An Interesting letter

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An Interesting letter

Unread postby bourbonv » Fri Feb 16, 2007 4:09 pm

The Bullitt family papers - Oxmoor collection has an interesting letter that should interest John and Gary, if nobody else. The first paragraph is very interesting. The letter is from J[ohn] Brown to William Christian. Here is a transcript:

Crour Station June 17th 1784
Dear Sir
Your letter from the store I recd. a few days ago informing me the scarcity of provisions and poverty of horses prevents the coming of the Negroes which I am sorry to hear as I am oblige to give such enormous Wages for worke men. I have got Mud Garrison settled again by a very clever Industrious set of people they put in repair and give one fifth of what they make and at the fall move off to their own place. I have procured about 90 bushels of Rye and mean to sow the greater part of it as I find I can make a great deal by distilling of Rye; provisions I hope will not be as scarce as i once thought it would by reason of a large quantity of flour coming down and Tolerable crop of wheat raised.

The letter goes on to discuss his store and salt business as well as some legal depositions made from people in the neighborhood. What I find most interesting is the fact that he appears to have already distilled some rye and found it profitable enough to raise a crop of rye to make some more. This is very early Kentucky distilling. You have to wonder if he streched his supply of rye by adding corn to the mash as well.
Mike Veach
"Our people live almost exclusively on whiskey" - E H Taylor, Jr. 25 April 1873
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Unread postby gillmang » Fri Feb 16, 2007 4:56 pm

Interesting, Mike, it may show the continuing influence of Pennsylvania methods (or predominating ones) on Kentucky distilling in the early years.

It is interesting but I was just reading about distilling in Quebec province in that era. This was again (i.e., as for the Tanya MacKinnon work) a Canadian academic thesis submitted in this case in connection with completion of doctoral studies in industrial archeology at Laval University in Quebec City by the author, Richard Fiset. It dates only from 2001 and is in French.

It is a superb study and Mr. Fiset's work is of interest to us because he focuses not just on ownership and increase in number of distilleries but their physical characteristics, current traces of same, technical innovations (e.g. he lists many early patents applied for by distillers in Quebec and Ontario) and other elements of the study of industrial archeology.

He covers the period from 1680 (start of French era) until 1900 with particular emphasis from 1770 or so, i.e., after the British conquest of Quebec. He explains that rum has pre-English antecedents in Quebec but whisky-making came with the British. He explains that the people who founded distilleries after 1770, people like John Young, the Molsons (better known for brewing), the MacAllums and others, were mostly Scots and English incomers. Some post-1770 distillers were American and at least one was a Loyalist, i.e., who had left the U.S. due to loyalty to the Crown.

The equipment was what we know from M'Harry and other period sources: pot stills to make low wines with rectification done to make gin, cordials or a superior product. In terms of grains, he states John Young used malted barley only, thus a Scots influence was evident in the nascent Quebec practice. I could not find reference in Mr. Fiset's work of distilling with corn or rye although I think this must have occurred as it did in Ontario later.

Of the many period practices he describes, I found two of particular interest. One was the use of sour beer to distill. If beer was returned to a brewer from a pub because it went sour before sale, the brewery replaced it at full cost because it knew it could get the money from distillers. I am not sure I have seen evidence of such practice elsewhere. (E.g. M'Harry is particular, almost to a fault, on the need to use fresh yeast and clean vessels - I think he would not have approved of the practise). Some "high wines" were sold as such for consumption, some were sold to be blended with rum or beer. M'Harry is in accord here, so these strong white spirits, while clearly "whisky" even in the pre-aging era, had diverse uses and Mr. Fiset states it is sometimes not clear what type of product was being made or blended at a distillery making "rum" or "high wines" or "spirit".

The study also covers breweries in the period noted.

There is no reference to aging in wood, no doubt because such practices probably were few and far between.

The study can be found, full-text, at http://www.collectionscanada.ca. Search under Quebec distilleries and breweries and Mr. Fiset's name, you will find it. (It is called, "Brasseries et Distilleries au Quebec: profil d'archeologie industrielle". This means in English, "Breweries and Distilleries in Quebec: a Study in Industrial Archeology"). Even if your French is not up to it, you may find the many illustrations and plans annexed at the end of interest. They show early distilling and brewing buildings and equipment, layouts, etc.

Gary
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Unread postby bunghole » Fri Feb 16, 2007 8:51 pm

You must remember that Kentucky is still part of Virginia at this time, and that Virginia also had a history of farmer distillers just as strong as Pennsylvania's. Perhaps you have heard of George Washington? Or maybe Elijah Craig?

:arrow: ima :smilebox:
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Unread postby bourbonv » Sat Feb 17, 2007 11:17 am

Linn,
Right you are. Brown owned a store and had interest in a salt lick. From this letter it also seems he had a still with him since he had already found that distilling rye could be profitable. His partner, William Christian was back in Virginia and one of his business partners. I am sure that his distilling knowledge was probably a slave, and that slave would have learned the trade in Virginia.

I also found it very interesting that he planned to raise his own rye for distilling. A store owner would most likely have bought the rye from people in the community but Brown was a land owner who had people working his land in exchange for 1/5 of what they grew and produced. He was hoping to increase this profit by the use of slave labor in the near future. This also prooves that people in early Kentucky did raise more than corn.
Mike Veach
"Our people live almost exclusively on whiskey" - E H Taylor, Jr. 25 April 1873
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