The 19th century laid the foundation of the modern whiskey industry in the United States. There are certain people in that century who had a large influence on what is being done today in the industry. I thought I would look at the five people who had the greatest influence on the industry and those influences are still being felt in today’s industry.
James C. Crow: James Crow emigrated from Scotland in the 1830s. He went to work for Oscar Pepper as a distiller. Crow was an educated man with a scientific mind. He applied scientific methods to distilling whiskey in order to understand what was happening and how to make a consistent product. Most importantly, he wrote down what he learned and that information eventually made it into other hands, who learned from Crow on how to make good, consistent quality whiskey. He improved the sour mash method and insisted upon cleanliness in the distillery. His whiskey became the whiskey that all good whiskey was judged by well into the 20th century.
Hiram Walker: In 1857, Hiram Walker was fed up with the Michigan legislature and their handling of the whiskey industry, and purchased land in Ontario on the other side of the Detroit River to establish a distillery. In 1860, when the common practice for distillers was to sell their whiskey by the barrel, Walker sold some of his whiskey in the bottle as well as by the barrel and created “Walker’s Club” whiskey. In 1873, this brand became “Canadian Club” whisky. Walker made the brand name a very important part of the industry. Before long, people were imitating his success by naming many of their brands as “Club” whiskey. You see Lexington Club and Maysville Club amongst many other names with the word “Club” in their name, to evoke Walker’s successful whisky.
E.H. Taylor, Jr.: When Taylor entered the whiskey industry in 1870, there was a growing segment of the industry that were rectifiers – people who purchased bulk whiskey and changed it to create a flavor profile of their own. Many were reputable business men making what we would call today a “vatted” whiskey by marrying barrels from different distilleries to create their own brands. Others were making what we would call today “blended” whiskey with neutral spirits and flavoring added to the aged whiskey. A small proportion of the rectifiers were not using any aged whiskey and adding flavors to neutral spirits to make ”whiskey”. Taylor led the fight to make straight whiskey aged in oak and with nothing other than water a distinct product in the American market. He championed first the Bottled-in-Bond Act of 1897 and then the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906. Taylor also introduced many new aspects to marketing his whiskeys. Brass hoops on his barrels and a full barrelhead sized trademark made his barrels stand out on the back bar. He quickly adopted full color printing in his advertising and even his business letterhead. Many methods of advertising we know today were being used by Taylor in the late 19th century.
George Garvin Brown: Brown was a rectifier. He created what we call today a “vatted” whiskey by purchasing barrels from three different distilleries. More importantly, Brown decided in order to guarantee the quality and consistency of his product, he would sell his brand Old Forrester only by the bottle. In 1870, when Brown introduced Old Forrester, bottles had to be hand blown and would cost more than twice the money he spent on the whiskey going into the bottle. It was a gamble, but it paid off for Brown as people appreciated the quality and consistency of his whiskey. Brown proved that bottling the whiskey could be profitable and as technology improved and glass bottles became inexpensive, every distillery and rectifier started bottling their whiskey instead of selling it in the barrel.
Carrie Nation: Carrie Nation herself is not a huge influence on the whiskey industry, but what she represents is the Temperance Movement that eventually led to National Prohibition. The prohibitionists such as Nation, created an animosity toward the industry that eventually caused the distillers to grow closer to each other. They would compete in the market, but they would also help each other out with production and fighting for or against government legislation. This cooperation led to the Bottled-in-Bond Act and eventually the Taft Decision of 1909 that defined whiskey as we know it today. Even today, distillers are very cooperative when it comes to helping each other out and fighting for changes in laws that help the industry.
These are the people I think had the greatest influence on the industry in the 19th century and shaped the industry we know today.