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Monday, July 17, 2023

Sealed for Your Protection

US presidents, even before the 22nd Amendment prevented them from doing so, didn’t seek reelection after 2 terms.  George Washington, America’s first Commander in Chief, set the precedent, and the rest (with the exception of Franklin Delano Roosevelt) followed.  Some two-termers did things on their last day they wouldn’t dare try on any other day.  Bill Clinton pardoned his half-brother who was found guilty of drug trafficking in 1985, and Grover Cleveland signed a divisive piece of legislation that would forever change the American whiskey landscape.

James Crow is considered by many to be the “Father of Modern Bourbon.”  At a time when whiskey was made in a barn alongside livestock, Crow kept his workspace clean and free of contaminants.  At a time when whiskey was made by feel, Crow used science and deductive reasoning.  His Old Crow was the envy of his peers, and the best-selling bourbon in America for more than a century.  Today, it’s bottom-shelf cocktail fodder, even worse than Schenley Golden Wedding (well maybe not that bad).  When Crow died in 1856, his distillery was taken over by a man who could also be rightly called the “Father of Modern Bourbon,” (Honorary) Colonel Edmund Haynes Taylor, Jr.

Crow may’ve preached the importance of cleanliness, but it doesn’t mean others followed suit.  Films and TV shows do a less-than-stellar job portraying what life was actually like in the 1800s.  The average person had next to nothing.  Life was hard, and usually short.  When it came to consumables prepared by someone other than yourself, it was buy at your own risk.  It’s not like today where everything is regulated and sealed for our protection.  Not once have I gone into a liquor store and thought, “I sure hope this isn’t rubbing alcohol made to look like whiskey.”  Just because Old Crow was safe to drink when it left the distillery, it doesn’t mean it was kept that way.  Customer safety wasn’t a top priority back then, especially if it got in the way of profits.

In 1870, George Garvin Brown launched the first (commercially available) bottled bourbon, but he did so at a loss.  The bottle cost more than the liquid it contained.  Fully automatic bottle-making machines didn’t show up until 1903.  It made more economic sense for distillers to sell their product straight from the barrel.  Adulteration was commonplace.  Some proprietors would empty newly arrived barrels and keep the contents for themselves.  Neutral grain spirit, tea bags, prune juice, even tobacco spit would then be used to replicate what was dumped.  (Now you know why cowboys wince in the movies after shooting back a couple fingers.)  Poorly made knockoffs were also a problem.  E.H. Taylor’s celebrated Old Taylor had to contend with Old Kentucky Taylor, a blend even worse than Schenley Golden Wedding (well maybe not that bad).

When Grover Cleveland became president for the second time, he made John Carlisle his Secretary of the Treasury.  E.H. Taylor pushed Carlisle, a fellow Kentuckian, to grease the levers of Washington.  Legislation needed to be passed to protect “good” whiskey.  Despite protestations from blenders, Grover Cleveland signed the Bottled-in-Bond Act on his last full day in office, March 3rd, 1897.  A bottled-in-bond whiskey had to be from one distillery, one growing season, and sealed with a tamper-proof tax stamp.  Customers would now know exactly what they were getting when they bought a whiskey (as long as it was bonded).  Crow may’ve invented modern bourbon, but Taylor made it safe to drink.  Evan Williams Bottled-in-Bond is an easy-going, entry-level sipper.  Rye spice on the nose, caramel corn, floral, with a nice kick on the back end.  I’d give it a solid A, for adequate.

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 ...