Poor Old Crow…when will you get your due?
Old Crow bourbon long ago fell to the bottom shelf. It uses the same mash bill and yeast as Jim Beam, but is only aged for 3 years and not as much interest is put into its taste profile. Old Crow Reserve gets a bit more love by being aged for 4 years and is bottled at 86 proof instead of the industry standard 80 that Old Crow is brought down to.
This historic American whiskey is named after James Crow, the Steve Jobs of bourbon! Dr. James C. Crow (chemist/physician- with a medical degree from Edinburgh University) was originally from Inverness, in Scotland. He first moved to Philadelphia and then down to Woodford County, Kentucky in the 1820’s. He began working on new methods for distillation while working for Colonel Willis Field. He was implementing his knowledge of chemistry and medicine in his new work and began creating consistency of product that had never been seen before. This new consistency allowed for large production commitments that could actually be met! He created the sour mash process after success in his experimentations with litmus paper to determine mash acidity. He also began experimenting with a saccharimeter to determine his mash’s sugar content. Dr. Crow later moved to Millville and for twenty years was the head distiller at the Oscar Pepper Distillery (becomes the Labrot and Graham distillery). After that he went on to work at the Johnson Distillery a few miles north. (that location later becomes Old Taylor)
Many consider James Crow the father of bourbon. He certainly created a consistent, much sought after product! His methods were carried on after his death (in 1856) by William Mitchell, who worked closely with Crow, and then Mitchell’s successor, Van Johnson. Dr. Crow never owned a distillery, though. Old Crow Distillery was not built until 1872, which was 16 years after his death. It seems that the recipe for Dr. Crow’s bourbon was kept fairly similar to the original until the 1960’s. Even after Prohibition and the label became a product of National Distillers, the bourbon basically stayed the same. It was in the 60’s when National refurbished the distillery that the spirit changed a bit and people started to complain. Jim Beam purchased National in 1987 and the brand, in its lesser version, has maintained its place on the bottom shelf.
Old Crow used to be a highly praised bourbon! It was said to be the favorite of Ulysses S. Grant. When Lincoln said, “Tell me what brand of whiskey that Grant drinks. I would like to send a barrel of it to my other generals,” the answer would have been Old Crow. Mark Twain was a big fan and visited the distillery in the 1880’s. More recently, Hunter S. Thomson was a fan. This whiskey lost favor because it lost its mojo.
Brown-Forman is making an effort to bring back the venerable history of Old Forester bourbon. I hope Jim Beam puts some love back into James Crow’s brand. The history of Old Crow is incredibly interesting and it tells a better TRUE story than any newly concocted bourbon with false claims to bootlegging history and mobsters ever could. Bring back the real Old Crow!!