Rare Book Review: Kentucky's Distilling Interest

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Rare Book Review: Kentucky's Distilling Interest

Unread postby bourbonv » Sat Dec 15, 2007 11:00 am

Kentucky's Distilling Interest: An Illustrated History Containing Sketches and Announcements of the Most Celebrated Makers and Brands in the State, by The Kentucky Distiller's Bureau Co., 1893. Illustrated. pp.100.

This book was published as a promotional tool for straight whiskey distillers in the last decade of the nineteenth century. The book starts with a summary of the distilling industry and its history, but really gives very little history and much flowery language describing bourbon. It hints upon regional tastes by the distillery's location, but does nothing to describe those taste. The regional variations in taste is all in the water used according to the writers of this book.

After the brief "history" individual companies are given a page or two to promote themselves and their brands. Many of them write short descriptions of the company and distillery and brands. Others simply use the pages to post advertisements. Some even do a combination of both. These companies are divided by region, sort of. The Owensboro distilleries are gouped together as are the Warren County distilleries and Louisville distilleries, but when you get to the bluegrass region of the state things start jumping around all over the region. From Lexington to Northern Kentucky, back to Lawrenceburg and over to Cynthiana and back to Harrodsburg. Bourbon County pops in there somewhere as does Old Taylor and Geo. T Stagg.

The Ilustrations and the charts make this of some historical value. There are photographs and prints of many distilleries that no longer exist. There are also many other illustrations of places around the state. People are also illustrated in the book with one of the earliest depictions of Daniel Boone in a Coonskin cap. The charts illustrate whiskey production in the 1880's by state in the region and then by district in Kentucky. The states are of course Kentucky, but also Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Maryland and Tennessee with a column for United States Whiskey production. Kentucky produces more than any other state and exports more than any other state.

This is a valuable book for whiskey history. It can be found at the Filson Historical Society and the University of Kentucky.
Mike Veach
"Our people live almost exclusively on whiskey" - E H Taylor, Jr. 25 April 1873
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Unread postby bourbonv » Sat Dec 15, 2007 11:35 am

I think Mike from Georgia is the reincarnated spirit of the writer of this book. I can see his and Barleycorn's earlier incarnations sitting around and writing this final paragraph of the history. See if you agree.

"When it is made, sip it slowly. August suns are shining, the breath of the South wind is upon you. It is fragrant, cold and sweet - it is seductive. No maiden's kiss could be more passionate. Sip it and dream - you can not dream amiss. Sip it and dream, it is a dream itself. No other land can give so sweet a solace for your cares: no other liquor soothe you so in melancholy days. Sip it and say there is no solace for the soul, no tonic for the body like Old Bourbon whiskey."
Mike Veach
"Our people live almost exclusively on whiskey" - E H Taylor, Jr. 25 April 1873
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Unread postby gillmang » Sat Dec 15, 2007 7:12 pm

Sounds like a mint julep is being described, Mike. And yes, Mike from Conyers does evoke a similar rhythm and mood in his epistles.

Gary
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Unread postby bourbonv » Sat Dec 15, 2007 8:09 pm

Gary,
Funny you should say that... The "history" section is filled with flowery language about bourbon and describe how to make a New Year's spiced apple punch, a Christmas eggnog and finally a Mint Julep. The final paragraph sums up both the mint julep and the chapter. Here is the description of the mint julep:

"Then comes the zenith of man's pleasure. Then comes the julep - the mint julep. Who has not tasted one has lived in vain. The honey of Hymettus brought no such solace to the soul; the nectar of the gods is tame beside it. It is the very dream of drinks, the vision of sweet quaffings. The Bourbon and the mint are lovers. In the same land they live, on the same food fostered. The mint dips its infant leaf into the same stream that makes the Bourbon what it is. The corn grows in the level lands through which small streams meander. By the brookside the mint grows. As the little wavelets pass they glide up to kiss the feet of the growing mint, the mint bends to salute them. Gracious and kind it is, living only for the sake of others. The crushing of it only makes its sweetness more apparent. Like a woman's heart it gives its sweetest aroma when bruised. Among the first to greet the spring it comes. Beside the gurgling brooks tha make music in the pastures it lives and thrives. When the bluegrass begins to shoot its gentle sprays toward the sun, the mint comes, and its sweet soul drinks at the crystal brook. It is a virgin then. But soon it must be married to Old Bourbon, His great heart, his warm temperament and that affinity, which no one understands, demands the wedding. How shall it be? Take from the cold sprig some water, pure as the angels are; mix with it sugar till it seems like oil. Then take a glass and crush your mint within it with a spoon - crush it around the borders of the glass and leave no place untouched. Then throw the mint away - it is a sacrifice. Fill with cracked ice the glass; pour in the quantity of Bourbon you want. It trickles slowly through the ice. Let it have time to cool, then pour your sugared water over it. No spoon is needed, no stirring allowed - just let it stand a moment. Then around the brim place sprigs of mint so that the one who drinks may find a taste and odor at one draught."

Finish with the paragraph I copied in the other post and you have the end to the chapter. It really is a very interesting read filled with all sorts of imagery that would excite any English Lit teacher.
Mike Veach
"Our people live almost exclusively on whiskey" - E H Taylor, Jr. 25 April 1873
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Unread postby gillmang » Sat Dec 15, 2007 9:27 pm

Thanks, Mike. I believe this was quoted (or part of it) in the Carson book. Very flowery as you say but kind of cool.

However it is interesting that so much focus was placed, in the heart of bourbon country, on drinking the brands in cocktails and other compounds.

Of course I haven't read that book but what you cited seems consistent with other things I've read that suggest that whiskey then was generally not consumed neat.

I wonder if this is why there was little emphasis placed on individual companies' formulas and taste differences and therefore why we find so few taste notes in the old literature (extending well into the 1900's). I am sure it was felt that bourbons had to reach an acceptable quality in terms of age and proof (this seems undoubted) but beyond that, could the differences have been viewed as immaterial since whiskey was consumed in mixtures such as punch, toddies (i.e., with sugar), egg nog and juleps, or at most with water in highballs, and therefore the nuances did not matter?

I am starting to think this may have been so at least amongst the so-called genteel set including the kind of people who wrote and read books in around 1900 such as you cited. I don't doubt that drinking whiskey neat or just with water was a well-established habit of those working and farming people who imbibed. The existence of shot glasses shows that and so do contemporary documents such as Jack London's John Barleycorn. I found the London book interesting and would recommend it for its description of saloon habits of the day. (His take on the problem of alcohol abuse is also interesting). I would think too the whole moonshine tradition was based on taking whiskey neat or nearly so. Think of the folk and blues songs which chronicle drinking whiskey from old fruit jars and so forth.

But now that I think of it, ads until the 1970's vaunting the quality brands, books like you mentioned, 1800's cocktails texts like Jerry Thomas' (whose clientele were the well-off mostly I would think) all presented liquors as something to be mixed, or mostly so. E.g., in those countless mid-1900's ads for any good bourbon you so often see pictures of cocktails, punches and highballs. Sometimes whiskey on the rocks or a shot class or jigger filled, yes, but I would say cocktails were much more commonly pictured, and egg nogs at Christmas-time.

Chuck, I know you have just authored a piece on punch and its history and wonder if you have any thoughts.

Thanks again Mike for unearthing this interesting nugget, it sounds like you are amassing a great deal of useful contemporary information on straight and other whiskeys.

My next gazebo drink (this is a certainty) will be an 1800's whiskey punch - I wonder why I never thought of that before.

Gary
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Unread postby bourbonv » Sun Dec 16, 2007 3:17 pm

Gary,
In this same volume, there is plenty of discussion of drinking the whiskey straight or with a little branch water. The book goves me the impression that Cocktails were something that was done for special occasions, but there were traditional cocktails for those occasions. In some ways, that has not changed.

There was plenty of emphasis on flavor by the companies, but they limited the descriptors to terms like "Light and mellow" and "Heavy bodied" or similar terms. The closest there was to modern tasting notes was when they described Glenmore as "fruity". I don't think people thought of taste in the same way as we do today - at least not in the spirits industry.
Mike Veach
"Our people live almost exclusively on whiskey" - E H Taylor, Jr. 25 April 1873
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Unread postby gillmang » Sun Dec 16, 2007 3:48 pm

Okay, thanks.

Gary
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Unread postby cowdery » Sun Dec 16, 2007 9:52 pm

One thing I found interesting, researching the punch piece, was that English drinking started with ales, of course, then drinks made from ales, often involving dairy. Egg Nog descends from that tradition. Then come punches, from India, in the 17th and 18th century. Initially punches were something very specific, a combination of spirit, citrus juice, sugar, water and spices. Then it became anything in a bowl. Then cocktails, mostly coming from America, became the rage, though many favorite punch recipes lived on, just made by the glass. You can even look at something as simple as whiskey and water, a very common way to drink whiskey at one time, and see the lemon twist providing that little bit of citrus.

The other thing that is less common today than it once was is substantial dilution, by which I mean two, three or more parts water to one part whiskey. This was more common even in living memory. It probably has to do with a couple of things: Whiskey/spirits used as a way of making water safe to drink, cutting whiskey with a lot of water to cut the unpleasant taste of poorly made spirits, and the unavailability of alternatives such as ice, seltzer, soft drinks, etc.
Last edited by cowdery on Mon Dec 17, 2007 11:58 am, edited 1 time in total.
- Chuck Cowdery

Author of Bourbon, Straight
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Unread postby gillmang » Sun Dec 16, 2007 11:02 pm

Thanks for that, Chuck.

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