Sam Cecil was the retired Master Distiller from Maker’s Mark and in his 70s when he wrote this book. I liked Sam and learned something from him every time I talked with him. I will say he inspired me to write my history of the industry. Sam was a pathfinder in the history of Bourbon.
The Evolution of the Bourbon Whiskey Industry In Kentucky, by Sam K. Cecil. Paducah, Kentucky: Turner Publishing Company, 1999, Second Printing, 2001. Contents, Preface, Index, Illustrated, pp 160.
The Distilling Industry in Kentucky has very rich history that dates back to the first settlers coming to the state. It is also a very chaotic history with companies selling out to other companies, with brands ending up split between multiple companies in the process. It is also filled with many myths and legends that add to the marketing of bourbon, but distract those who wish to know the history. Sam Cecil has made an attempt to put order to this chaos in his book.
The first edition released in 1999 had some faults that were corrected with the second printing. The most glaring fault was the lack of an index. It was truly hard to find what you were looking for without an index. The illustrations in the second edition were also done with a better quality process and are clearer and crisper in the second printing.
There are some short chapters giving brief histories of the industry as a whole, the Kentucky Distillers Association and Master Distillers, but the real heart of the book is the individual histories for the distilleries. They are listed by county and by their registered distillery number, or numbers, as in many cases. Cecil relied heavily upon the Coyte collection at the University of Louisville archives. This collection was donated upon the death of Coyte who was working on his own distilling history book and his notes are often incomplete or have incorrect information that needed to be followed up with other sources. An example of this is Moore and Selliger, Max Selliger & Co. RD #1&2 of Louisville. Cecil states that Schenley bought the distillery (the present Bernheim Distillery) from Selliger’s estate in 1933. The truth is Selliger did not die until 1938, but had sold the distillery to two Chicago businessmen, Gerngoss and Schwartzhaupt in 1933, who in turn sold it to Schenley in 1937.
Sam Cecil was a very good historian with a long background in the distilling industry. He worked for many years at Maker’s Mark and had first-hand knowledge of that distillery’s history. He was also well known at the other distilleries in the state and was an excellent source of information about distilleries of his era. In this book, he attempted a task that would daunt a person of half his age. The result is a book with some flaws, but still a book that is a must for any distilling library.
Photos Courtesy of Rosemary Miller