When Prohibition came to America, Mary Dowling, the heir to the Dowling Bros. Distillery and Waterfill and Frazier brand, did not like it. Her answer was to move her distillery to Juarez, Mexico and continue to make Bourbon. At that time, there was no regulation against making Bourbon in other countries. She had some help moving the distillery to Mexico from Vendome Copper and Brass. She hired a Beam to be her distiller and started to make whiskey.
I am not sure how she managed it but her whiskey from Mexico ended up in the legal market as a medicinal spirit during Prohibition. In the Van Winkle files in the United Distillers Archive, there is a letter from one of W.L. Weller’s salesmen. Dowling’s existing stocks in America ended up in the Stitzel Distillery consolidation warehouses and Van Winkle was bottling and selling these barrels for Dowling. The salesman was complaining that there was Waterfill and Frazier Bourbon being sold in his market at a much lower price and wanted to know how this was happening. Van Winkle explained that the Waterfill and Frazier competing whiskey was being made in Juarez and was an inferior product to what he was selling. The water being used to make the whiskey was inferior to what was used in Kentucky before Prohibition. The salesman needed to explain this to his customers and he was sure they would understand the price difference.
When Prohibition ended, Mary Dowling kept her distillery in Mexico. She opened a new distillery in Kentucky in 1933 but continued in Mexico as well. It continued to make Bourbon until 1964 when they started to call their product “whiskey” because Congress passed a regulation making Bourbon a product of the United States. In the 1964 the Schenley files in the United Distillers Archive there is a letter from one of Schenley’s lobbyists from late 1963. He explained in the letter that Mary Dowling was fighting against the regulation because of her distillery in Juarez. She eventually relented and the regulation passed.
The Waterfill and Frazier brand still had an American presence. The brand passed through several hands in the 1960s. For a while, Medley Distillery was making it and it ended up in Glenmore’s portfolio of brands. It then became part of United Distillers when they acquired Glenmore in 1992. The brand ended up being sold to Heaven Hill. I believe it is now a dormant trade mark.
The bar tray is from after 1964 and advertises Waterfill and Frazier Straight Whiskey. It depicts a scene from a bullfight. There is no doubt that they are advertising a product made in Juarez. The Juarez distillery was still active in the 1990s and Vendome repaired and replaced parts of the distillery at that time. The original pot still is on display at Vendome. Tom Sherman told me it is well worn and the copper is too thin to use in distilling anymore, but it is still an interesting piece of distilling history.
Photos Courtesy of Rosemary Miller