Rye Whiskey And A Slow Boat To Bremen

In 1901, a Pennsylvania newspaper, the Pennsburg Town and Country, published this story about a successful liquor dealer named Mary Moll:

WOMAN SUCCESSFULLY CONDUCTS THE LIQUOR BUSINESS

Mrs. MARY MOLL, of Green Lane, the only lady liquor dealer in the State, has successfully conducted that business for a period of ten years. The late NATHANIEL MOLL, her husband, started the business about twenty-six years ago and conducted the same until his death. Mrs. KNOLL then took entire charge of the business and through her careful business management has more than tripled the capacity of the business. Today Mrs. MOLL is considered to be the most successful liquor dealer in the vicinity. Most all her purchases are in carload lots, thus placing her in a position to sell liquor of the best quality at the lowest possible price. The history connected with this lady’s business career is most interesting. Mrs. MOLL, when she took possession of the business, had many obstacles to overcome but, being a woman of wonderful business tact, she bravely fought the many unpleasant features connected with business and successfully built up a trade far superior to any in this county. She deals directly with the leading liquor brokers in the United States, who are held in account for every action by the government. Mrs. MOLL’s first year’s sales amounted to ninety-six barrels of liquor. This she increased by giving the business on the road her personal attention. After three years careful work as a drummer she abandoned the road. During her trips on the road she kept a strict account of all her expenses and came to the conclusion that she could build up her trade much better by giving her customers the advantage of her expenses. She now sells her liquors 50 cents a gallon cheaper than when on the road. Mrs. MOLL during her business career has gained the reputation of selling nothing but high grade liquors. She supplies the leading doctors throughout this and adjoining counties with liquors for medicinal purposes. She carries a stock of pure rye whiskies ranging in age from 5 to 20 years. Her business has rapidly increased and now she handles over three hundred barrels every year. The success of her business is due largely to the manner in which Mrs. MOLL buys her whiskies. Her purchases are made generally in carload lots, not only being able to buy at a good reduction, but saving considerable on transportation. To give our readers some idea of the extent of this business, it is only necessary to say that a representative of the Star Union Railroad Company recently visited her at her home and tried to make arrangements to have her shipments over their lines. Last week she received five barrels of a twenty-year-old whiskey as a sample order. After testing the liquor she found it to be even a higher quality than what she had expected and immediately wired for twenty-five barrels more. This whiskey was made from pure rye in this State in 1881. In 1894 it was shipped to Bremen, Germany, where it remained till 1900. The high-grade whiskies are generally sent across the seas as it is claimed that the salt air and peculiar motion of the vessel increases the quality of the liquor. Liquor in the process of aging evaporates very rapidly and the greater the evaporation the more valuable the liquor. Of the five barrels received by Mrs. MOLL when first filled each contained 44 1/2 gallons. When Mrs. MOLL received them the barrels contained from 14 to 20 gallons a piece. Twenty-year-old whiskey is seldom found in liquor stores at the present day, but it is known that Mrs. MOLL always has in stock the choicest and most rare liquors, according to age, that can be found in the market.*

The story is interesting on numerous accounts, but here I will deal with the unusually long age of the whiskey in question and some connected matters.

The whiskey, described as “pure rye”, was undoubtedly a straight rye whiskey and almost certainly distilled in Pennsylvania. Corn-based whiskeys became the preserve of Kentucky and Tennesee and I have written of numerous types of these, e.g., sour mash and sweet mash bourbon, Lincoln County whiskey, Robertson County whiskey, white and yellow corn whiskeys.

RyeWhiskeyPennsylvania and to a lesser extent, Maryland, were producers primarily of rye-based whiskeys. Rye whiskey was the first type generally made, in Westmoreland County and elsewhere in Pennsylvania where Scots-Irish settlement predominated. With the departure in the 1790s of many farmer-distillers for Kentucky and southerly on the Appalachian Trail, corn became the primary distilling grain. It grows well in Kentucky and Tennessee and is a staple for foodstuffs as well. (Rye has never been a major food source in North America).

But Pennsylvania and Maryland never stopped making fine rye whiskey. Except for a handful of revivalists established in the last 10 years, the industry did not survive Prohibition. In truth, it was being eclipsed even before 1920 by the burgeoning growth of bourbon, but still the industry was well-established in Pennsylvania certainly. Some of the names were Overholt (still made, now in Kentucky by Beam Suntory), Large, Bridgeport, Sam Dillinger, Sam Thompson, Hannis, but there were many others.

1901 was the height of rye’s ascendancy in Pennsylvania and clearly Mary Moll was a top-notch dealer who offered an enviable range – five to 20 years old – and great prices. She probably dealt both in blended goods and straight whiskeys, as blends were a big part of the U.S. whiskey market then (and still are in a roundabout way, but it’s called Canadian whisky now).

But as I’ve said, a 20 year old whiskey was almost certainly a “straight”, an epicure’s drink if there was one.

Now, the question. Why did it go to Bremen, Germany for an extended sojourn?

There were two main reasons whiskey in bulk was sent from the United States to Bremen and elsewhere in Europe (Hamburg, Liverpool).

First, with short bonding periods – one year, later three yearsBremen_aerial_view_9 – from the Civil War until 1894, federal excise tax had to be paid when the whiskey was withdrawn from bond. Thus, say whiskey was removed from bond in 1878, when the bonding period was three years. The tax had to be paid to Internal Revenue unless the whiskey was not to be consumed in the U.S. If it was exported, the tax still had to be paid, but was subject to drawback (repayment) upon a U.S. Consul certifying the goods had landed in a foreign port.

In other words, the problem was, whiskey didn’t always have a ready market on exit from bond and three years anyway might be viewed as too young. It was cheaper to pay return freight and German insurance and storage costs than pay the U.S. excise tax on withdrawal from bond. Also, the tax was being paid in future dollars. There were agents in New York who handled all the details, international business is nothing new…

When the goods were brought back to the U.S. years later, quality had improved and market conditions were better: the tax was paid and the goods went into the domestic market.

So it was a way to defer the tax and improve the product. Some whiskey lounging in a German or English warehouse was sold in Europe and never came back, but a lot did, with the cachet of extra age and the ineffable effects of the “salt air and the peculiar motion of the vessel”.

Mary Moll’s whiskey though had to have been tax-paid before export since it was thirteen years old. Perhaps the market was soft and the owner felt the whiskey was better off getting even older in Europe while the market hopefully improved at home. At any rate, a rye whiskey of remarkable age was made available to connoisseurs via Mary Moll’s agency – not that older is always better as I have explained earlier, but there has always been a market for well-aged whiskey. Until recently straight rye of 15-20 years and more was commonly seen in the market.

The international shipment of liquors to improve them is an old gambit. Linie is a famous acquavit from Norway which crosses the equator in sherry barrels. Some Scotch whiskies in the past advertised long shipment to East Indies as part of their quality. Madeira wine basically was invented on this principle although methods were later devised on the island to emulate the benefits of ship travel. The rocking of the boat and changes in temperature worked oxidative and other effects which matured the product in a particular way.

Distillers and agents had favourite locales. Baker, a famous PA rye whiskey sold by the Walters agency out of Baltimore, was sent on clippers to Brazil to add a je ne sais quoi.

I’ll leave India Pale Ale out of this, as at best it is a quasi-example of transpontine amelioration. The very story of bourbon is connected though, as shipment downriver on flatboats from Kentucky river ports was seen to mature the drink faster than if the barrels were stationary.

With the change to an eight year bonding period in 1894, foreign shipments declined and today are unheard of for bourbon and rye with the exception of a few barrels carried on a voyage and bottled as a curiosity after their return. I recall reading about one which was felt to have a notable salt air quality, and when one thinks of Islay whisky in Scotland, it all kind of ties in. Not that new Islay whisky goes overseas today (if it goes anywhere it is to a Central Scotland warehouse), but residence in seaside warehouses does expose it to a lot of active North Atlantic weather.

Note re images: the images shown are from Internet sources, Wikipedia in the first instance, and a Bremen German tourist board for the second, and are believed available for educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.

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*The quoted story, from the Pennsburg Town and Country, March 23, 1901, is © copyright 2015 Nancy C Janyszeski for the Montgomery County PAGenWeb Project. All rights are reserved by the copyright holder. It was obtained here and is reproduced pursuant to following notice on the source linked: “Unless indicated otherwise in a particular page carrying this copyright notice, permission to use, copy, and distribute documents and related graphics delivered from (http://montgomery.pa-roots.com/) for non-commercial use is hereby granted, provided that the above copyright notice appears in all copies and that both the copyright notice and this permission notice appear. All other rights reserved. Nancy Janyszeski disclaims all warranties with regard to this information. The information described herein is provided as is without warranty of any kind, either expressed or implied”.

 

 

I Like Beer In The Summer

IMG_20160705_194841In many countries, an essential part of the beer experience is to “use” the drink, as the Victorians would have put it, in summer. “I like beer in the summer”, the old left-handed compliment, is an idea not quite past its due-date. That is, while beer is an all-season matter for those dedicated to the malty way, many still associate the drink with summer and the outdoors, especially baseball and barbecues.

And in truth, a cold one in hot summertime has an undeniable charm – that is if actually consumed outdoors at an event such as mentioned or in your own backyard.

Enter, A/C. I think it was in Commentary magazine recently that an economist, using an arresting image, said he asked his mom who lived in Florida how much money she would accept to give up A/C. He said, would you take $9,000,000? She said no. He was explaining that in measuring the successes of the modern economy, one shouldn’t look at it strictly in linear, wealth-accumulation terms – some achievements have a worth hard to estimate in money. A/C in North America and many parts of the world is an example, the Internet is another example that occurs to me.

No one can gainsay the importance of A/C. In my own lifetime I recall working in hot offices indoors when we relied on windows for airflow and fans were used to move air inside. The same applied at home, where people sat outdoors more in the evening.

Somehow we survived it, and of course people still do in many parts of the world where the climate is much hotter than ours and A/C is absent or a luxury.

So is there a downside to A/C, setting side the energy cost and that part of the equation? I would say yes, it has lessened the beer experience. Beer tastes best in the open air, which is why Germans invented the beer garden and the English lounge outside the pub, or in a yard behind, to sip their pint. There is a natural affinity between a cool beer and sunshine or a natural breeze.

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There is something, well, not wrong, but inapposite, about drinking a fine beer with the wind of A/C on your neck when it is 80 F outside, breezy and glorious.

To be sure, at 90 F + and with no shade, many will prefer the dank interior of an air-conditioned bar or restaurant. But at least in our climate, the norm is for less intense Hades than that.

Still, most will go indoors where it is colder. It becomes a habit, but the beer won’t taste as good. (The flip side is drinking beer ice-cold when it is freezing outside in January, but people still do that too). Nonetheless, some bar-restaurants have a roof deck or patio and if the weather is just right, you will find people there enjoying a drink. There are fewer than before, in part because you can’t smoke in Toronto in those areas now.

Last night I met some friends after work for a drink. We met at an off-piste place, Cloak and Dagger, on College Street near Bathurst. By the name and fascia it looks like an Irish or U.K.-type pub. It isn’t though, it is a small dark room with wooden banquette seating which must be generations old. The bar is in the back and has an excellent craft beer choice, usually with a cask ale on offer. It attracts a neighbourhood crowd, many from Kensington Market, and has a bohemian feel to it.

The Cloak has a very pleasant yard in the back surrounded by high brick walls of various faded hues and foliage covers a good part of the murs. If one of the surrounding roofs had a chimney-pot or two you would think you were in England, given too the wood trestle tables and the pint glasses of brown stuff on the tables.

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It’s a quiet escape for an hour and is rarely crowded, a plus when the weather is at its best here.

Last night, it had cooled somewhat by 7:00 p.m. but apart from our group only a couple lounged outside, most of the customers preferred the air-conditioned interior.

Another example of outdoor drinking, in another part of town, is at the Drake Hotel and a scene is shown of my recent visit there. It’s the rooftop bar during a brunch there this past Sunday. The other scene is the patio area along the hotel north from Queen Street.

The Drake is one of Toronto’s great restorations, it’s an old commercial travellers hotel (near a former railway junction) which was restored 12 years ago retaining many of the original fittings. It looks like some of the old provincial hotels in England and the surrounding area also has an early suburban English look. You see that a lot in Toronto, the parts which survive the developers’ gaze.

Use Of Wheat In Modern Craft Lagers

Wheat_harvestThe use of wheat in a beer not traditionally associated with the grain seems to be on the increase, in ales but particularly blonde lagers including those styled pilsners. Wheat can be added in a variety of forms, but in a lager context, often it is treated in some way, flaked or torrified, to ensure rapid access to its starches by the diastase in the barley malt.

My recollection of the history is, this practice became notable in England for ales and later was extended to lagers. I am speaking of a craft brewing context, so not situations where adjunct is 30-40% of the mash bill, but where relatively small amounts are used, 5-10%, say. I remember first seeing wheat listed as an ingredient on some English craft ales, but now many lagers feature the ingredient as well.

I won’t discuss it here in the context of “adjunct”, a loaded term which can obfuscate more than enlighten. I am concerned simply with flavour in other words, not “philosophy”.

On numerous Ontario lagers today wheat is listed as an ingredient, or on the “tents” at a brewpub for draft lager. The other day I bought one, not checking the label, and found the taste oddly dry and somehow “wrong”. When I checked the label, it listed wheat. I feel I can taste it, it is a dry grainy/starchy note, and I’ve never enjoyed the effect it gives to lagers, or ales for that matter.

I’ve asked brewers about it over the years and the explanations seem to come down to better head formation, contribution to yeast health or stability, and promotion of clarity. Yet to my mind use of wheat, even in small amounts, alters the true flavour of blonde lager and the same for ale. To be sure minute percentages may avoid this effect on a practical basis, but where the taste is detectable as it often is IMO, I avoid beers of this type.

In the classic era when dark and blond lagers became a byword for quality, say 1842-1914, the avatars were all-malt. Carlsberg’s first lager was all-malt, as Tuborg’s, so was Heineken’s (it is again today), Pilsner Urquell’s (still is), and all the German lagers.

Sam Adams Boston Lager, which helped kickstart the modern craft brewing movement, was and is all-barley malt. So is Ontario’s Upper Canada Lager, still an excellent beer when you can find it. Creemore Lager too. Side Launch Mountain Lager too, which presents the profile of blonde lager at its highest quality. So are well-known American flagship lagers such as Victory Prima Pils, or Anchor Steam Beer which is technically a lager.

These beers never had problems with head formation, or clarity. Some brewers today don’t mind a light veil to the beer anyway, but since so many lagers which are all-malt pour clear the clarity issue seems a red herring.

In my view, all-malt lagers have a characteristic richness and clean taste, which made the category famous to begin with. It isn’t a question of dry vs. sweet as attenuation limit can vary with each brand and the brewer’s preference. Heineken is fairly dry, for example, as are a number of German lagers, but I’d wager if you add 5%-10% flaked wheat to them they wouldn’t taste the same.

In a word, and expressing one sub-set of consumer preferences, I’d say wheat is not necessary for lagers or Anglo-American ales and there is the danger of altering their essential characteristics. In wheat beers and other styles which traditionally use the grain, the Belgian wit, say, or saison, by all means go for it. They are by definition a different kind of beer.

The success of craft brewing was based on all-barley malt, the wheat styles mentioned apart (always a small part of it). The more this is chipped away at, the fewer beers will be available which were the raison d’être of craft brewing and largely explain its success.

Note re image, it is from Wikipedia, here, and in the public domain. Believed available for educational and cultural purposes. All feedback welcomed.

Maturity in Strong Stout

IMG_20160704_172158Aging was an important component of porter in its English heyday. It was stressed that maturity didn’t mean sourness, although in practice some stale beer as it was termed did attain that quality.

The beer pictured is a good illustration of a strong porter which aging improves without leading to a vinegar palate. It is Alchimiste’s Imperial Stout, the well-known Quebec craft brewery, from Joliette. This has been in the fridge for about six months.

The result is a much more knitted beer than when new, with good malt sweetness and it lacks the rough edges I recall when purchased. I believe some raw barley was used and am reminded of a Victorian writer who said while he prefers roasted or brown malt to roasted (unmalted) barley, if you age the product long enough the result can be very good.  I have seen the proof of it, so to speak. This is a 7.9% Impy, by no means in the classic alcohol territory for the drink, but strong enough, more than strong enough.

It is, too, upwards of 90F outside…

The long sojourn au frigo also reduced the carbonation somewhat, a plus in this case.

Withal a fine example of traditional brewing which shows the merits of long aging.

Jack’s Drink

800px-Illustration_Tanacetum_vulgare0Did Jack Daniel drink his own whiskey? The question is not an absurdity, as some famous makers of drinks didn’t touch the stuff. E.H. Taylor, Jr., who riffed on the real sour mash, didn’t drink. As bourbon historian Gerald Carson memorably reminded us, “he was a hedonist for others”.

Charlie Thomasson, a distiller for a small house (Willett’s), wrote an essay on traditional methods c. 1960. He didn’t drink either. Yet his article is still very interesting, e.g., he says old-time bourbon has a smell like a ripe apple.

It’s perfectly natural of course that some people in the liquor industry don’t drink, perhaps especially understandable given the temptations of being around the stuff all the time.

However, I’d guess most liquor-men (and women) did have a sip, not too often of course, because you can’t take alcohol and work effectively, or most people can’t, but most of the “names” seem to have enjoyed a dram regularly. Samuel Bronfman did, who founded Seagram. He liked his whiskey with water. I’ve enjoyed a drink with Bill Samuels, Jr., who used to run Maker’s Mark.

Jack Daniel liked his own product too. In the early 1950s, a couple of lengthy magazine articles on the distillery helped to kickstart its unceasing growth since then. Before that, it was a small Tennessee operation trying to re-establish after the lengthy shut-down of Prohibition. The war interrupted its progress but it carried on and the brand acquired cachet outside its traditional areas, in part due to the articles mentioned. You can read them on this very interesting Jack Daniel’s memorabilia website.

One of the pieces says Jack drank his whiskey with tansy and gives an account of building the drink. He would put a bunch of fresh-picked tansy in a glass, add water and sugar and fill with whiskey.

Tansy is one of those barely-remembered nostrums of a much older time, it is a herb, native to Europe and brought here by the British. A 1930s book, Old-time Herbs For Northern Gardens by Minnie Watson Kamm, gives the low-down on tansy, or Tancetum vulgare. It is a bitter, fairly aromatic plant and other accounts describe it as spicy and peppermint-like.

It was used initially apparently for religious purposes, in Easter cakes as an echo of the Jews’ use of bitter herbs at Passover. (Who knew?).

IMG_20160704_080903This lead to a general but irregular use in cookery, with eggs and in puddings. It was always too one of the “medicinal” herbs, used for teas and in other ways as a general “specific” for colds, ague, fever, rheumatism, and other mostly bootless complaints. With the rise of beverage alcohol in America from Colonial times until the long push to control alcohol started in the 1830s, tansy entered numerous drinks. There are recipes in numerous cocktail manuals of the 19th century for whiskey-and-tansy, or gin-and-tansy.

The Scots-Irish in southwestern Pennsylvania were particular fans of the herb and brought it down the Appalachian trail as they moved south. Jack Daniel’s ancestry is mostly Ulsterman, in fact.

Tansy has some thujone in it, as wormwood does, which in large amounts is a poison, and I wonder if this may explain why tansy in drinks has disappeared – not just faded – while a mint julep, say, is still a known quantity. Be that as it may, if I could find the stuff I’ve give Jack’s drink a try, but have never been able to secure any. July, too, is the special month of its cultivation or rather appearance along roadsides, in ditches, culverts, and other places not very exotic. Maybe it’s in the Toronto ravine to my right 30 stories down, I’ll have to take a look.

So that’s how Jack Daniel took his whiskey, with tansy. Perhaps it tasted like a mint julep with a shot of absinthe in it? Hey that sounds pretty good anyway, a Dan MintseyYou read it here first.

Note re first image above: The illustration of tansy is from Wikipedia, here, and indicated as in the public domain. Believed available for educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.

The Whiskeys of Jack Daniel’s in 1910 – And Taking Religion

Jack Daniel, the famous owner of the Jack Daniel Distillery in Lynchburg, TN, sold the distillery to his nephew Lem Motlow and a cousin some years before he died in 1911. Motlow soon became sole owner when the cousin sold him his interest. State prohibition was looming, and finally shut the distillery January 1, 1910. The course America had set was clear. Daniel’s course appears to have changed personally as well. According to this story from April 29, 1909 in the Sequachee Valley News, Sequatchie, TN, Jack Daniel, seemingly not professing religion earlier, became baptized by immersion in Mulberry Creek.

Here is the story:

CONVERSION OF
MAJ. JACK DANIELS
Once Proprietor of Famous
Distillery, Maker of No. 7,
Becomes Baptist.
SHELBYVILLE, Tenn., April 27.
Elder A. J. Willis, an ex-Primitive
Baptist preacher of South Pittsburg,
who has charge of two or three church
es in this county, was here yesterday
and told the Banner correspondent an
interesting story of the conversion of
Maj. Jack Daniel, the noted distiller
and former proprietor of that famous
whisky brand, “Jack Daniel, No. 7.”
Mr. Daniel made a profession of relig
ion several days ago and was baptized
by immersion in Mulberry Creek Sun
day by Elder Willis. The Elder says
that Maj. Daniel’s conversion was one
if the most earnest be has ever known.
Maj. Daniel is one of the wealthiest
men of Middle Tennessee and has lotig
been noted for his kindness of heart
and unbounded liberality. He is no
longer interested in the whiskey busi-
ness and has, it is stated, forbidded
the use of his name on whisky brands,
and in the future his large capital will
be differently employed. His famous
distillery at Lynchburg has passed in
to other hands.

The military title – 1890s news accounts call him a captain – was presumably a militia post or perhaps an honorary title, as for Kentucky Colonels today.

The reference to his kindness and “unbounded liberality” is notable, it seems the hard-hearted executive is not an invariable model for high business success. This ties in, too, to recent news stories showing Daniel pictured in the late 19th century next to a black employee. Clearly he wasn’t intimidated by social norms of the day and at least in this fashion recognized the importance of a key employee.

Tennessee introduced liquor prohibition in stages a few years before WW I, well before National Prohibition in 1920. When it banned even the manufacture of alcoholic beverages for shipping out of state, the distillery relocated under the new ownership in a number of locations outside the state including Hopkinsville, KY, just over the state line. The distillery in Lynchburg clearly was able to ship large amounts of inventory to Kentucky before the manufacturing ban took effect, and to sell it (apparently lawfully) in parts of Tennessee after, as the ad below shows from the March 3, 1910 issue of The Comet, a newspaper in Johnson City, TN:

“Jack Daniel’s Old-Time Distillery, No. 7,
Ceased operation on December 31, 1909, in accordance with the law which
became effective on that date. This famous old Distillery, which has
been in uninterrupted operation since 1866, and is the oldest in the United
States, has earned and won the gold medals offored in the greatest Exposi-
tions of the earth. The quality, purity and general excellence of “Jack
Daniel’s Old No. 7” Whiskey is appreciated wherever whiskey is known,
and recommended by physicians everywhere.

16 YEARS OLD – I have a few barrels of Extra Fine Old Lincoln County
Whiskey. This is nearly 17 years old, at $3.00 per Gallon.
BRANDIES – My Own Make – Apple and Peach Brandles, can’t be beat.
ALL MY OWN GOODS – I do not buy anything from jobbers, and I han-
dle only the whiskies and brandies I make myself, so I know they
are always pure, properly aged, and my reputation for making
high grade whiskies and brandies is safe.

I Prepay All Express Charges – PRICES

White Lincoln County Whiskey, 75 proof, per gallon………………… $2.75
White Lincoln County Whiskey, 100 proof, per gallon……………….   3.25
Red Lincoln County Whiskey, 70 proof, per gallon……………………   2.75
Old Whiskey, 80 proof, per gallon………………………………………….. 3.25
Jack Daniel’s No. 7, age and proof considered, per gal…..     $3.00 to 5.00
Fine Old Blue Ribbon Whiskey, per gallon……………………………….. 6.00
Apple Brandy, 75 proof, per gallon…………………………………             2.75
Pure Brandy, 90 proof, per gallon……………………………………            3.75
Pure Apple and Peach Brandy, old 100 proof, per gallon…………..      5.00
Best Apricot Brandy, per gallon……………………………………………… 3.25
White Corn Whiskey, 75 proof, per gallon…………………………            2.75
White Corn Whiskey, 90 proof, per gallon………………………………..  3.00
White Corn Whiskey, 100 proof, per gallon………………………………  3.25
The Yellow Corn at the same prices as the White Corn Whiskey

4 Full Quarts No. 7, prepaid…………………………..                                $6.00
Case Goods 12 Full Quarts No. 7, prepaid……………………………..    15.50
No case goods guaranteed genuine unless corks branded “Jack Daniel’s
Old No. 7.”.

DRUM GOODS-100 pints, 200 1/2 pints, $27.00 F.O.B. You want the best,
then give my own goods a trial order.

                                Old Time

Jack Daniel       Distillery  Hopkinsville, Ky”.

…………….

It can be seen that listed first under the appellation Lincoln County (setting aside the eye-catching 16 year old whiskey) is the white whiskey – this was the original type, as I have explained earlier. However, there is also a Red Lincoln County Whiskey listed, and various old whiskeys which would have been dark from barrel age. The 16 year old whiskey was only $3.00 per gallon. Not much more than the least expensive white and corn whiskeys offered.

My theory is that all the aged whiskey shown was directly or indirectly an influence from the fame of Kentucky bourbon, as discussed earlier. White Lincoln County whiskey was still respected locally as a fine example of American whiskey, as we saw too from T.J. Latham’s high praise in 1895. In Kentucky, high praise since the Civil War was not reserved for white lightning or corn whiskey, it was reserved for fine aged bourbon – indeed bourbon meant well-aged, that was the essence of it.

Further points: corn whiskey in the ad was distinguished from White Lincoln County Whiskey. I think differences in storage type and time might have explained this, or mash bill. Not only that, there was Yellow Corn and White Corn whiskeys – two corn cultivars offering different flavours presumably.

The finest whiskey seems to have been, not the famous Old No. 7, itself available in different ages and proofs, but an Old Blue Ribbon Whiskey at an impressive $6.00 per gallon.

The Old Blue Ribbon was probably considered the best taste offered at the time, while the 16 year old whiskey, at half the price and (probably) double the age, was surely more a curiosity. Not that there is so much aged whiskey in our market today, but something to ponder for those always on the outlook for very old whiskey.

Jack Daniel died October 10, 1911 and his obituary in the Colombia Herald, Columbia, TN, can be read here.

Coda: the story of Jack’s taking religion stated his name henceforth would not be used on his whiskey brands. But in ads appearing through 1910 for his whiskeys now being shipped from Hopkinsville, his name is still prominent – as it is today.

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*The prices in the original ad were listed in a column more neatly than I was able to transfer in. The original ad can be viewed here, in this case from a February, 1910 issue of the Comet, but the content is the same.

 

 

 

 

Robertson County Whiskey of Tennessee, Or How Bourbon Became King

Map_of_Tennessee_highlighting_Robertson_County.svg

 

Bourbon whiskey has emerged as the internationally-known whiskey style of America. It is both a type of whiskey, whose characteristics are regulated by law, and largely (but not exclusively) a geographical one. Bourbon can be made anywhere in the U.S. but is traditionally associated with the State of Kentucky where most and the largest of the surviving producers are located.

Straight rye whiskey is the second major type to have survived from the 19th century. Formerly associated mainly with Pennsylvania and Maryland, almost all production today is in Kentucky save the rye made by MGPI, a long-established distillery in Indiana formerly owned by the Canadian Seagram. But rye whiskey is a much smaller category than bourbon, almost insignificant next to it.

There is also Tennessee Whiskey, whose main practitioners today are the famous Jack Daniel’s (Brown-Forman) and George Dickel (Diageo), both located within an hour or so’s drive from Nashville in north-central Tennessee. This whiskey-type is characterized by a lengthy charcoal-leaching process which lightens the new spirit before it is put in new charred barrels as for Kentucky bourbon and left to mature for 4-5 years. This style was originally known as Lincoln County whiskey because most of the distillers in that county used the maple leaching process to cleanse their whiskey just after distillation.

Lincoln County whiskey is now considered the type of the entire state, indeed by law – to make a Tennessee Whiskey today in Tennessee, you must follow the charcoal leaching process. But at one time, Tennessee had at least one other major style of whiskey, called Robertson County whiskey (RC whiskey).

The county of that name, highlighted in red on the map above, was named for James Robertson, who migrated from North Carolina and is one of the founding fathers of Tennessee. Robertson County was in existence by 1800 and early established a reputation for whiskey. RC whiskey was distinctive enough that in Internal Revenue reports of the late 1800s, it appears under that name in tables on production and other data. While always part of a miscellaneous category (especially for non-bourbon, non-rye) which could include Lincoln County whiskey, it shows that enough producers thought it distinctive to apply this further description and the government included it in its tables.

As this 1886 history of Tennessee showed, while most of its counties made whiskey in the first 100 years of its history, the whiskeys of Robertson County and Lincoln County were pre-eminent and this was so outside the state as well.

This 1869 extract from debates in Congress, dealing with Internal Revenue’s approach to charcoal filtering of new whiskey, shows that RC whiskey, like Lincoln County whiskey, was filtered through “coal” or “charcoal” (no further description is given but the reference to the charcoal rectification tub can’t be clearer). Internal Revenue and its Congressional supporters were trying to eliminate the filtration step in distillation because they felt this would encourage excise tax avoidance. They wanted the whiskey taxed as soon as it poured clear from the still.

If it was taxed at a later stage, there was a risk not all the whiskey would be captured. The thinking may have been that with charcoal filtration some useable ethanol remains in the charcoal, and perhaps also, that taxing post-filtration gave the opportunity to divert some whiskey for different purposes.

The objection was not to rectification as such, which could be conducted by separate businesses so licensed, but to distillers performing the rectification once the whiskey had condensed from the last distillation. In essence the government was saying, registered distillers should distill and pay the full tax on what they produce. And rectifiers should rectify as a separate business.

As you see from the page linked, Representative Golladay – he was Jacob S. Golladay of Allensville, KY, argued that Robertson County whiskey needed charcoal filtration to become what its makers called “finished whiskey”. (Lincoln County whiskey was in the same category but it seems it had no ardent defender as did Roberston County whiskey). The tenor of Representative Golladay’s remarks was, RC whiskey needed to be charcoal-filtered because it was sold to the market straight from the filter. If you deprived distillers of the right to put the whiskey through the charcoal vats, you were putting them at a disadvantage.* New white whiskey was, in Golladay’s colourful words, something a dog wouldn’t drink.

map_of_allensville_kyWhy would a Kentucky Congressional representative argue for a group of distillers in Tennessee? Because, as Golladay noted, one-third of Kentucky distillers used the same process.

Golladay’s district was the Third Congressional District of Kentucky which included the town he resided in, Allensville, KY. Allensville is on the Tennessee-Kentucky boundary. In other words, it is clear that RC whiskey was a regional type and the one-third of Kentucky distillers who used the method in 1869 undoubtedly were in the southern part of the state, adjacent to Tennessee’s premier whiskey-distilling district.

By speaking for RC whiskey-makers from whom he had received specific petitions, Golladay was speaking up for a tradition of Kentucky whiskey-making as well.

Think about it. Lincoln County whiskey, as I showed in my previous post, was originally also sold new, i.e., after the long bath in maple charcoal. And c. 1870, a third of Kentucky distillers used a similar method, undoubtedly in the southern tier.

What does this suggest, can you see where I’m going? It suggests that bourbon whiskey emerged in distinction to these other types. In lieu of charcoal leaching and quick sale, a method not far out of the Appalachian hills as I showed earlier by reference to the early study Our Southern Highlanders, distillers in the original Bourbon County, KY used long aging in charred wood to lend the best quality to corn-based whiskey.

As many students of bourbon know, Kentucky was carved from Virginia and Bourbon County, KY once comprised a much larger area than today, most of northeastern Kentucky in fact. Today, over 30 counties, including a much-shrunken Bourbon County, comprise the area of the original Bourbon County.

Jacob_Shall_Golladay-1Bourbon whiskey probably has its name because the aging of whiskey in charred barrels developed in many parts of the original Bourbon County. The process was probably underway by c. 1800, and became generalized in a good part of Kentucky by the eve of the Civil War. In contrast, RC whiskey, Lincoln County whiskey, and the whiskeys of south-central Kentucky were the older type, not quite moonshine, but reliant on the quick-maturing method of the charcoal tub.

While the tub was a technique at one time used in many places including Pennsylvania and Ontario in Canada, it seems not to have characterized the kind of whiskey that became bourbon. No modern bourbon producer uses pre-barreling charcoal leaching. In late-1800s descriptions of bourbon manufacture, none that I could find calls for such charcoal leaching. Long-aging in new charred barrels was a method distillers in the original Bourbon County evolved. There are other theories as to the origin of bourbon’s name, but none are as persuasive as the idea that it was the whiskey characteristic of the original Bourbon County, KY.

Golladay referred to the newer bourbon whiskey by his reference to whiskeys “in bond” for two years and more. The discussion in the house made it clear this was a high-class whiskey different in character from RC whiskey. This was the whiskey of James Crow, the Pepper Family, EH Taylor, Jr., Rev. Elijah Craig, Evan Williams, the Beams, and many other distillers of or near the original Bourbon County.

RC whiskey and similar Kentucky whiskeys did not survive Prohibition. Lincoln County whiskey did survive after some peregrinations, – but only after adopting Bourbon County-style aging. RC whiskey, a cleansed white lightening as Lincoln County whiskey originally was, is part of history now except for any revivalist distilleries who will use the charcoal tub for its original purpose. I should add though that in 2014 George Dickel released its regular corn mash whisky in unaged form – unaged but having undergone maple leaching. (Generally, any “whisky” in the U.S. must spend some time in wood, but corn whisky is excepted. Because George Dickel’s regular mash exceeds 80% in corn, its white spirit off the still and out of the charcoal tub can be called “corn whisky”).

You can read Geoff Kleinman’s review at his drinkspirits.com site. It sounds like a cross between vodka and regular white dog. This may well resemble RC whiskey and the original Lincoln County whiskey.

Kleinman liked the drink but preferred the regular, aged George Dickel, which is a clue I think to why the bourbon-style became dominant and the others disappeared. Remember the Tennessee banker I mentioned earlier, T.J. Latham? In 1896 he lauded unaged Lincoln County whiskey over Kentucky bourbon. His was a tribute more of sentiment, and history, than palate. T.J.’s oratory was warm as southern honey, but he did not foretell the future in whiskey. Bourbon had it over him and the style became, not just Kentucky’s in toto, but Tennessee’s too, if you catch my drift.

Note re images: The maps shown above were drawn from Wikipedia sources. The image of Jacob Shall Golladay was sourced from this website on the family’s history. All are believed available for educational or historical use. All feedback welcomed.

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*For more evidence that RC whiskey was subjected to charcoal rectification, see pg. 79 in this modern history of Robertson County, TN by Yolanda Reid and Rick Gregory.

 

 

 

 

The Evolution of Lincoln County Whiskey

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The Lincoln County Process is, today, a slow leaching of new-make whiskey through a tall vat of ground maple charcoal. Its leading practitioners, Jack Daniel’s and George Dickel, then barrel the spirit in new charred oak for four to five years, similar to how Kentucky bourbon is made.

Since Jack Daniel’s and George Dickel otherwise mash and ferment in a way similar to Kentucky, the only difference from bourbon is the maple charcoal treatment, a multi-day process which has the effect of taking out some fusel oils and other compounds from the whiskey. The burned wood might contribute some flavour as well, this is controversial.

Earlier, I discussed a 1908 survey of the Lincoln County Process, which showed essentially that the same process is followed today. The account of 1908 stated that after the charcoal treatment, the spirit was barrelled and put away to age. Implication: from that point the whiskey was aged similar to a Kentucky bourbon.

However, something must have changed between about 1860 and 1908. It is almost certain that the Lincoln County method originally meant the whiskey was sold right after the charcoal filtering or a short barreling period which followed. There are a number of reasons to conclude this.

First, charcoal leaching was a 19th century technique used in many places to rectify whiskey for immediate sale. It was a quick way to cleanse the spirit, imperfect (vs. the goal of neutral spirits) but satisfying the market. The whiskey so treated was distilled either in a pot still or the transitional multi-chambered still known as the two- and three-chambered still.

It produced spirit at a relatively low proof, under 190 U.S., and often under 160 proof as for straight whiskey today (or tequila, heavy rum, or brandy). The relatively heavy congener content of such spirit meant there were two ways to modify the taste: long aging in barrels, or intensive filtration through a vat of wood charcoal. Tiny apertures in the charcoal fragments would capture oils and other impurities in the spirit, rendering it more neutral in a word.

Kentucky increasingly was known for multi-year barrel aging, indeed this became a hallmark of “Kentucky whiskey”, or bourbon, as we know it today. But elsewhere in the U.S. and Canada, such aging was in its infancy. The “red cretur” bourbon of Oscar Pepper near Frankfort, KY, devised with the help of Dr. James Crow, was probably 4-7 years old on the eve of the Civil War. But in many places, straight whiskey was sold off the still or following the aforementioned charcoal treatment.

In an engineering publication from Pennsylvania in 1866 the writer gave a condensed but accurate description of whiskey-making. Sweet and sour mashing are described in a way familiar to Kentucky distilleries. But in regard to aging, the matter was simple: there wasn’t any. The spirit was filtered in wood charcoal and wool blankets in a way similar to the Lincoln County Process, then “colored” and sold. A variant of the Lincoln County Process used wool layers with the charcoal, George Dickel does it to this day. Caramel generally was used to impart colour, or burned raw wheat. Most whiskey in the mid-1800s was sold this way but Kentucky pioneered laying the product away in new charred barrels in warehouses for years.

In a speech by a Memphis banker, T.J. Latham, at a convention of the American Bankers Association in 1896, his reference to Lincoln County whiskey makes clear that it wasn’t aged, or very long. The dose of southern humour comes as a bonus:

… when you come down to the matter referred to by our friends from Kentucky, I think anyone who has tasted that beverage will concede great superiority to Lincoln County whiskey. (Laughter and applause). And, moreover, people down our way don’t fool time away by allowing it to age, either. (Laughter). We know a good thing when we see it.

A gentleman asked me just now if I had anything with me. It was a leading question, for you know the Tennesseans like the Kentuckians, always have something with them. (Laughter). When a man travelling in a railroad car asked if any gentlemen had a corkscrew two or three jumped up and said yes, and they were all from Kentucky.

The banker’s joshing reference to Kentucky whiskey was meant to vaunt his own state’s produce – or the Lincoln County version – despite its lack of aging in comparison.

This doesn’t mean Jack Daniel’s, which dates from 1876*, followed that procedure, as about the time the banker spoke, it was recorded Jack Daniel’s was red in colour. But clearly a lot of Lincoln County Process whiskey was still unaged in the 1890s – or not held in barrel very long – to give any meaning to the finance man’s remarks.

In 1862 in Toronto at Gooderham & Worts, the famous distillery which later merged with Hiram Walker in Windsor, ON, new whiskey was filtered carefully through charcoal vats which appear very similar to Lincoln County ones. Tanya MacKinnon, in her classic (2000) economic geography of early Ontario distilling, included an illustration of the vats from a contemporary article in the forerunner to the Toronto Globe & Mail. She states the whisky was distilled in a column still newly-installed in the 1850s, and brought to “50 OP”.

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This is about 85% abv or 170 U.S. proof, 20 points under what is needed for neutral spirits. It was then aged between two months and a year, not very long by the emerging standards of Kentucky, but then the spirit in Canada at least was cleaner to begin with: 170 U.S. proof is outside the range today to distill Kentucky bourbon, 10 points outside.

By the later 1880s, Gooderham and Worts were able to dispense with the charcoal vats as they had the capacity to distill spirit to “alcohol” or 95% abv if they wished. The newer stills provided the flexibility which the rough-and-ready charcoal vat never achieved.

We can infer banker Latham’s Lincoln County whiskey was similarly little-aged in 1896 and probably was under 160 proof to boot.

But today, Jack Daniel’s and George Dickel whiskey are taken from the filtering tubs, put in new charred casks and aged 4-5 years (Dickel has a somewhat wider range). It isn’t clear when the surviving makers of Lincoln County whiskey in Tennessee – local prohibition became state-wide in 1910 – combined their method with Kentucky’s, in effect.

Lincoln County whiskey always had a high reputation though, from the Civil War until the adoption of full aging. One can assume it was particularly good – neutral-like perhaps as the 1908 article mentioned above implied, while (probably most but not all) whiskey elsewhere in Tennessee was simple white dog, sold new and congenericm

The only other whiskey type I am aware of in Tennessee with a similar cachet, between the Civil War and 1910, was Robertson County whiskey. Little information is available on its exact characteristics, it appears to have been a wheat-based whiskey and presumably wasn’t leached in wood charcoal. Why did the leaching become associated with Lincoln County and not other counties in Tennessee?**

(I am ignoring here 1870s boundary changes which meant for example that Jack Daniel’s distillery is now in Moore County). Perhaps it was a time when methods took root locally for whatever reason and didn’t travel due to poor roads and communications. Or perhaps loyalty to local methods trumped all else.

Whatever the explanation, the charcoal leaching by “Jack” and what became “George” has become regarded as a local (Tennessee) surviving practice of a distinctive nature. In fact, the method was widely used at one time although not apparently in Tennessee outside Lincoln County, and not to any great extent in Kentucky from what I can tell. Perhaps the method was brought into Lincoln County, Tennessee from the Northeast or the U.K., took root amongst distillers there but never penetrated much elsewhere in Tennessee, or Kentucky. I incline to this after much reading.

Lincoln County whiskey is less distinctive today since its main exemplars, Jack and George, also receive full Kentucky-style aging.

But there is probably a craft distiller in Tennessee making whiskey cleansed in maple charcoal and sold right away***. I’d like to try it. Pritchard’s, an early craft distiller in Tennessee, makes a whiskey called Tennessee whiskey but the Lincoln County process is not used. Pritchard’s received an exemption under the recent state law which requires that the Lincoln County Process be used in order to label the whiskey, Tennessee whiskey.

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*According to the biographical entry for Jack Daniel in History of Tennessee published in Nashville in 1886, Jack Daniel was born in 1848, was “always … a farmer”, erected his distillery in 1876, and began operating it in 1878 under the name Daniel & Call. The distillery is noted as producing “some of the finest brands” of Lincoln County whiskey, which suggests (to me) some was aged and some not. There is no reference, in this account, to Jack Daniel conducting or learning any distilling prior to 1876, which does not mean he did not, of course.

** I will have more to say about this whiskey soon. Kay Gaston in 1999 wrote a short account of the county’s whiskey-making history in the Tennessee Historical Quarterly, however I am not able as yet to obtain the text. Other information is available online which I will discuss soon, however. I should say too it appears charcoal was used to rectify Robertson County whiskey, no less than Lincoln County’s. For what it’s worth, Roberston is the older county, founded in the 1790s, while Lincoln County was founded in 1809.

*** Jack Daniel released in 2012 an unaged (white) rye spirit distilled under 140 proof. Images of the brand as well as other iterations of Jack Daniel’s rye can be viewed at this liquor retailer’s site. I tasted the white rye and found it very “white dog” or congeneric, i.e., despite that it was subjected to the maple charcoal leaching system.

 

 

In 1806, British Science Advises to Store Spirits in Charred Barrels

The Influence of Science vs. the Accidental Explanations

One of the great questions in bourbon studies is to know how the new charred barrel emerged to age bourbon (and straight rye) whiskey. It is a question that likely will never be answered, but useful theorizing can be made based on various historical sources.

The Filson Historical Society in Louisville, KY has indicated that the first known reference to the charred cask in connection with American whiskey is from 1826.

(The term bourbon, as a form of whiskey, first appears in 1821 in an advertisement published in a Maysville, KY newspaper).

DecaturBourbons

On the Filson’s page, it is explained that a grocer in Lexington, KY requested of a distiller in Bourbon County, John Corlis, that his whiskey be sent in barrels charred to 1/16″. The letter was polite, leaving the decision to the supplier, but making clear the grocer’s view that the spirit would be “much improved”.

By the end of the 1800s, aging bourbon and rye in new charred oak was routine and associated with fine Kentucky and Pennsylvania whiskeys.

At a minimum though, one can infer that c. 1825, some whiskey was being aged in charred barrels and prized for same, at least in Bourbon County.

This doesn’t mean in other words all Kentucky whiskey was aged in charred or any other wood c. 1825. Henry G. Crowgey in his landmark study, Kentucky Bourbon: The Early Years of Whiskeymaking, makes it clear that in the first quarter of the 1800s whiskey is referred to without reference to colour but sometimes as “old” and finally by reference to years, e.g., a whiskey was advertised in 1818 as seven years old. But generally then, much whiskey was still sold new, thus white and taking no colour from the barrel, or perhaps a few months or a year old.

Early distilling texts such as Samuel M’Harry’s from 1809, Practical Distiller, make it clear again some whiskey was aged, some was not.

M’Harry, writing in Philadelphia, seemed to like the colour and flavour wood barreling imparted but he also noted this was not desirable for certain purposes, e.g., where the whiskey was intended to be blended with beer or brandy (to increase the strength or “extend” it in the parlance of the day).

M’Harry speaks of using straw to burn wood vessels used in making whiskey (more than storing it), but it is not clear if he meant that they should be charred black. His main concern seemed to be to kill microorganisms which could acetify or otherwize spoil a mash or fermentation; this is not really the same as charring barrels black to hold whiskey for years.

By mid-century though, long aging of Kentucky whiskey in wood became common. Even before the Civil War the red colour of James Crow’s whiskey made at Oscar Pepper Distillery was noted as a virtue. By the end of the 1800s, the aging of bourbon in new charred oak was considered necessary to lend the product its keynote flavour and e.g., the fine red colour of Jack Daniel’s whiskey was recorded in this period.

Many theories have been put forward for the use of the new charred barrel to age American whiskeys, everything from wood casks being charred accidentally from a fire onsite and used anyway to store whiskey, to charred barrels being a by-product of sanitizing of wood vessels and casks to prevent a soured or musty taste.

Some have suggested too that in heating staves to fashion barrels, which is necessary to make them pliable, some staves were burned accidentally but made into barrels anyway. Filled with whiskey and tasted years later, these barrels were found to have much improved the spirit. All these theories are a form of the accident explanation. The John Corlis explanation seems to be that early merchants who stored and sold whiskey hit on the idea, which IMO is a variant of the accident theory.

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As brandy has been barrelled for centuries, this practice may have inspired the same idea for American whiskey, as it no doubt did for the oak storage of Irish and Scotch whisky and rum. From my reading though, Cognac barrels were never charred black like American bourbon barrels. They were and are toasted to varying degrees but not to the point of creating the famous “red layer” of a bourbon barrel, the part just under the char layer which imparts caramelized wood sugars to the whiskey. Still, old French practice may be part of the picture.

As we know from Scotch whisky and rum, fine flavour can result from long aging in uncharred oak wood (or reused charred barrels, whose red layer is considered exhausted). But the keynote flavour is quite different from that of bourbon: generally less sweet and charcoal-like. The peat flavour of some malt whisky is not really the same thing.

Against this background, it is useful to point out that scientists in Europe in the latter half of the 1700s and early 1800s were experimenting with the use of charcoal and charred barrels to improve the taste of various liquids, notably water but also wine and spirits. J.T. Lovitz, a Russian scientist, experimented with charcoal and charred casks to ensure water wouldn’t sour or “putrefy”, as explained in this modern text on water treatment.

The Russian navy adopted this practice with success, as did the British navy somewhat later. The French chemist Claude-Louis Berthollet (1748-1822) considered that wine would not spoil if held in charred barrels and is remembered for his work on charcoal filtration in general.

The suggested  application to alcohol drinks was a derivative of these experiments through the 1700s with charcoal and other materials, e.g., sand, to sanitize in particular water for municipal use. It was seen that charring the barrel creates a thin charcoal layer and it was felt this kept water and other products fresh for longer. Meats too were stored in charred barrels to retard premature spoilage. In 1806, a renowned British scientist and chemist, William Nicholson, advocated a similar system in the Journal of Natural Philosophy, Chemistry and the Arts, Volume 15but he extended it to distilled spirits:

Spirituous liquors likewise [like wine] dissolve the extractive part of wood, and receive qualities which are in some cases valued, but others detrimental. The charred casks would prevent this effect. In a word, the casks which have received this preparation may be used for all purposes in which liquids are to be preserved, without being affected by the extractive part of the wood, and they prevent the putrefaction to which some of them may be subject.

Nicholson earlier cites in his work the researches of Berthollet regarding charred barrels to store wine, and refers to the beneficial effect of charcoal on the liquid. The concern was to keep the good parts of wood storage – I would infer tannins and colour –  and exclude the bad parts which lent a fetid or bad taste to water or wine. I think they were driving at controlling wood saps, as these would be burned out by the charring and the charcoal layer would neutralize any residual effect on the liquid. I once tasted beer stored in a new oak barrel and it was virually undrinkable, piney and very off-flavoured.

In the end, the British used ex-sherry and reused American whiskey casks to store whisky, so charring perhaps was viewed as less significant than Nicholson thought, although it is interesting that 99% of the barrels the Scots, and the Canadians, use are charred, except re-used. But the point is, we have a scientist in a British journal advocating holding spirits in charred wood, and 20 years later, there is evidence charred barrels were being used to store Kentucky whiskey with the implication that for some years at least the practice had been ususal.

The British founded the main American settlements. British books in the sciences and other branches of knowledge circulated in the country. Americans were up on the latest developments in distillation as we know from their early adoption of steam distillation.

In my view, the American adoption of the new charred barrel may well have been inspired by these European developments – the 1700s ones referred to on charcoal filtration for water, the use of charred barrels to store water and wine on voyages, and finally specfic advice in 1806 to store spirits in charred barrels to prevent off-tastes and deterioration.

Is it possible Kentucky grocers or merchants hit on the idea independently? Certainly, but I regard the European background as too much coincidence: the knowledge likely had penetrated to America’s interior so that Kentucky distillers and indeed merchants applied it methodically, not by accident.

Note re images: the images above were sourced from the entries on “bourbon whiskey” and “William Nicholson” in Wikipedia, here and here. They are believed available for educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.

 

The Ontario Craft Beer Guide, Reviewed

51Jt6gMS2GL._SX352_BO1,204,203,200_Robin LeBlanc and Jordan St. John have authored the The Ontario Craft Beer Guide, published by Dundurn publishers in Toronto. Reading the book reminds me that despite the great resources of the Internet, there is no substitute for a good beer book.

This tome is a comprehensive look at the contemporary brewing scene in Ontario. It focuses mostly on breweries including contract operations, but has a section on craft-oriented pubs as well, organized by city or town.

LeBlanc and St. John are experienced journalists and published authors, and the experience shows in the new book.

It is crisply-written and edited, with a logical flow.

The chapter on Ontario craft brewing history is particularly helpful. It is impossible truly to understand where we are at today without knowing what happened in the last 30 years. Jordan’s experience writing Ontario beer history must have come in handy here.

There are some nice touches too which will respond to the needs of many readers including the chapter at the outset called Top Breweries in Ontario. The authors know that many readers want to know which is “best” and so this summum, a distillation of their ratings, answers that need.  (I agree with their No. 1 choice, Side Launch!). Speaking of ratings, they use a simple 5-number system which is easy to follow.

The heart of the book is the alphabetical listing of breweries. It is very complete and even though ongoing developments in the form of new breweries, new beers from existing ones, closures, mean the book can’t be 100% complete when issued, it is still very useful again. Certainly 90% of the listings or more will remain relevant for a considerable time. Plus, I understand the authors will be issuing a second edition in good time.

Under each brewery the authors review various beers issued. The layout is easy to follow, clear and uncluttered. A line or two is used to review each beer. Their notes show considerable knowledge and experience and are excellent guides. E.g. of 10 Bitter Years they say, “dank with pine resin and brightened by clementine and tangerine citrus”. Right on. The style of going on and on, to which the law of diminishing returns applies IMO, is avoided in this book. The advantage of short-but-sweet reviews is the authors hone in on the essentials, and more room is left to include other beers.

Right now I’m sipping on a Kichesippi 1855. I’d rate this dark ale a 3/5 and would call the taste grainy, mildly hopped, not complex. Let’s see what Jordan and Robin say: “nutty body of toffee and toast … well balanced by an appropriate bitterness”. They give it a 4. Well, we are pretty close even though not saying it the same way.

Of course, as beer is a personal preference, this entails a large degree of subjectivity, and disagreement with others’ taste notes is the nature of the game. So if you peruse the book and think, gee they don’t agree with me on one or two beers, don’t let that stop you from buying it. There is a tremendous amount of excellent information in the book and it is a very good resource to have.

I have little to cavil with, my only suggestion would be to include Sleeman Brewery in the next edition. Apart from its historical importance, Sleeman brews some excellent beers – the all-malt Dark Ale is one of the best dunkels in Ontario*, and the ditto Upper Canada Lager is very good too. There is also a creditable porter and IPA. Numerous beers are reviewed in the book which aren’t half as good (IMO), so I’d put Sleeman in. (If Hop City or Creemore are in, too, I can’t see a reason to exclude Sleeman).

But a small point in the context of what is a first-rate book for which the authors deserve kudos indeed.

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*Note added June 27, 2016:  I remembered after writing this that Upper Canada Dark Ale is presumably top-fermented, indeed The Beer Store entry describes it as a northern English brown ale. Nonetheless to me it evokes the taste of a good Munich-style dark lager (dunkel)…