A picture postcard of Times Square sent 18 days after V-J Day helped me figure out how to date the illuminated Four Roses sign that presided over visitors for eight years.
Between 1935 and 1938 one very significant substantive change was made to the nascent standard of identify for Bourbon and rye whiskey (among others): the requirement for aging in new charred oak barrels. The difference is less than a sentence. No one really knows how it came to be added.
Whiskey nerds often like to go on about how easy it would have been ‘back in day’ to bag what today would be considered unicorn finds, paying then retail prices for bottles that now go for thousands of dollars. It’s a fun (if pointless) exercise, but it did get me thinking: if I had been interested in American whiskey back in a decade like the 1990s, exactly how would I have known where to begin?
In 1971 the United States and France entered into a trade agreement titled "Protection of names of Bourbon whiskey and certain French brandies." By signing it, the French government agreed that Bourbon was a distinctive product of the United States and further that it can only be made there and in accordance with its defined standard of identity. This was the first of many international agreements based on Concurrent Resolution 64.
In May of 1933 the federal government issued one final set of regulations regarding prescriptions written for medicinal whiskey, reflecting an act passed just two months earlier. But the 21st amendment was already in the process of being ratified and by the end of the year national Prohibition would be repealed. These regulations appear to have been its last gasp.
In 1916 Spiritus Frumenti (AKA whiskey) was removed from the United States Pharmacopoeia (U.S.P.) ending its official status as a medicine. And then four years later, just as national Prohibition is given the force of law, an odd thing happens: whiskey gains status as a medicine once again. What was the deal with that?
I already knew that Shively, a suburb of Louisville, was something of an archaeologic mecca for whiskey history buffs when I was shown photos of the old Seagram warehouses located there a couple of week ago. I had also not realized how striking and beautiful they were. I decided it was time for a proper visit to see all Shively had to offer.
I have always understood the notion of holding whiskey ‘in bond,’ i.e. putting it into a warehouse for some period of time to age before excise taxes needed to be paid on it, as an implicitly good thing. Recently I came to understand that this boon could and did have some (possibly unintended) consequences, at least when bonding was first introduced.