Sunday, March 4, 2012

Milton Eppstein’s Texas Cocktail Was Whiskey and Cream

Milton L. Eppstein, shown here in 1914, had two evident passions in life, good whiskey and Jersey milk cows. He managed to combine the two into a Texas liquor business that had both financial success and a distinctive bovine flavor. In short, he succeeded in mixing whiskey and cream

Eppstein’s father, Leopold, had emigrated from Germany with his two brothers to the United States about 1854. The Eppstein brothers settled in St. Joseph, Missouri, where they established a soap factory. Milton’s mother, Henrietta Westheimer, also was a German immigrant. Milton was born in St. Joseph in 1866.

Early in the 1870s the soap factory burned down and the Eppstein brothers looked for new horizons. Leopold and one brother headed to Texas and a town near the Oklahoma border named Denison. As Denison’s population grew, many Jews from Missouri and other northern states came to settle there. In Denison most Jews were successfully engaged in the mercantile business and the Eppsteins were no exception. In 1873 they opened a wholesale wine, liquors and cigars business on Main Street between Austin and Rusk Avenue.

In the meantime, Milton Eppstein was receiving a good education, including obtaining a law degree. Instead of practicing as an attorney he joined his father in plying the liquor trade. The name of the company became L. Eppstein & Son. With Milton’s arrival the firm began to show increased merchandising flair. The ceramic cylinder shown here was the product of Sherwood Brothers Pottery of far-off New Brighton, Pennsylvania, arguably the Nation’s most creative manufacturer of whiskey jugs.

In 1900, Leopold passed away. The headline in the local paper read: “A pioneer citizen of Denison is dead.” Milton picked up the management of the firm, never changing the name. He also was the proprietor of the local opera house. In 1904, however, he closed up shop and headed down the road 50 miles to Fort Worth, a town twenty times the size of Denison. There he relocated his company at 1404 Main Street, moving a year later to 1010-1012 Houston Street.

By 1907, Milton had moved again, for the final time, to a facility at the intersection of Throckmorton, 8th and Monroe Streets, that came to be known as the Eppstein Building. Unmarried all his life, Milton’s building was also his residence as well as the corporate offices for a soda fountain soft drink called “Peacock.” Milton was president of the company. The tip tray shown here portrayed the Eppstein building.

Milton’s liquor business merchandised a number of brand names, all of them trademarked by him in 1906. They included "Honeysuckle", "Myrtle Springs", "Old Royalty", "Tarpon Club." “Bourbon De Luxe” and "Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam.” For the latter he issued a book containing Rubaiyat poetry, now a collector’s item, touting the verse as “A Quatrain of 24 Carat Whiskey.”

When Eppstein selected a flagship brand, he looked to his hobby for inspiration. He had fallen in love with the Jersey cow, a breed known for its docile disposition, lovely eyes, and high butterfat cream. His stock farm became known as one of the finest in the Southwest. A 1914 caricature shows him at his favorite pastime. It was no surprise then when Milton named his select whiskey, “Jersey Cream.”

Eppstein was a wholesaler, not a distiller. Jersey Cream was distilled in Midway, KY. by the Glenarme Distillery and later the R. E. Wathen plant. Milton, however, merchandised Jersey Cream vigorously, providing an array of giveaway items to saloons carrying his liquor. They included shot glasses, ceramic bulls, and metallic cows, the latter two meant to sit behind the bar. He even named a cigar Jersey Cream, terming the stogies “pure and rich,” just like his whiskey.

Eppstein’s bovine passion was most evident in a pair of freestanding metal signs advertising Jersey Cream, cut in the form of a cow and calf. The cow stood almost four feet tall and the calf was two feet. The obverse of the cow sign contained considerable text: "The Doctor himself uses Jersey Cream (1873) Whiskey and prescribes it in his family practice because of its absolute purity and remarkable freedom from fusel oil....It is recommended in every particular by the United States pharmacopoeia.”

So notable were Eppstein’s metal cows that they were taken by members of the Fort Worth Ad Club to Toronto upon the occasion of the 14th North American convention of advertising men. As a result, Milton was twitted in a contemporary publication for being the owner of a herd of iron cows and “sacred bovines.” The article added that Milton was known “everywhere as a genial companion and a good fellow and has a large host of friends.”

Nevertheless, time was running out for Milton and his Jersey Cream Whiskey. In 1916 Texas voted statewide Prohibition and L. Eppstein & Son became history. Eppstein retired to New York City, listed as living on Seventh Avenue by the 1920 Census. Death came five years later, apparently while Eppstein was on a visit to Fort Worth, likely to visit his herd of Jersey cows. His body was carried back to New York where he was buried. He was 59.

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