The name game

The name game

The names of many American whiskey pioneers are still with us today on the labels they started. Charles K. Cowdery here looks at the men behind the labels and on pages 24 and 25 considers how other brands were named

Production | 21 Jul 2006 | Issue 57 | By Charles Cowdery

  • Share to:
In the United States, whiskeys were among the first branded products to be advertised and sold nationally, and they pioneered many of the mass marketing techniques we take for granted today.Often these brands were named for the distillery’s owner. So successful were these that many later brands were named in honour of historical personages. As well, a few were named after people invented just for that purpose, but we won’t mention them here. All of people who follow are real.Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Whiskey
Where else to start, right? Jasper Newton ‘Jack’ Daniel was born on September 5, 1846, or thereabouts. In recent years, revisionists have attacked many hallowed parts of his official story, but Jack definitely was a real person who made and sold whiskey in southern Tennessee in the late 19th and early 20th century.One key to Jack’s success was his premonitory understanding of branding. He cultivated a distinctive image for himself, very similar to that of the much later Kentucky Fried Chicken king, Colonel Harlan Sanders. When in public, Jack always wore a knee-length frock coat, colourful vest and a wide-brimmed planter’s hat, and he had an elaborate moustache and goatee.Completing the effect was his unusually small stature; just 5 foot, 5 inches tall and 120 pounds.Jack never married and had no children so his sister’s boy, Lem Motlow, took over the business and put his name on the label too, where it remains to this day. Motlow’s four sons ushered Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Whiskey into the modern era. Today it is the best-selling American whiskey on earth.Jim Beam Bourbon
The namesake of Jim Beam bourbon was born in 1864 and died in 1947. Although he is the best known Beam, he wasn’t the first to make whiskey. His greatgrandfather, Jacob Beam, began the dynasty back in the 1790s.Jim Beam started out working at his father’s distillery along with his younger brother, Park. When Jim was 28 and Park was 24, they took over the business, along with a brother-in-law named Albert Hart. Their distillery was known as Beam and Hart and their leading brand was Old Tub Bourbon. Jim also had financial interests in other distilleries, including F. G.Walker, where his cousin Joe Beam was master distiller.Prohibition put them all out of business, of course. After it was repealed Jim and Park found investors and started up again at a new location, although they both were well past normal retirement age. To their surprise, they discovered that they no longer owned the name ‘Old Tub,’ so they created a new brand with a name they were sure they owned: Jim Beam.Booker’s True Barrel Bourbon
Booker Noe was Jim Beam’s grandson and his Booker’s True Barrel Bourbon started out as the whiskey he took home from the distillery for personal consumption. Born in 1929, Booker went to work at the distillery in 1951, where his teacher was Park’s son, Carl ‘Shucks’ Beam, and his classmates were Carl’s sons, Baker and David.Carl and, later, Baker and David ran the main plant at Clermont, while Booker was put in charge of the company’s second distillery, at Boston, Kentucky.Booker’s Bourbon, the product, came into being at about the same time Booker retired from distilling, but he transitioned smoothly into the role of international spokesperson. Today, just about every American whiskey producer has a master distiller who spends much of his time appearing at festivals and other marketing events.Booker was the first and no one has done it better. He was a huge teddy bear of a man, loved by all. He passed away in 2004.Baker’s Bourbon
Baker Beam and his younger brother, David, the grandsons of Park, were the last members of the Beam family to actually run the stills at a Beam company plant. Unlike his garrulous cousin, Baker is soft-spoken when he deigns to speak at all, so he didn’t have much potential as a spokesperson.Just as Booker’s Bourbon was his personal selection from his distillery in Boston, Baker’s Bourbon was Baker Beam’s selection from the whiskey he made at Clermont.Baker has been officially retired for more than a decade, but he lives near the distillery and likes to keep his hands in, often riding along, just for fun, when the trucks go up to the silos in Indiana for corn.Basil Hayden’s
Contrary to what you might think if you watch the HBO series Deadwood, Basil Hayden as a whiskey brand name is less than 20 years old, but Basil Hayden was a real person who came to Kentucky from Maryland in 1796. He was a farmer who also had a still, so he could convert his surplus grain into a form that was lighter and more compact, didn’t spoil, and usually sold easily. His son shifted the enterprise more in the direction of distilling and his grandson, Raymond, completed the transition, becoming a large scale commercial distiller.It was Raymond who decided he needed a branded product if he was going to sell whiskey to the lucrative western markets, including Deadwood in what is now South Dakota. He named his brand Old-Grand Dad, in honour of Basil.Old Grand-Dad bourbon, which the Beam company acquired in 1987, has about twice as much rye in its mash bill as Jim Beam does. When the Small Batch Bourbons collection was launched, it included this 8- year-old, 80 proof expression of the Old Grand-Dad formula named for Basil.Old Crow Bourbon
If the makers of Deadwood wanted to use a whiskey that might really have been known in 1877, and that is still sold today, Old Crow would have been their best choice. Although the label has long depicted that black bird, the whiskey was really named for its originator, James C. Crow, a physician and distiller who was born in Scotland in 1789 and emigrated to Kentucky in the 1820s.When Crow went to work for Oscar Pepper in 1838, at what is now the Woodford Reserve Distillery, their partnership really clicked and their whiskey became famous everywhere whiskey was sold. Crow developed the sour mash process, which makes whiskey more consistent from batch to batch, and was the first to sell no ‘common’ whiskey, which was the term for whiskey fresh from the still, with no aging.All of Crow’s whiskey was aged and he sold it for the premium price of 25 cents a gallon, when the going rate was 15.Crow died at work in 1856, and his wife and only child joined him soon after. Old Crow bourbon has been made continuously since Crow’s day, but today it is an undistinguished whiskey made by Beam.Bernheim Original Straight Wheat Whiskey
When Heaven Hill launched this product in 2005, it corrected an old injustice. Isaac Wolfe Bernheim and his brother, Bernard, were whiskey merchants, and later distillery owners, who in 1879 needed a name for a new bourbon they were launching. They wanted to use a man’s name so they took Isaac’s first two initials, ‘I’ and ‘W,’ but they chickened out on using their own foreignsounding last name, coming up with the more acceptable “Harper” instead.I. W. Harper is still a popular bourbon, sold primarily in Asia. Bernheim, who died in 1945, left his name on a mammoth park where he is buried. It is right across the road from Beam’s Clermont plant. The people who bought Bernheim’s company put his name on their distillery, which is owned today by Heaven Hill and where Bernheim Original is made.Evan Williams
Heaven Hill’s leading bourbon is named for Evan Williams, who was an actual 18th century Kentucky distiller, even though the brand that bears his name didn’t appear until the 1960s.Williams lived in Louisville, a new city at the time, and he was active in local politics. When he was elected to the town’s governing board, a rule was passed ordering that any “ardent or spirituous liquors” brought to meetings would be forfeited “for the use of the board after adjournment.” It is said that Williams always arrived for meetings with a full jug of his whiskey and always left with an empty one.Williams also held the important post of harbour master for the young river town. He died in 1810.Elijah Craig
This is another Heaven Hill bourbon, created in the 1970s, that is named after a historically-important distiller. Though he is often credited, wrongly, as the “inventor” of bourbon, Craig was a real person and a real character. Afree-thinking preacher who was run out of Virginia, he came to Kentucky in 1784 with a group of followers and founded what is now Georgetown. His enterprises included a college, a fulling mill (for making cloth), a paper mill, a saw mill, a rope-making shop and a shipping company. He died in 1808.George T.Stagg / Old Taylor
Stagg, a bourbon highly prized by enthusiasts, was created by Buffalo Trace in 2002 and named after one of that distillery’s former owners. George Stagg was a St. Louis whiskey wholesaler who, in 1877, helped struggling distillery owner E. H.Taylor consolidate some debts and, in the process, wound up owning Taylor’s distillery. Taylor would go on to launch his own bourbon, Old Taylor.The Rest…
There are many other family names on American whiskey products that are the names of real people who made or sold the stuff. Even Four Roses actually is named for a person, its founder, a man with the last name of Rose. Other surnames of real people that appear on American whiskey labels include Blanton, Brown, Bulleit, Dant, Dickel, Fitzgerald, Hirsch, McKenna, Overholt, Pogue, Van Winkle, Wathen, and Weller.
Magazine Archive

From the archive

Select an issue

Subscribe Now

Subscriptions for
Whisky Magazine are available
in print, digital or as a
complete package

The Benefits

8 print editions a year

Enjoy the convenience of home delivery

Full access to every digital edition via desktop, iOS or Android device

Latest Issue Subscribe Now

The Whisky Encyclopedia - Coming Soon 2024

Discover the world of whisky with our comprehensive encyclopedia
Featuring companies, distilleries, brands, glossaries, and cocktails

Join The Community

Sign up to the Whisky Magazine
newsletter letter and get access to the latest
in all things whisky

paragraph publishing ltd.   Copyright © 2024 all rights reserved.   Website by Acora One

Consent Preferences