Why Was the Taft Decision Necessary?

(Hint: It’s Not Necessarily Why You’d Think…) Rectifiers VS. Straight Whiskey Interests To understand why the Taft Decision was so important to the whiskey industry, one must first understand why it was necessary to begin with. And NO- it was not to decide the definition of “straight whiskey.” The reason the Taft Decision was necessary at all was because the definition of “whiskey” was being hijacked. This will not be a popular statement, but…the people hijacking the definition were the lobbyists FOR straight bourbon. Since the earliest days of whiskey-making in America, there were rectifiers. Early on, so much of the whiskey being made in pot stills was inconsistent and flawed so many retail establishments began blending and refining the...

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...

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...

New Distilleries in Pennsylvania

New Distilleries in Pennsylvania

The American Whiskey Convention in Philadelphia was a bit of an inspiration for me to spend a bit more time discussing the boom in whiskey distilling here in Pennsylvania.  The “White Dog Row” element of the Convention showed off 11 new make spirits from 8 different local distilleries.  White whiskey is the backbone of any distillery.  It shows the character of the grain, the flavors contributed by the yeasts and the potential of the spirit.  No amount of aging can fix a bad white whiskey foundation.  I think it was important to highlight the potential of our local distilleries through their white dogs.  It also gave a chance for the distillers and representatives from those distilleries to speak directly to the public about their work and their visions for the...

What defines whisk(e)y?

What defines whisk(e)y?

So what determines what whisk(e)y is anyway? Government laws and regulations do. They have changed over the years, but as whiskey becomes a larger contributor to government budgets (through taxes) the government tends to take a larger interest. It is no great surprise that the government would take such an interest. Before Prohibition in the United States, taxes on whiskey alone accounted for 1/2 of national revenue! (There is an argument to be made that Prohibition caused the Great Depression…) Keeping your “native spirit” under domestic control is important not only to maintain its integrity, but also to maintain its tax contributions. There are so many differences in laws relating to whiskey that the only real connection that whiskey has throughout the...