Whiskey History

Whiskey vs Whisky

“If you don’t know how to spell a word, I suggest you look it up in the dictionary”, is something one would hear often from a teacher while attending school. Now that technology has easily allowed us to eliminate the possibility of grammar errors, without the hassle of dusting off any books, we shouldn’t have any trouble. Although this burden has been relieved from us in the majority of literary circumstances, many debates still arise from the spelling of the beloved beverage “whiskey”.

Whiskey vs Whisky
Weller by Buffalo Trace

“Whisky or whiskey is a type of distilled alcoholic beverage made from fermented grain mash. Various grains (which may be malted) are used for different varieties, including barley, corn, rye, and wheat. Whisky is typically aged in wooden casks, generally made of charred white oak. Whisky is a strictly regulated spirit worldwide with many classes and types. The typical unifying characteristics of the different classes and types are the fermentation of grains, distillation, and aging in wooden barrels”, is what wikipedia tells us. So which is it; ‘e’ or no ‘e’ (that is the question) and why? As always, an interesting historical footnote is the cause of this common confusion.

Research shows that, the anglicized form of the Gaelic phrase “Uisce beatha”, or “water of life”, is where the word “whiskey” originally stemmed from, (as Scotland and Ireland both possess a rich Celtic heritage). The Scottish spell it “whisky” and the Irish spell it “whiskey”. Irish immigrants brought the ‘e’ to the states in the 1700’s, resulting in American whiskies being referred to as “whiskey” ever since. According to the Whiskey Museum in Dublin, Ireland, the different spelling originally began as a marketing stunt, as an attempt to increase pricing.

So, are “whisky” and “whiskey” two different spellings of the same word/product- or are they two separate groups of spirits, spelled relatively the same? Generally, Scottish whiskies are distilled twice, while Irish whiskey is distilled three times – this process determines how “light” and “smooth” the finished product will be. In addition, the size and shape of the stills, that are used in the distillation process, tend to be different. In Ireland (and much of America), pot stills are used – producing a “softer” and “more rounded” spirit. In Scotland, distilleries use a wide variety of stills, allowing a wider range of flavors.

Despite the differences in a distiller’s method of production, there will always be similarities between the two. There will also be those who remain faithful to the ideology that there is true meaning, artistry, and culture behind the spirit’s grammar, Maker’s Mark being one of them. Maker’s Mark is one of the only American made whiskeys who choose to label their product, the “Scottish way”. Even though the company was eventually sold and is now owned by a Japanese company “Beam Suntory”, the family’s request to the spelling of whisky (without the ‘e’), still remains. As the world admires the sought-after label, it is fairly common that buyers are often misled while attempting to buy an American made whiskey, (especially those who are faithful to the notion that countries with an ‘e’ spell whiskey with an ‘e’). So, what could be more important than the presumption and expectations of a multitude of consumers? The answer is, something that cannot be bought: the heritage of the distiller.

Bourbon Whiskey Whiskey History

Can Bourbon be made outside of Kentucky?

Sweetens Cove Bourbon

“Kentucky Bourbon is the ONLY bourbon”, they say. “You can’t really make bourbon outside of Kentucky because it’s a combination of the barrels and the limestone fed springs that give us water. That’s our story and were sticking to it.” Considering that only 5% of the world’s supply of bourbon is made outside of the southern state – is there a method to this myth?

First off, all bourbon is whiskey but not all whiskey is bourbon. Whiskey can be made anywhere in the world. However, bourbon was born and raised on American soil. So in 1964, Congress declared this unique spirit “a distinctive product of the United States”. With strict rules and regulations for the production of “America’s Native Spirit”, not any ole’ whiskey (foreign or domestic) can take claims to the name “bourbon”.

To properly produce bourbon, the dry grain mixture must consist of (no less than) 51% corn – along with other ingredients such as rye and wheat. Corn being a sweet grain, many distillers often use 65-70% corn. “The more corn, the sweeter the whiskey.” The grains are then milled, so that the fine mixture can be combined with fresh spring water. This is the part where our Kentucky neighbors say, “One of the reasons we make so much bourbon here in Kentucky is because of our water. The water filters through the limestone, picking up calcium and removing iron. Quality water, for quality bourbon.”

The grain and water mixture is then cooked under pressure, in order to create the “mash” for fermentation. Once the mash has cooled, malted barley is then added – allowing the starches to be turned into sugars. This mixture is then pumped over to a fermenter, and yeast is added. As the yeast feeds on the sugars of the mash, cO2 and alcohol are produced while generating heat. After 3-4 days of this process, the yeast dies off and the mash has now evolved into a low alcohol content “wash” or “distiller’s beer”. The liquid is then distilled, producing a clear spirit ranging anywhere between 65-80% alcohol – aka, unaged whiskey. This whiskey is poured into brand new, charred, white oak barrels, and then placed into a warehouse to age for 2 or more years.

There are currently more than 20 working bourbon distilleries in the state of Kentucky, making more than 200 of the world’s most beloved brands – resulting in a 95% contribution to the bourbon industry. Why?

  1. The ease of growing corn. Kentucky’s fertile soil allows corn to be a dominant grain of the state.
  2. With the demand of fresh spring water, ideal for bourbon production, many distilleries have been built near springs. Kentucky is located on a large limestone layer that filters out iron and unwanted minerals while collecting sweet-tasting calcium and magnesium. This not only allows but encourages distilleries to use the local water supply.
  3. A wide range in temperature between seasons in the state, cold winters and hot summers, allows the charred oak barrels to absorb and release the bourbon during the aging process. This gives the spirit its distinctive color and taste.
  4. Although the original inspiration for the whiskey’s name has yet to be proven – Bourbon County, KY is a real place.

The state of Kentucky prides itself on the history of their bourbon production, and rightfully so. Against all odds, who else (if anyone) dares to dip into an industry ruled by the bluegrass state? Balcones Texas Blue Corn Bourbon, Wigle organic Pennsylvania Bourbon, New York’s Kings County Peated Bourbon– the list goes on! There are bourbons being made all over the USA. Even better, reviews are giving these upcoming distilleries two thumbs up.

In fact, Marianne Eaves – who holds a place in history as “Kentucky’s First Female Bourbon Master Distiller since Prohibition”, was recruited to serve as Master Blender of a new Tennessee brand, Sweetens Cove. Starting with 100 exclusive barrels of 13-year aged Tennessee product, Marianne’s “meticulous process of blending” began. With whispers of, “caramel and vanilla aromas” and “oak, sweet and spicy” with a “lasting smoke finish” … many have become curious.

The ultra-premium Tennessee bourbon was released May 26, 2020.

As distilleries emerge all over the country, the bourbon industry has clearly proven itself to be successful. With rising expectations from seasoned bourbon connoisseurs, distillers, and newcomers alike – the demand for this cult product is growing exponentially. And whether anyone likes it or not, it’s growing above and beyond the Mason Dixon line.

Canadian Whiskey Miniature Whiskey Bottles Modern Whiskey Prohibition Era Medicinal Whiskey Whiskey History

Chicken Cock Whiskey – An unforgettable brand

Meet The Chicken Cocks

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.

Chicken Cock Straight Bourbon Whiskey
Chicken Cock Straight Bourbon Whiskey circa 2018
Chicken Cock Pure Whiskey circa 1933
Chicken Cock Pure Whiskey circa early 1920’s

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.

Chicken Cock Pure Rye Whiskey
Chicken Cock Pure Rye Whiskey circa 1920’s

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.

Below are photos of a pint of the American Medicinal Spirits version and a miniature 1/10th pint of the National Distillers Products Corporation version.

I hope you have enjoyed this blast from the past and look to the future of Chicken Cock, one of my favorite brands of all time!

Chicken Cock Whiskey
Chicken Cock Whiskey • Pint circa 1933 • 1/10th pint circa late 1930’s early 1940’s

Miniature Whiskey Bottles Prohibition Era Medicinal Whiskey Whiskey History

Old Whiskey Bottle Sizes in Review

From left to right: a quart, pint, 1/2 pint, 1/4 pint, and 1/10 pint.

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!

Prohibition Era Medicinal Whiskey Whiskey History featured in Old Liquors Magazine

who writes for Old Liquors Magazine was kind enough to reach out for a short interview and include me in this very informative article he wrote named The Last Call – Tasting History with Pre-Prohibition Bourbon. Give it a read as I’m sure you will not be disappointed.

Prohibition Era Medicinal Whiskey Whiskey History

Prohibition Medicinal Whiskey Brands Don’t Matter — Distillers Do!

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: 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 medicinal whiskeys, the most important thing to pay attention to is the tax stamp and NOT the main label. Cheers!

Pre-prohibition Whiskey Repeal Era Whiskey Whiskey History

Old Fitzgerald Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey

Old Fitzgerald
Old Fitzgerald Collection – Click for full size.

Today’s post is a salute to distiller Stitzel-Weller and the brand Old Fitzgerald. These bottles, all unopened, range from the prohibition era up to the mid sixties or maybe a little later. I’m more in the mood of posting photographs rather than storytelling at the moment, so for an exhaustive and fun historical read, please visit The Coopered Tot’s Old Fitzgerald post. I find myself continually visiting this article for the detailed dates and tasting notes. Cheers!

Prohibition Era Medicinal Whiskey Whiskey History

Old Rip Van Winkle – Pappy would be proud…

Old Rip Van Winkle Whiskey

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.

Pappy Van Winkle

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…

Old Rip Van Winkle detail

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.

Miniature Whiskey Bottles Repeal Era Whiskey Whiskey History

101 Rare Whiskey Flasks

101-rare-whiskey-flasksIt has been too long since my last post, what with life and all. I have so many delicious whiskey posts planned but with so few Spock mind-meld techniques at my disposal, I must submit to the available hours and the speed of my fingers.

I’ve been blessed to have been born into whiskey royalty. My father, David M. Spaid, and his (and my) very good friend Harry A. Ford, Jr. put together a not-so-small effort to share some of the rarest miniature whiskey bottles known. Not content to make it 99 bottles, as the song goes, they made it 101. 101 Rare Whiskey Flasks. So rare, I don’t own any of them.

Believe it or not, there are a few copies of these 48 page booklets hanging out in the bowels of my father’s garage. You can still buy one for $10 including shipping if you want one. Printed in 1989 in black and white (color was crazy expensive back then for the short run they did) 101 Rare Whiskey Flasks will curl your toes and grow hair on your chest when you see the various rare brands and their designs.

With permission from the authors, I present to you the Introduction from 101 Rare Whiskey Flasks.

Scott Spaid

101 Rare Whiskey Flasks – $10 US including shipping (US only). Note: this booklet is in black and white.


Welcome to the world of miniature whiskeys. That’s whiskey with an “e”. The majority of people who have this book will use it as a guide and are already converted to the bottle collecting “faith”. For those of you whom this is your first look at miniature whiskeys, you’ll see many which would be considered the “best of show”.

There are a good many questions which collectors might have about this book. Some of these will deal with pricing, some with why certain bottles were chosen and others were not, and finally, why the era of the 1930’s and flasks or flats instead of just any style bottle.

To begin, let’s look at the title of the book, 101 Rare Whiskey Flasks. Not exactly snappy, but it does get the point across. There are 101 bottles here because it seemed to be a nice number, not overwhelming but more than a small sample. 101 also seemed to be important because the two of us could each show 50 of our favorite bottles and naturally one which both of us have in our collections.

The idea of flasks and the 1930’s sort of go together. Probably most collectors would easily agree that the 1930’s were the golden age for miniature liquor bottles and miniature whiskeys in particular. And, the best of these bottles were the flasks. Flats or flasks are very seldom seen today and that makes the older ones more interesting. After the ’30’s, we had the 1950’s and these were the war years… thus a great many brands went to the wayside. The 1950’s saw the beginning of the taste changes in the American public which has resulted in the “white goods” epidemic. (White goods are clear spirits such as vodka, rum, and gin.) The 1960’s saw economics take over so that fewer and fewer brand names were produced. After all why should a company distribute 20 brands and take the time and expense to make up new labels when all the same liquor could easily be sold under just one brand name.

The thirties were something special though. With the end of prohibition in December of 1933, everyone who could begin producing whiskey. After all, the nation had seen well over a decade of bathtub gin, Canadian whiskey, and the best (or worst) Scotland had to offer. It was time to get down to old bourbon and rye…American drinks! No one knew what would really catch on. It might be the taste or maybe it would be the name of the whiskey or even the label design. Demographics weren’t a big thing in the mid-1930’s. So if you could produce bourbon or even buy it from someone who did produce it and had the necessary licenses, you could begin issuing any whiskey you wanted to. If your Aunt Fanny had a taste for the strong stuff, why not take that one-month-old “stuff” and call it Aunt Fanny’s blend!

Liquor stores got in the act too. You’ll notice several bottles in this book, which were made for specific stores or a chain of stores. Most whiskey was produced in Kentucky, Indiana, Maryland, and Pennsylvania but it could easily be trucked anywhere and bottled there. California was a prime example. Take a gander at the bottoms of those labels and you’ll note that a good number of them were produced here in the Golden State.

Most collectors realize that the same exact whiskey goes into a number of different bottles and many companies filled for a variety of other companies. Few people though realize how prevalent this still is. Ever notice that Jim Beam has bottles which state they are bottles by James B. Beam? Ever wondered if there is a Wild Turkey distillery? (There isn’t.) So, it was in the 1930’s that the same liquor might have gone into a score or more of different brand names. Thus the Hinze people in Kentucky could produce both War Admiral and Frederick. Are we really to think these were two different whiskeys? It’s possible but highly improbable. Consequently, the 1930’s had literally hundreds of different brand name whiskeys.

This leads us to the point that if there were hundreds of miniature brand names produced, why did we pick these particular ones. The answer to this question has several parts.

Rarity is one of the reasons. Availability is another. These sound almost alike, but they really aren’t. It is always wonderful to see rare bottles you’ve never seen before; however, it is extremely frustrating to be unable to ever add them to your collection.

A good many California bottles were picked because of their rarity. Quickee’s Fernwood (a name we feel which definitely deserves notation) along with the Wilshire Midget and the others are in the “knock your socks off” category. We did not include such bottles as Green Mill and Old Cask because they have previously been shown in other books. We carefully gleaned the contents of the six books (Snyder, Triffon, Spaid) done in the last two decades so that nothing shown in those pages would have been seen in another book. A few of the bottles here have presented in a club newsletter or two; however, for the most part, everything in these pages is pictured here for the first time!!

Now we come to what may be the most controversial aspect of the book, the pricing. Pricing a bottle is a no-win situation. As soon as the price appears, the value either goes up or down. The swap meet sellers and antique dealers who really care nothing about the bottles per se will begin smacking their lips because now they can point to a book a say, “See, there’s the value, right there!” The collector moans and groans because he or she wants more bottles but doesn’t want to pay the price. No one ever remembers that the value of his own collection has just gone up if he owns any of the pictured bottles.

If you’re wondering how we came up with these prices, that answer is simple. The old law of supply and demand is the answer. Look to the bottles which are sold either at the shows or directly from collections. Read every copy of each and every auction magazine which has ever been published. Last year (editors note: this would have been 1987 or 1988) when Old Camel (Triffon, Volume 1) went for $500 in the Mini Bottle International auction everyone was amazed. But where can you get an Old Camel bottle?

Now here’s a WARNING. Don’t start thinking that every whiskey miniature from the 1930’s is worth a humungous price. It isn’t. There just might be one hundred thousand Mill Farm bottles floating around. Great looking label in perfect condition … maybe it will bring $10, possibly $12. Now Four Bits, that’s a different matter. We know of exactly four of them. So, it’s supply and demand. In fact, the majority of whiskey bottles from the ’30’s would sell for $20 or less. Gins, rums, and cognacs would generally fetch even less. And liqueurs, brandies, and wines will usually be under $5.

So, if you like the prices great. If you don’t like the prices, then buy, sell and swap the bottles for what you think they are worth. We happen to think the bottles in this book are worth a great deal. And, incidentally, just in case you’re considering asking us … we’re not selling … and we’re not trading.

Let us know what you think of this book, and whether you’d like to see more in the future. Finally, good bottle hunting!

David M. Spaid & Harry A Ford, Jr.

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.