When did barrel proof become established?

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Re: When did barrel proof become established?

Unread postby gillmang » Wed Dec 17, 2008 1:35 pm

Around this time I know Old Overholt (rye) had a barrel proof in the market (or had had one), one member on the other board owns an example I know but I can't recall who it is. The proof is probably around 109, 110.

For this product on the right of the photo, the label doesn't seem to say. Clearly by this time Charles Farnsley was Mayor of Louisville and the products before him were not (from what I can see) just representative of Stitzel-Weller, i.e., I presume he was vaunting a selection of local produce as a Mayor should. (I assume too he was the Farnsley associated with S-W or related to them at any rate).

The Copperhead seems to state (it is hard to read) it is bottled by W.I. Wathen and possibly for some type of charitable group but the legend which might explain that is hard to read (at top of label). Rebel Yell was bottled for himself which makes sense due to the Farnsley connection to S-W.

The proof of the Copperhead would probably be in the range of what we see today for barrel proof whiskey.

I am sure all those bourbons were very good!

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Re: When did barrel proof become established?

Unread postby bourbonv » Wed Dec 17, 2008 2:20 pm

Stitzel-Weller was using the drum bottle since the end of prohibition. Charles farnsley was the nephew of Alex Farnsley of Stitzel-Weller and created several Civil War themed labels and had them bottled by various distillers. I know Bernheim Distillery produced some whiskey for him for his "Lost Cause" label. He could have provided the glassware for the bottles to the bottler. The Rebel Yell in the photograph is the Stitzel-Weller version after he sold the label to them. His Rebel Yell label had a cannon on a plain white label.

As far as barrel proof labels are concerned, Stitzel-Weller started to produce them for the Weller label in the 1950's. The precurser to Weller Anitique was Weller Barrel Proof 107 the first year and 110 the next, then back to 107 from then forward.
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Re: When did barrel proof become established?

Unread postby gillmang » Wed Dec 17, 2008 3:46 pm

Mike,for the Wathen-bottled one (Copperhead), wouldn't that have been from the distillery in Owensboro that the Medley family set up some time after National Distillers bought the Wathen brand (trademark) itself?

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Re: When did barrel proof become established?

Unread postby bourbonv » Wed Dec 17, 2008 4:19 pm

I can not tell much from the photograph, but I am willing to bet that it was some branch of National Distillers and bottled for the Mayor here in Louisville. Farnsley was too big of a supporter of louisville to go elsewhere to get bourbon bottled for him. Louisville offered plenty of choices during his term.
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Re: When did barrel proof become established?

Unread postby gillmang » Wed Dec 17, 2008 5:13 pm

I think you are right (unless part of the Wathen family had set up a business at that time in Louisville) because when I look more closely, the bottom legend (next to the 'L" in Life) seems to state "Louisville".
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Re: When did barrel proof become established?

Unread postby gillmang » Wed Dec 17, 2008 9:45 pm

You might be right, Jeff, maybe the Copperhead does state W.L. Weller.

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Re: When did barrel proof become established?

Unread postby bourbonv » Thu Dec 18, 2008 2:48 pm

Of course the real answer to your question is that almost all of the bourbon sold in the 19th century was barrel proof because that was the way whiskey was sold - in the barrel. You would take your flask or decanter or jug to your local merchant and have them fill it from the barrel.
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Re: When did barrel proof become established?

Unread postby bourbonv » Thu Dec 18, 2008 5:20 pm

Barrel proof depended upon the angel's share and storage in the warehouse and temperature of the shipment form (sailing around the horn to California subjected the barrels to both extreme heat and cold) and other such factors, but the whiskey usually went into the barrel at about 100 proof and it was then guaged as it exited the warehouse (so the taxes could be paid) and shipped at that proof. Once it got to its new owner, it could very well be subjected to added water, fruit juice, ect. as the new owner did as he pleased with the product before selling to the customer. This is what led Brown to come up with the idea of a whiskey sold only by the bottle to insure quality of the brand. Remember, it was not just saloons that were buying the barrels, but also pharmacies, groceries and even hospitals.

Since 100 proof was considered the "ideal proof" for whiskey, that is what was aimed at by the distillers.
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Re: When did barrel proof become established?

Unread postby cowdery » Sat Dec 20, 2008 9:57 pm

As Mike points out, barrel proof was always around and when standard barrel proof and standard bottling proof were pretty close, it was no big deal.

The idea of barrel proof only really started to mean something when entry proofs started to go up as bottling proofs started to go down and the difference became significant. Then it became a matter of fashion, although people didn't typically bottle things at exactly barrel proof or call it that, but SW did a lot of 107 proof bottlings, and Old Grand-Dad had the 114, so there were always high proof bottlings in limited release. Although they weren't necessarily exact barrel proofs, they were usually close.

Remember too that 20 years ago there were a lot more bottled-in-bond products still on the market, so a lot more whiskey at 100 proof. Now you're usually comparing a barrel proof to a standard 80 proof product, so the gap is bigger.

The modern true barrel proof American whiskey trend was started by Beam in the late 1980s with Booker's, but it was inspired by the well-established popularity of cask proof single malts. Almost all American whiskey innovations in the 1980s were copied from the Scottish single malts.
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Re: When did barrel proof become established?

Unread postby shoshani » Sat Dec 20, 2008 10:59 pm

cowdery wrote: SW did a lot of 107 proof bottlings, and Old Grand-Dad had the 114, so there were always high proof bottlings in limited release. Although they weren't necessarily exact barrel proofs, they were usually close.


I remember OGD 114 being advertised or labeled as "barrel proof" when I first noticed it, around 1986 or 87 as I recall. It would have been in the waning days of National Distillers.

SW used to label Weller Antique as barrel proof, but I understand that varied between 107 and 110. Wild Turkey, so far as I know, still barrels between 105 and 107, so their 101 proof bottlings may not be barrel proof but are pretty close to it. (Maker's barrels at 110; I wish Bill Samuels would introduce a barrel proof expression...or re-introduce the 101 Limited Edition.)
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Re: When did barrel proof become established?

Unread postby bourbonv » Mon Dec 22, 2008 12:08 pm

I don't recall the exact dates of the bottles of weller "Barrel Proof" in the United Distillers Archive, but I do seem to think that they were very early 1950's, probably 1952 or 53. You could call Buffalo Trace and ask them. I am sure those bottles went to Buffalo Trace as part of the brand sell in 1999. That is the earliest "barrel Proof" label I have seen in post-prohibition whiskey.
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Re: When did barrel proof become established?

Unread postby cowdery » Mon Dec 22, 2008 9:08 pm

Stitzel was doing the 107-proof bottlings in the fifties, maybe earlier. OGD 114 appeared in the 1970s. Booker's was the first to just take whatever the proof was and go with that. They got permission to officially use a range. Booker's isn't single barrel so the proof varies by batch. Same way with Stagg but since they typically do just one batch a year, the proof identifies the year and is the proof for that release.
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Re: When did barrel proof become established?

Unread postby bourbonv » Tue Dec 23, 2008 10:24 am

I went home and reviewed some notes and the last time I was in the U.D. archive, I was looking at a Stitzel-Weller label book and they had a Weller Barrel Proof label dated 1949. I would say that this is the earliest barrel proof release post prohibition.

Chuck is correct in his statements about Old Grand Dad 114, Booker's and Stagg so I would say 1949 is the answer to your question.
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