American idols

American idols

Production | 21 Jul 2006 | Issue 57

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Most single malts are named after their distilleries, which in turn are mostly place names. Most blended Scotches are named after the merchants who created them although a few, such as Cutty Sark (a ship), are more fanciful.In the United States, a much younger nation with a much younger whiskeymaking tradition, many whiskey names are more in the modern consumer marketing tradition. Here are the stories behind a few of them.Maker’s Mark
Bill Samuels is the president and living embodiment of Maker’s Mark bourbon. The Samuels family has a long history in the industry, but when Bill’s father started the company in the 1950s, he no longer owned rights to the family name. His wife was a collector of vintage silver and knew that such pieces could be identified by a distinctive symbol, usually placed in an inconspicuous spot by the silversmith, which was known to collectors as the maker’s mark. Bill says the red wax was her idea too.Woodford Reserve
This beautiful, historic Kentucky distillery that Brown-Forman bought and restored a decade ago has many famous names associated with it, but Brown-Forman doesn’t own the rights to any of them. The distillery happens to be located in Woodford County. End of story.Wild Turkey
Before prohibition, most American whiskey brands were created and owned by wholesalers, not distillers. One such wholesaler was Austin, Nichols & Company, a venerable New York concern. In 1940, a company executive named Thomas McCarthy pulled some whiskey from the warehouse to take along on a hunting trip with friends in South Carolina. The whiskey was a huge success and since they had been hunting for wild turkeys, that is what they called the whiskey when they asked him to bring more the following year. From that small seed, a major brand has grown.Eagle Rare
Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery and in the 1960s, some executives at Seagrams decided that if a bourbon named after a turkey could be successful, then one named after an eagle probably would sell even better. It never surpassed that other bird, but the Eagle Rare brand is still around, today owned by Buffalo Trace.Old Forester
It sounds like a man’s name, and maybe it is, but nobody knows who he was or knows for sure why George Garvin Brown named his new bourbon Old Forester when he created it in 1870. Old Forester launched the company that is today Brown-Forman, and it still makes Old Forester bourbon.Early Times
Though it is now owned by Brown- Forman, Early Times was created and named by Jack Beam, Jim Beam’s uncle, who started his distillery in 1860. The name was a reference to certain proudly old-fashioned methods his distillery used, such as mashing in small hand-stirred tubs; using direct heat, not steam, on the still; and using pot stills instead of column stills. Brown-Forman bought the name, but not the distillery, during Prohibition.Buffalo Trace
Trace is another word for trail. The buffalo or, more correctly, American bison, had as its natural range most of the continental United States. Many trails used by humans and, later, for roads, were originally made by migrating herds of these massive beasts. The Buffalo Trace Distillery in Frankfort, Kentucky, is located at a spot along the Kentucky River where the water is shallow and where buffalo herds traditionally crossed, hence it is on the buffalo trace.Ezra Brooks
It sounds like a man’s name and it is, but not a real one. Just as Eagle Rare was created in the 1960s as a Wild Turkey knockoff, Ezra Brooks was created at about the same time as a Jack Daniel’s knockoff. The ‘Ezra’ was Ezra Ripy, one of the distillery owners. There was no Brooks.Heaven Hill
Heaven Hill Distilleries is the company that makes Evan Williams, Old Fitzgerald and many other fine American whiskeys. In Kentucky and a few other places, they also sell some bourbon using Heaven Hill as a brand name. Though the name would appear to refer to a place, it is actually the surname of a farmer who originally owned the property: William Heavenhill. The official story is that the name was split up due to a clerical error in the original incorporation documents, but some suspect it was done deliberately to avoid later rights disputes with Heavenhill’s descendants.Knob Creek
It is a real creek that meanders through parts of Nelson and LaRue County, in the country south of Bardstown. Close to where Knob Creek empties into the Rolling Fork River is the site of several historic distilleries, along with a farm where Abraham Lincoln roamed as a young boy. Thomas Lincoln, Abe’s dad, is said to have worked as a seasonal hand at a distillery there owned by kin of Daniel Boone.That is why Beam decided to name a bourbon Knob Creek.Old Charter
The brand was created in 1874 but the name refers to the Charter Oak, a tree in Hartford, Connecticut, where the colonial charter was supposedly hidden in 1687 from agents of James II, who wanted to seize and revoke it. This story inspired many patriots before and after the American Revolution. The tree itself fell during a storm in 1856.
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