My Favorite Whiskey Stories (2020 Edition)

Some of my favorite unused interview clips from 2020.

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Show Notes

What a joy it has been, interviewing some marvelous whiskey people this year. But not all of the content was able to make it into episodes. So in this episode, I'll feature some of my favorite stories from people like Al Young of Four Roses, Nelson Eddy of Jack Daniel's, Andy Nelson of Nelson's Green Brier, Elizabeth Pearce of the Drink and Learn podcast, and Robert Likarish of Ironroot Republic Distillery. Next week, I'll have even more.

And if you love the interviews, check out patreon.com/whiskeylore and sign up to get interview archives and complete interviews.


Growing up, I had a fascination with presidents, something I inherited from my father. I used to constantly try to formulate a top 20 list of presidents, while also trying to muster up a list of the 5 worst presidents.

In my twenties, it was easy. Part of the criteria used for my list would be anecdotes and or quotes I’d heard about each president or I would be easily swayed by the reverence certain historians had for a particular president. Then I’d dig a little deeper - looking at the era they lived in, was it prosperous, what was the attitude of the people, did that president help the country through a moment of great distress and strife? I felt pretty good about myself and my lists - they seemed to be sound, analytical, and well thought out.

As I grew older and lived through a couple of presidencies, I started noticing a trend - the commander in chief’s biggest contribution seemed to be in instilling his mood and temperament on the country. The laws and financial matters seemed to be more nuanced and swayed through the different branches of government. 

So the grading factors became tougher. Did the president have a congress that worked with him or against him? What kind of laws, judges, and decisions did the president inherit from the previous administration? How affected were they by the election cycle? And what about the role of the Chairman of the Federal Reserve - it seemed this person had much more power over the financial direction of the country than the president did.

What I started realizing was that ranking a list of presidents was an impossible task. The job itself and all of the variables around it, that influence it, are way too intricate to even start to create a formula for placing presidents in any kind of logical order - let alone considering all of the subjective political biases that could easily sway the list. 

Face it, we live in a complex world and trying to boil things down to black and white only seems to reveal either shades of gray, or exposes the filter with which people are looking through. 

It’s why there are certain historians I really respect. Those who look objectively at a subject, seek to understand its impact, and point out where there may be conflicting points of view. Oh, it is nearly impossible not to apply one’s own filter when writing, but a historian that sincerely attempts to remove personal political passions from their work are truly ones to be admired. 

So how will a historian rate or view the year 2020?

Well, since I am a whiskey podcaster, rather than a celebrated historian myself, I, of course, would prefer to step back a moment and look at 2020 through a whiskey glass.

And the person seeking a black and white answer might ask, is that glass half full or half empty?

I’d like to suggest that rather than overpouring a glass of whiskey, instead we take just enough, so that we can nose it, experience it, and look deeper into it for what it has to offer. 

On the surface, with pandemics, murders, political and social strife, quarantines, and failing businesses it seems hard to find the silver lining in any of this. But just like tasting a whiskey you don’t like, you can change your buying habit for the next time, or you listen to others who have discovered the subtle lessons that you might be missing. 

When I first tried Ardbeg 10, I couldn’t stand it. I said, that is a band aid in an ashtray. I didn’t get it. Then a friend told me it reminded him of a campfire. I started to look deeper. I started to understand the pleasure behind this whisky and then tossed away my early established bias and tossed away my filter. 

It took removing prejudice and listening. And I think that is what 2020 is all about. It’s one big learning experience. It is about moving away from soundbites and 140 character responses. It’s about listening to each other, not talking at each other. It's about getting away from knee jerk reactions and the outrage of the moment, and examining our own morals and motivations. 

Just like with our whisky, we need to pay attention, we need to seek to understand the nuances. We’ve learned that ratings of whiskies are subjective, not the absolute last word on things. We’ve learned to stop using blanket statements like scotch or bourbon or other categories of whisky are all good or bad. There is complexity in this world and it is beautiful and when we seek to understand it we learn and grow.

And whisky forces us to slow down and pay attention - and maybe 2020 is doing the same. 

I could focus on 2020 for all the things I miss. I miss deep philosophical conversations with my mother. I miss the travels that so energized me over the last couple of years. I miss handshakes and meeting people without barriers.

But instead of dwelling on that, I want the struggles of 2020 to have a purpose - and I want to seek to understand what that purpose is. And I want to celebrate. Celebrate all the wonderful people I’ve met and the stories I’ve heard over the last year. I want to celebrate the whiskey lovers I’ve talked to over direct messages on social media, people who have become friends. And I want to celebrate whiskey, for making me slow down from my busy life, to take a few moments to listen, appreciate, respect, and understand - not only the complexity of it all, but the joy of discovery.

For me, my whiskey journey has been an excellent metaphor for how I should live life. 

Before I bring you the season finale in a couple of weeks, I want to thank you for listening during 2020 by providing you with two new episodes filled with additional excerpts from my interviews that I’ve conducted over the past year - stories and anecdotes I wasn’t able to fit into any particular story or episode and that haven’t made it into any x20m episode. Yes, almost all of these clips will be new to you.

I’ll be welcoming people like Richard Paterson, Andrew McKenzie-Smith, Wally Dant, the late Al Young, and more. I hope you enjoy these clips and find your own way to celebrate 2020. From James Allerdice to Uncle Nearest in two weeks, it has been a great pleasure to bring these stories to you. Look for all new episodes in 2021. 

Take a trip with me back to season 3 episode 5 where we met Nelson Eddy, chief historian for Jack Daniel’s Distillery. 

If you’ve listened to Whiskey Lore at all, you know I’m a stickler for dates and claims - and Nelson and I talked about Jack Daniel’s claim of being the oldest registered distillery in America. Was the distillery registered in 1866? There have been several alternate dates tossed around.  Even Jack’s own date of birth is in doubt. Our discussion jumped into the reasoning why distilleries had to be registered in the first place. 

Nelson Eddy: “It's interesting, you know, the whole idea of taxing whiskey or deciding to ask distillers to license themselves is really an outcome of War. I mean, we know the Whiskey Rebellion in the tax on Whiskey was to help pay off the Revolutionary War and that this whiskey tax that was instituted or the you know, licensing process that was instituted with something that was done by Abraham Lincoln. And by the government to pay for the Civil War

Right, but the 1866 is the day that we've always had but you're right. I mean, there's no record of what day and year Jack's born people make a big deal. Some will certainly had a birth certificate. Well at the time birth certificates weren't mandatory and there was something you had to pay for it. So not everybody had a certificate and you know, there's been a story that's been circulated. Well the court house burned down.

Well the courthouse that Jack's birth certificate would have been housed in which is Lincoln County didn't burn down that so well in the other place that you go me knowing from my dad's genealogy research is our churches. But the we even know what church is we do Jack would be a Primitive Baptist. Okay, but there's no christening of Jack and Hurley a journey record like that, but he becomes a primitive. Baptist towards the end of his life and you know, he's noted for having contributed to the building of most every Church in the county with the exception of one that wouldn't take any money from a distiller when they were building their church. So the 1866 date is the date that's been handed down much like Jack's birth if we can find documents that will change that will be compelled to go but until that day we're 

We're sticking with 1866. ”

If Lynchburg churches were mostly open to whiskey money, how about church-folk up north of Nashville? Andy Nelson of Nelson’s Green Briar Distillery retelling a story he heard from a local.

Andy Nelson: “When the folks first came by they were looking for money because they had to build this church and they just had to get it by hook or by Crook and they finally ask Charles Nelson, you know at that point, you know, wealthy successful businessman and all this so they asked and they said mr. Nelson, but you know can can you lend us some money to you know, build our church and he said well, I just want you to know this, you know, as you probably do already know this money is made from from waste. 

Like I don't know if you approve of that. Yeah, and their answer was Mr. Nelson. We don't care if this money comes from the Devil Himself money to build our church nice and and so he did and so it was with some of his donations that that first church was built, but I've just found that a really funny giving you a fair warning here. Yeah. ”

Back in season 2, I had the chance to talk with Elizabeth Pearce of the Drink and Learn podcast about New Orleans and its connection to the name bourbon. But while we chatted, she related a funny story she had read about a certain incident that took place between Windsor, Ontario Canada and Detroit, Michigan during Prohibition. 

Elizabeth Pearce of Drink and Learn Podcast: “There's a wonderful book called last call by Daniel Okrent and it's all about the rise and fall of prohibition when people ask me about like how did Prohibition come to be and I'm like there's a whole book like how much how much do you want to know or there's multiple books, right? But his is very thorough and it's a really entertaining read. So Canada also had prohibition. But it's my understanding. It was more about local consumption, but the alcohol could still be produced or something like that. And Canada was not it was not incumbent upon that government to enforce the laws of the United States government. And so when a whiskey shipment would be in Windsor. They would need to go across the river to Detroit. All they had to do was they that you had to declare where you were headed and the whiskey seller would say I'm going to Cuba. And he would be in a rowboat perhaps and the Canadian official would say bon voyage safe trip, and then he would set off and of course end up in Detroit and a few know he doesn't want to get caught right because but the I'd say that the biggest takeaway.

Prohibition is that there are lots of reasons it got past their very complicated the States passed it, but nobody wanted to pay for it. I think there were only 14 or 15 states that ponied up any money. So it was all up to the federal government to enforce this and they did not have enough agents and the Agents were underpaid and susceptible to bribery, you know, etc. Etc. Go watch Boardwalk Empire you get the gist so the guy leaves

Is Windsor and he's headed to Detroit and it's unlikely that anyone is going to be there to stop him and Sam Bronfman who will eventually own Seagram's, you know built his Empire from Shipping whiskey from Canada into America during prohibition and in interviews. You know sort of in the 50s and 60s he danced around it a little bit but by the end of his life it seemed of he just embraced it. ”

And if the name Sam Braufman sounds familiar, he was the head of Seagrams when they had purchased Four Roses. And of course, back in season 1, we recounted the whole situation where Mr. Sam, as they called him, started buying up Kentucky distilleries. In fact, his purchase of Athertonville, Henry McKenna, and others is the reason that Four Roses has five distinct yeast strains. If you’re looking to taste that yeast’s influence, you won’t actually find it in Henry McKenna, but as an element of Four Roses and Bulleit Bourbon. Confused yet?

Well, while I had a chat with the late Al Young, brand ambassador and distillery manager for Four Roses, he told me about two other labels that were once owned and actually started by Seagrams that he and Jim Rutledge oversaw at the Four Roses Distillery.

Al Young: “What were Benchmark and Eagle Rare around? Ready when you start with the company or were they come in but he came in after I was with the company. Okay, and those were sold a straight whiskeys. Yes, they were so why did they decide to go with those instead of four roses as well? They were making an attempt into a market that was trendy. They were trying to look for something that that would be sophisticated. That's something that had a regional Flair for it. So the Eagle Rare came about because they decided that they would tie that in with saving the American Eagle. Okay, so they had a big campaign that if you bought you donated to the save the eagle campaign very good whiskey at a hundred one proof. It was excellent as a matter of

To I was infatuated with it when I first came out here because we made all that whiskey for it here. Okay, Benchmark was made in Louisville. And it was a little higher in phenols out of the has an Esters which made it highly conducive to short return. In other words you drank it and you weren't oxy ver on the verge of failing the effect of your alcohol. Yeah.”

A fancy way of saying it would get you drunk. By the way, I was curious about those two brands mainly because they are now owned by Sazerac and produced at the Buffalo Trace Distillery in Frankfort, Kentucky.

With their bourbon’s 5o year absence from the American store shelves, I spent some of my conversation with Al talking about Four Roses introduction of what had to be fairly new concepts to the bourbon market, products labeled as single barrel and small batch. 

Al Young: “Were those Concepts that were out there already at you seen other people doing that other people were doing. The we thought big as unique as we are with 10 different recipes, we ought to be able to come up with something that would set us apart from everybody else. So the I believe I've got a right to the single vehicle came out in 2004 and Jim chose the OBS be recipe for that. So that was the high-rise Nashville and the fruity yeast and they were the barrels and chose were eight or nine years old. And it was a hundred proof. And the gamble paid off? Because the Single Barrel suddenly jump to the top of the charts. It's interesting. You know that it was at one time the best-selling bourbon at the Maker's Mark Lounge in Louisville for Suri. It is very interesting. So that was 2004 2006. We came out with small batch, which we had help from the blender from Karen jota Tanaka who came over here and decided ratio for the K and the O yeast with both Nashville's and everybody.

Read that this was just if you liked it, we've accomplished our objective. Yeah, another thing that I notice about the product or the bottles the bottles feel very substantial. Was that a conscious decision as well? Well, we had a choice we could go cheap or we could invest in bottles that are singularly unique and and readily identifiable so we went that way. And we tried to get a bottles that no matter what you do to him on the show. You can't cry them out. So we made these small batch to resemble a rose. But if you turn it over the statuesque signal Barrel is the way it is and so that it doesn't look like a trade Bob.

Small batch select has a bottle of just like the one for regular small batch, but it to can't be muscled out of the shell it has elbows. ”

As Whiskey Lore Patreons at the Scholar level are finding out, I had a very detailed 2 hour conversation with Ironroot Republic’s co-owner and distiller Robert Likarish about his experiences of making Texas whiskey using French techniques. And during that conversation, I also found out about how they ended up in London, England.

Robert Likarish: “So I saw the Berry & Bros' name on your Texas legation whiskey, what is the story behind that whiskey? So so I'll first we'll talk about Berry & Bros' connection to Texas and we'll get into the actual whiskey so back in 1845 buried but so  Berry & Bros' has been in business in 1699. They've been in the same building the entire time hmm like their headquarters. It was originally part of it was the tennis court for King Henry the eighth the well, so it's an English company. Oh, yeah English English company. It's in London again. They've got crazy stories like Napoleon the third using their cellars to plan his invasion of France. I mean, it's again, they've been in business and they've been in the want that the oldest Wine and Spirits Merchants in the UK, Okay, and so they've got they do stuff for the crown that provide all all that. That's and they're they're building is number 3 St. James Street. So there they've got like underground tunnels that connect to the Palaces and stuff like it's crazy. 

So you can get your spirits that they get their Spirits no matter what happened 

“all the way and so so Berry & Bros's in 1845, they rented out the second floor of their building to this fledging country called Texas to operate as part of the you called it Legation because they wanted some offices that were close to the Palaces to the st. James's Palace and to Buckingham so they could have connections over there. So for three years it operated is as the litigation and 1848 Texas during the US and they up and left and didn't pay the last month built.” 

Nice. So, why do it this kid sue us? 

“In the 60s the governor of Texas visited London and went there presented them. They have a plaque they got specially because the in to do something that the story building like that it's crazy but there's a plaque on the side of the building the actually able to see it on the label and says, this is a Texas legation and then he also handed them a check for the last month's rent. Now he didn't give me any interest on that.” 

All right. Well, hey, it's the thought that counts right? 

“So We were we were two year old distillery and we get a phone call a couple days before Christmas are an email or phone call into our like info account from this company and like I had heard of Berry & Bros's, but I didn't know a whole lot about them at the time and they said we're looking for a text whiskey for the story. We want we want to source a Texas whiskey we've been looking for five years and we're every year we bring in samples and we're waiting for the Texas whiskey. Would you like to submit whiskey this year? So we're like we hadn't released whiskey ourselves yet. Yeah, and so we're like my brother thought it was one of those like can a Nigerian prince style emails. Okay, but we have looked it up and I like the company looks legit. The email looks right. Yeah, so we scented stuff and now again that was a couple days before Christmas then the day before New Year's we get a phone call on this gentleman with a heavy Scottish accent on the other end starts talking. I was like what? Did you find he's like your Whiskey's the whiskey we've been waiting for and so next thing I know we're sending them more Barrel samples and then they their Master because they do a lot of their an independent bottler, but they also do their own custom blendsand stuff. And so they made their own blend of our whiskey and for a couple of years and released it as Texas legation over there. “

So was this the first whiskey you officially released that was the first whiskey that got bottled. Okay. 

“So we we released ours first. Before we went over there and released it over there because we thought that might probably not look super great. Right? Yeah, but it was crazy because it was it was at the time. It was 14 15 month old whiskey.” 

I was going to say by looking at the picture on the bottle it of the bottle. It is a sort of a light to medium. 

“It's more than a lighter gold color our media arts and medium gold. Yeah color. Yeah. So yeah, if we did two editions of that and then the tariffs came in effect and they were we we're going to with try to wait it out. And then we're actually sending them over more samples. I don't know if it will be Litigation. But we're going to be doing more  Berry & Bros' releases. Okay, so nice. I'm really fun relationship. Yeah that but we got to go over there. It was fun because they they flew the flag of Texas out in front of the building for the we were there and we did the release and everything flags are out there. And they had to get permission from the Queen because it's so close to the To the St. James and Buckingham they get her permission to be able to fly another country's flag. And so it was really fun. They were doing like media stuff and like tasting people in the whiskey and we were doing a breakfast event and they go what's a typical Texan breakfast and I was like, well that's I mean eggs bacon was like well actually breakfast breakfast burritos breakfast tacos breakfast burritos, and they gave me the what is that? To the Mexican restaurant in London, and we had to go through and tell them what a burrito wreckfish burritos where yeah, they made breakfast burrito.”

Wow, so long. Oh, that's fun. Well, you know, I mean after traveling through Scotland, Ireland and I got hooked on Irish breakfast and Scottish breakfast. I wish I eat that well in the morning, but I mean, it's probably that extremely healthy, but people seem to survive over there. No, man. So better than that the you know will biscuit I eat sometimes in the in the morning. So yeah absolutely.

“Say it that's that's and we're talking about crazy place of being the right place right time. It's been a beautiful relationship to us. And that was kind of the first time that we were like, oh, like I think we're doing something really different interests. And yeah, that was like cuz it's always one thing you'll always love your own children. Yes. Yeah. It's when someone else only goes there's something about this and that was that was the first moment for us that we realized.” 

Well, we're talking International recognition and from a company that's been dealing in whiskeys for years and years and years. That's that's pretty good validation. 

“Makes you feel pretty good about yourself first. Yeah.”

If you’ve listened to Whiskey Lore at all, you know I’m a stickler for dates and claims - and Nelson and I talked about Jack Daniel’s claim of being the oldest registered distillery in America. Was the distillery registered in 1866? There have been several alternate dates tossed around.  Even Jack’s own date of birth is in doubt. Our discussion jumped into the reasoning why distilleries had to be registered in the first place.


Whiskey Lore is a production of Travel Fuels Life

Research, stories and production by Drew Hannush

If you enjoyed this episode, and want to start hearing more in-depth interviews, check out our Patreon page where I’ll be loading up more episodes of x20m and complete interviews over the next few months as well as more whiskey education materials. Stop by whiskey-lore.com to find the link on the home page or go to patreon.com/whiskeylore. 

And I want to remind you that next week, I will have another episode filled with interviews - going through all of these and finding bits to share has been a total pleasure. I’m thankful to all the great guests who have appeared on the show and thank you for listening in 2020. Two more episodes to go. And until next time, have a great week. And Cheers and Slainte Mhath. 


All based on interviews with guests.

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