolio until prohibition when they both became part of National's portfolio of brands.
This is probably the image (http://www.bluegreyrelics.net/OldCrow1.jpg)I only vaguely recalled.
Here is a very informative article on whiskey and other drinks during the Civil War...
"Virtually every regimental history, personal diary and narrative account make mention of whiskey use by soldiers. For some "whiskey" was issued as part of their rations, along with salt pork, dried beans, hardtack and coffee. When the Army moved, so did the whiskey. In a regimental history of the 22nd Massachusetts, a "row" (fist fight) broke out versus the men of the 118th Pennsylvania over a keg of whiskey left behind in a wagon during General Burnsides "mud march"(4). Perhaps this is understandable as barreled whiskey (a broad category of beverages brewed from fermented grain mash) was quite popular. Whiskey could be produced from a variety of grains, including malt, corn, barley and rye, and were commonly "blended" from combinations of these grains. In 1863, Indiana state sanitary commissions send copious amounts of whiskey "for medicinal purposes". These were shipped from Indianapolis to various Indiana state sanitary agents, hospitals, and encampments in the South (5)."
It's hard to separate the real history of Old Crow from some of the oft-told stories, many of which were repeated and, no doubt, embellished by National Distillers in advertising in the 50s and 60s. One of those stories lists Grant as one of the famous fans of Old Crow, a story which I have combined with the likely also legendary story of anti-Grant forces complaining about the General's drinking to President Lincoln, to which Lincoln is supposed to have replied, "find out what brand he drinks so I can send some to all of my generals."
So far as being able to verify any of this from reliable contemporary sources, lots of luck. However, there is a least some good evidence that Crow's whiskey did have a wide reputation in his lifetime and the Crow brand, essentially created after his death, was created to exploit that reputation. In other words, there wouldn't have been any point in calling a brand "Old Crow" if the name Crow didn't already have some juice.
Whiskey brands as such really didn't exist prior to the Civil War and even thereafter, it wasn't so much brands as producers that had the reputations, when whiskey was mostly sold by the barrel. Brand marketing as we know it today came later in the 19th century. In 1870, for example, Old Forester became the first bourbon to be sold exclusively in sealed bottles.
Histories of advertising usually cite soap as the first consumer product marketed to a national audience using mass media advertising and brand names, but it was happening with whiskey at about the same time.
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