In the summer of 1994, I was working as the archivist at United Distillers and was asked to take the artist, Ralph Steadman to the Jim Beam and Maker’s Mark distilleries. Steadman was doing the illustrations for the annual winter catalog for the Odd Bins liquor chain in England and the theme that year was American whiskeys. He had already spent some time in Tennessee visiting Jack Daniel and George Dickel and now he was in Kentucky. I have to say it was one of the best days I spent working for United Distillers.
Ralph Steadman is most famous in Kentucky as being a friend of Hunter S. Thompson and the illustrator of many of Thompson’s writings. He was in Kentucky with his wife and a representative from Odd Bins. They were very interesting and friendly people. We started our trip at United Distillers – Stitzel-Weller Distillery. Steadman included a drawing of the Rebel Yell warehouses in the catalog. Next we drove to the Jim Beam Distillery in Clermont, Kentucky. In 1994, Jim Beam did not have much of a visitor’s experience so we did not spend much time there. Steadman included a sketch of the Beam campus in the catalog, but not much else from the trip.
The next stop was the Oscar Getz Museum of Whiskey History in Bardstown, Kentucky. I had the pleasure of discussing American distilling heritage with the Steadmans and he included a drawing of Carrie Nation in the catalog. Our last stop for the day was Maker’s Mark. The drive down to the distillery had us pass many farmhouses with rocking chairs on the front porch. Ralph and his wife both expressed how much they liked the idea of sitting on the porch in a rocking chair and watching the traffic go by – something they did not think they could do back home as the weather would not be as nice.
At Maker’s Mark, we took the tour. Maker’s Mark has always provided a very good distillery tour, taking visitors to see every step of production. The result is that Steadman has many drawings from Maker’s Mark in the catalog. My favorite is the “Maker’s Mark Bottle Waxer” illustration.
The catalog also has many illustrations from the George Dickel and Jack Daniel distilleries. The illustrations are fun to look at and I recognize several of the people illustrated at Dickel. We returned to Louisville but we stopped at a liquor store on the way back to his hotel. He wanted to get me a bottle of his favorite single malt – The Macallan 12yo. I bought him a bottle of Weller 107 7yo. I still have the empty bottle of the Macallan. Ralph made me promise to open and enjoy the bottle and that I did. I only wish now that I had asked him to sign the bottle. Thus ended a very good day at United Distillers.
Images from the archives of Michael Veach