Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Remember, Kids, Check Your Sources...

I was on the Wikipedia page for Maker's Mark yesterday. Yes, there was a good reason. I'm still trying to figure out the whole bourbon/whiskey/whisky thing (it's surprisingly complicated: whisk(e)y is a type of hard liquor. "Whisky" comes from Scotland or Wales or has a Scottish/Welsh heritage while "whiskey" is Irish. Bourbon is a variety of whisk(e)y that comes from Bourbon County, Kentucky, is at least half corn and is mixed and aged in a specific way. Oh, yeah, and "scotch" is analogous to "bourbon" in that they both denote geographic location of distillation). Anyway, the Maker's Mark Wiki page included this little gem:

Local H released a song about Maker's Mark on their 2002 album Whatever Happened to P.J. Soles? The song "Buffalo Trace" includes the lyrics:

Eight hours to get to Heaven Hill Head down - due south - past Louisville Don't stop until the bourbon still Parker says we can drink our fill

Local H is, last I checked, one of my all-time favorite bands. Learning that Scott Lucas wrote a song about my favorite top-shelf liquor was pretty cool. Except I couldn't shake a nagging doubt that "Buffalo Trace" is not, in fact, about Maker's Mark. It's not that I couldn't imagine Lucas writing a song about bourbon. Quite the opposite, in fact. It's just that the song in question does not actually support the assertion made about it. See, there's no mention of the Maker's distillery being at or near a location called "Heaven Hill." There's no mention of anyone named "Parker" in relation to the Maker's distillery. However, if you go north about fifteen miles you'll end up at yet another distillery. One named Heaven Hill Distilleries. One that employs a head distiller by the name of Parker Beam. There's no real point to this lesson, beyond that whole thing about not trusting Wikipedia and applying a bit of common sense and skepticism when evaluating sources.


Bill Samuels, Jr. said...

Here's my understanding of the whisky v. whiskey spelling dilemma. And while I may not have my facts totally straight, as a 9th generation bourbon distiller in Ky, this is not the first time the subject has come up.
Originally, all whisky (Ireland, Scotland) was spelled without the "e". Then in the 1830's the English, Canadian, Irish and US adopted the whiskey spelling that included the "e" for whiskies made in those areas.
Thus, leaving whiskies made in Scotland with the old traditional spelling.
We at Maker's Mark are a notable exception - let me explain why.
My (4) great grandfather Robert Samuels, after mustering out of the Pennsylvania militia in 1783 brought his pot still and his family to Kentucky where he began farming and making corn whisky. This tradition was passed down from father to son until WWII when Pres. Roosevelt shut down the distilleries so they could make industrial alcohol, supporting the war effort.
In the ealry 1950s my father, wanting to get back into the bourbon business, bought a little distillery just outside of Loretto and totally changed his ancestors' bourbon formula. He wanted to create a smoother, more refined flavor profile and actually burned his ancestor's recipe to get started.
When my mother named dad's new invention "Maker's Mark" in the late 1950's (after 6 years of the barrel aging) dad really wanted to retain one tradition from his family, one which would reflect our ties to Scotland. Thus, he rationalized that since the family was of Scottish heritage and since we were making whisky in KY long before the English/Irish spelling came about, it would be totally appropriatethat any Samuels-made bourbon could be grandfathered and would continue to spell whisky the proper way.
That's my story as it has been handed down (parts of it handed down over 200 years). Would love to hear if you or others have a different take on this profound question

Geds said...

Well, then. I was a little surprised to see a comment from the man in charge of Maker's Mark. And, seriously, at the risk of sounding excessively fannish, you guys do good work. For my money it's Maker's or Johnnie Walker Black (or the occasional Jameson's if I'm at a Saw Doctors show or something and looking for that authentic Irish feeling)...

Now, if anybody down there is still paying attention and doesn't mind my asking, how exactly did you end up here? I'm not going to flatter myself by assuming that I'm overly popular in Kentucky. So is there some sort of spider tool you use that pulls up new mentions of the name on the web or something?

And, really, I don't mind if that's how it works. I'm not against a bit of advertising on the part of products I appreciate.

On another, completely unrelated note, I'm about to begin a new series on the various good things about Smithwick's, Effen, Jose Cuervo, Twinings of London, and Acura (and on that last I really don't mind if someone sends me a TL-S for my troubles. Stick shift, though. None of that autoshift weirdness).

Bill Samuels, Jr said...

Hey Brian,

I'm new to this but we get something called Google Alerts and can see where people are talking about Maker's Mark online. Glad I could share some of my family story and perspective on the "e" debate. Hope you enjoy that new Accura!

j thompson said...

Any good Kentuckian would understand how that verse of the song is just rattling off random bourbon connections and that Buffalo Trace, Heaven Hill, and Maker's Mark are all entirely different distillery operations. It's pretty clear that while the song might be called "Buffalo Trace" the artist is trying to touch upon as many distilleries that surround the Bourbon Trail as he can. Parker Beam, descendant of the Jim Beam family, is the head distiller at Heaven Hill who produces such labels as Elijah Craig and Evan Williams. I wouldn't say that the artist was confused, I would think that they were just trying to incorporate as many bourbon references as possible. With over 90% of the worlds bourbon coming from KY, there are more than just a few companies who produce it.