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...

1917-1920. The Prelude to Prohibition

There is no doubt that Prohibition altered the landscape of the liquor industry in innumerable ways. The National Prohibition Act may have become established law in 1920, but other laws passed in the years leading up to its implementation began several years before. The country’s distillers had been battling temperance forces since the early 1800s, but three quarters of a century had turned a handful of fiery preachers and zealots into a nation-wide movement with its political agenda winning ground from the local courtrooms to Congress. Liquor was the first major moral wedge issue in politics.* The early 20th century saw a nation divided between the “wets” and the “drys” even if America’s citizens were more interested in being...

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...

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...

Potential in Pennsylvania

Potential in Pennsylvania

Picture a seed in your mind. It’s small. Even sitting in the palm of your hand, it doesn’t seem like much. But for all its unassuming nature, make no mistake, that seed holds powerful potential. Grind it, smash it, plant it, grow it, soak it. The seed is a food. It can multiply itself when planted and grown. A seed can be ground into flour. Its versatility has literally changed mankind from hunter-gatherer to farmer through its cultivation. In our modern times, its importance gets lost amongst high tech gadgets, ultra-capacity food distribution and light speed communication. Just for a moment, I want to reset and refocus our attention back on the humble seed and its unlimited potential. It is not just a food stuff, it is an economic powerhouse. The creation of...

The Cost of Prohibition for Pennsylvania

The Cost of Prohibition for Pennsylvania

While it is slowly becoming common knowledge that Pennsylvania is the birthplace of American whiskey, I’m often asked, ”Why is Pennsylvania only now showing signs of distilling life again?” The truth lies in the duration and aftermath of Prohibition. In 1899, there were close to 965 distilleries in the country with about 400 of them located in Pa. By 1914, that number had been reduced to 434, and by Prohibition, there were only 27-33 left. (ref.- http://www.bottlebooks.com/american%20medicinal%20spirits%20company/american_medicinal_spirits_compa.htm) Consolidation and the shuttering of so many distilleries left the distilling industry on the brink of collapse. The reality was that the political will and capital that remained in support of distilling would begin...