Discussion on the history of American whiskey legislation, esp. its taxation.

Read more about the article The Case of the Charred New Oak Containers
The requirement that Bourbon and rye could only be aged in charred new oak containers was added at some point between 1935 and 1938. No one really knows why it was added or by whom.

The Case of the Charred New Oak Containers

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.

First page of 1970/71 treaty between France and the United States protecting the names of 'Bourbon' and three French brandies
This treaty in 1971 provided the first protection for the name 'Bourbon' with another country.

On Bourbon Treaties

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.

Read more about the article The Last Gasp of Prohibition
Close up of a medicinal spirits prescription showing details as elaborate as a dollar bill, probably intended to prevent counterfeiting. Apparently this wasn't enough of deterrent. But that wasn't going to matter much longer.

The Last Gasp of Prohibition

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21st amendment was already in the process of being ratified and by the end of the year national Prohibition would be repealed.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.

Read more about the article The Brief Interregnum of Spiritus Frumenti
The feds had this 119 page manual which outlined rules related to anything having to do with 'intoxicating liquor' during prohibition, including medicinal whiskey, all ready to go as soon as Prohibition started.

The Brief Interregnum of Spiritus Frumenti

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?

Read more about the article A Moment of Sober Reflection
The Harrison-Cullen Act levied a federal tax on low proof alcoholic beverages like beer and wine. This was several months before the 21st amendment was ratified. Obviously the feds saw the writing on the wall.

A Moment of Sober Reflection

Today, December 5th, is the 89th anniversary of the end of national Prohibition after Ohio, Pennsylvania and Utah (!?) voted to ratify the 21st amendment. Interestingly enough the federal government had already begun the repeal process months earlier.

Read more about the article Lessons Learned from the One Year Bonding Period
One of many sales records left behind by the Elkhorn Distillery. Sales volumes were generally small, not enough to keep the distillery solvent.

Lessons Learned from the One Year Bonding Period

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.

Read more about the article The Day Entry Proof Changed
In 2007 Buffalo Trace released this version of George. T. Stagg at an astonishing proof of 144.8. Changes to entry proof back in 1962 are what made the infamous 'Hazmat' release possible.

The Day Entry Proof Changed

An innocuous looking document sent out by the TTB on the 27th of April 1962 would change the way American whiskey had been barreled since before Prohibition. Was the science it was based on any good or was the outcome predetermined?

Juarez Whiskey Straight American Bourbon
Label from a bottle of Bourbon whiskey made in Mexico in the 1930s, before 'Bourbon' became a protected trade name.

Three Important Dates in American Whiskey History

A week or so ago I attended an ‘experience’ at one of the many distilleries in Kentucky now offering tours and tastings. Like many similar offerings, it included a recap of various important milestones in American whiskey history. And as happens all too often, one or more of these milestones was attributed to the wrong event and date. I guess this isn’t the biggest deal but when those of us who represent the distilling industry are asked to tell the story of Bourbon to the general public I think it’s important to get these details right.