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Whiskey: The History And Today's Industry

This Program Is Rebroadcast From February 15, 2013

From pure pot still, to Kentucky’s finest, the spirit is having a comeback. We’ll ask what and why.

Barrels at the Woodford Reserve Distillery in Kentucky. (Flickr/Adam Sonnett)

Barrels at the Woodford Reserve Distillery in Kentucky. (Flickr/Adam Sonnett)

“Whiskey is all right in its place,” said the famous evangelist Billy Sunday, “but its place is hell.” Well, a lot of people might disagree lately.

For a long time, whiskey seemed to have gone out with the Rat Pack. The Mad Men era. That’s over. Whiskey’s back. With more range of flavors and connoisseurs than ever. Sippers talking about it like wine. “Drizzled with honey and almonds…custard cream, toasted barley… banana bread and vanilla fudge.” Wow.

This hour, On Point: the history and return of whiskey.

-Tom Ashbrook


Michael Veach, associate curator of special collections at Kentucky’s Filson Historical Center. Bourbon historian and a member of the Kentucky Bourbon Hall of Fame. Author of “Kentucky Bourbon Whiskey: An American Heritage.”

Joy Richard, bar and beverage manager at the Franklin Restaurant Group. Her newest restaurant, Boston’s Citizen Public House boasts a list of over 150 whiskeys from around the globe, with 5 hand selected single barrel whiskies. (@joyrichard)

From Tom’s Reading List

Time Magazine “Fans of Maker’s Mark whiskey have a message for the company that has brought them their favorite bourbon in trademark red-wax-sealed bottles for nearly 60 years. They’d like it neat, please. Maker’s Mark, based in Loretto, Ky., announced over the weekend that the company would begin watering down its iconic whiskey in order to boost supply. The response was lightning fast and deeply felt.”

Star-Tribune “Shots of courage. Lightning in a bottle. Bottoms up. Whiskey has its own liquid poetry. Sip it and you talk, or sing. My Scottish cousins can be almost eloquent about the drink itself. It is, they say, an education. As richly cultural as wine.”

Reuters “Spirits companies sold 3 percent more liquor in 2012 in the United States than in 2011, fueled by flavored drinks and a big thirst for Irish whiskey and single malt Scotch, an industry trade group said on Wednesday.”

Excerpt: Kentucky Bourbon Whiskey: An American Heritage

Whiskey Playlist

Tom’s Whiskey Adventure


Tom’s Whiskey List

On air, Tom sampled:

Willett Pot Still Bourbon — Bardstown, Kentucky

Rittenhouse Rye — Bardstown, Kentucky

Red Breast Pot Still Whiskey — Ireland

Caol Ila Scotch — Islay, Scotland

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  • jasonnewyork

    I don’t understand how anyone could be a regular whiskey drinker. It’s delicious, but it kicks my ass like no other alcohol. I’ll stick with lighter spirits and wine.

    • JayR

      WEll, it comes down to drinking in moderation. I’m not a big spirits drinker, I have a few snifter-shaped tasting glasses, maybe 3 -4 ounces to the top. I’ll fill that maybe a quarter of the way up, with a small ice cube and that is more than enough for me. I don’t need a full size pour at all.

      • jefe68

        I never put ice in a good Scottish single malt. That’s sacrilege according to the Scotts I know. The best is room temperature spring water.

        • JayR

          To each their own. I do make the ice using filtered water, if that makes a difference. I do agree that many Scotches need a dash of water, (I have a bottle of Talisker 10-yr that I inherited, it’s a bit too peaty on it’s own, but the water mellows it out.
          I also prefer it slightly colder than room temp, so the one ice cube gets it to the right temp.

          • jefe68

            I sometimes put ice in the glass and then dump it out. It’s my understanding that one is supposed to add a little water to a single malt, as you said it mellows it out.

        • Jasoturner

          A little unfair. Shouldn’t we all be free to find the drinking expression that gives us the most pleasure, whether ice, water or nothing? I also take some issue with the inference that blends are necessarily inferior to single malts. They are certainly different but can be quite good. I prefer a decent blend, like black (or blue, better still), to some of the milder single malts, for instance.

          • jefe68

            Nope. Would you put ice in a fine wine?
            Do you put ice in beer?
            I’m only talking about very good single malts here. Blends are cheaper even on the high end. Why would you spend upwards of $100 or more on a bottle of 25 year single malt and dull the taste with ice? Why? If you don’t like good or great single malts, that’s fine.

            What I was inferring to is most people do not spend big bucks on whisky and will have a decent blended brand, say Johnny Walker Black. These are fine straight up or with ice. The Blue label can run upwards of $200 or more. It beats me why anyone would want to mask the taste with a load of ice.

            Feel free to drink anyway you want, I’m just not into putting ice in fine whisky.

    • James Patrick Dwyer Jr.

      You have to learn how to drink it.

    • jefe68

      They don’t call it fire water for nothing.

  • James Patrick Dwyer Jr.

    In my part of the woods we drink a lot of moonshine. If it is made right, it doesn’t burn at all, just like drinking water and it will knock you on your butt big time. There is a flavor that is one my favorites called “apple pie” great stuff.

  • Phyllis Craine

    Tom, I like whiskey neat or on the rocks just as much as anyone but I’d love to hear your guests recommendations for new whiskey cocktails other than the classics such as a Rusty Nail or an Old Fashioned

  • dremillard

    I’m ignorant about the technicalities and terminologies about what makes a good whiskey, but I must have something right because it seems that whenever I find a new relatively inexpensive brand that I really like, the price starts going up and up! (and I don’t think i drink enough to change the demand curve!). For example, I remember finding the Dalmore scotch when it went for about $23/bottle … eventually it went to around $45-50/bottle! Same thing with my current favorite bourbon (Woodford Reserve) … it started at around $25/bottle and now it’s up to around $35! Anyone else have this happen with their fav’s?

    • Phyllis Craine

      This is a common industry practice for any spirit; basically introduce it at a low price point to create brand loyalty and then increase price to maintain the image of a luxury brand.

  • sickofthechit

    Charles Bowsher here in Lexington, KY and have a little family history that pertains to the discussion.
    About 10-12 years ago I bought at a local auction an 1800′s Cincinnati Warehouse Journal that tracked the deposit and withdrawl of barrels of Whiskey from the warehouse for a decade or more. Most were deposited under individuals names. They were the “Bank Accounts” of the day. Paging through it one day I found my Great Grandfathers name (Charles O. Wood) next to one of the deposits/withdrawls entries. Oh to have that whiskey now. Anyway, this great-grandfather’s son (Paw Paw, as in paw paw tree) was a tee-totaler whose favorite saying was “Lips that touch liquor will never touch mine”. My grandmother (Maw Maw) had the last laugh because every year for Christmas she was famous for her “Pecan Cakes” which were aged several months while draped in bourbon soaked cloths. They were Paw Paw’s favorite Christmas treat! He was none the wiser or ignorant by choice, we never knew.

    A trick to retrieve the “lost whiskey” practiced by some is to put a few gallons of pure water in the empty barrrels and let them sit in the sun, rotate them daily for a few weeks and voila, “free” whiskey.

    Most unappreciated whiskey is Very Old Barton 86 proof. My ex-wife was buried with a bottle by request. charles

  • WilHenDavis

    What? Not a single mention of Laphroaig? …only to be expected on this side of The Pond, I suppose! – Wil Davis – Nausea, NH

    • darioqqo948

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      • JGC


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