The Cullen Bill and the Post-Prohibition Glass Bottle Monopoly

  “It was the keg, not the bottle that disappeared during prohibition, the heyday of the bootlegger.”– Hugh J. McMackin, Secretary of the National Wholesale Wine and Liquor Dealers’ Association (July 22, 1935) Figure 1- U.S. Pres. Franklin D. Roosevelt signing the Cullen-Harrison Act, which permitted the sale of low-alcohol beer (3.2% ABV) and wine, March 21, 1933. Upon signing the legislation, Roosevelt made his famous remark, “I think this would be a good time for a beer.” The Repeal of Prohibition, as welcome as it was to the liquor industry, was well choreographed by the industry’s biggest players. One of the means with which these companies were able to seize control the trade was through the lobbying of government for favorable...

Why Are the Insides of Whiskey Barrels Charred?

Occum’s razor basically states that “the simplest explanation is most likely the right one”. While that may not always be the case, when we address the questions “When did whiskey begin being aged in charred barrels” and “What is the history that led to coopers adopting this technique for whiskey making”, I think we often miss the obvious answers because they’re not clever. The idea that a cow could light a barn on fire and accidentally char the inside of Kentucky’s first distiller, Elijah Craig’s whiskey barrels is…romantic. A complete load of nonsense, but romantic. Leaving aside the fact that Elijah Craig was NOT Kentucky’s first distiller or that bourbon most certainly was NOT the first whiskey to be aged in charred oak…well, let’s just disregard that...

An Opinion on Metallica’s Blackened American Whiskey

An Opinion on Metallica’s Blackened American Whiskey

So…Metallica has its own whiskey now. Ugh.   Everyone has their own whiskey, it seems. Nothing new, of course. Celebrity sells. There have been celebrities moving distilled products since advertising’s infancy. Beautiful people, famous people, successful people…from doctors recommending a brand to silver screen actresses insisting that a brand will make you irresistible…it’s all been done. Here are just a few modern celebrities selling booze- Matthew McConaughy- Wild Turkey and Longbranch Whiskey Mila Kunis- Jim Beam Christina Hendricks- Johnny Walker David Beckham- Haig Club Dan Aykroyd- Crystal Head Vodka Ryan Reynolds- Aviation Gin George Clooney- Casamigos Tequila (though I think he sold that) Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt- Miraval Rosé Drew Barrymore-...

Aren’t All Barrels Made From American White Oak?

Aren’t All Barrels Made From American White Oak?

 Someone recently asked me, “Aren’t all barrels made from American white oak?” My answer was “No,” but the elaboration was probably a bit longer than he expected. Most of us know that barrels are made out of oak staves. White oak is a part of the genus Quercus from the family of Fagaceae. It is a fascinating wood in that it is water resistant (not water proof) and can be shaped into containers to hold liquids. While all wood has pores, white oak produces seals over those pores called tyloses that make it water resistant. (Red oak barrels, for instance, might work better for dry goods because the open pores in the wood would keep its contents dry and aerated.) Oak trees tend to grow tall and straight, which works well for coopers that need to cut long, clean...

What is a Cooper?

What is a Cooper?

What is a cooper?  Seems there are many children with the name Cooper, but not a whole lot of actual coopers out there. Traditionally, a cooper was the man that made barrels, or staved vessels.  A stave is a length of wood, usually cut from the center of a tree trunk, that is cut into a plank (think 1×3”-1×4” wood planks at Home Depot).  Anything a cooper produces is referred to as cooperage.  The facility where casks or barrels are made is also called a cooperage.  The cooperage produced necessary storage vessels for their communities and often the cooper was needed aboard ships and by the military. A “tight” cooper, historically, made barrels that held liquid.  White oak is the only wood that successfully holds water and other liquids due to the...

St. Bernards and Their Whiskey Barrels

St. Bernards and Their Whiskey Barrels

Legend tells that Saint Bernards carried barrels of whiskey around their necks to aid stranded travelers. In order to help travelers, an Augustine monk named St. Bernard de Menthon founded a hospice and monastery around the year 1050.   Sometime between 1660 and 1670, the monks at Great St. Bernard Hospice acquired their first St. Bernards.  The breed they raised were descendants of the mastiff style Asiatic dogs brought over by the Romans.  They were smaller than modern St.Bernards and had shorter reddish brown and white fur with a longer tail.  The earliest image of their dogs was depicted in two paintings done by well-known Italian artist Salvatore Rosa in 1695. At first, the dogs were companions to guides called “marrioners” that helped bring travelers...

John Hall’s Forty Creek

John Hall’s Forty Creek

I have found that many of the new distillers in America have come to distilling from breweries and beer production. It’s a logical step, as “beer” must be brewed before whisky can be distilled from it. (I’ve always liked the saying, “Whisky is what beer wants to be when it grows up…”) Some distillers come to whisky with wine expertise as well. Why make cognac when you can make whisky, right? One such wine producer in Canada that has made the transition to whisky production is John Hall of Forty Creek Distillery. The international community is paying more attention to Canadian whisky largely because of Mr. Hall’s contributions to craft production. John Hall started making wine in the 1970’s and purchased Kittling Ridge Estates Winery in Grimsby, Ontario in...

What Defines What Barrel is Used?

What Defines What Barrel is Used?

What defines the type of barrel that whiskey is aged or finished in? Different styles of barrel aged liquors use different style oak casks. Sherry, for instance is aged in larger barrels called a sherry butt or sherry puncheon which can hold 132 gallons. Originally, scotch was aged in mostly sherry casks because sherry casks were readily available. The sherry industry shipped their product in barrels, not bottles, and the whisky industry made good use of those used oak barrels. In the 70’s sherry began being shipped in bottles, and scotch producers turned to used bourbon barrels from the U.S. This use of different barrels changed the flavor of scotch significantly and many producers turned to using the more expensive sherry butts as a finishing barrel to reclaim...