I’ve been meaning to post this article for quite some time so today I bring you my Chicken Cock Whiskey collection. There are several interesting things going on here besides the greatest name ever bestowed upon a whiskey. Let’s take a look.
We have 5 bottles spanning the prohibition era to the modern era (if you want to see a pre-pro example, check out Chicken Cock’s Instagram)
One of the bottles is a rye whiskey from Canada that was originally in a tamper-proof tin and produced during prohibition
One of the bottles is a relatively new release from 2018
First, let’s talk about the new release. Manti Antilla of Grain and Barrel Spirits took on the task of bringing “The Famous Old Brand” back to market. Chicken Cock was established in 1856 in Paris, Kentucky according to the Chicken Cock website. I’m not going to rehash the history here as the folks at Chicken Cock got it right so check out that link. What is astounding to me is not only did Mr. Antilla bring back the name and create a great label but also replicated the original prohibition pint bottle down to the sunbeam embossing and “NyQuil” dose cap. The example I have is the first release and was double-barreled at 104 proof. Since this release, Chicken Cock has followed up with several nice bottlings including one that looks like the version from Canada.
The Canadian version is a rye whiskey, which has also been reproduced by the fine people at Chicken Cock. It is said this version was smuggled in during prohibition and served at The Cotton Club. I have also heard the Canadian whiskeys from the time were smuggled in by Al Capone. What I didn’t understand for a long time is how the brand name was used in the United States and Canada. I turns out the brand was sold to Distillers Corporation Limited of Montreal, Canada along with several other brand names including Coon Hollow and Four Aces.
According to the Chicken Cock website:
Toward the end of prohibition, Chicken Cock Whiskey changed hands again. The American Medicinal Spirits Company, owned by National Distillers Products Corporation, trademarked the brand and sold it for medicinal use. After the 21st amendment passed and prohibition ended, there was a push for the revival of Chicken Cock Whiskey. National Distillers Products Corp. poured efforts into advertising attempting to bring it back to its pre-prohibition glory. But it wasn’t that easy.
Over the years I have been chasing a complete run of the same brand of prohibition whiskey bottle sizes: quart, pint, 1/2 pint, 1/4 pint, and 1/10 pint. As it turns out, my quest is impossible to complete, which I will detail here in a minute. Because of this, I have done the next best thing by including two post-prohibition bottles and one brand that doesn’t match but fills in the 1/4 pint slot.
Whiskey Bottle Sizes: Quart
My original goal was to acquire an example of unopened whiskey in each size from the prohibition era (1920 through 1933). First, let’s cover the sizes. On the far left, we have a quart of Old McBrayer Brand Straight Bourbon Whiskey. As far as my research has sussed out, quarts were never sold during prohibition. What’s interesting about this bottle is the whiskey inside was laid down in 1917 and bottled in 1933 so it fits the same date range as many of the other bottles I own. Since prohibition ended in 1933, this whiskey was either taken from 4 existing pints and re-bottled, which was a common practice at the time, or it was bottled straight from the barrel (I believe it was the prior). Either way, there was a brief time when quarts were being bottled without the “Federal Law Prohibits Sale or Re-use of This Bottle” embossed on the glass (1933 through 1935) and this bottle does not have that feature. This is very neat and rare example. Distiller: Allen Bradley Co. Distillery No. 97.
Whiskey Bottle Sizes: Pint
The next bottle, going left to right from the quart, is a pint of Old McBrayer Whiskey (notice how the word Brand was omitted). This is one of the most common prohibition era bottles you will find as a collector but is still a really nice bottle. However, this one is in dead mint condition with one of the best fill levels you will ever see, which makes it a condition rarity. Laid down in 1915 and bottled in 1933, this example boasts a 10 cent California tax stamp decal on the back, which means it was prohibition overstock and sold post-prohibition. Distiller: Allen Bradley Co. Distillery No. 97.
Whiskey Bottle Sizes: 1/2 Pint
The next bottle to the right of the pint is a 1/2 pint Old McBrayer Whiskey. Much harder to find than the pint sized version, this bottle is interesting because the whiskey is noticeably lighter, which is not a huge surprise when you consider it was not distilled by Allen Bradley Co. but rather by Joseph Schwab, Jr. Distillery No. 409. This is another example of the main brand being different than the distiller listed on the tax stamp. Distilled 1917 and bottled 1932.
Whiskey Bottle Sizes: 1/4 Pint
Continuing to the right is an extremely rare 1/4 pint of Antique Whiskey. I know of only two brands that can be found in this size with the other being Old Barbee. [Edit 10/22/17: I forgot about the 1/4 pint Old Grand Dad that pops up every now and then so that makes three] So, if whiskey during prohibition was sold for medicinal purposes what is the point of something this small, which could be easily consumed in a single sitting? Could it be this was a sample bottle given to doctors to give to their patients along with their prescription much like they do with drug samples today? This seems to be the best explanation as far as I’m concerned. Makes a great story, anyway. Distilled 1915 and bottled 1928. Distiller: The A. Keller Company Distillery No. 9 (not sure if the distillery number is correct as the tax stamp is hard to read).
Whiskey Bottle Sizes: 1/10 Pint
Finally, we have a 1/10 pint version of Old McBrayer Brand Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey. Unfortunately, the angels took their full share on this one. I include this bottle since it matches my other Old McBrayers. The decal Illinois tax stamp is dated 1937. According to whiskey historians and my own research, miniature whiskey bottles were never issued during prohibition, which makes perfect sense to me. Mini whiskey bottles, when not being served on trains or airplanes, were by and large produced so people could sample the wares before buying in bulk. There is certainly no reason the US Government would approve the sale of minis during prohibition since the loophole of selling medicinal whiskey was already stretched about as wide as possible. Or was it? Here is proof of the existence of a 1/10 pint miniature whiskey tax stamp that was made for E.H. Taylor that was bottled smack dab in the middle of prohibition:
Unfortunately, no authentic miniature Old Taylor whiskey bottles have ever been found with one of these tax stamps that I know of. Could this stamp be a prototype? Was it ever used?
I hope you have enjoyed this post and find the history of these bottles as interesting as I do. Cheers!
The biggest thing I have learned from collecting prohibition medicinal whiskeys is that the brand doesn’t matter the vast majority of the time. For example, I have a 1/2 pint Old Fitz and a 1/2 pint Waterfill and Frazier. Both were distilled by Mary M. Dowling (one of the most fascinating female distillers of all time. Read this: http://pre-prowhiskeymen.blogspot.com/2014/01/how-mary-dowling-outwitted-national.html). The juice in both is the same but the brands are completely different. The Waterfill and Frazier is correct in that the distiller matches the brand, which is very rare when it comes to prescription regulated booze. The Old Fitzgerald, not so much! Notice how the Old Fitzgerald is 15 years old and the Waterfill and Frazier is 16 “Summers” old. Marketing at its best, wouldn’t you say? In a nutshell, with prohibition era medicinalwhiskeys, the most important thing to pay attention to is the tax stamp and NOT the main label. Cheers!
In this post I want to share one of my favorite brands: Old Sunny Brook. It isn’t particularly hard to find and doesn’t excite many collectors but I’m a big fan of the evolution of this brand and its mascot, The Inspector.
In the photo above we have four bottles that represent very different eras in whiskey history. The half-pint bottle second from the left is from the pre-prohibition era and was actually distilled by The Sunny Brook Distillery Co. When prohibition hit, the vast majority of distillers went out of business and disappeared — but their whiskey did not. It was rounded up and purchased by a select few companies and stored in consolidation warehouses. One of the largest and most common of those companies was The American Medicinal Spirits Company, which hoarded countless barrels from just as many defunct distillers. The pint on the far left is a great example of an AMS bottle and has probably the best fill level of all the bottles in my prohibition pint collection.
The 1/10th pint miniature whiskey bottle is from the early 1940’s and is very common but notable because now the name is Old Sunny Brook Brand and the distiller is National Distillers Products Corporation, which bought AMS in 1929. It is the first to claim it is Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey in the set. The final bottle is from the 1970’s and is the first example to drop the “Old” in the name. The Inspector gets a make over on this bottle and looks much younger than its paternal looking predecessors. This bottle is once again distilled by The Old Sunny Brook Distillery Co., run by National Distillers until the brand was discontinued in 1975. For more in depth history of Old Sunny Brook, visit this fantastic article at Those Pre-Pro Whiskey Men.
It has been yet another long while since I’ve posted to this blog so I thought I would focus on some of the more obscure bottles in my collection. Today I want to share a beautiful example of vintage label design. Not only does the color pop with rarely seen yellows and blues but you also get to feast your eyes on what must have been the equivalent of 1920’s soft porn. Va-va VOOM!
For those of you who have followed my blog for a while you know that most of the brand names found on prohibition era medicinal whiskey bottles don’t really mean much. With that in mind, let’s look at what does matter: who distilled the whiskey and who bottled it.
The whiskey in this example was bottled by The New Hope Distilling Company. This is the only bottle I know of from this distillery so if you know of anything else that came from Distillery No. 146 in the 5th District of the Great State of Kentucky, please let me know. As far as bottling goes, SURPRISE, the American Medicinal Spirits Company found the barrel from which this nectar hails and put it in their Borg-like bonded warehouse, upon which all the other barrels greeted it with the chant, “One of us, one of us, one of us.”
Below are some tasty close-ups of the tax stamp that adorns this representation. Cheers, all you rascally rabbits!
Hello fellow Whisky Benders! This time I’m going to let the pictures do the talking as I share photos sent in for appraisal or general information during 2014. Some are good, some bad, and some ugly. All of them interesting. Scroll down to see last year’s crop. Thanks to everybody who sent photos to me last year! Please keep them coming so we can learn more about these old dusty whiskeys and share with other enthusiasts.
Here is one of my favorite bottles in my collection. I’ve seen two others out there that are sealed and unopened and one is a permanent guest at the Getz Whiskey Museum in Bardstown, Kentucky. Scroll to the bottom of this blog post from the Alcohol Professor to see one of them (among some other great bottles).
Obviously, the Old Rip Van Winkle brand has been around a long time. In fact, according to the ORVW website:
The Old Rip Van Winkle Distillery has a four generation history. The Van Winkle family’s involvement in the bourbon industry began in the late 1800s with Julian P. “Pappy” Van Winkle, Sr. He was a traveling salesman for the W.L. Weller and Sons wholesale house in Louisville, traveling around the state by horse and buggy. Pappy and a friend, Alex Farnsley, eventually bought the wholesale house and also purchased the A. Ph. Stitzel Distillery, which made bourbon for Weller. They merged the two companies and became the Stitzel-Weller Distillery. Their prominent brands were W.L. Weller, Old Fitzgerald, Rebel Yell, and Cabin Still.
Now, with this setup, where does this bottle come into play? Did Pappy make the whiskey inside? Upon closer inspection, the answer is an interesting “no”. More on that in a minute. You see, back in the days of prohibition, whiskey was consolidated into government warehouses around the country by the millions of barrels. What actual whiskey went into a particular bottling wasn’t very important. Slap a brand name label on there and you’re good-to-go as evidenced by my Black Gold collection. Most of the prohibition hooch sat way beyond the number of years it was supposed to. That is why you see a lot of 16, 17, and 18 year old prohibition era medicinal whiskies. This was not necessarily a good thing as over aging can make whiskey taste like licking a barrel stave, as I’ve heard Chuck Cowdry put it. Let’s take a closer look.
First, the label and bottle are perhaps the most beautiful you will ever see on a prohibition pint. Great art, great color, and great embossing. The embossing starts with Old Rip Van Winkle’s hat adorned head on the back while his long whiskers flow from his face all the way across the front of the bottle. I’ve tried to get a good photo of it but it didn’t come out as good as it looks in person.
Unfortunately, with this bottle, the tax stamp has faded to the point where the barreling and bottling dates are illegible. Based on other bottles I have from the same era, this whiskey was most likely barreled in 1916 (see Getz example at link above) and bottled somewhere between 1931 and 1933. I’m afraid we’ll never know how long this particular bottle of whiskey was “asleep” in the wood.
Now, let’s take a look at where this whiskey was distilled and bottled…
As you can see, there is no mention of Pappy Van Winkle, W.L. Weller, or Stitzel-Weller anywhere on this label. The liquid wood in this ornate piece was distilled by H. S. Barton of Kentucky. If you’ve ever been to a liquor store, you’ve heard of Barton. Today, Barton Brands distills a whole lot of spirits and, in the whiskey world, is known for its 1792 Ridgemont Reserve, which is quite good. An interesting note is this whiskey made the journey from its birthplace of Kentucky to its resting place of U. S. General Bonded Warehouse No. 3 somewhere in Missouri. Talk about government regulation! One question I have is who actually owned the whiskey in this warehouse? If you know, please comment below.
While researching for this post, I found a fascinating legal document circa 1921 against several “revenuers” who, much like the legend of Old Fitzgerald, got a little greedy for which they were, eh hem, “desirous of removing to his dwelling for use and disposition of the spirits.” Maybe one of these knuckleheads worked at U. S. General Bonded Warehouse No. 3.
Time to watch the season premiere of Boardwalk Empire! Cheers.
<movie_trailer_voice> 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. </movie_trailer_voice>
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.