Is Rye Whiskey Really that Hard to Make?

After the last blog post, I was reminded by a fellow enthusiast that I should have included that “rye whiskey is hard to make”. It gave me pause so I figured I better address it. I did not include that rye grain mashes can be difficult to work with because I do not believe that it was a contributing factor behind rye whiskey not surviving Prohibition. The first reason among the 8 I provided was that rye was expensive, both to grow and to purchase, but I did not make mention of how difficult it may be to work with in the distillery. After all, these difficulties are not likely something that an experienced distiller in the early 20th century would have been affected by. Not to put too fine a point on it, but if you are an experienced Formula One racecar driver,...

Why did rye not survive Prohibition?

Ad from the Daily Republican, August 16, 1889. That is the big question, after all, isn’t it? Rye is America’s oldest style of whiskey. It was the most valuable and the most desirable American-made whiskey on the market before Prohibition, but it clearly does not hold the same place in America’s drinking culture anymore. What happened? The answer is complicated, but worth exploring. The near disappearance of rye whiskey from the American whiskey market was, in a nutshell, due to Prohibition. (The prelude to Prohibition is another discussion entirely.) To be clear, I don’t mean the morally driven quest for temperance that began a hundred years before politicians began using prohibition as a wedge issue to win votes. I mean that the literal act of passing the 18th...

The Creation of Concentration Warehouses and Their Impact on the American Whiskey Trade

To all those dusty Prohibition-era bottle collectors out there…The labels on those pint bottles from the early 20th century tell a story that is not often told (or explained). While they may seem rather straight forward by listing the companies responsible for distilling and bottling the whiskey (often those companies listed are different), they actually read more like “in memoriams” for all those American distilleries forced out of business by Prohibition. Beautifully designed labels with old timey brands list defunct distilling companies that would otherwise have gone on making whiskey uninterrupted had it not been for the ratification of the 18th amendment.* Even the distillery names that we do recognize can be confusing because a Kentucky whiskey label might...

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...

The Whiskey Trust

When it comes to the history of American whiskey, there is no more important topic than that of the Whiskey Trust. In fact, American whiskey history should probably be divided into 2 eras: Pre-Whiskey Trust and Post-Whiskey Trust. Even the staggering effects on the whiskey trade caused by Prohibition would not have been as impactful without the machinations of the Whiskey Trust. The story of the Whiskey Trust, as described by whiskey historians, often stops in 1895 when the company was dissolved, but it does not end there. Each iteration of the Whiskey Trust became more influential and impactful than the last. Its legacy lives on with us today and is reflected in the state of modern America’s whiskey industry. The concept of a “whiskey trust” began to congeal...

Pre-Prohibition Distillers of Pennsylvania

I have spent the last few years researching and cataloging information on nearly 200 distilleries that produced rye whiskey across Pennsylvania before 1920. The information about Pennsylvania’s distilling history along with the traditions that established Pennsylvania as the leader in American rye whiskey production has been lost to generations of Pennsylvanians, not to mention the many new whiskey drinkers just learning about our country’s distilling heritage. I am making my best effort to reopen the history book of Pennsylvania rye whiskey and bring these distilleries back into the conversation. Bourbon is a whiskey that began its introduction to American drinkers in the early 1800s, joining the rye whiskey that had already been sitting comfortably...

MGP Ingredients- The Distillery Prohibition Did Not Destroy

MGP Ingredients- The Distillery Prohibition Did Not Destroy

If you’re tasting a lot of whiskeys and considering where they come from, you’ll have already become familiar with MGP (Midwest Grain Products) Ingredients.  In most cases, you’ll have read an article about how hundreds of whiskeys on the market today are, in fact, distilled at MGP and that many of those companies are not honest about their whiskeys’ provenance.  In some cases, people cannot believe that a company that sells extracted starches, textured plant proteins and cleaning products could also make such great whiskey. I’m here to tell you, this is as American as apple pie. (Apple pie is originally European, too, by the way…We imported its recipe the same way we imported our distilling traditions.) To be clear, MGP Ingredients (also referred to by...

The 2nd Annual American Whiskey Convention!

The 2nd Annual American Whiskey Convention!

“By Whiskey Lovers, For Whiskey Lovers” The 2nd Annual American Whiskey Convention is a Grand Tasting at Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia, PA on March 24th   Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Feb 7, 2017 — Pennsylvania is the birthplace of American Whiskey. As the first days of spring arrive, Philadelphia will host the largest all-American whiskey event in the country! Philadelphia’s whiskey aficionados will have access to a grand tasting with over 150 bourbons, ryes, wheat and malt whiskeys from some of the finest distilleries in the country. The 2nd Annual American Whiskey Convention takes place on Friday, March 24th in the Hall of Fame Club of Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia, Pa. “We’ve created an event to highlight America’s whiskey renaissance and...