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Prohibition Era Medicinal Whiskey Whiskey History

WhiskeyBent.net 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.

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Miniature Whiskey Bottles Prohibition Era Medicinal Whiskey Repeal Era Whiskey

Old Sunny Brook Bourbon Whiskey

Old Sunny Brook Bourbon Whiskey

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.

Old Sunny Brook Bourbon Whiskey

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.

Old Sunny Brook Inspector

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Prohibition Era Medicinal Whiskey

Golden Premium Whiskey – 16 Years Old

Golden Premium Whiskey
Golden Premium Whiskey – 16 years old – 1914 – 1930

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!

Golden Premium Whiskey
Hey baby, want some fruit?

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.

Golden Premium Back Label
“American Medicinal Spirits Company, you’re our only Hope.”

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!

Golden Premium Whiskey tax stamp
The New Hope Distillery Co.
Golden Premium Whiskey tax stamp
Sho’ nuff. 16 years old.

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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 http://www.ellenjaye.com/4roses.htm

Four Roses Straight Whiskey

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

 

Categories
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

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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.

PRODUCTS OF NATIONAL DISTILLERS

AMERICAN MEDICINAL SPIRITS CO. • NEW YORK • CHICAGO • LOUISVILLE • SAN FRANCISCO

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.

Categories
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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Prohibition Era Medicinal Whiskey

Identify the Prohibition Whiskey Bottles

Identify the Prohibition Whiskey Bottles

During one of my typical Google outings I stumbled upon this photograph of a nice old collection of prohibition whiskey bottles. The owner of this collection is unknown as the photo was snapped and uploaded to Reddit by the owner’s grandson according to the original post. My goal is to identify every brand in the photo and I need your help. If you can correctly identify any of the prohibition whiskey bottles in the photo please post your guesses below. Hint: click on the photo to get a larger version of it. Another hint: the collection seems to be in alphabetical order, more or less.

Can You Identify the Prohibition Whiskey Bottles?

[one_half]

Left Side – Top Shelf

  1. Antique
  2. Atherton
  3. Belle of Anderson
  4. Belmont
  5. Black Gold
  6. Bluegrass

Left Side – Shelf #2

  1. Broad Ripple
  2. Antique (box – 1/2 pint)
  3. Chicken Cock
  4. — (1/2 pint)
  5. Sam Clay
  6. Country Gentleman

Left Side – Shelf #3

  1. J.W. Dant
  2. J.A. Dougherty’s & Sons
  3. Old McBrayer
  4. Echo Springs
  5. Four Roses

Left Side – Shelf #4

  1. Golden Wedding
  2. Greenbrier
  3. Green River (1/2 Pint)

Left Side – Shelf #5

  1. Hunter
  2. Kentucky Tavern (1/2 pint)
  3. Kentucky Tavern
  4. Mattingly & Moore

Left Side – Bottom Shelf

  1. Old Continental

[/one_half]

[one_half_last]

Right Side – Top Shelf

  1. Old Fitzgerald
  2. Old Forester
  3. Old Grand Dad

Right Side – Shelf #2

  1. Old Jim Gore
  2. Old Jordan
  3. Kentucky Colonel
  4. Limestone
  5. Mellwood
  6. Old McBrayer

Right Side – Shelf #3

  1. Old Mock
  2. Old Prentice
  3. Old McBrayer
  4. Old Quaker
  5. Old Raven
  6. Old Ripy
  7. Old Rosebud

Right Side – Shelf #4

  1. Old Schenley
  2. Old Stagg
  3. Old Sunny Brook
  4. Old Taylor

Right Side – Shelf #5

  1. Sam Thompson
  2. Pebble Ford
  3. Shenandoah
  4. A.M.S Special Old Reserve

Right Side – Bottom Shelf

  1. Van Hook
  2. Waterfill & Frazier
  3. Daniel Webster
  4. Willow Springs

[/one_half_last]

Categories
Prohibition Era Medicinal Whiskey Tastings Tales

LA Whiskey Society Medicinal Whiskey Tasting

LAW Medicinal Whiskey Tasting

Have you ever wondered what a bottle of medicinal whiskey distilled nearly 100 years ago tastes like? Yeah, I’m sure you’re thinking what most people think. Ewww! Hasn’t that stuff turned by now? Well, in most cases, the answer is no. If the seal is intact, no sediment at the bottom, and only a bit of evaporation, you may be in for a treat. Unlike wine, when whiskey is bottled after aging for let’s say, 8 years, it remains an 8 year old whiskey for life if it has been stored in a cool dark place.

You don’t have to drink medicinal whiskey because LAW has done it for you

If you’re like me, you wouldn’t dare drink one unless you had a spare or two lying around and that usually isn’t the case. You see, I’m a collector and once the bottles are opened, they have zero value to me. So, rather than open that delicious looking bottle of Old Farm you found behind the walls while renovating, drop me a line so I can talk you out of it.

Our friends at the LA Whiskey Society have done us a favor and tasted some of the oldest and most interesting prohibition era medicinal whiskies you can find. While a few were stinkers, several charmed the palates off of the LAW tasters, which worries me they will pursue drinking more of them. Since I’m not going to open bottles in my collection, I’m happy that the tasters at LAW have done this so we don’t have to. For an incredibly interesting read, see the main article. For tasting notes, see the links below. Dates are distillation and bottling, respectively.