Thursday, January 22, 2015

E. J. Curley Turned Boone’s Knoll into a Distilling Marvel

Above is a photo postcard of a Kentucky landmark that is clearly delineated as Boone’s Knoll.  It appears to be a rather unremarkable rocky outcropping covered with trees and foliage above the Kentucky River.  But look closely.  Behind the hill is a tall structure emitting smoke.  Those billows have emerged from Edward J. Curley’s distillery, the enterprise that brought Boone’s Knoll to national whiskey prominence.

Curley had been born in Massachusetts in 1837 of Irish immigrant parents.  Although little is known of his early years, my research indicates that he likely was a Union soldier during the Civil War.  The national register of those serving in that conflict records an Edward Curley as a private in the Company E of  First Regiment of the Massachusetts Volunteer Cavalry, a unit raised early in the war.  He would have been 23 years old, a prime age for recruits.

His military service may hold the answer to how Curley got to Kentucky.  Union Forces held Lexington and the areas around it.  In Jessamine County on the Kentucky River not far from Lexington, the Union had constructed an installation called Camp Nelson.  Its purpose was to recruit emancipated blacks and train them to become soldiers.  With the Massachusetts Regiment stationed in nearby Virginia, it would not have been unusual for Curley to have been seconded to this operation.  

In any case, almost immediately after the Confederate surrender, Curley with two partners founded a distillery in the immediate vicinity of Camp Nelson.  The military connection is strengthened by the fact that one of the partners was Dwight A. Aiken, a Michigan resident and captain in the Commissary Department of the Union Army.  Beginning in 1863 Aiken was stationed at Camp Nelson.  It is my speculation that Curley and Aiken met there and decided to go into whiskey distilling after the war with a third partner named Campbell.

The spot they chose for their operations was not far from the camp and an excellent site.  The area had been important in pioneer days because a break in the palisades gave access to a ford across the Kentucky River below the mouth of Hickman Creek.  According to historians the ford was a favorite crossing for Daniel Boone.  Thus the name "Boone’s Knoll."  In the late 1860s the trio built a distillery on one side of the river at the Knoll, as shown below.  It would be called the Blue Grass Distillery and be recorded in Federal revenue annals as Distillery #3 of the Eighth Kentucky District.  They marketed their product as “Blue Grass Whiskey,”  a name identified in government documents as having first been used in commerce in 1867.

This plant was built of iron with oak racks.  All the timbers were oak, sawed in a mill on the premises. The warehouses were reported to incorporate the latest technologies for light, ventilation and fire prevention.  The original wooden still later was torn down and a copper kettle substituted to insure better quality control.  The company also provided its own cooperage on premises using the abundant oaks in the area to supply staves.  

By 1874 the trio had dissolved.  Aiken had moved to Lexington and leased an existing distillery which he operated as D.A. Aiken & Company, Distillers, until 1882 when a fire and financial problems shut him down.  Campbell just disappeared from the scene.  Curley was now sole proprietor of the Blue Grass Distillery.  Already he was finding a national audience for his whiskey.  In June 1872 a Sacramento, California, newspaper carried an ad placed by Curley’s local sales agent.  It extolled the limited capacity of the distillery, declaring that:  “…More attention is given to the quality than the quantity of liquor produced….”  Curley’s whiskey was made the old fashioned way, the ad continued, in recipe known only to the proprietor:  “The water used in its manufacture is of a peculiar nature, from a spring in the cliff of the Kentucky River.
About 1880 Curley decided to build a second distillery on the other side of the river, connected by a steel girder bridge.  It became Distillery #15 in Kentucky District Eight.   Shown here, Curley named it the “The Boone’s Knoll Distillery.”   He built the new plant on solid rock, which required blasting to set the structure.  The building, as seen above, was constructed of solid stone.  According to a contemporary account  “The mashing floor and fermenting room are admirably situated and the temperature of the latter does not vary 5 degrees from 72 degrees all year round. The piping and machinery are all new, and of the simplest and most efficient pattern”

The 1882 Bonfort’s Directory of wine and liquor producers in a lengthy article waxed poetic about the two facilities:  “The Blue Grass Distillery stands at the foot of a valley overlooked by a beautiful hill known to the countryside as Boone’s Knoll…In the spring the slopes on the other side of the river, which stretch away in terraces, vividly recalling the Roman amphitheater at Arles, are covered with fragrant wild flowers, which fill the air with perfume and make the little valley a perfect fairy-land.” 
Curley’s Boone’s Knoll Distillery also came in for praise: “This house is entitled to take its place among the  best distilleries in the world.  At the same time, Bonfort’s writer seemed to anguish at a decision the proprietor had made.   Curley was operating the two distilleries as a single entity.  The Blue Grass Distillery had a mashing capacity of 600 bushels of grain daily but never was run up to its capacity, according to Bonfort’s.  The Boone’s Knoll facility added more capacity. bringing the total mashing capacity to 1,100 bushels a day and 100 barrels daily.  The publication reported that Curley, seeing a glut of whiskey coming to market, would make only enough whiskey the next year to fill his orders and nothing more.  While seemingly regretting the decision, Bonfort’s said:  “We should dislike to do anything to increase production, but probably no better investment could be made than 1883 sour mash.” 
For East Coast sales, Curley had turned over much of his limited production to the Froeb Company of New York City. (See my post on Charles Froeb in November 2012).  Responsible for the saloon sign of Daniel Boone above, Froeb advertised the Blue Grass Rye brand vigorously and may have taken a large portion of Curley’s production. He sold the whiskey in bottles and flask, as one shown here.  Froeb’s ads characterized the whiskey as“excellent in convalescence, as it is stimulating and not nauseating.  Its dryness is a prerequisite in diabetical maladies.

Despite these marketing efforts and endorsements in the trade press, something was going wrong for E.J. Curley & Co.  As with other distillers of that time a combination of repressive federal tax laws and a downturn in the U.S. economy resulted in financial difficulties.  In 1889 Curley’s horses and wagons reportedly were impound for non-payment of taxes, in what must have been a crushing blow to the proprietor.  The same year Curley sold out to the so-called “Whiskey Trust,”  a investor group that sought to spike upward profits from Kentucky whiskey by scooping up distilleries and creating a quasi-monopoly. 
In Curley’s place, the Trust installed a new manager, August C. Gutzeit, a Lexington wholesale liquor broker. Shown left is one of Gutzeit’s jugs.  Unlike many of the properties obtained by the Trust and closed down, the Boone Knoll sites were kept in operation producing Curley’s brands — and labels with his signature — for almost 20 years until shuttered completely by the advent of National Prohibition.  The Boone’s Knoll distillery subsequently was turned into a hotel.  Successor organizations to the Trust were allowed to sell Curley’s product as “medicinal” whiskey throughout the dry era, obtained by a prescription from doctors who in many cases were glad to oblige a thirst.  

After Repeal in 1934 the distillery buildings were converted back to their original purpose, operating as the Kentucky River Distillery, becoming RD #45.  The plant was sold again sometime in the 1960s to Norton Simon who operated it to produce Canada Dry soft drinks until  the 1970s.  At some point the Boone’s Knoll distillery burned and the warehouses were leased to Seagrams to house production from other Kentucky plants.  Still standing, the stone structures more recently are said to have been leased to the producers of “Wild Turkey” bourbon. 

Apparently never having married and putting all his energy into his whiskey enterprises, Edward Curley was only 52 when he was forced to sell out.  Somewhere along the line Curley gained the title “Colonel,” given to many as an honorary distinction in Kentucky.  Subsequent to 1900 he does not appear in Kentucky census records.  What his future life may have held is shrouded in the mists of time.  Curley clearly constructed had his distilleries for the long run;  the buildings remain visible from U.S. Route 27 at Boone’s Knoll.  They alone create a memorial to the vision and enterprise of this transplanted Boston Irish whiskey man. 

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Charles Serasio Found Gold and Early Death in Lead

In September,1919, when Charles Serasio died at only 49 years of age from tuberculosis, the Lead (South Dakota) Daily Call newspaper cited him as a respected and popular resident of the the city.  The obituary did not mention the odyssey that brought Serasio to Lead and a premature death — nor addressed his success as a local saloonkeeper.

Serasio was born in 1870 in San Giorgio, Italy, shown above.  For years the climate and natural beauty on the Mediterranean made the town a strong magnet for tourists and it flourished.  Two eruptions from nearby Mount Vesuvius in 1855, however, severely damaged the economy and triggered a gradual emigration of the populace overseas in search of employment.  Among them were members of the extensive Serasio family (Charles himself was one of ten children) many of whom came to the United States.

After a period in his youth living with relatives in France, Serasio immigrated to these shores in 1886.  His first stop was Michigan, where he may have had relatives.  That is where he traded the bright Mediterranean sunshine for the darkness of the mines.  Near the present city of Calumet a rich copper-bearing section created in the Precambrian Age was discovered in 1864 and mining operations ensued.  Calumet became the leading copper producer in the world, for many years turning out more than half that metal mined in the United States. Until the 20th Century all copper mining was done underground by men like Serasio, who daily were breathing in the dust and gases created.

After working in Calumet for several years,  Serasio, perhaps seeking better prospects, moved west to Great Falls, Montana.  That town was the site of a processing plant for the giant Anaconda Copper Mine.  It had been founded in 1881 and rapidly had become one of the nation’s largest copper producers.  As a seasoned mine worker Serasio probably had no trouble finding employment there during a period that the Anaconda holdings were expanding rapidly.  Once again he was exposed to the heath hazards of the mining trade.
By 1897, he had left Great Falls and headed to South Dakota where the town of Lead had been founded in 1876 after the discovery of gold.  It was the site of the Homestake Mine, shown above, the largest, deepest (8,382 feet) and most productive gold mine in the Western Hemisphere.  Serasio went to work digging for gold in the miles of tunnels that honeycombed the earth below Lead.  Gold mining is among the worst for lung damage.  The gold miners of South Africa, for example, have the highest rates of tuberculosis inflection in the world, a rate seven times higher than the general population of South Africa, itself the country with the second highest TB rates in the world.
In Lead, Charles found a wife.  She was Mary Galetto, a woman five years his junior and like him of Italian heritage.  The couple would have four children, James, born in 1900; Anton (Tony) 1901;  Mary Catherine, 1905, and Josephine, 1904.  Whether it was family responsibilities or a growing recognition of respiratory problems, Serasio finally stepped out of the mines for good.  A 1909 Lead business directory listed him as owning a saloon at No. 4 on the aptly named Gold Street.  He had discovered that rather than digging for gold in the ground, it could be more easily made by selling whiskey to thirsty miners, such as those Homestead hands shown above.

Serasio proved to be highly successful as a publican.  Not only was he pushing liquor over the  the bar, he was selling it in “take home” quantities, using large ceramic jugs that promoted him as the proprietor and a “dealer in domestic and imported liquors, California and home made wines...a specialty.”  Shown here are two views of one of his jugs and the label of a second.  His advertising suggests that Serasio was mixing up his own whiskey in a back room for sale and also fixing up concoctions he called “home made” wine, South Dakota not being noted for its vineyards.  

Serasio constantly had to be looking over his shoulder for the forces of “Temperance.”   Prohibitionary laws in Dakota Territory had been passed as early as 1889 but lacked  enforcement provisions.  When the first South Dakota state legislature met in 1890 they passed an enforcement bill that also had minimal effect.  Thus by 1909, Serasio could still be listed as running a saloon but may have been emphasizing container sales since “package stores” under spurious licensing as drugstores in South Dakota could still sell spirits and call it “medicine.”

Whether it was the forces of prohibition or the need to breathe cleaner air, about 1917 Serasio shut down his Lead operations and with his family headed over the border to Sundance, Wyoming, about 50 miles away by road.  That state had no temperance laws and South Dakota residents regularly made treks there, so many of them that Wyoming border towns became known as “a perpetual oasis for thirsty Dakotans.”
Sundance, shown above about 1900, is nestled in the valley of the Bear Lodge Mountains in Northwestern Wyoming on the western edge of the Black Hills.  Established in 1875 as a trading post it was prospering in the wide open frontier of the times, including being very hospitable to saloons.  In 1889 a Dakotan named W. H. Blair after being forced to close his saloon in Rapid City, South Dakota, relocated to Sundance and operated there until selling out in 1917.  The new owner was Charles Serasio. He operated the drinking establishment for several years before moving back to Lead, possibly because his bad health made it impossible to carry on.

Not long after returning, Serasio died on September 11, 1919.  The undertaker and coroner, J. J. Mead, gave the official cause as “acute  pulmonary tuberculosis.”  Serasio’s life in the mines had caught up with him.  At 49 years old he left behind a widow and four minor children to mourn his passing.  His funeral had to be delayed because of the many Serasio relatives coming from around the country.  On the appointed day a Requiem Mass was said for Charles at the local Catholic church, a ceremony attended by a large crowd.  As the Lead Daily Call reported:  Interment was in municipal cemetery and the body was followed to its last resting place by a very large number. The Cristofor Colombo society, of which he had been a member, turned out in force, and led by the Knights of Pythias band, marched in the funeral procession to the cemetery.  Shown here is the saloonkeeper’s impressive marble gravestone in South Lead Cemetery.

Such was the final resting place of Charles Serasio who had paid the price of many who have worked underground to extract the mineral wealth of America.  Nevertheless, he was one who by dint of intelligence and hard work escaped the mines to operate successful and popular saloons and earn an accolade in his local newspaper as “one of the old time and respected citizens of Lead.”  That tribute to Serasio is one many of us might wish to have applied when we pass from this life.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Christian and the Xanders: Selling Spirits in Washington D.C.

For many years in the era before Congress in an act of utter hypocrisy in 1917 voted the District of Columbia “dry,”  the name Xander was a prominent one among the whiskey men of the Nation’s Capitol.  In the Xander clan, Christian was the stand out, conducting a highly successful liquor business as well as operating his own prize-winning winery.

Christian Xander was born in 1837 at Grossweier, a town in the state of Baden located  in southwestern Germany,  not far from the French border.  He was the son of an earlier Christian Xander and his wife Maria Jorger.  Of his early life, little is known but Xander may  have had an early exposure to wine making. 

About 1853 Christian, 16 years old, is recorded as having emigrated from Germany to the United States and settled in Washington, D.C.  He may have found early employment in one of the District’s proliferating liquor houses. In late December of 1864 at age 27, he married Caroline Blume (also given as Blum), also a German emigre’, at DC’s Concordia Lutheran Church.  She was eight years his junior.  They would have three children, Henry born in 1866, Mina born in 1868, and a second son who died in infancy.
Throughout this period Christian was establishing himself as a respected local businessman.  By 1872 his wholesale liquor dealership was a recognized successful enterprise.  Moreover, Xander himself was sufficiently established as a merchant to act as an incorporator for the Boundary & Silver Springs Railway Company, a trolley system for the District of Columbia.  He was reputed, in contemporary accounts, to be a visionary businessman willing to invest to build the latest in transportation systems for his adopted city.

He had set up his business at 909 Seventh Street, N.W., the building shown above, likely with Christian himself standing in the doorway.  The structure had been built to his specifications in a major DC commercial area. It was three floors, 25 by 150 feet each, with a warehouse two stories in height.  Although listed as a wholesaler, Xander did not employ traveling salesmen, but advertised widely, even in the “Negro” press, shown below, and cultivated a customer base in eight surrounding states.

He featured a number of national brands, advertising that his “Quality House” had 240 kinds of distilled spirits.  Among them were several of his own labels, indicating that in addition to selling from his address, he was also “rectifying” — that is, blending and compounding — whiskey in one of the several stories of his business.  Those brands included “Chr. Xander’s Family Brand,” “Old Private Stock,” “Old Reserve,” and “Gold Medal.”  In addition, his company featured a line of proprietary “medicinal” beverages, including stomach bitters, coca wine, and cordials.  His “Melliston Cordial” was advertised as a “Great Curative in Pulmonary Affections.”  Xander’s whiskeys were sold in glass bottles, as shown above, often with fancy labels describing their contents.

An 1894 publication said of Xander’s operation,  “His premises and vaults were built with the view to perfect depuration and maturing of wines and liquors, and his goods, sold direct and by retailers, are the accepted standards in hotels and private families. Mr. Xander's business policy is one of unwavering integrity, and his house stands in the first rank of reliable commercial firms.”

As Christian was prospering, other German-born Xanders had arrived in the United States, related to him, either as siblings or certainly as cousins.  They were Karl Xander, born 13 years after Christian, and Jacob, birth date unknown.  It it is highly likely that they initially worked for Christian in his enterprise.  By 1889 according to directory listings, both had struck out on their own.  Karl was running a liquor store at 439 K Street, N.W. and Jacob a wine and liquor store at 1315 Seventh St, N.W.  The Xander DC liquor empire was much noted by the local populace and by the Washington press.
What distinguished Christian from the other Xanders was his reputation as a wine maker.  In 1882 he had established his own winery and was calling himself “Chr. Xander, Wholesale Wine Merchant, ” as shown on the letterhead above.  The winery was located behind his sales offices at 630 Massachusetts Avenue, N.W.  A contemporary photograph shows a three story building with the sign “Xander…Vaults and Warehouse.”  Again, that may well be Christian himself standing in the doorway.
By 1883 Christian had achieved the reputation of producing the first wine ever made in the District of Columbia.  A decade later he was producing approximately 10,000 gallons of reds and clarets.  They were sweet wines and made from grapes grown in Virginia known as the Norton variety.   On September 23, 1900 an article appeared in The Washington Post announcing that Xander had been given a medal for his wines at the 1900 Paris Exposition.  The newspaper failed to mention, however, that it was only a bronze medal, something given to virtually any vintner who displayed at the Exhibition.

Christian heavily featured this award in his advertising, as well as subsequent medal wins.  His company also could be generous to those vintners for which Xander was the sole DC agent, including “Grand Imperial Champagne,” a beverage said to have won awards at the Chicago and Paris World’s Fairs and a gold medal at the Pan-American Exposition.

The Washington Post frequently waxed enthusiastic over Christian’s wine.  The following appeared on September 22, 1895:   Initiating fifteen years ago the city industry of wine making, aiming at quality at all cost, Chr. Xander has since developed a remarkable trade in what hundreds of families consider the most hygienic Virginia clarets and port. Of mellow taste, free from saltpetre, rich in iron, tartrates, tannin, and fruit acids, these wines respect brains and nerves, allow enormous dilution, are thus true temperance wines, and surprise those who know only vulgar Virginia trade wines.

With success came more local recognition for Christian.  He was a significant enough citizen to serve on one of the committees charged with organizing the inaugural ceremonies and parade for President Theodore Roosevelt in March of 1905.  

As Christian aged he took his son into the business.  Henry Xander was also a music teacher with a studio downtown, but spent his evenings working with his father in the family liquor and wine trade.  Henry, assisted by company vice president, F. Pohndorff, Sr., increasingly took over the management of the firm.  In 1908 Christian died at age 71.  He was interred in Prospect Hill Cemetery, an historic German-American burying ground, originally just for Lutheran dead, located on North Capital Street in the District.   His gravestone is shown here.
Meanwhile, the other Xanders continued to achieve success in the DC liquor trade.  Karl was reported doing a brisk business from his wholesale liquor store on K Street, said to be “one of the finest fitted and elaborately appointed places in the city.”   His house brands were “Southern Bouquet” and “Millvale” whiskeys.  According to a local history, this Xander was well known as “one of the most prominent German-Americans in the city and stands at the very pinnacle in commercial rectitude and in the esteem of the public.”  Jacob Xander, reputedly prospering in similar fashion on Seventh Street, also received accolades:  “He is wide awake, active and reputable businessman, and well known in mercantile circles.”

However high Karl’s pinnacle was, or wide awake Jacob may have been, nothing could stand before the force of prohibition sentiments in the U.S. Congress.  In 1917 the Xander liquor empire in the District of Columbia came tumbling down as legislation passed that turned DC ostensibly  “dry” until 1934.  A last word on Christian can be taken from an accolade penned in 1894 when this whiskey (and wine) man was still at the top of his game:  “Such is Mr. Xander’s reputation in this country through the trade, that his name on the parcels is a sufficient guarantee of their high quality and absolute purity and maturity.”  Years after Christian’s death his widow, Caroline, continued to donate Xander wine to one of the local charity hospitals.

Note:  Much of the material and several of the illustrations shown here are from the October 2009 issue of Prince William Reliquary, an article based on cited original sources. 

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Col. E. H. Taylor Jr.: The Face and Signature of Kentucky Bourbon

Although much has been written about Edmund Haynes Taylor, Jr. by generations of authors, I prefer to think of him as the face and signature of Kentucky bourbon, a place in whiskey history that was achieved by his engagement in crucial legal and political struggles.
Depicted here, Taylor was born in 1930 near Fulton, Kentucky.  A fourth generation Kentuckian, he was a descendant of two American presidents, James Madison and Zachary Taylor.  When his father died when he was five years old, he was sent to Louisiana to live with his great uncle Zachary, the future Mexican War hero and Chief Executive. Zachary gave the boy a good classical education.  In the early 1850s Taylor returned Lexington.  There he resided with his uncle, Edmond Haynes Taylor, a local banker, and “Jr.” was added to the young man’s name to distinguish him from his uncle. 

Working successfully in his uncle’s bank, he now had the steady income to marry.  His bride in December, 1851,  was Fanny Johnson of Lexington, shown here, described in her obituary as “a very handsome woman.”  They would have seven children among them three boys, all of whom would figure significantly in their father’s whiskey interests.  Thirty-one years old when the Civil War broke out, Taylor avoided service in either army and instead traded in cotton, working with both sides, reputedly tolerated because of strong political contacts North and South. (The “Colonel” was strictly an honorific.)

Not originally a distiller, it was Taylor’s banking sense that there was money to be made in selling whiskey.  Not just any whiskey as many Kentucky distillers featured, but a quality product.  Accordingly after the war he spent much of 1866 touring Europe being educated in the latest distilling techniques, including the importance of keeping the liquids in copper kettles. Upon his return to the United States in 1867 he opened his first distillery, “The Hermitage."
Two years later he bought an old distillery near Frankfort, Kentucky, and completely renovated it, installing all copper stills and innovative steam-heated warehouses that controlled the temperatures during whiskey aging. The distillery, shown above, also featured state-of-the art grain equipment, a more efficient sour mash technique, and modernized buildings.  He called this facility “Old-Fashioned Copper,” or “O.F.C.,” as depicted above on a saloon sign.  Although he operated successfully for more than a decade, a combination of factors brought Taylor close to bankruptcy in the late 1870s and forced him to sell control of his distillery to the St. Louis Liquor firm of Gregory and Stagg.  Although he stayed on as manager, Taylor clashed with the new owners who wished to increase profits by cutting the quality of the whiskey.   In 1884, he cut his ties with the distillery and George Stagg became the manager.
Before long Taylor was back in the whiskey business.  Moving a few miles away to a creek on the south side of Frankfort, he built a spectacular distillery modeled on a German Rhenish castle.  A shown here on a postcard, it featured thick limestone walls, crenellated battlements, medieval turrets, interior sunken gardens and luxury appointments.  He called his firm, E. H. Taylor & Sons and the distillery “Old Taylor.”  The sons, as shown in a letterhead, were J. Swigert and Kenner.  A third son,  Edmund W.,  would join the business later
The elder Taylor had become the face and signature of this enterprise for a reason.  After Stagg and his partners had taken over the original Taylor distilleries they had kept his name because of his stellar reputation for bourbon.  When the Taylors opened their new facility, Stagg sued to stop them using their name on their whiskey.   Over the next months, a legal battle was waged that ended in the Kentucky Supreme Court with a victory for the Taylors.  They could continue to use their family name for their whiskey — but Stagg’s “Taylor” products were still on the market.  Thus the emphasis on the Colonel’s face and signature to proclaim the “genuine” bourbon.  Shown here is a 1903 ad in the Wine and Spirit Bulletin included both and an excerpt from the court decision.  All to make the point:  “There is but one Old Taylor distillery in Kentucky…There is but one Old Taylor whiskey distilled in KY.”
This message, complete with signature and face were repeated countless times on labels of Old Taylor bourbon.  They were under-glaze printed on tall ceramic jugs and featured on company giveaway items, including watch fobs and paperweights.  As a result, Taylor became one of the most recognized faces and signatures in America.

Having won the legal battle with Stagg, the combative Taylor took up a new cause.  One factor that had led to his earlier near bankruptcy was having to pay a hefty federal tax on whatever came out of the still immediately after distillation.   Convinced that a better system of taxation was necessary, he began to lobby for new legislation.   In this struggle, he was immensely aided by his political pedigree and friends.  In 1871, Taylor had been elected as mayor of Frankfort, a position he held for 16 years, reputedly a good and much esteemed leader.  Among his political allies was John G. Carlisle who the same year had been elected lieutenant governor of Kentucky.  When Carlisle eventually became Secretary of the Treasury, the two collaborated to pushed through Congress the “Bottled-in Bond-Act of 1897,” a law that still stands.
Although the Bottled-in-Bond Act was aimed at creating a standard of quality in bourbon whiskey, the system also was connected to the tax laws, providing the key incentive for distilleries to participate.  They were allowed to delay payment of the excise tax on stored whiskey until the aging process was complete and the whiskey transferred for sale.  Supervision of the warehouses and transactions was given to Treasury agents assigned to control access to “bonded” warehouses at the distilleries.  E. H. Taylor & Sons were quick to advertise their adherence to the new law in ads and a bar sign, bearing that very familiar face, that declared:  “Bottled under U.S. Government Supervision….”
Taylor was not finished in his advocacy.  He added his voice and prestige to those who were pushing for a strong Pure Food and Drug Act.   Although most of the advocates for this legislation were reacting to the quack medicines of the time,  Taylor was motivated differently.  Like other quality whiskey producers he abhorred the “rectified” (blended and compounded) whiskey of his time, much of which was adulterated.  Those blends, he contended, should be labeled “imitation whiskey.”  When the Act was passed in 1906,  Taylor found an ally in Dr. Harvey W. Wiley, who was chief enforcer of the pure food laws.

This time, however, neither Taylor nor Wiley was able to force through their desired interpretation of blended whiskey.  Fought over for years, the issue finally reached the desk of then President William Howard Taft.  Taft in a Solomon-like decision determined that “whiskey was whiskey” and although blends should be distinguished from straight whiskey in labeling, they were not an imitation.  That ruling has prevailed to the present day.  
For all his political clout and savvy, however, Taylor could not hold back the tide of the Temperance Movement.  With the coming of National Prohibition, he and his sons were forced to shut down the Old Taylor Distillery.  At the time the father’s net worth was estimated at $2.5 million, 10 times that in today’s dollar.  Three years later, on January 19, 1923, Taylor died and was laid to rest at Frankfort Cemetery.  Beside him was his late wife, Fanny, who had died a quarter century earlier after a long illness.

The death of Col. Edmund H. Taylor Jr. occasioned headlines across the United States, many of them carrying a wire service obituary that read in part:  “Mr. Taylor’s name was known around the globe, for he had given it to “Old Taylor” whiskey, made in his distillery, pronounced by expert distillers the finest plant of its kind in the world.”   To this one might add that by the time of his death Taylor truly had become the face and signature of Kentucky bourbon.

Note:  The information for this vignette came from a variety of sources, among them an article by Clay Risen that appeared in the Virginia Quarterly Review of October 28, 2013.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Alex Young: To Philly Just to Learn Distilling

Note:  As the past, when a short biography of a whiskey man already has been written that would make my attempt redundant, I have posted it in my blog, giving due credit.  This time recognition belongs to Robin Preston, the genius behind the website.  He has combined material about Young from several 19th Century documents with personal communications with a descendant to give us a picture of this energetic Irish immigrant.  With only light editing Robin’s article is reprinted here.

Alexander Young (b. Aug. 26, 1798) was a native of County Derry, Ireland. He arrived in the U.S. on July 15, 1821. He already had some knowledge of the malt distillery business, but desirous to learn the art of extracting whiskey from raw grain, he went into J. W. Dower's (Dover's?) distillery on the Schuylkill River, between Race and Vine streets in Philadelphia. He paid $50 in cash for this instruction, plus his services for many months. After working in a subordinate position for one year, he had saved money sufficient to purchase a small still, and commenced business for himself. The location was reported to be at 5th & Alaska (Alaska was renamed Kanter Street in 1897)
After a year, Young went into partnership with John Maitland, and for two years they produced a very pure and excellent kind of "malt whiskey." They also distilled New England rum from molasses. They were the first firm that discovered the process by which an immense increase of spirit was obtained from the grain, producing 14 quarts of whiskey from 56 pounds of grain.
In 1825 there stood at the corner of 4th and South Sts a large building used as a theatre ("Old South St Theatre", formerly "The Apollo"), but as the population moved towards the western and northern part of the city, it was closed and rented to Pat Lyons, another distinguished Irishman, who used it for a hay press. In the fall of 1825, John Maitland bought the building and converted it for use as a distillery at a cost of $20,000. [Shown above] With Young as foreman, they continued their former business on a larger scale. They continued in this way for 12 years, making important discoveries and improvements in the business.
In 1837, John Maitland's son, William J. Maitland, replaced his father as partner Young's partner, and the business continued together until the death of Maitland, in 1847. Although successful, the business had not paid enough to make the deceased partner a man of wealth.Upon the death of his partner, Young bought out the establishment for $20,000 (the sum which John Maitland had originally spent on it). Young at once began to enlarge and improve the facility, spending in a few years over $60,000 on the building and machinery, and adding every improvement and extension that could add to the value of the establishment or the facilities for the business. He had an artesian well dug on the premises to provide 70 gallons per minute of pure water for distilling purposes.
By 1864, the distillery was reported to be producing 380,000 gallons of whiskey annually. As of September 1, 1862, 5,000 barrels whiskey were in storage, valued at $200,000. The company used the brand names “Y.P.M.” (Young’s Pure Malt), “Young’s Blue Grass,” and “Young’s Masterpiece.” 
In December 1882, Ernest Hexamer, a Philadelphia-based insurance surveyor, drew plans of the distillery and noted various details of its operations. [Shown below.] He noted that it employed 8-10 men and that the facility included three warehouses.  A free warehouse was located between Charles and 4th Sts. (four story plus basement, made of brick with a tin roof) and housed 5,000 barrels. The two bonded warehouses were in the basement of other buildings. The distillery basement held 800 barrels, the malt-house basement held 1,000.  The still had a capacity of 600 gallons and was made of wood, heated by steam.

Alexander Young died in November 1884 and the distillery was left in the hands of his sons for the next three years. In 1887 a corporation was formed to run the plant. It consisted of Lewis T. Young (President, Alexander's youngest son), Richard Young, (VP), Wilson Young (Secretary and Treasurer, Alexander's elder son), James P. Young and Mrs. Lavinia T. Davison.
Hexamer resurveyed the property in 1891. The principal changes in the last ten years included the addition of a new copper still (capacity 400 gallons) and a large bonded warehouse on Charles St. It held 7,000 barrels in racks, a four-story plus basement brick building with a tin roof.[Shown below.]

The new bonded warehouse had been approved at a meeting of the board of managers in October, 1889. It required that the company buy the properties (shown as dwellings and stores on the 1882 survey) of Mr Richard Young at 614 Charles St and Mr Lewis T. Young at 618-6222 Charles St. The same meeting resolved that the president, secretary and treasurer be authorized and empowered to have built a new still (1500 gallons), worm tub and all the necessary appliances.

The board approved construction of the new warehouse at a special meeting held in February, 1890. Here they resolved to "accept the contract of George P. Payne & Co. for $22,399 to erect a new storehouse on Charles Street (west side), according to the plans and specifications of Geo W. and W. S. Hewitt, Architect.”  The addition of the new still meant that by 1891, the plant was producing 7,500 barrels 
per annum, with a daily grain consumption of 300 bushels.

The company ceased listings in Philadelphia directories in 1921, a vicim of Prohibition.  In the 1950s the company's flagship brand, Young's Special American Blended Whiskey was purchased by Kasseer Distillers Product Corp at 3rd and Luzerne Streets in Philadelphia.  The Young plant was closed and the brand bottled by Kasser until October 1989.  The brand was then sold to Laird & Co. of Scobeyville, New Jersey. [An example of a post-pro bottle is shown here together with a Philadelphia billboard ad.]
Postscript:  In addition to the illustrations provided with Robin’s article, I have added pictures of Young’s YPM Whiskey bottles. 

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Three Generations of Distilling Clemmers Knew Rebellion and War

George David Ludwick Clemmer was born in Western Pennsylvania in 1770 and early in life turned to distilling for his livelihood.  He became caught up in the Whiskey Rebellion of 1791-1794 and seemingly concluded that Virginia offered a healthier climate for his pursuits.  As a result three generations of Clemmers gave their name to a whiskey that commanded a national audience, according to family lore, while the Clemmers survived through the tumult of the Civil War and Reconstruction.

The Whiskey Rebellion was an insurrection that began in 1791 when a tax was placed on all distilled spirits, popularly known as a “whiskey tax.”  Farmers on the western frontier of America, for whom distilling was a profitable way of disposing of surplus grain and corn, resisted and in 1794 attacked the home of a tax collector.  When President George Washington, shown below, rode out at the head of an army of 13,000 militiamen, the rebellion collapsed.
Apparently believing that Western Virginia and Kentucky offered distillers a better opportunity, a number of those farmer/distillers left Pennsylvania and migrated South.  George Clemmer was among them.  The trip was a fairly easy one.  The migrants followed the Great Wagon Road, that wound from Lancaster, through Gettysburg, down the Shenandoah Valley and through the Blue Ridge Mountains to Rockingham County, Virginia, and on south.

Arriving in Rockingham County in the late 1790s, Clemmer decided to stay.  In 1799, in St. John’s Lutheran Church there, he married Mary Elizabeth “Betsy” Kinzer, the daughter of Christian Kinzer.  George may have known Betsy back in Pennsylvania where she was born and arranged for her to come to Virginia.  Their marriage would produce 10 children, the foundation of a Clemmer clan that today can claim thousands of descendants.

About 1800, finding an available piece of land to his liking, George Clemmer moved to adjoining Augusta County, locating just off the Great Wagon Road, also known as the Valley Turnpike, just south of the village of Middlebrook, Virginia.  His choice was a good one.  The county, the scene above,  was a good early transportation center, along with the wagon road, the Parkersburg Turnpike linked the area to the Ohio River.  By 1854 the Virginia Central Railroad reached Staunton, the county seat, providing access to Richmond, the capital, for goods and passengers.

George immediately again began distilling.  An 1885 account, calling him a pioneer in the business, described the activity:  “He began in a very limited way, the distilling being done in the house in which he lived.”  Eventually Clemmer would be among sixteen known distillers operating in Augusta county.  He showed up in both the 1810 and the 1820 censuses when only the head of a household was enumerated. 

About the age of 65, George apparently gave up farming and distilling, in 1835 turning his property over to his son, David Fishburne (or Fishborn) Clemmer.  Born in 1821, D. F., as he was known, was the youngest of the Clemmer children.  Why the estate of the founding father would be bestowed on the last of five sons is not clear.  It may be that he had showed the most interest in the distilling trade.   About 1841, D. F. married Mildred Jane Kinzer, likely a blood relative of his mother.  They would raise a family of seven children.  The first generation of Clemmers, however, was dying out.  Betsy died in 1845.  George lived on another sixteen years, living with another son and his family until 1861 when he too passed and was buried beside her in the cemetery at St. John’s Church, the place where they had married.  His weathered gravestone is shown here.

The Clemmer Distillery flourished under D.F.’s direction.  According to family tradition, the whiskey became a top seller in the miners’ camps of California during the great “Gold Rush” of the 1850s.  By the following decade, the Clemmers once again were to know rebellion and war.  In May 1861 Augusta County residents overwhelmingly voted in favor of secession.  Five youths named Clemmer from the county, cousins all, would be engaged in the Civil War, most of them enlisting in April 1861 in Company D of the 5th Virginia Regiment.  Among them was George L. Clemmer, the son of D.F. Clemmer.  The boy seems never to have seen battle, however, being furloughed for illness and missing the Battle of First Manassas in July of that year.  After a brief return to duty he was discharged in January 1862, apparently for persistent illness, and died several years later.  The 5th Virginia experienced heavy combat during the Civil War and other Clemmers are recorded as having been wounded or made captive.

Moreover, the war raged heavily in Augusta County and environs as the Confederate and Union forces moved up and down the Shenandoah Valley in constant pitched battles.  Staunton was frequent target, changing hands several times.  Augusta County farms were ravaged, stripped of livestock and grain by both sides.  In March 1865 Union General Philip H. Sheridan, shown above, captured Staunton and destroyed both Confederate government and civilian property.  The next month the South surrendered and peace returned to a devastated land.
Out of the chaos and destruction D. F. Clemmer was able to resurrect the whiskey brand that bore his family name.  In 1879, for example, he ran an ad in the Rockingham Register, recommending that the public could procure Clemmer whiskey, both retail and wholesale, from John Wallace, a saloonkeeper and liquor dealer in Harrisonburg.  Said the ad:  “If you want the genuine Clemmer, go to him, as he gets his whiskey direct from our warehouse.”   Wallace returned the favor, advertising on his trade cards for his “The Boss Saloon and Whiskey Store” that Clemmer Whiskey was a specialty.  Known as “Windy John” — apparently because of his loquacious nature — Wallace also had a taste for the risqué.   The flip side of his trade card was a “mechanical” scene of bathing beauties in states of undress.
D. F. Clemmer operated the distillery and farm up until his death in February 1882.  His wife, Mildred, had passed a year earlier.  They were buried together in the Mount Herman Lutheran Church Cemetery in Newport, Augusta County.  His monument, an obelisk is shown here.  Once again the youngest son inherited the property.  He was Jacob Frank Clemmer, born in 1852, too young to have been enlisted by the Confederacy.  Moreover, by 1882 both his elder brothers had died.  A year after receiving his inheritance, J. Frank, as he was known, married a local girl 13 years his junior.  She was Mary Preston Hogshead.  Their union would produce five children, four boys and a girl.  
Shown below is an artist’s view in 1884 of the Clemmer residence and distillery that J. Frank inherited .  It was an extensive operation and the whiskey produced there had merited a national reputation for quality.   Aged three years, “Clemmer’s Fine Old Rye” was advertised as “thick and drinks like nectar.”  A quart could be obtained for 40 cents.  It was particularly prized in Virginia where it was frequently on the menu of festive occasions.  An account of a fraternity banquet at Lexington, Virginia, in 1896 mentions it prominently — the only whiskey served that night.  At a later epicurean feast being hosted by a prominent Virginia gentleman, Colonel Adams, “…drinks were made of fine old Clemmer whiskey, five years old, oily and fragrant.”  When one guest seemed too long in telling a story, the Colonel admonished him to cut it short “so as to proceed with the drinking.”
Although J. Frank Clemmer proved to be as able as his father and grandfather in the liquor trade,  prohibition was closing in on the distilling industry.  In 1917 Virginia voted to ban sales of alcohol. That was followed by National Prohibition in 1920. The Clemmers were forced to shut down their distillery.  In June 1920, J. Frank, the last of the Clemmer distillers, died at the age of 68 and was buried in Thornrose Cemetery in Staunton. His gravestone is shown here.   His wife, Mary, joined him there the same year. 
With their founding father a refugee from the Whiskey Rebellion, the Clemmers had kept their distillery operating for 117 years amidst the strife of the Civil War and its aftermath, bringing it into the 20th Century with a reputation for quality and an appreciative customer base in Virginia and beyond.  The Clemmers, as things turned out, could survive rebellion and war but not the forces of “Dry.”