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  1. #1
    Bourbonian of the Year 2002 and Guru
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    Sep 1999
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    Chicago
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    Another myth of Bourbon History

    You often hear it said that frontier distillers were mostly of Scotch, Irish or Scots-Irish stock, yet it seems like an awful lot of them were Germans too, the Beam (Boehm) and Stitzel families come immediately to mind.

    What do you think? Is this another Bourbon History Myth?

    --Chuck Cowdery

  2. #2
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    Re: Another myth of Bourbon History

    Chuck,
    I would place this in the catagory of myth. My experience in researching early distillers do show more Germans than Scottish or Irish or Scot-Irish. To the names you have I can add Weller, Spiers, and Bernheim.
    Mike Veach


  3. #3
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    Re: Another myth of Bourbon History

    I believe the myth is partially based on the fact that there is a history of Scotch and Irish whiskey making, and American whiskey-making is supposedly an extension of that. So, although there were several important whiskey figures who immigrated here from Germany, what were they doing before they came? Was there once a German whiskey-making tradition that has since vanished? Several of these people (Weller and Bernheim for example) were dry goods salemen before getting involved in whiskey sales, so they didn't really begin as distillers, but are there records that indicate their families had been distillers in Germany? I suppose that we could include Holland in here as well. At least there is a currently visible distilling tradition there, although mostly gin. Were the Van Winkles distillers before coming to America?

    =John=
    http://w3.one.net/~jeffelle/whiskey

  4. #4
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    Re: Another myth of Bourbon History

    John,
    Weller was a dry goods salesman? This is news to me. He was a farmer's son from LaRue County who came to Louisville and joined the Louisville Legion in 1847. He went off to fight in the Mexican War under Zachary Taylor, got very ill, earned a discharge and came back to Louisville and started W.L. Weller and Brother with his 15 year old brother. If he was a dry goods salesman he must have been doing that in Mexico as a side line to being a corperal.
    Mike Veach


  5. #5
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    Re: Another myth of Bourbon History

    Chuck,
    Here is some more food for thought. My research indicates that even though the still came to Europe from Egypt or the Near East, the worm was originated in Germany. This is important because without the worm, high proof alcohol is difficult, if not impossible to produce. Germany has also always had their Schnapps, usually distilled from rye. Since the Scottish/Irish depend mostly upon barley for their grain, then maybe American whiskey is more influenced by the "Pennsylvania Dutch" than the Celtic whiskey tradition.
    Mike Veach


  6. #6
    **DONOTDELETE**
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    Re: Another myth of Bourbon History

    Oh, did I say "Weller"? How silly of me. Of course I meant Louie WHEELER, who owned a little general store in McGoffin County where he sold shirts, tools, and an occasional mason jar of his aunt Teak's famous "Old Wheeler's Aunt Teak".

    Seriously, I'm not sure why I had thought of Billy LaRue (who was a third generation distiller, in fact, which would indicate that there was indeed a distilling tradition in Germany). I was probably mixing him up with the Shapira brothers (of much later).

    =John=
    http://w3.one.net/~jeffelle/whiskey

  7. #7
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    Re: Another myth of Bourbon History

    John,
    Everybody makes mistakes and Wheeler was such an infamous distiller after all I can see where you got the two mixed up. I don't know about a pre-Kentucky distillery conection with the Wellers. I do know from contact with a man writing a genealogical book on the Wellers that they were from the Maryland where they made matches. I do know that in making matches, which is basically gunpowder on a stick, that alcohol was used to make the gunpowder. It is possible that they had a still to make their own alcohol for the process. I don't know and my source could not find out either. There is no mention of stills in Daniel Weller's father's will or inventory of estate.

    Mike Veach


  8. #8
    Connoisseur
    Join Date
    Aug 2000
    Location
    Bloomington, IN
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    784

    Re: Another myth of Bourbon History

    I am proud to say I just picked up a bottle of "Old Wagon Wheeler" last night -- I believe that was from Louie's barrels. ;-)

    Greg


  9. #9
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    Re: Another myth of Bourbon History

    According to Sally Campbell, William's father and grandfather were distillers.

    =John=
    http://w3.one.net/~jeffelle/whiskey

  10. #10
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    Re: Another myth of Bourbon History

    Greg, those are forgeries. Louie didn't use barrels; he used boxes. New, corregated cardboard boxes. Charred. Which explains why there are so few examples left of his product.

    =John=
    http://w3.one.net/~jeffelle/whiskey

 

 

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