Prohibition Era Medicinal Whiskey Whiskey History

Up through the ground came a bubblin crude (whiskey, that is, Black Gold)

Black Gold Whiskey
The Black Gold Perp Line-up

Imagine a world where Coca-Cola is bottled in Pepsi containers. Imagine a world where Pepsi is put inside RC Cola cans. Imagine a world where the new Brand Promise is no promise at all. Welcome to Soda Prohibition.

While there was no such thing as Soda Prohibition, unless you consider Mayor Bloomberg’s attempt to super down-size sugary drinks a qualifier, there was a prohibition on alcohol. Not some encouragement by the First Lady to plant flowers or get in shape (admirable, nonetheless) but an amendment to our Constitution. That’s some serious Messin’ with Sasquatch right there.

Black Gold Match Book
Black Gold Match Book Cover

So, what exactly is a Brand Promise? A Brand Promise is the assurance that Toyota means reliable (not so much lately). A Brand Promise is the notion that your McDonald’s Quarter Pounder will taste exactly the same every time everywhere. A Brand Promise is the guarantee that the Coke in your cola is “The Real Thing”. During prohibition, this sort of promise was such an after thought that you you might  say some of the whiskey brands were, well, kinda slutty.

So, what’s in a name? Enter Black Gold Whiskey. Put yourself squarely in the middle of the Great Depression. Times where tough, to put it mildly. If you were lucky enough (or smart sick enough) to get your hands on some Black Gold, would you care where it came from, who distilled it, who bottled it, or who distributed it? Me thinks not. When I put myself in those worn out shoes I have to admit that I would be silly happy to get my grubby mitts on a pint of “Aged in the Wood” juicy juice no  matter where it came from or how over aged and “oaky” it might be. With that said, let’s take a look at a broken Brand Promise: Black Gold.

Black Gold
Black Gold Whiskey – Made 1915 – Bottled 1933

Our first example, and the oldest as far as the distillation date goes, is this straight forward Black Gold. 18 Summers Old (sexier than 17 years) this bottle is beautifully embossed both front and back. The provenance of the liquid, according to the back label and tax stamp, is as follows:

Bottled for: The American Medicinal Spirits Company
Distillery bonded warehouse No. 19, 5th District of KY

Produced for: G. G. White Co., Distillery  No. 9 6th Dist. of KY

Black Gold
Black Gold Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey – Made 1917 – Bottled 1933

Our next contestant features a more traditional label and relatively boring straight glass container. Where our 18 summer old variation is labeled as whiskey on the back label, here we have a bona fide Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey. Sounds promising. 16 years old, a common age for the era, this Black Gold has the following heritage:

Distilled by The Nelson Distillery Company, Louisville, Kentucky

Bottled by The American Medicinal Spirits Company – Baltimore, Maryland

Distributed in the State of New York by the National Straight Whiskey Distributing Company Incorporated (somehow this pint made it to California judging by the tax stamp).

Made in Kentucky, bottled in Maryland, distributed out of New York, sold in California. Whew!

Our next two bottles are interesting for a couple of reasons. At first glance, they look identical as long as you overlook that one is contaminated. Anyway, both are in exactly the same embossed glass bottles that prominently feature the Black Gold and National Distillers logos on the reverse. By the time these pints came out National Distillers had purchased AMS and bottled under that name for several years after Repeal. The other interesting thing is both of these bottles feature the “Federal Law Forbids Sale or Reuse of this Bottle“, which is a dead giveaway these bottles are post-prohibition.

Black Gold
Black Gold Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey – Made 1916 – Bottled 1934

Here’s the stats for this Black Gold. Unfortunately, the tax stamp is illegible except for the dates.

Distilled by T. B. Ripy, Louisville, Kentucky

Bottled by The American Medicinal Sprits Company, Baltimore, Maryland

This bottle of liquored wood is another example of something special that was made before The Great Fail and bottled a year after Repeal. Somehow this whiskey straddled the entire mess of Prohibition. It went to sleep and woke up 18 years later much like the ill-fated crew of the Nostromo from the movie Alien.

Black Gold
Black Gold Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey – Made 1917 – Bottled 1932

Finally, we have a 15 year old Black Gold per the extra label plastered above the main.  A virtual duplicate to the prior bottle — but not so fast. Here are the facts:

Distilled by Harry E. Wilken, Louisville, Kentucky

Bottled by The American Medicinal Spirits Company, Louisville, Kentucky

The mystery with this bottle, unlike its sleepy predecessor, is what’s left of the booze was made in 1917, bottled in 1932 and has the post-prohibiton “Federal Law Forbids” embossing on the glass. Based on my research this bottle could very well be a solid example of a re-bottling so this leftover whiskey could be sold legally after Repeal.

Now that I have presented the facts, you are probably just as confused as I am as to what the Brand Promise of Black Gold is. The common threads are the brand name and the bottler, although hailing from two different cities: Baltimore and Louisville. However, not one of these bottles of Black Gold were distilled by the same distiller. Which distillery has the pedigree to stand behind the brand? White? Nelson? Ripy? Wilken? Could we trust any of them to give us The Real Thing, whatever that is? I’m sure they would have all said yes.

Prohibition Era Medicinal Whiskey Whiskey History

Four Roses Straight Whiskey Mystery

1914 Cracker Jack "Shoeless" Joe Jackson
“Shoeless” Joe Jackson

As a relative newbie to the American whiskey scene, I am truly fascinated by the heritage of the brands, distilleries and those old pre-prohibition whiskey men (and women). I have a penchant for all things Americana and I love collecting artifacts that shaped who we are now as a nation. My original collecting sin was (and still is to a degree) vintage baseball cards for which I have deep admiration. My affection is not just for the cards but also for the game and its history. My favorite cardboard edition is the 1914 Cracker Jack set. The only way to get one of these cards was to purchase a box of the famous confectionery delight, fish around for the prize, and keep it for 100 years. And I don’t care if I never get back.

Four Roses Straight Whiskey
Same brand – different juice.

So, how do 1914 Cracker Jack baseball cards and Four Roses whiskey intersect? Your first thought might be Babe Ruth, but he isn’t the crux of this biscuit. It is a romantic connection I make on my own, which I hope you enjoy. You see, there is something about pre-prohibiton, pre-depression America that holds an innocent allure I find captivating. When I hold a 1914 Cracker Jack card that survived the grimy mitts of a crazed tween looking for their next sugar fix in one hand and an unopened pint of Four Roses Straight Whiskey that survived the crusty knuckles of a bulbous nosed tippler in the other, the g-spot in my mind gets suitably tickled. For those items to survive 100 years and be in my possession is like owning pieces of history. Now, on to the Whiskey Mystery.

Disclaimer: This post was written while snorkeling Four Roses Single Barrel hand picked by my local liquor store.  Four Roses Warehouse GW, Barrel No. 37-2B, to be exact.

One oddity of Prohibition was the fact that tens of thousands of barrels of pre-pro hooch was still around from various distillers, both operating and defunct. Those barrels made their way to what were known as consolidation warehouses. The bloodlines of whiskey royalty were thrown into the equivalent of the Great American Melting Pot. Back then, whiskey was like a box of chocolates — you never knew what your were going to get. I’m sure not many people cared and were just happy to get some “Alcoholic Stimulant” that was aged in wood. A prime example of this is my pair of Four Roses Straight Whiskey pints.

Four Roses Straight Whiskey
Ex. A – Pre-pro juice – Repeal bottling.

Exhibit A: Four Roses Straight Whiskey. One Pint. Distilled by United American Co. Made Spring 1917 Bottled Fall 1934. As lore goes, we started running out of pre-pro whiskey and the government allowed distilling of new stuff for medicinal purposes around 1928. If that is the case, and I’m sure it is based on my research, this bottle is an anomaly. This whiskey sat around in a barrel from 1917 and didn’t get bottled until 1934, which is after Repeal. Yet another contradictory piece of evidence that makes me scratch my noggin. Nothing on this bottle says a thing about it being medicinal and the paper California tax stamp dated July 1, 1935 on the back is a dead giveaway this is a post-pro nugget. See the gallery below for close-ups.

Four Roses 100 Proof
Ex. B – An Alcoholic Stimulant made from the Fermented Mash of Grain

Exhibit B: Four Roses Straight Whiskey. One Pint. Patented by The Frankfort Distillery. Produced by Col. Albert B. Blanton (yes, that Blanton) prior to Sept. 22, 1917, distillery No. 2, 7th district of Kentucky. Bottling date unknown unless I destroy the box and look at the tax stamp. Not. Gonna. Happen. If this were a box of unopened 1914 Cracker Jack with the potential of a Christy Mathewson in it would I open the cardboard coffer? Probably not. I’m weird like that. Anyway, this is medicinal whiskey and the box literally has it written all over it. This bottle seems to have the correct lineage in that The Frankfort Distillery, which was purchased by Paul Jones, produced Four Roses from the end of Prohibition until Seagram’s bought the distillery in 1941.

These bottles raise more questions than my research answers. First, if the Ex. B is the correct lineage but bottled during Prohibition, what is the Four Roses brand on Ex. A doing on a post-pro United American Co. Distillery bottle? If this were the opposite, I would understand, but its not. Secondly, if we were running out of whiskey in the late twenties, where did the Ex. A whiskey come from? Some hidden batch forgotten by time? Lastly, what does Albert Blanton have to do with Four Roses?

Please post your thoughts and help solve this Whiskey Mystery with me. For more information on the history of Four Roses, visit

Four Roses Straight Whiskey

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Made Fall 1917 - Bottled Fall 1934. United American Co. Louisville KY


Prohibition Era Medicinal Whiskey Whiskey History

You can thank Prohibition for this Marvelous Whiskey

You can thank Prohibition for this Marvelous Whiskey

Being a marketing guy by trade, I really admire these old advertisements from National Distillers (circa July 1934). Create sense of urgency. Check. Weave a tale of romantic scarcity. Check. Create F.U.D. (Fear, Uncertainty, Doubt). Check. The only gaff by today’s standards is the typical wail of the modern ad agency client: “There’s way too much text. Nobody’s ever going to read all that.” Thanks, Internet.

Personally, I read every word of these ads with the same savory satisfaction I get from slow sipping my new found friend: Evan Williams Single Barrel. Please forgive the alliteration indulgence. Anyway, this ad predates my first post of this ad campaign by about 3 months. I think this is the first one in the series as I’ve found a couple more that were published at later dates.  They just get better over time like whiskey in the wood. Get yours while it lasts!

Miniature Whiskey Bottles Prohibition Era Medicinal Whiskey

Old Fitzgerald Strikes Back

This week, as I devoured the blog posts of my fellow whiskey bloggers, I realized I’m more of a museum curator rather than a historian. That’s ok because now I know my place in the WWW (Wonderful World of Whiskey). Don’t get me wrong, I love the history. As your curator, today I’m taking you down the hall to the Old Fitzgerald exhibit. Old Fitzgerald is to RC Cola as Jack Daniels is to Coke. Both have been around for ages while those in the know quietly enjoy their RC Cola as the majority of the world say, “Coca-Cola rules!” To each his own.

You may ask yourself why I titled this post “Old Fitzgerald Strikes Back.” Well, its not my fault because The Coopered Tot started it with his Old Fitzgerald post, which I highly recommend if you enjoy deep dive whiskey research like I do. All geeky Star Wars references aside, I was inspired by his post to the point where I felt I just had to answer back. So, Mr. Tot, if you’re reading this (and I’m sure you are) you’ll have to post another article in the future called “Return of the Fitz.”

Old Fitzgerald Whiskey 1/2 Pint

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Made 1917 Bottled 1932. W.L. Weller & Sons on front label. Mary M. Dowling on tax strip. A. Ph. Stitzel, Inc. on back label.


Miniature Whiskey Bottles Repeal Era Whiskey Whiskey History

Old Fiddle Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey

Old Fiddle Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey
Old Fiddle Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey

Circa 1950, these Old Fiddles have been in the family for a while and I’m the current caretaker. Known for their “fiddle” shape, they were inspired by the song “My Old Kentucky Home” written by Stephen Foster. Bourbon doesn’t get any more Kentucky than this.

Old Fiddle was a product of Bardstown Distillery out of, you guessed it, Bardstown, Kentucky. I don’t know much about this brand but I look forward to finding out more as I post photos of my other fiddle bottles in the future (Old Anthem, Bourbon Springs, Bard’s Town, and Bard’s Town Bond). With that said, here is the text from the back label, which has an ariel view of Bardstown Distillery. Enjoy!

“The Fiddle Bottle (design patent 107353) has been designed in honor of the immortal bard, Stephen Foster, who composed “My Old Kentucky Home” at Bardstown 1852.

For 129 years the limestone waters that bubble from Bourbon Springs have been used to make bourbon whiskey famous for richness, mellowness, and bouquet. With these seemingly magical waters, and fine grains, our distillers make our whiskey by the same, slow method their fathers used. You will find this a fine drinking and mixing whiskey, rich in body, exquisite in flavor and bouquet, mild and mellow.”


Prohibition Era Medicinal Whiskey Tastings Tales Whiskey History

Old Barbee Whiskey Tasting

After doing some of my typical Internet hunting I bring back to my whiskey tribe a beast of an article. Tom Eblen, from the Lexington Herald-Ledger, writes about cracking open his Old Barbee Whiskey and sharing it with longtime Wild Turkey master distiller Jimmy Russell. As it turns out, the bourbon came from the author, whose wife’s great-grandfather Herman Volkerding was president of the now long-gone Kentucky distillery that made it.

If you find Mr. Eblen’s article a great read then you will enjoy viewing my unopened Old Barbee Whiskey with the original box in the slideshow below. Notice the differences in the label when compared to the bottle pictured from the original article. Will I be opening mine and tasting it? Only if I find another one.

Read more here: Tom Eblen: Distilled in 1901, Old Barbee bourbon still smooth

Old Barbee Whiskey

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Distilled 1917 - Bottled 1930

Miniature Whiskey Bottles Prohibition Era Medicinal Whiskey Whiskey History

Lincoln Inn Old Rye Whiskey

Lincoln Inn Old Rye Whiskey
Lincoln Inn Old Rye Whiskey

I thought I would go north of the border with this post and share my Lincoln Inn Old Rye Whiskey bottles. One is a full pint and the other is a 1/10th pint. The pint bottle has never been opened while the mini was consumed years ago. Either way, these are very neat bottles that came from the Distillers Corporation Limited, Montreal, Canada. The pint bottle shows up a lot on ebay because of the incredible embossing on the front and back. People saved them because of this and rarely does it show up with such a nice label and I’ve never seen another one sealed and full.

It is thought that Lincoln Inn was one of the brands from Canada that Al Capone would smuggle in for his speak easies. Seems plausible. I don’t know much about this brand except from what I learned at, which is interesting. As it turns out, Distillers Corporation LTD eventually turned into Seagrams.

For the analytical people out there, here is exactly what the pint label reads:


Bottled in Bond under Government Supervision


Carefully Double-Distilled and Matured in Charred Oak Barrels. Bottled straight from the wood by





Prohibition Era Medicinal Whiskey Whiskey History

Have you laid in your share of this Genuine Pre-Prohibition Whiskey?

Have you laid in your share of this Genuine Pre-Prohibition Whiskey?

This magazine ad from October 1934 sheds light on the fact that there was a lot of prohibition era whiskey left over after Repeal. Since we basically had to start from scratch aging American whiskey via the relatively few distilleries that survived, the only “good old stuff” was bottled before 1920 (aka pre-prohibition). What is interesting is a lot of the pre-prohibition whiskey was way over-aged and tasted like a burnt leather boot. So, in this clever advertisement by National Distillers, they turn that around and make it sound like an 18 year old bourbon is “mellow” and 13 year old rye is as “smooth as liquid silk.” Granted, some prohibition era whiskey still tastes pretty darn good, but bourbon was never meant to be aged past 6 to 8 years for it to have quality flavor.

In case you don’t want to read the advertisement from the image file, it is transcribed below.

Have you laid in your share of this Genuine Pre-Prohibtion Whiskey?

It’s dwindling fast — and it’s strictly limited, so better act quickly if you want to reserve some of this true vintage liquor for your own cellar

Everyone, at least on special occasions, likes to have a few bottles or cases of extra-rare old American whiskey on hand.

Unfortunately, this will soon be impossible unless you stock up now. 

The nation’s entire available supply is limited by the fact that it had to be laid down before prohibition to attain vintage flavor today — and what little remains is rapidly dwindling to the vanishing point as is ours.

When this diminishing supply of rare old whiskey is exhausted, you will never see any more, as the government requires that whiskey be withdrawn at the end of 8 years from barrels and bottles for purposes of revenue.

In fact, our famous 16-year-old Old Taylor is now completely sold out — showing the way of the wind.*

The rest of the venerable stock includes Sunny Brook and Old Grand Dad — each 16 to 18 years old — and several other mellow old bourbons.*

Also one famous rye — Mount Vernon — 12 to 13 years old — and smooth as liquid silk*

These were names to conjure with before the war, and the few cases that remain, heavily drawn against every day, are prizes of very rare order.

And while they are a bit costly for everyday service, you’ll be proud in the days to come, to bring out a bottle or so for specially favored guests. The government stamp attests their rare age; and a neat glass sniffed or sipped will demonstrate their marvelous bouquet and flavor.

*You’ll always be able to call for these famous brand names — and get the finest 4 year or older, bottled in bond whiskies in America. Only the very old, prohibition aged stocks are referred to in this advertisement.



Caption 1: The famous brands OLD GRAND DAD, SUNNY BROOK and MOUNT VERNON make up the greater part of this special limited stock, but also there are small quantities remaining of BOURBON de luxe, OLD McBRAYER, BLACK GOLD, BLUE GRASS and OLD RIPY.

Caption 2: Whiskey so rare as this is really “occasion” whiskey — not for the everyday cocktail or highball, but for the unusual occasion.

Prohibition Era Medicinal Whiskey Whiskey History

Medicinal Whiskey Prescriptions

You know, it really doesn’t dawn on you that people could easily get whiskey during prohibition until you see the medicinal whiskey prescriptions and logs that were used during the time period. Meticulous records were required by the Treasury Department’s U.S. Prohibition Service similar to the FDA today.

Just as some of the bottles of whiskey from this era survived, so did the actual prescriptions. At the Rose Melnick Medical Museum you can view not only the prescription pad doctors used but also the prescription log book. Some of the entries in the book are fantastic examples of the kind of ailments you would have to have in order to procure the water of life. Influenza, acute pharyngitis (aka “sore throat”), bronchitis, and acute coryza (aka “the common cold”) are just a few. I highly recommend you view the original photos at the museum site as they are huge, high resolution gems.

Medicinal Whiskey Prescriptions Gallery

Official prescription tablet for medicinal alcohol, 1933

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Pre-prohibition Whiskey

Thompson Select Straight Kentucky Whiskey

Thompson Select Straight Kentucky Whiskey.

So, I was slumming around on Craig’s List the other day looking for a swing set, yeah a swing set, and I found this delicious looking bottle of Thompson Select Straight Kentucky Whiskey. In about 5 years this hooch will be at least 100 years old. Heck, they knew prohibition was coming and sent flyers out to market basically saying, “get it while it’s legal.”  I called the seller and he thinks he has something very special, which he does. However, based on his asking price, it ain’t THAT special. This must have been “new old stock” at the time because the distillery closed in 1918 but was shipped to a pharmacy in 1930, according to the date and information on the shipping crate. Fortunately, I nabbed the photos before the listing was pulled. Hey, if you’re lucky, these gems might still be for sale. Just put your best Pawn Stars poker face on when you call.

In the meantime, check out this fantastic history on Thompson Select Straight Kentucky Whiskey from our friends at

Thompson Select Straight Kentucky Whiskey.

Image copyright © 2002-2013  All rights reserved. Image used with permission.

Thompson Select Straight Kentucky Whiskey.

Image copyright © 2002-2013  All rights reserved. Image used with permission.

Thompson Select Straight Kentucky Whiskey.

Image copyright © 2002-2013  All rights reserved. Image used with permission.