Whiskey and Apparel

Whiskey and Apparel

Leapfrogging what's inside the bottle

Thoughts from... | 05 Sep 2014 | Issue 122 | By Fred Minnick

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As my wife clutched the toilet bowl in sheer terror, screaming, heaving, crying and clutching her stomach, she yelled, "Freddie, get me the Old Tub shirt."

We were in labour, and the Old Tub bourbon T-shirt was what she wanted to wear to the hospital. I jumped to her dresser, yanked the damn thing off its hinges and grabbed the grey shirt. I thought that was it. "Ugggg….awwwww…..awwwww…"

Jaclyn didn't look at the shirt; she just put it on. It wasn't the Old Tub shirt. The grey shirt donning her sweating, heavy breathing, birthing body was not bourbon owned by Jim Beam. Rather, it was bourbon owned by Brown-Forman, Old Forester.

We sprinted to the car, and our doula said I drove 95 mph. "Jaclyn, this isn't the best time to tell you, but you're wearing the Old Forester shirt," I said something of the sort.

"It's okay," she said, "I love Old….ahhhhh….."

When Oscar Leo Minnick was born into this world December 31 (That's right, a whiskey writer's son was born on New Year's Eve!), the Old Forester shirt was crumbled in a corner and we later enjoyed a nip of Old Forester Birthday Bourbon to celebrate the little man's entrance into the world.

I tell you this personal story, because it's a perfect anecdote to American whiskey leapfrogging what's inside the bottle and becoming Nike-esque with its apparel lines and Tabasco-like with its part co-branding. Jaclyn didn't want a bottle of bourbon with her; she wanted her favourite bourbon shirt on this special day.

Many wonderful memories are shared amongst friends with a lovely dram. Now, we have our favourite bourbon apparel. Bourbon's likeness can be found in grocery store aisles, fast-food chains, belt buckles, hats, shirts, underwear, lingerie, tattoos and just about everything else. The distillery gift shops are practically lined wall-to-wall with marked-up merchandise.

Bourbon apparel is taking off at nearly the same rate as the bourbon itself. There's no better example than Pappy & Co., the dry goods company sporting the famous Pappy Van Winkle line. At PappyCo.com, you'll find cigars, flasks, shirts, ties, iPhone cases and even koozies donning the famous round face of the Pappy Van Winkle smoking a cigar. And just like the Pappy Van Winkle bourbon, the Pappy & Co. has fielded significant demand, even having a case of belts stolen from its launch party. Perhaps these were the same thieves who stole the Pappy 20 Year Old from the Buffalo Trace Distillery last year; they wanted matching belts with their bourbon! There are side businesses built out of bourbon paraphernalia. BourbonPens.com offers beautiful pieces of craftsmanship made from used bourbon barrels. BourbonBarrelRehab.com makes flowerpots, benches, bar stools and anything else you might want.

Beer and soy sauce companies are earning consumer confidence by finishing their respective products in bourbon barrels. Bourbon Barrel Foods is becoming one of the United States' top artisanal food start-ups of the past decade and it's all because of the enriched flavour profile from the bourbon barrel and bourbon's marketing power.

Thirty years ago, bourbon distilleries couldn't give away T-shirts and barrels went to whoever needed them. Today, you have eBay bidding wars over Maker's Mark T-shirts with former CEO Bill Samuels Jr.'s signature.

That's great indication bourbon fans adore this incredible lifestyle. Some folks are even naming their children after famous distillers. By some, I mean me. That's right, of the names we had going into the labour, two were distillers. One was Oscar after the legendary Oscar Pepper, the other Edwin after Edwin Foote.

After Jaclyn's scary emergency C-section, I held my boy for the first time in a fold up hospital chair, mesmerised by his wrinkled brow and thought, "Boy, you look like an Oscar."

By virtue of how I make my living, my family will always be linked to bourbon. But it's much deeper than that. Bourbon is our lifestyle. It's who we are.

I'm glad we have the T-shirts to prove it.
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