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Wednesday, December 17, 2014

The Wathen Family Pokes The 800-Pound Gorilla (The Whiskey Trust).

Members of the Wathen family were whiskey pioneers in Kentucky, but only the basics are written about them.  At most, some writers briefly mention the Wathen family as being part of the early distilling tradition in Kentucky, and some acknowledge the family’s deft maneuvering to succeed during Prohibition by forming the American Medicinal Spirits Company (“AMS”), which was eventually sold to National Distillers.  More often, however, the Wathen family is relegated to mere passing reference (if at all), or incorrect names and dates are given to fill in chronologies in other stories (like Old Grand-Dad or National Distillers), or the name is only recognized through the current Wathen/Medley sourced brands.

In reality, lawsuits spanning over 50 years (ranging from the late 1800’s through the post-Prohibition era) provide an incredible history of family tradition, partially selling out to the Kentucky Distilleries and Warehouse Company (“KDWC” – the Whiskey Trust) and starting over with the next generation, fighting with the KDWC, battling the temperance movement, defending criminal charges, surviving through the genius of AMS, and helping position National Distillers Products Corporation as a behemoth.

There’s actually too much litigation and history for just one post, so here I’m focusing on the sale of J. B. Wathen & Bros. Co. to KDWC in 1899, and the lawsuit that led John Bernard’s (“J. B.”) son, Richard Eugene (“R. E.”), to start his own distilling company, probably with the support of J. B., and immediately poking KDWC in the eye.

But first, to set the stage, the history leading up to 1899 is important.  Henry Hudson Wathen (1756-1851) settled seven miles south of Lebanon, Kentucky in 1788.  Two years later, in 1790, he started a “very small and crude distillery” according to a family history published in a 1905 edition of The Wine and Spirit Bulletin

In 1852, Henry’s youngest son, Richard Bernard Wathen (1815-1880), started his own distillery just about one mile from Henry’s distillery.  Richard, it turned out, became the father of perhaps the most prolific whiskey distiller brothers in American history.

Richard had five sons who eventually worked in the distilling business, the most prolific of whom was John Bernard (“J. B.”) Wathen (1844-1919).  The other brothers were Richard Nicholas (“R. N.”), Martin Athanasius (“M. A.”), William H. (“W. H.”), and John A. (“J. A.”).  In turn, J. B.’s most prolific distilling son was Richard Eugene (“R. E.”) Wathen, although most of his brothers and other sons were also involved in the family business.

J. B. built his first distillery in Lebanon, near his father’s and grandfather’s distilleries, in 1875.  By 1879, J. B. added the first non-Wathen partners to the family business, H. Mueller and Chas. Kobert of Cincinnati.  J. B. sold out of that partnership in 1880, leaving it in the capable hands of his brother, R. N. and J. A., along with Mueller and Kobert.

J. B. sold out because he had bigger plans.  He moved to Louisville and built the J. B. Wathen & Bros. Distillery in 1880 with his brother, W. H.  Their brother M. A. joined them in 1881, and by 1885 the brothers rolled the partnership into a corporation called “J. B. Wathen & Bros. Company.”  The Wathen brothers experienced incredible success and reinvested in the company by installing one of the first continuous column stills in Kentucky and installing steam heat in the warehouses.  J. A. Wathen joined his brothers in 1887 to manage the company.

On April 13, 1899, J. B. sold J. B. Wathen & Bros. Co. to KDWC, but in the meantime, the family’s other distilleries stayed in the family.  “Wathen, Mueller & Co. was still going strong in Marion County and in 1899 J. B.’s brother, M. A., along with J. B.’s son, R. E., purchased the Old Grand-Dad distillery in Hobbs Station. 

After the sale to KDWC, J. A. Wathen stayed with KDWC as an employee.  In a move that must have led to awkward dinner-table discussions, however, J. B. Wathen apparently orchestrated the formation of a new business for his sons – calling it “R. E. Wathen & Co.” after his oldest son (who was only 22 at the time) – to immediately compete with KDWC and to try to use brand names that infringed on the brand names that J. B. had just sold to KDWC.  R. E. Wathen & Co. even employed former J. B. Wathen & Bros. Co. employees, used the office space from which J. B. had run his company, and used J. B.’s equipment.

The primary brands of J. B. Wathen & Bros. Co., which of course were sold to KDWC, were “Ky. Criterion” and “Honeymoon” and the distillery was sometimes known as the “West End Distillery.”  The new R. E. Wathen & Co. called its distillery the “East End Distillery” and promoted its brands as “Ky. Credential” and “Honeycomb.”  As we might expect, KDWC sued and asked for an injunction.

The court’s July 16, 1901 ruling held that these two brands unfairly impinged on the brands just acquired by KDWC, even though consumers were not necessarily deceived

The court noted that federal law had required, since 1892, that the name of the distiller be stamped or burned upon the head of every barrel of distilled spirits (hence the origin of the term “brand name”).  The court also noted that distillers sold their whiskey in barrel lots to wholesalers, then it was sold by “drummers” to retailers, who then sold the whiskey to the public in bottles that did not necessarily include the brand name of the distiller.  KDWC apparently acknowledged that the wholesalers were not misled by the similar names used by the new Wathen company, but in possibly the first extension of brand name rights, the court still enjoined the Wathens from using “Ky. Credential” and “Honeycomb” simply to protect the brand names acquired by KDWC.

 The Wathens were true Kentucky Bourbon pioneers, and like so many of the colorful characters of Bourbon legend, they had a maverick instinct and didn’t shy away from litigation.  This time though, the Whiskey Trust won the fight in court.  However, the Wathen family fought on, and succeeded with Old Grand-Dad and other brands, even thriving during Prohibition.  Stay tuned for future posts about more cases involving this legendary family.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Sipp’n Corn Bourbon Review – Orphan Barrel Lost Prophet

Lost Prophet is Diageo’s fourth Orphan Barrel brand, a 22 year-old Bourbon distilled at the George T. Stagg Distillery (now Buffalo Trace) and moved for storage to Stitzel-Weller in Louisville, although I cannot find a definitive answer to the question of when or why these barrels were sold to Stitzel-Weller or its subsequent owners, who continued to age Bourbon after distilling ceased there.

However, I think the reason can be put together from the status of the Bourbon industry at the time.  According to the Buffalo Trace timeline (link here), in 1991 employment at the distillery had dwindled to 50 people and the distillery was in danger of closing.  That’s when Lost Prophet was distilled.  As a reminder, lean times had struck the Bourbon industry, but the resurgence was practically around the corner for any distillery that could outlast the downturn.  The George T. Stagg Distillery had been known by several names before Prohibition, and some of my posts about Col. E. H. Taylor, Jr. have tracked its progression. 

The distillery was bought in 1920 by Col. Albert B. Blanton where it served as a concentration warehouse and bottling facility for “medicinal” whiskey, and also continued to distill medicinal whiskey.  Schenley bought the distillery in 1933 and developed the Ancient Age brand with Col. Blanton still in charge of the distillery. 

Ancient Age Distilling Co. bought the distillery in late December 1982, and in 1992 the Ancient Age brands, using what is now known as the Buffalo Trace mash bill #2, were sold to Takara Shuzo Co. of Japan, while the distillery itself was sold to Sazerac.  Sazerac developed other brands, eventually including its namesake Buffalo Trace, using a lower-rye mash bill, now known as mash bill #1, while continuing to use mash bill #2 for Blanton’s, Elmer T. Lee, Ancient Age, and others under an agreement with Takara Shuzo.  Given the timing of the distillation, it is not surprising that the Lost Prophet mash bill is similar to what is popularly believed to be the current mash bill #2.

So now through corporate mergers, Diageo has come to own Bourbon distilled at George T. Stagg in the last years before that floundering distillery was saved by the Sazerac turn-around.  Has it been worth the wait?

Orphan Barrel Lost Prophet

George T. Stagg Distillery
Mash Bill:

75-78% corn; 15% rye; 7-10% malted barley
22 years


90.1 proof

$120.00 / 750 mL bottle

Tasting Notes
Disclaimer: Diageo kindly invited me to an event at Stitzel-Weller to sample Lost Prophet for this review, without any strings attached.
Thank you.

Dark amber to old copper.  Much darker than our comparison Barterhouse.

Some oak, but not overpowering.  Dark fruit, honey sweetness, corn, and clove.

This is a full, creamy Bourbon, with a prominent butterscotch flavor, along with rich fruit, vanilla, nuttiness, and a bit of leather.  Like the nose, there’s some oak, but it’s nowhere near overpowering.

Nice finish with similar sweet flavors and smokiness.

Bottom Line

I’ll have to revisit this since it’s risky to review based on a single tasting, and I’ll hold my normal scoring until then.  I’ll also have to compare Lost Prophet one day to the other Orphan Barrel editions, but more interestingly, maybe to Elijah Craig 23.  In the meantime, from the samples provided, Lost Prophet strikes me as the best Orphan Barrel thus far, although the price dampens my enthusiasm.  Still, this one will be worth shelling out the expected retail price, and I’ll start hunting after the release later this week and next week.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Sipp’n Corn Bourbon Review – William Heavenhill Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey (4th Edition 15-Year Cask Strength)

Despite my relative disappointment with some recent high-priced Bourbon, my resounding praise of Elijah Craig 12-Year Barrel Proof and this year’s Parker’s Heritage Collection (“Original Wheat”) drew me back into the Evan Williams Bourbon Experience to purchase the latest $250.00 extremely limited edition Bourbon from Heaven Hill:  William Heavenhill 15-year Cask Strength.  Like last spring’s Select Stock, this bottle is only available at the gift shop in Bardstown, but a few bottles found their way to Louisville.  Unlike the wheated, Cognac-finished, Select Stock, William Heavenhill uses Heaven Hill’s standard Bourbon mash bill (75% corn; 13% rye; 12% malted barley), and there’s no fancy finishing. 

What sets William Heavenhill apart from Elijah Craig 12-year Barrel Proof (aside from three additional years of aging) is that William Heavenhill was aged in barrels larger than traditional 53-gallon size.  After some inquiries, Heaven Hill gave me exclusive additional information:  they used nine out of thirteen custom-built 65-gallon barrels for this edition of William Heavenhill.  Parker Beam found these custom-made barrels – that were actually built for a different customer – and he was intrigued.  I was also told that the nine selected barrels only produced about 350 bottles, which seems low even for 15 years and cask strength, at least at average evaporation rates, but apparently three of the barrels in particular were extremely low.

Regardless, the real question is probably whether William Heavenhill is materially different when compared to a $55.00 Elijah Craig Barrel Proof?  I certainly wondered, so I opened an Elijah Craig 12-year Barrel Proof from the spring of 2014, which weighed in at a conveniently similar 134.8 proof.  Let’s see if there’s a $200 difference.

Bourbon:        William Heavenhill Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey

Distillery:        Heaven Hill (distilled in Louisville and aged in Bardstown)

Age:                15 years (in 65-gallon barrels, stored upright)

Proof:             135.6 proof

Cost:               $249.99

Tasting Notes

Dark brown; some of the darkest that I’ve seen.  It’s even darker than Elijah Craig 12-year Barrel Proof, which used to be the darkest Bourbon in my collection.

The nose is similar to Elijah Craig 12-year Barrel Proof, but it has more oak, and more earthy and leather tones too.  It has a nice balance of oak and spice along with caramel and cinnamon apple.  There isn’t as much burn on the nose as might be expected from the high proof, and it has noticeably less burn than the slightly lower proofed Elijah Craig (to be fair, this particular batch of Elijah Craig Barrel Proof has the hottest nose out of all of them to date).

The high proof is evident immediately, but it’s not distracting.  A little air calmed it down too, but it still has a robust blast of complex flavors.  It has the oak and leather from the nose, with an overall dry taste, but much more complexity than I expected.  The taste has fewer similarities compared to Elijah Craig 12 Barrel Proof than with the nose, but it’s clearly still related.  William Heavenhill is creamier than the Elijah Craig and definitely drier, but despite having slightly higher proof, it’s less hot on the tongue.  William Heavenhill also has a unique dry tang of black tea.  This is a remarkable Bourbon.

The finish was really long, and definitely longer than my comparison Elijah Craig, with the same spice, oak and black tea flavors carrying through from the taste.

Bottom Line

With such a limited release and with such a premium price, I would have appreciated more attention to detail on the bottle.  The thick gold wax seal adds a nice touch, although the thickness and density of the wax made the strip really difficult to pull.  The simplicity of the bottle itself makes it attractive, but hand-labeling the warehouse information and bottle number would have been a nice gesture for anyone dropping this kind of cash. 

Regardless, I pay more attention to what’s inside the bottle than its appearances, and inside it is exceptional.  It’s considerably better than my last $250 Heaven Hill purchase (the wheated, Cognac-finished Select Stock).  Unlike that Select Stock, which I didn’t recommend drinking neat, William Heavenhill’s heat doesn’t absolutely require taming.  Instead, much like Elijah Craig Barrel Proof and Parker’s Heritage Collection 8th Ed. Original Wheat, this is a beast that can be enjoyed neat, and then you’d better cut the proof.  Adding differing amounts of water or ice gives a creamier, somewhat sweeter, taste, without sacrificing the finish.

While I really enjoyed William Heavenhill and would love to have a constant supply, I can’t say that it’s worth $200 more than Elijah Craig Barrel Proof, even though I think that this William Heavenhill is much better than my comparison Elijah Craig Barrel Proof.  On the other hand, this edition of William Heavenhill is unique, so I hope you get a chance to try it.  If I didn’t consider value, or if this were priced in the range of the suggested retail prices for many of this fall’s limited edition releases, William Heavenhill would have easily scored a 4.5, and maybe higher.  But I do account for value, so I had to adjust the score to a 3.5.

Thanks to sharp eyes and good fortune of a friend in Savannah, I just learned that Heaven Hill bottled one of its other 65-gallon barrels of the same mash bill 15-year Bourbon (bottled at 131 proof) as a private barrel under the Select Stock label.  This barrel was selected for Bourbon Bar in Atlanta, where the menu indicates a price of $40.00 per pour.  That leaves three more 65-gallon barrels unaccounted for; let the hunt begin.

Score on The Sipp’n Corn Scale:  3.5 (4.5+ if not considering price)

The Sipp’n Corn Scale™:
1 – Wouldn’t even accept a free drink of it.
2 – Would gladly drink it if someone else was buying.
3 – Glad to include this in my bar.
4 – Excellent bourbon.  Worth the price and I’m sure to always have it in my bar.
5 – Wow.  I’ll search high and low to get another bottle of this.

Sipp’n Corn Bourbon Review – Bushel & Barrel by Berentzen

As a sure sign that Bourbon (and American Whiskey in the broader sense) is reaching never-before-seen popularity, a German spirits company founded in 1758, and known for its fruit liqueurs, has launched an apple liqueur blend made with Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey.  This new spirit is called Bushel & Barrel, and to be clear, it is not Bourbon.  Instead, one of its components is Kentucky Straight Bourbon, and it is classified as a flavored whiskey blend.  I tend to stick to Straight Bourbon where I know the provenance, so this is branching out for me.

As background, while searching for Bourbon (mostly in vain) in Baltimore this past summer, my wife and I found our way to one of the largest Jack Daniels bars in the country:  The Horse You Came In On Saloon.  After pondering whether I really wanted Jack, let alone one of their fruit-infused Jacks, I decided on the apple-infused option, and was surprised to find that I liked it enough to order a second.  No self-respecting Kentuckian will admit much more, and I’m not turning in my Bourbon Card, but Bushel & Barrel came along so I thought I’d revisit this whiskey-and-apple deal.  Plus, I’m so tired of pumpkin trying to take the throne from apple as the true flavor of fall that this review is the least I can do.

Berentzen Bushel & Barrel

60 Proof
Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey, Berentzen Apple Liqueur and neutral spirits.


Berentzen could not disclose the source of its Bourbon under a confidentiality agreement.

$21.99 / 750 mL bottle

Tasting Notes

Disclaimer: Berentzen kindly gave me a sample bottle of its Bushel & Barrel blended Whiskey for this review, without any strings attached. 
Thank you.

Golden with a red hue.  Note:  it has caramel coloring. 

Apples!  This isn’t a spirit with just a hint of apples, but instead apple pie is prominent immediately on the nose.

Apples!  I was relieved that the apples did not taste medicinal or imitation; it tasted like real, honest apples.  There was a slight cider quality as well, but overall the taste evoked thoughts of fresh apples in the fall, apple pie, cinnamon-apple crumb cake, and caramel apples.  Some Bourbon spiciness is there too, but only in a complimentary capacity.

The finish is short and slightly warm with sweetness of apple, caramel and vanilla.  While the Bourbon is still evident, this apple does not bite back.

Bottom Line

I opened this bottle with friends before heading out for the evening.  Between the six of us, we tried it neat, on ice, and in two easy cocktails available on the website, one with ginger ale and the other with cranberry juice, both garnished with fresh slices of a honey crisp apple.  Everyone really enjoyed each variation.  Two of us also tried Bushel & Barrel on ice with an equal part Old Weller Antique 107 in order to get more Bourbon flavor and bite, and that was my personal favorite.

At only 60 proof, Bushel & Barrel is going to seem severely under-proofed to Bourbon fans, and of course using Bushel & Barrel in a cocktail is going to bring the final ABV down to about 10%.  I’d be interested to see if Berentzen blends a second variety at 90 proof, which I think mixologists and fans of American Whiskey might embrace.  On the other hand, this 60-proof version has just enough genuine Bourbon taste that it strikes me as a fantastic introduction to Bourbon, and even in a cocktail, it still has roughly twice the ABV of popular hard apple ciders and apple ales on the market.  So whether spiked up with a high-proof Bourbon, or tamed down in cocktails, I can picture Bushel & Barrel being a part of many Thanksgiving festivities next week.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Sipp’n Corn Bourbon Review – Coppercraft Distillery

I’ve traveled U.S. 31 all my life.  It runs along the shore of Lake Michigan through my hometown of Muskegon, north to Traverse City, and south through Grand Haven and more beach towns.  It also connects the West Michigan Lakeshore to my current hometown of Louisville, where it splits into two parallel routes, one of which (U.S. 31E), connects Louisville to Bardstown.  Now U.S. 31 has led me north again, to Holland, Michigan and Coppercraft Distillery (, where Bourbon and other American Whiskies are taking root.

Coppercraft would belong on the Bourbon Trail’s Craft Tour if Indiana didn’t separate us.  Walter Catton and Mark Fellwock at Coppercraft started in 2012 with a 350 gallon Vendome copper still, but they soon knew that they needed something bigger.  

This past June, they put a second Vendome still into operation – this time a 750 gallon still they named “Serendipity” because of the good fortune that landed this larger still from a distillery in Washington State. 

The term “craft” has been ruined by some of the large distilleries, but Coppercraft clearly knows what it means.  They source grain from local farmers, their batches are necessarily small, and they’re experimenting with many different mash bills.

Because of the time needed to age whiskey, Coppercraft started with rum, gin, vodka and citrus vodka (none of which I tried).  While those spirits could hit the shelves, Coppercraft was aging whiskeys with a variety of mash bills – a 95% rye whiskey, a 95% wheat whiskey, a 100% corn whiskey, and … thankfully … Bourbon (70% corn, 25% rye and 5% malted barley).  The non-Bourbon whiskies were barreled about one year ago and the initial run of Bourbon was barreled in May 2013.  Late this past summer, the first batches of the rye, wheat whiskey and corn whiskey from the first distillate run were released, while other barrels were reserved for more aging, and while the Bourbon continues to age (until at least May 2015).

Tasting Notes

Disclaimer: Coppercraft kindly gave me sample bottles of its corn whiskey and wheat whiskey for this review, without any strings attached.  Mark Fellwock also spent some time with me to discuss the past two years of Coppercraft and their plans for the future. 
Thank you.

Corn Whiskey
Wheat Whiskey

Mash Bill:
100% corn
95% red wheat; 5% malted barley


9 months
9 months

Used Bourbon barrels
Kelvin Cooperage New Oak; Char Level 3

$35.00 / 375ml
$35.00 / 375ml

Both the corn whiskey and the wheat whiskey had essentially the same color – amber that looked more gold in the light.  The nose of the corn whiskey was (predictably) heavy on corn – strong like a bubbling mash tub – along with pine nuts and just a bit of vanilla, while the nose of the wheat whiskey was remarkably similar, but with just a hint of cereal and fresh bread.  Also, as expected, both of these had the unmistakable nose of young whiskey – a high-pitched blast of corn and pine nuts without the mellowed balance that comes with years of interaction with the barrel.  I recently tried Smooth Ambler’s 1.5 year-old Yearling wheated Bourbon, and its nose was extremely similar to Coppercraft’s wheat whiskey nose.  In fact, if you’ve had the 1.5 year-old Yearling, it has a lot of similarities to Coppercraft’s wheat whiskey all the way around.

The corn whiskey had a distinct taste of raw grain along with moonshine qualities.  The wheat whiskey was more flavorful in comparison, with some sugary sweetness (maybe pink Smarties?) and a softer grain.  Both finished warm and short.  I know some people who love these raw, lightly-aged whiskies, but for my personal preference, I treat it more as being able to follow the progression of a whiskey (and not as an everyday sipper).

I’m glad that Coppercraft is giving these whiskies some age instead of selling unaged whiskey, and I’ll be really interested in these whiskies – and especially the Bourbon – after additional aging.  There isn’t any substitute for real, no-gimmick aging, and thankfully Coppercraft isn’t trying any of those supposed shortcuts.  It takes time and patience for aged whiskies, so stay tuned for more from Coppercraft. 

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Sipp’n Corn Bourbon Review – “The Smooth Ambler Old Scout Challenge”

I was inspired to review these after attending a Smooth Ambler tasting in September with John Foster, Director of Sales and Distiller at Smooth Ambler in Maxwelton, West Virginia.  He was a breath of fresh air in the often secretive and sometimes deceitful world of sourced whiskey, or, as Smooth Ambler calls it, “merchant bottling.”  John took us through a tasting of Smooth Ambler Yearling, a 1.5 year old wheated Bourbon, a 7 year old high-rye Bourbon sourced from MGP, a 10 year old low-rye Bourbon sourced from MGP, a 7 year old rye whiskey sourced from MGP, along with vodka, gin and a barrel-aged gin.  To top off all of those, John pulled out a sample bottle of the highly-anticipated “Contradiction,” a blend of 73% of 9 year old MGP high-rye bourbon with 27% of Smooth Ambler’s 2.5 year old wheated Bourbon. 

Smooth Ambler started with the goal of distilling and selling vodka and gin while waiting for its Bourbon to age.  Realities of business, however, led Smooth Ambler to also become a non-distiller producer (“NDP”) for some of its current product line.  So unlike many NDPs who don’t distill a drop, Smooth Ambler is busy both distilling and aging its own product, as well as sourcing Bourbon from MGP in Lawrenceburg, Indiana.  Many small craft distillers simultaneously sell sourced and produced spirits, but Smooth Ambler is different because of its scale, perhaps only being topped by Willett among brands that both distill and source (Willett just got there in the reverse direction).

Smooth Ambler is also honest about the contents and provenance of its Bourbon.  Smooth Ambler freely discloses and distinguishes between what they distill and what they source.  There are no secrets about the mash bills and there’s no pretending that they found their pre-Prohibition family recipe. 

I had picked up bottles of the 7-year and 10-year this past summer in Michigan (which by their batch numbers and bottling dates appear to have sat on the shelf for a year), but I hadn’t opened either one yet.  I enjoyed the tasting so much that I picked up the eight-year Single Barrel that night, and I decided that it was high time to put them to the test.  I like the proof of these three options, I like that they’re not chill-filtered, and I like that they’re in a sweet spot for aging.  With all of these things done right, let’s just hope that the Bourbon passes muster.

Here are the three, ordered by proof:

Smooth Ambler Old Scout 7-year Straight Bourbon Whiskey
Distillery:  Sourced from MGP; Batch 30 bottled 5-29-2013
Mash Bill:  60% corn; 36% rye; 4% malted barley (MGP high-rye recipe)
Age:  7 years
Proof:  99
Cost:  $41.99

The color is deep copper trending toward light brown.  The nose is strong on rye and black pepper spice, but is balanced with caramel, slight oak, and a little mint.  The nose has great subtle flavors and is really pleasant.  Caramel and vanilla sweetness are the first tastes, but that quickly transitions to nice blast of rye, tea and pepper.  Right away you can tell that this is a remarkable Bourbon.  The medium-length finish is very warm, dry and lingering.

Smooth Ambler Old Scout 10-year Straight Bourbon Whiskey
Distillery:  Sourced from MGP; Batch 4 bottled 6-10-2013
Mash Bill:  75% corn; 21% rye; 4% malted barley (MGP low-rye recipe)
Age:  10 years
Proof:  100
Cost:  $56.99

Interestingly, the color isn’t any different than the 7-year, which I expected given the extra time and lack of chill filtering for either.  The most noticeable differences in the nose include clear oak and corn sweetness replacing the rye spice, but it also had nuanced scents of clove, pear, honey and an old empty tobacco barn.  My first taste seemed a little hotter than 100 proof, but the heat mellowed to warmth with a little air.  The taste also has buttered corn sweetness, cocoa, roasted nuts and caramel.  I had hoped for a longer finish, but it has nice warmth and ends with a little mint. 

Smooth Ambler Old Scout 8-year Single Barrel Straight Bourbon Whiskey
Distillery:  Sourced from MGP; Barrel 904 bottled 9-16-2014
Mash Bill:  60% corn; 36% rye; 4% malted barley (MGP high-rye recipe)
Age:  8 years
Proof:  119.8 (barrel proof)
Cost:  $47.99

The color is essentially the same as the other two, which again puzzled me since no water was added to this one to reduce the proof for bottling.  I literally put all three in front of a light and the differences are miniscule, if there’s any difference at all.  The nose is very similar to the 7-year, although the higher proof is absolutely noticeable, and it adds scents of leather and maple syrup to the rye and black pepper spice.  The taste is partly an amped-up version of the 7-year, but it’s mostly different because of the higher proof burn.  There’s also less of a “pop” of the rye spice, and more of an even spread of the spice.  The 8-year had a similar finish too, and while the burn from the higher proof lasted longer, the flavors didn’t necessarily last as long.

Bottom Line:

While my clear favorite was the 7-year, go out and buy any of these.  If you prefer more oak flavors coupled with more sweetness, then the 10-year will be your choice.  But if you prefer the spice and dryness that comes with MGP’s high-rye Bourbon mash bill, you’ll prefer the 7-year or the 8-year.  There’s also less oak flavor in those two than I expected, but I didn’t miss it.

Scores on The Sipp’n Corn Scale
Smooth Ambler Old Scout 7-year:   4.0
Smooth Ambler Old Scout 8-year:   3.5
Smooth Ambler Old Scout 10-year: 3.0

The Sipp’n Corn Scale™:
1 – Wouldn’t even accept a free drink of it.
2 – Would gladly drink it if someone else was buying.
3 – Glad to include this in my bar.
4 – Excellent bourbon.  Worth the price and I’m sure to always have it in my bar.
5 – Wow.  I’ll search high and low to get another bottle of this.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Col. E. H. Taylor, Jr. Fights for Trademark Protection from Beyond the Grave.

There’s a massive distillery complex that not many people know about near Frankfort, Kentucky, nestled in a scenic bend on the meandering Elkhorn Creek.  It’s closed to visitors and doesn’t distill anymore, but it ages Beam Suntory brands and bottles about 12 million of the approximately 21 million cases produced each year in Kentucky by Beam Suntory.

This hidden distillery – DSP 14, or simply referred to as the “Frankfort Plant” if you dig deep enough on the Beam Suntory website – has distilling history dating back to at least 1901 when R.A. Baker established “The Frankfort Distillery,” extending through to 1940 – 1987 when it was home to Old Grand-Dad.  But it also played a significant role in the development of trademark law and the use of surnames in a case arising out of the attempted revival of a pre-prohibition family name.

The case of National Distillers Products Corp. v. K. Taylor Distilling Co., 31 F. Supp. 611 (E.D. Ky. 1940) tells the story of how Col. E. H. Taylor, Jr. and his sons, Swigert and Kenner, organized “E. H. Taylor, Jr. & Sons” in 1894, and how the “Old Taylor” brand rose to great prominence.  The Court also explained that when Col. Taylor died in 1923, his sons basically wasted no time in selling out to what eventually became part of National Distillers Products Corporation.

As the demise of National Prohibition became more likely, speculators positioned themselves to enter the market.  One of those entrepreneurs was a Lexington, Kentucky attorney, S. S. Yantis, who along with his New York City investment banker relatives, thought the timing was right to invest in a distillery.  Before Repeal, they bought “a former distillery site located near Forks of Elkhorn in Franklin County, Ky. … with the view of promoting an enterprise for the manufacture of whiskey in the event of the repeal of National Prohibition, which seemed impending.”  Four months before Repeal, they formed the “Franklin County Distilling Company” and began preparations at DSP 14.

The Judge noted that the Yantis family was “entirely without previous experience in the distillery business,” so they courted two other prominent former distillers who rejected them, before approaching Kenner Taylor.  In September 1933 Kenner Taylor agreed to become President and CEO of the new company for a five-year term, and he agreed that his name could be used for branding and advertising purposes.

With the instant prestige afforded by Taylor’s participation, in October 1933 the two-month-old company changed its name to “The K. Taylor Distilling Company.”  Repeal came on December 5, 1933, and Taylor left for Florida for his usual winter vacation on December 28.  Taylor returned to Kentucky on April 1, 1934, but he was ill, and he died on June 1, 1934.  While the company never actually distilled any whiskey during Taylor’s brief stint as President, he assisted in launching the “Kenner Taylor” brand using sourced Bourbon.

After Taylor’s death, the company ramped up use of the “Taylor” name – but not just “Kenner Taylor.”  Instead, the Court noted that the company advertised by using pictures of E. H. Taylor, Jr., Swigert Taylor and Kenner Taylor, and used the phrase “Taylor-Made Whiskies.”  The Court held that this use infringed on the “Old Taylor” brand because it misled the public into believing that the “K. Taylor” brand was related to “Old Taylor.”  Therefore, the Court prohibited use of the brand name “K. Taylor” or “Kenner Taylor” “unless accompanied by a statement plainly and specifically showing that the defendant is neither the successor to nor connected with the maker of ‘Old Taylor whiskey’ and that its product is ‘not the product of E. H. Taylor, Jr. & Sons, or its successors.’”  This is the same result reached almost a decade later when Bill Samuels, Sr. decided to strike out on his own (Country Distillers v. Samuels – the rise of Maker’s Mark).

The ruling was issued on February 14, 1940, and The K. Taylor Distilling Company fought on by challenging National Distillers in the marketplace.  A mere month after the ruling, in March 1940, the company contracted with a Cincinnati distributor who successfully developed a demand for “K. Taylor, Bottled-in-Bond” and somewhat less demand for a second K. Taylor brand called “The Belle of Franklin.”  (A breach of contract case between that distributor and The K. Taylor Distilling Company ensued, resulting in two interesting decisions that I’ll save for a later post.)

Having won its lawsuit, but seemingly having failed to destroy The K. Taylor Distilling Company, on August 5, 1940 National Distillers bought the upstart distillery along with the K. Taylor brand, which it immediately discontinued.  National Distillers then rechristened the distillery as the Old Grand-Dad Distillery, making one of the most popular brands of the time.  Beam bought National Distillers in 1987 and moved distillation of Old Grand-Dad to Clermont, but retained the Old Grand-Dad distillery for aging and bottling.

 Kenner Taylor might have been forgotten to history due to the litigious spirit of his father and the domination strategies of National Distillers, if it weren’t for the record created by this trademark lawsuit.