We all have our special friends, those incorrigible scamps that show up every now and again to, without apparent motive or endgame, to spend some time with us. Sometimes they just want to spend a lazy day with us. Sometimes they want to get us into trouble with the law. Sometimes they want nothing more than to punish us in very public and painful way.
They are: The Men on the Front of the Bottle.
They have had innumerable songs written for, and likely under, their influence. Once we get to know them, we’re on a first name basis. Jim, Jack, Johnnie, Jose.
But I’ve always wondered, who were these men? These men who can make a night, or destroy a life. Lots of blood on their hands, and lots of great things and good times.
My personal favorite. The Beam family is prominently featured on the label, which claims there have been 7 generations of Beams who have overseen the distillation of the spirit…notwithstanding that Beam was probably not the original name
The Boehm family immigrated in the late 1800s from Germany to the US, specifically Kentucky, in the late 1800s and pretty much started making whiskey immediately. According to the gold standard of knowledge, Wikipedia:
Johannes “Reginald” Beam (1770–1834) was a farmer that began producing whiskey in the style that became known as bourbon. Jacob Beam sold his first barrels of corn whiskey around 1795. The whiskey was first called Old Jake Beam, and the distillery was known as Old Tub.
My favorite part is the “citation needed,” but I like the sound of “Old Tub.” The company’s website says Johannes went by his middle name Jacob, and he switched his surname to Beam in order to more smoothly assimilate to the New World. That decision, we can thank for giving us Jim Beam over Jim Boehm, which I doubt would have survived WWII.
Lots of products try to pride themselves on authenticity, a rich history and tradition that can traced back to some guy who was half saint, half warrior, half pioneer, and three quarters folk hero. Jack Daniels might just fit the bill.
According to TennesseeHistory.com, Jasper “Jack” Daniels was trained, beginning at age 10, by the local Lutheran minister in Lynchburg, Tenn. The two made great partners into Jack’s preteen years, but alcohol being the demon it is, the public would eventually cry out against his distilling. He’d step down, leaving the 13-year-old Jack, in the throes of the Civil War, to run the business on his own. By 16, his was the first distillery to register with the federal government.
Ironically, Jack’s home city of Lynchburg is part of a dry county as of the early 20th century. Go on a tour and the closest you will get to a shot of Jack is, well, you won’t get close at all. It’s illegal.
Ah, that iconic straight edged bottle, and of course the impressionistic image of either an injured or very classy man
who uses a cane, allegedly to walk around the world. (This, of course, is impossible and untrue; “Johnnie’s journey” refers to the global proliferation of the scotch itself.)
So, it should be noted that this is the best selling brand of Scotch of all time. I would imagine that this is due to the fact that Johnnie is reasonably priced, as far as Scotch goes.
Logic would dictate that Johnnie was probably a Scottish man who started a distillery and said to himself: “Name my hooch after the town which I built my business on? Pshhawww, I shall name it after myself and my name will live on for years and years! For I am Johnnie, lord of the Walkers!”
This fella by the name of John “Johnnie” Walker started selling whisky out of the grocery store he had acquired in Kilmarnock, Scotland. The drink had been called Walker’s Kilmarnock Whisky, but when Johnnie died in 1857, his son and grandson turned the whisky into the family’s main source of income. In 1908 the name was changed to Johnnie Walker Whisky, and by two years later the famed Black and Red Labels had also been established.
Tequila, cilantro, and Hilary Clinton. Things I love, or maybe hate, or maybe want to like really badly but the funky aftertaste gets in the way. People have been making tequila in Mexico for thousands of years by fermenting the sweet sweet juices and nectars of the agave plant, a spiny cactus like plant native to Mexico.
Jose Cuervo is in fact a historical figure, which kind of surprised me. I was kind of expecting a little post-colonialist plot line with some lecherous gringo capitalizing on the exotic nature of the beverage. But no: As detailed by travel site Planeta.com:
In 1758, Jose Antonio Cuervo founded a distillery in the village of Tequila, near Guadalajara, and 37 years later, his son Jose Guadalupe was granted the first license by the King of Spain to produce what was called at the time “wine of the earth.”
The La Rojeña distillery, the oldest such commercial facility in the western hemisphere, has been continuously producing tequila since then. Throughout its history and right up to today, the elegant, hacienda-like La Rojeña and the Jose Cuervo company have remained securely in the hands of the descendants of the original Cuervo family.
photo credit: Indi Samarajiva, Creative Commons/flickr