Podcast Episode: Dusty Bottles and "The Wettest Spot in America" (Part 2)
Imagine finding cases and cases of Pre-Prohibition whiskey in a secret vault in your house. I'll tell the story, and Col. E.H. Taylor's whiskey goes home.
Listen to the Episode
What is a "dusty hunter?" Find out in this week's episode and join me as we talk about the largest collection of Pre-Prohibition whiskey sold at a Christie's auction. Whiskey that sat for a century in two vaults owned by a man who helped put Los Angeles on the map and also brought its citizens plenty of whiskey.
And find out where I take 2 bottles of this Pre-Prohibition whiskey during my 6000 mile journey across the country. And find out how to see pictures of these old bottles and get tasting notes from those 2 century old bottles as a Whiskey Lore Society member.
The hunt for dusty bottles. If you're not familiar with the practice, or the concept of the dusty hunter, you're not alone. And this is likely on purpose.
In this, a golden age of whiskey, where even newly released aged whiskeys like 50 year old Johnnie Walker's, 23 Year old Pappy Van Winkels, or 60 year old Macallan can fetch prices that go from 4 figures to 7 figures, a legitimate dusty bottle from the 1940's or 1950's can quickly become very cost prohibitive to the dusty hunter if the owner has any inkling of what they are worth. So for the dusty hunter looking to turn a profit, it pays to stay on the downlow and dig for hidden treasures that people are looking to get rid of to clear some space in the house, or because they don't know what they have.
Now that is not to say that all dusty hunters are in it to resell at a later date for a profit. I recently met a whiskey fan named Dan, whose Instagram and YouTube accounts are called Dusty Dan's Whiskey Reviews. Here is a whiskey enthusiast who doesn’t collect just for collecting’s sake or to make a big turnaround profit, no Dan is in it for the love tof discovery, the amazing tastes, and a chance to share his knowledge of the dusty bottles he cracks open.
Now, one of the reasons I'm fairly certain that dusty hunters are still under the radar, is due to the amount of times I've had people who knew I was driving to Los Angeles to taste a historic whiskey, who said can you drink it? Is it safe to drink a 100 year old whiskey in a dusty bottle?
Obviously, there seems to be a common fear that whiskey is somehow a perishable item. And while it is made out of perishable grains, the original reasons for turning grains into distilled spirits was to extend the life and profits of a crop. So as long as the whiskey hasn't been doctored with something else beyond yeast, grain, and water, you should be confident that no matter how old a whiskey is, it is still safe to drink.
But therein lies the rub. You have to ask yourself, is the bottle from a legitimate company? A lot of these pre-prohibition whiskies could have been rectified, which is another term for blending. In that case, you're at the mercy of that particular rectifier. If it is a bottle from Four Roses or Old Forester, you are likely okay. If it comes from say a distillery you've never heard of and can't find any record of, you might be in a little more trouble - and if the bottle were produced by one of the distilleries under the control of the Whiskey Trust in the late 19th Century, then it may be neutral grain spirit with flavorings added to it and those flavoring, if perishable, might be toxic - or at best they would have soured the whiskey. Luckily, we had Col. E.H. Taylor and others to thank for the Bottled-in-Bond act, to help us know by the tax stamp which were legitimate and which might be questionable. But that only works for whiskies produced after 1897 when the law was passed.
This idea of educating yourself and knowing what you’re holding when it comes to dusty bottles came up recently when fans of the show sent me two separate articles about historic whiskies that were in the news.
The first story was about a New York couple that had just purchased a 100 year old home in the little village of Ames - while renovating, they came across bottles of whisky in the walls and floorboards. As it happens, they were told the house they were buying was actually once owned by a known New York bootlegger during prohibition times named Adolph Humphner. The whisky was a scotch named Old Smuggler. While this may be a legitimate bottle, as there was a scotch called Old Smuggler at the time, there is just as much a chance it may actually be a fake. Not a fake in terms of it not having been a product sold by Mr. Humphner, but more a fake because during prohibition, many brands of Irish, Canadian, and Scotch whisky were being counterfeited. And the contents inside could be highly questionable.
Another bottle I was asked about was a whiskey that is said to be the oldest known whiskey in existence. Now, those that know me, know I'm not a big fan of oldest, largest, or biggest claims unless they can be clearly proven.
I decided to come at the article with an open mind, but immediately I found myself questioning things right off the bat. The claim is that the whiskey was made somewhere between 1763 and 1803. This is said to be the result of carbon dating by the University of Glasgow, which shows an 81.1% probability of it being produced at that timespan. The report also suggests that the contents of the bottle is bourbon, which as you know by listening to this show, bourbon is not a term that was used until the 1800s and what bourbon is, wasn't defined until the 1930s. So likely it is just corn whiskey - the report didn’t seem to disclose the grains used.
Another red flag, and one regular listeners to the show would likely spot is the fact that this was bottled. It obviously wasn’t bottled in the 1700s, as that practice was expensive and didn't really take off until the 1870s when Old Forester decided bottles were the best way to protect their product from being doctored before reaching the customer - something that was quite common in the 19th Century. The brand, Old Ingledew was a legitimate brand, bottled by Evans & Ragland, who were grocers in LaGrange, Georgia in the 1860s and 70s. And it is said that the bottle was owned by J.P. Morgan, the banker and financier, who picked up this and two other bottles during one of his trips to Georgia. And they were able to follow the journey of all three bottles, with one going to President Franklin Deleno Roosevelt, another to his Vice President Harry S. Truman, and the bottle in question, which went to , as well as two other bottles of the whiskey he purchased to a Senator from South Carolina - James Byrnes.
Now, knowing this trail is very important in helping to determine at least one aspect of the whiskey's legitimacy and this trail is called a whiskey’s provenance.
But even with the provenance determined from the purchase to today, this still leaves a pretty big hole - the time period from distillation until it entered that bottle, post Civil War.
If it was truly distilled in the 1700s, then where did it reside for 100 years? If it stayed in a barrel, it likely would have evaporated completely, especially if it were stored in the Georgia heat and this was not an era of refrigeration or air conditioning. If it was stored in a glass demijohn as the article contemplates, how was it stored and where? And it came from a grocer, which is another name for a rectifier, so with no rules, was that bottle filled with only the whiskey in question, or was it blended with other whiskey? The article also makes another assumption which is highly dubious. It suggests that before being placed in the demijohn, the whiskey would likely have been aged in an oak barrel. But as we learned from George Washington’s distiller and from the history of Kentucky distillers, in those early years oak barrels were used for temporary storage, not for aging. So that whiskey in the bottle may very likely be unaged and could potentially be very rough.
And what about that process of carbon dating? I had to ask myself, is that really a thing, and how accurate is it?
Well thanks to the handsome figures long vintaged bottles of wine and whiskey can collect at auctions, auction houses have turned to carbon dating to determine the legitimacy of the product.
But when reading up on the process on the website scientificamerican.com, I learned that while researchers at Oxford were able to tell a whiskies age if it were 80 years or younger, it is much harder to determine an accurate time for whiskies that were produced before the 1940s.
Why are older whiskies harder to pin down? Well, carbon dating in whiskey is done by analyzing the amount of carbon 14 found in the grains used in the whiskey. Thanks to the Nuclear age and all of that testing and bomb dropping, there is more carbon 14 in the atmosphere and so if a whiskey shows elevated amounts, if it claims to be more than 80 years old, it is likely a fake. So it is obvious that this whiskey being claimed as the oldest is not a fake, but it is also very hard to suggest the timeline for the whiskey is accurate.
So as they say, caveat emptor. Yes, there is a chance the whiskey in this bottle is 250 years old, but there is definitely a large gap in its provenance and a 20% chance it is not as old as claimed. And so dusty bottle hunters will definitely have to take a leap of faith on this one.
The Find that Almost was Tossed Away
Why am I telling you all of this? Well, it's because I am about to walk you into a whiskey vault that has held and hidden whiskey for well over 85 years - whiskey purchase before and during Prohibition. For you to take this story seriously at all, you need to understand the whiskey’s provenance.
And that is why, in part one, I introduced you to J.B. Leonis, the entrepreneur who was the main source of whiskey for the people of Los Angeles immediately before Prohibition and the same man who built and owned this house and another where he ended up storing hundreds of bottles of untouched Pre-prohibition whiskey and Prohibition era medicinal whiskey.
The whiskey in this vault includes brands like Old Taylor, Hermitage, Green River, Cedar Brook and others - all legitimate Kentucky brands and all with the original tax stamps in place. In fact, many of the remaining bottles - still in their original crates.
A large portion of the collection was taken to New York to a Christie’s auction, which I’ll tell you more about during this episode. When finding bottles of old whiskey, you’ll notice that many of them are missing some of their contents. This is due to evaporation through the cork, which is meant to stop the spillage of whiskey, but unfortunately its porous nature does allow some evaporation over time. If the bottle’s label was a little rougher, Christies passed on it, or if the evaporation was too far below the bottle’s neckline. Still, there was a lot of fascinating whiskey remaining along with some other artifacts that seemed a little out of place, but would come to make more sense as I learned more about the whiskey and J.B. Leonis’ story.
So, as I pick up the story from the previous episode, I’m standing in the basement of the getaway home that J.B. Leonis built in 1933 and I was there with one of his descendants Linda and Corina Flores, the paralegal and whiskey enthusiast that invited me out to Los Angeles and who did such amazing work on researching this find.
Before heading into the vault, I wanted to interview Linda and Corina and find out more about the backstory on this whiskey - why it wasn’t touched and why there was so much of it hidden away.
Linda - "As he saw the writing on the wall he hid a lot of whiskey
He traveled a lot - strange inheritance
After he passed the whiskey just sat.
Wife also bought by the case, used at family gatherings"
So when Linda's father died, thanks to overly aggressive estate taxes on inheritance the family had to give up J.B.’s other home at Hancock Park, but it was this consolidation that actually led to the discovery of this treasure hidden in vaults that had laid mostly dormant for over 85 years.
"Clothesline - take an inventory - 600 bottles - Vault door to get in"
Linda and Corina "Doing the estate sale, taking an inventory, Corina sees what they have. Calls them back and says I think we found something. More at Hancock Park property. Went to HP and she had moved the close. Shelving. More research. Old Crow Hermitage, EH Taylor, Not easy to research what these brands were. Hermitage part of the Whiskey trust, also found retail license from 1903."
So she was taking the right path in trying to figure out if this was legitimate whiskey. The other thing that was fascinating from the pictures she sent me was the condition these bottles were in.
GREEN "Corina describes how she found the crates and their condition. And then found carboys and what they were. Don't know if from Jack Doyle's"
And that is what made this all so amazing to me. The whiskey in this vault was originally purchased during and just after World War I, when movies were still in black and white and silent, when singers had to belt out songs simply to be heard on those early recordings, an era of the Charleston, teetotalers, speakeasies, the roaring 20’s, the Great Gatsby. It’s distillers and the workers who turned the mash, milled the grains, and bottled the whiskey - all living their lives without a thought for the reverence the product they were creating would have when finally uncovered 85 to over 100 years later.
As we walked towards the room with the vault, you would have no idea that all of this heritage was just a few steps away. We stood looking at a wall of empty shelves. With the removal of two vertical pieces of wood, the shelving unit split diagonally across the horizontal surfaces.
PURPLE: "Opens the door - bank vault doors"
As we walked into the room my eyes were drawn to the crates, carboys, and the reveal of all of the remaining bottles. There were also other items, including several hydrometer kits, a revenue inspector’s guide, and a wide variety of other types of whiskey that were from a more recent time, and when I say more recent, I mean about 40 or 50 years ago.
We pulled out some of the unique bottles they had beyond the Taylors and Hermitage brands, and I took pictures of each of the old bottles. There was a bottle of Chivas Regal that came through Quebec and a bottle of the Biltmore Rye whiskey that came from Maryland and that was made specifically for the Biltmore Hotel, the early home of the Academy Awards. The carboys were fascinating, some wrapped in wicker and others that sat in unique crates that allowed the demijohn to be tiled so whiskey could be poured.
One of the bigger mysteries came in the set of hydrometers, some of them signed by the Federal agents. I wondered, why did JB need hydrometers, something a distiller would use?
Now imagine, you’ve just discovered all of this whiskey hidden in your house. You’ve done your own research and have concluded you likely have something of value. What then?
ORANGE: "After research - contacted research people - assessment - not worth much - second opinion - Christies in awe - two tastings - amazed at the sale price - lot 744 6 qts estimate 2k - 22k - half of original estimate - I don't drink - don't have the palate - others enjoy"
And I am so happy they contacted Christies. To think, their original “take it off your hands offer” was $50k, but through Christies, who verified the provenance of the whiskey, they were able to get premium return for some of those 40 cases of bonded spirits.
- 12 quarts of Old Crow Bourbon from 1912 for $22,050
- 9 quarts of J.H. Beam Old Style Brookhill Sour Mash 1912 - were listed for $3800 and sold for $26,950.
- 5 quarts of Green River Straight Whiskey from 1910 for $8575
- 5 Quarts of Hermitage Pure Rye Whiskey from 1908 for $22,050
- 24 Pints of 9 year old Hermitage Whiskey Bottled in Bond $23,275
- 10 quarts of Biltmore Rye Maryland Straight Rye 6 years for the Biltmore HOtel $5000 to $7000 and sold for $10,413.
- Old Bushmills Pure Malt 6 70cl from the 1930s or 40s for $3920
- 1 QT of Old Taylor 1911 estimated at $500 to $700 sold for $5880
Some of the provenance used to determine the legitimacy of the whiskey came from J.B.’s pack rat mentality. He didn’t throw things out. And Corina shared with his old 1900 and 1903 whiskey license as well as copies of the ledger showing whiskey purchased from Cedar Brook, Atherton, and others.Green River, Old Taylor, Old Ripy, Star Hill, Old Crow, Hermitage, as well as other spirits. And the photos she had taken during her initial inventory showed whiskey well stocked, as if on store shelves. They really had been nicely cared for.
Really, the only whiskey they had that seemed a bit of a mystery were the whiskeys in those demijohns or carboys. The ones that were marked were really vague as to what they were - simply saying Very Old Whiskey or Very Good Whiskey and sometimes showing the spirits proof. Some were brandy and some were whiskey. Getting to the heart of these whiskies was going to take a little more work. They could be specific brands, but they could also be blends and it is very possible that some could contain contaminants. It is hard to always trust a whiskey that is unsealed and that came from around the Prohibition era. If it was Moonshine run through radiators, it could be poisonous, or if it was rectified, there could be any manner of toxin in there.
So Corina and her firm sent off samples to a lab to determine the quality of these spirits. The only problem, they couldn’t read the reports once they got them back. And that is where my chance meeting with Crista during a whiskey tasting event in December came in handy. As a biochemist trained in determining levels of toxicity she would be able to generate legible reports showing if there were dangerous levels of metals or methanol in those carboys as well as showing the flavors that were detected in each sample during the testing.
While talking with Linda and Corina, Corina handed me a binder that contained all of the reports that Crista had generated. She mentioned that Crista was a bit surprised at how soon I was able to get to Los Angeles and she put aside a deadline project to speed over copies of her finding...a fact I would come to greatly appreciate as Linda and Corina revealed the best of surprises.
After touring the rest of the house, Linda invited me to sit down and taste some of the whiskey and brandy that Crista had analyzed. I knew I was going to taste one or two, but I was shocked when Corina started pulling bottle after bottle...18 of them in fact.
They were looking to me to give them my opinion on each and see if I could help them with tasting notes. Oh man. Years before I had heard about a pre-prohibition whiskey tasting held at the Jack Rose Dining Saloon in Washington, DC and I was sad I lived so far away. Tasting one of those would have been amazing and now I was about to taste 18 different drams of history. Corina poured out a glass for each of us, and we began what turned into 3 hours the most amazing tasting experience of my life. Listen in as we start the tasting experience with the first sample.
BLUE: "Tasting experience on sip #1 and can I get a glass to dump my left overs"
She had the palate
*** See inventory ***
*** Tasting notes ***
*** See chemical analysis ***
The results of the Christies auction.
There was only one other sample that I probably could have passed on, it tasted like lightly aged neutral grain spirit. It was very heavy in alcohol. But all of the others were thick with flavors and scents from clove to tobacco to fruit along with caramel, vanilla, and charred oak. The mouthfeel on these whiskies were incredible, sometimes silky, milky, one or two were thin. Some of these whiskies were high proof. One mentioned it was 130 proof, but most of the others were likely 100 proof bottled in bond and some said 104 proof. I think I spotted a brandy or two as the flavor profiles and color were different from the others, and the Irish whiskey definitely stood out for its lighter character. In the end, I have to admit, I was probably starting to lose my ability to taste or smell accurately as we closed in on the 18th sample. Too much alcohol can definitely dull the senses and Corina didn't skimp on giving me a nice pour of each.
When we were all done, I noticed the glass Corina had been using to dump out the parts of the samples she didn’t drink was pretty full. I asked her if she wouldn't mind letting me have that to take with me. Linda put it in a mason jar and we left the ranch to go grab a bite of dinner at the cafe and we enjoyed a nice meal and a debrief of the events that had just occurred.
On the way out, Corina gave me a box labeled "for Drew Whiskey Lore." She had kept her promise to send home some bottles with me to enjoy. She also gave me a care package for Crista for all of her hard work on the analysis. To be honest, I was a little nervous to look inside my care package. I had a 3000 mile drive home and I didn't want to be fretting over priceless whiskey sitting in my trunk.
I went back to my friend Paul's house for my last evening in LA. When I arrived, he was enjoying a martini - he is actually the guy who got me into the James Bond lifestyle that set me on a path to establishing the Travel Fuels Life podcast and eventually to Whiskey Lore. I asked him if he'd be interested in tasting a blend of 100 year old whiskies. I didn't have to pull his arm too hard. And the blend was absolutely incredible. What could have been a trainwreck ended up being a delicious, well balanced whiskey. The mason jar didn't survive the evening.
The next morning, as I started packing, Paul looked like he had been hit by a train. Oh man, the hangover, he said. I felt a little responsible - shifting from clear spirits to aged spirits always seems to lead to trouble. As for me, even with the amount of whiskey I drank over the previous 16 hours, I was absolutely fine. As the old bottle of Green River whiskey I photographed the day before said "The Whiskey without the Headache"
On my way home, I decided to take the scenic route. I was hoping to stop off at High West in Utah, but they were closed. Then I stopped off at Laws Whiskey House in Denver and received an impromptu tour and then drove down to Colorado Springs to meet Michael Myers and Emily the Distillery 291 social media guru, as well as stopping off at J. Reiger's distillery in Kansas City, a distillery with plenty of history of its own, a night in the little German town of Hermann in the middle of Missouri Wine Country and tried out Black Shire whiskey and then on to Indiana to finally taste the whiskey that won this year's bracketology Starlight Distillery's Rickhouse Rye.
Curiosity did end up getting the better of me. The morning I packed up the car in Hermann, I decided it was time I crack open that care package Corina sent back with me. I knew she had given me a bottle of Hermitage Whiskey and I had a very special mission for that bottle when I made it to Kentucky.
When I opened the package and pulled back the bubble wrap, my eyes jumped out of my head. Here were 3 bottles of Hermitage 9 year old Whiskey - distilled in 1914 and bottled in 1923, a half pint of Green River Whiskey that was produced in 1910, and a half pint of Old Taylor distilled in 1913 and bottled in 1917. Unbelievable. And it gave me a great idea...I contacted a couple of people and began to set up the perfect finale to this amazing adventure.
If you just can’t get enough of Whiskey History make sure to become a member of the Whiskey Lore Society. Members get access to extended interviews, exclusive tasting videos, and bonus historical content. In fact, this week I’ll be posting tasting notes from all of the whiskies I tasted from the Leonis carboys and I’ll be posting a video of my tasting experience with both the Old Taylor and Hermitage whiskies as well as a 1950s whiskey I have long wanted to try and finally got a sample of. And your membership for as little as $5 a month, will help me produce more Whiskey Lore episodes in the future.
Just head to patreon.com/whiskeylore or find the link at whiskey-lore.com
When I got to Starlight Distillery, just north of Louisville, James the distillery’s social media manager and Andy the man in charge of the barrels took the day to show me around the distillery. This piece of land was loaded with history, being a farm that had been in the family since the early 1800s. I loved the story they told and we samples a variety of whiskies they were working on. I also got to meet Ted Huber the owner and his sons Blake and Christian who are doing some amazing things with their knowledge of wood and spirits. I had such a great day, I asked them if they'd like to share in the opening of that bottle of Old Taylor I had. I mean, whiskey is meant to be share, isn't it? Well, obviously I didn't have to pull their arms. And we sat there soaking in the history of that whiskey through its aroma and bouquet of flavors.
That bottle would end up being opened again when I arrived in Louisville. My friend Jerry Daniels, who runs Stone Fences Tours in Kentucky, is an avid fan of whiskey history as well and we decided to meet up at the Frazier Museum and it's third floor bourbon history display, where Stephen Yates the community and corporate manager of the museum, gave us a behind the scenes tour. When I offered to let him sample the Old Taylor bottle, he got so excited, he asked his boss Andy Trinen to come down too. And that's when I discovered that the Frazier has its own little hidden room...and within that speakeasy, we sampled that Old Taylor under the watchful eye of a cutout of Al Capone. Fitting.
But this wasn't the special purpose I had thought of for this bottle of Old Taylor. That was to come the next day. Driving through rain showers the next morning, I made my way to Frankfort, Kentucky, the state capital and the home of the Buffalo Trace Distillery.
But Frankfort has a lot more history than just that one distillery. In fact, it was the home of W.A. Gaines Company, the company that I mention in my episodes about Old Crow was the company that built the Old Crow Distillery on the shores of Glenns Creek. It was also the company that started the Hermitage Whiskey brand, the very brand of whiskey that was sitting in my trunk. And it was also the company that employed Colonel E.H. Taylor before he went off to work at Old Fire Copper Distillery, today's Buffalo Trace, and ultimately the Old Taylor Distillery that is now Castle and Key.
As I made my way up through town I arrived at the gates of the Frankfort Cemetery, the resting place of many of Kentucky's luminaries, including Daniel Boone and others. It was there that I met up with Jerry and Whiskey Lore superfan Todd Ritter, a resident of Frankfort and someone who knows the landmarks of the town very well.
I walked over to meet them both with two bottles in my hand. When we got out to the grave site I hadn't told my friend Todd what I was about to reveal as we stood at the foot of Col. E.H. Taylor's gravesite. We made our way to a monument in front of several gravestone slabs. Etched into the stone was the name Taylor...below, the gravestone of the one and only E.H. Taylor. I reached into the bag I was toting, and pulled out that bottle of 1917 Old Taylor whiskey.
AUDIO TAYLOR: "You hadn't told him? Opened at Hubers. Glass peg top broken cork. Drank at the foot of Col. Taylor's Grave.
I placed the bottle of Old Taylor that would have been made during his lifetime on the stone and we took photos. Then I opened the bottle and poured a little into the glass and we toasted the man and his legacy. After further review, that whiskey definitely came out of the Old Taylor Distillery which is now Castle and Key on Glenns Creek in Woodford County.
And this whiskey we were drinking was actually made while the Colonel was still alive and running the distillery
Then we walked a few steps away and what opened up was an amazing view of the Kentucky River and the state capital below. From this view, we were looking down on the spot where the Hermitage Distillery stood over 100 years before. Turned into a chair factory after prohibition, it was finally demolished in 1945. As for the distillery's whiskey, in this particular case, it had traveled all the way to California, rested for 98 years, and now it was back home again. I opened the bottle as best I could, the cork decided to shatter inside...so we sipped around the bits of cork and took in that milky magnificent well aged whiskey.
*** My tasting video and on-site videos ***
And while we were soaking in the moment, one of the mysteries I had been left with in California suddenly came clear as I looked at the label on the bottle of Hermitage. I suddenly realized the reason for the hydrometers.
You see, the bottle I held in my hand mentioned that it was produced by W.A. Gains & Company Distillers in Distillery No. 4 Old 7th Internal Revenue District of Kentucky. But just above the wording "A pure whiskey for medicinal use" it mentioned "Owned and Operated by Cook-McFarland Co, Inc. Los Angeles California. At first, I thought this was just the distributor being added to the label. But further inspection shows the words "Bottled in Bond from Barrels Marked Hermitage."
In other words, this whiskey was made in Kentucky, but then shipped in barrels out to California, where it was aged in Los Angeles. A hydrometer would have been necessary to test that whiskey while it was in those barrels.
So this was a very unique whiskey, not having the great temperature swings you normally would get in a Kentucky warehouse, but more of a dry arid condition in a warehouse whose temperature likely didn't fluctuate more than 20-30 degrees in Southern California's more temperate climate.
And the back of the bottle confirms that the bonded warehouse was indeed in California. In warehouse #14 in the 6th Internal Revenue District of California.
When I opened that first email from Corina, the paralegal from Los Angeles with a story to tell, I had no idea how vivid and alive that story would become. What I thought would be just a great story about a secret store of whiskey in a family home that would go on to become Christies largest ever Pre Prohibition whiskey auction. Nor did I realize it would turn into the very history of Los Angeles itself and it’s neighbor Vernon that was once a pre-prohibition mecca away from the teetotallers of the 19-teens. Nowhere could I have imagined doing a tasting of 18 historic whiskies with the wonderful descendants of the man whose story I was chasing. And then to top it all off, having a chance to taste and share some amazing dusty bottles with some big time whiskey history fans and ultimately culminating the trip by bringing home a 100 year old whiskey from its century away in a California vault.
What a gift I've been given, getting to stretch out my passion for history, chasing stories that mix with spirits, warehouses, and fascinating people and places. It is very true that there is so much more behind each of these labels. There are human beings, there are passions, there are dreams, incredible stories and incredible whiskies. And as we head into a summer, just past a pandemic, same as J.B. would have been doing back in 1920 -why not plan out some time for your own little whiskey adventure - even if it is just your local craft distillery. Listen to the stories they tell. Listen to where their passion for whiskey lies. And know that, just as there were people in 1913 and 1914 producing the amazing spirits I just sampled, watching those barrels, and placing those labels on the bottles, the very same thing is happening today, and who knows who will be amazed by a vault of whiskey produced at the beginning of the 21st Century, hoping to get a taste of the era - in fact, maybe you should set up your own little secret vault or pull up a few floorboards. You know, pay it forward to a future generation. And imagine the amazing smile you’ll put on their face. And maybe someday someone will tell your family’s story, marveling at the wonderful whiskies you’ve left behind.
Whiskey Lore is a production of Travel Fuels Life, LLC
Research, stories and production by Drew Hannush
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Thanks for sharing another fun season with me chasing the best of whiskey history. Enjoy your Summer.
And until next time - cheers and slainte mhath.