Whisk(e)y musings read by tens of people worldwide.

Monday, February 27, 2023

As American as I. W. Bernheim

The story of Isaac Wolfe Bernheim is, in many ways, a familiar one.  In 1867, he left Germany for America in search of a better life.  He had 4 dollars to his name, but was rich with drive and determination.

Like most immigrant stories, the early days weren’t easy.  He started off as a travelling salesmen in Pennsylvania, but that came to an abrupt end when his horse unexpectedly died.  Unfazed, he made his way to Kentucky, where he found work as a bookkeeper for a distillery.  He was good with money, and eventually saved enough to bring his brother over from Germany.  Together, they started a distillery with the help of a silent partner.  In the early 1870s, the Bernheim brothers launched I. W. Harper.  I. W. is short for Isaac Wolfe.  As for the Harper part, well, that’s an interesting story.

Antisemitism didn’t start with the Nazis, it’s been around for centuries.  It’s the reason why Bernheim moved to America, and why he was hesitant about putting his name on a bottle of whiskey.  The brothers knew they needed a name that sounded “American.”  While reading the paper one day, Isaac came across an article about a horse breeder named John Harper.  At that moment, I. W. Harper was born.  It’s won numerous medals at fairs and expositions over the years, and was the drink of choice during the Japanese bourbon boom of the 1980s and 90s.  In 2005, Isaac Bernheim finally got his name on a bottle of whiskey.

Bernheim Original is a wheat whiskey, not to be confused with a wheated bourbon.  A wheat whiskey needs to be at least 51% wheat.  A wheated bourbon is mostly corn with some wheat in the mash bill.  Bernheim Original is 51% wheat, 37% corn, and 12% malted barley.  Like most wheat-heavy whiskies, it’s a little on the sweet side.  Caramel, honey, baking spices.  Rather delicate.  Bernheim Original isn’t just a whiskey, it’s a symbol of progress.  A reminder that today is more tolerant than yesterday.

Happy dramming,


Instead of dying she shall merely fall into a profound slumber that will last a hundred years. -  Charles Perrault,  The Sleeping Beauty in ...