American whisky, or “red whisky” as they called it in the 1800s, wasn’t for the faint of heart. Cowboys coming off three months on the trail sure weren’t looking for a wine spritzer. The whisky had bite and bitterness and a sour aftertaste. As Bill Samuels, Jr. recalls, “bourbon was always the unrefined uncle at the family party.”
In the late 1800s, prohibition movements had sprung up across the United States, reaching their apex in 1920 when Congress ratified the 18th Amendment, prohibiting the manufacture, transportation and sale of intoxicating liquors. This resulted in the shutdown of distilleries across the nation, including a distillery known as T.W. Samuels & Son, the family’s first commercial distillery. As the stories go, rum, Canadian whisky and Scotch flowed across the American borders via bootleggers, rumrunners and whatever else they may have been called in those days.
In 1932, Franklin D. Roosevelt ran for president on a platform calling for an end to Prohibition. Roosevelt defeated incumbent President Herbert Hoover, and, shortly after Roosevelt took office, Congress adopted a resolution proposing a 21st Amendment of the Constitution that would repeal the 18th. The resolution, ratified in December of the same year, gave Margie Samuels, pictured above, reason to smile.
American distilleries jumped headfirst back into the marketplace in a hurry–with under-aged whisky that tasted rough, tough and unpleasant, to put it nicely the family whisky included.
Bill Samuels, Sr., was not happy with the taste, nor were whisky drinkers, as the imported liquors were viewed as much more sophisticated and palatable. In 1953 he decided to risk everything on the idea that there was a way to craft a bourbon whisky that would be smooth, full-flavored and easy on the palate.
The saga of Maker’s Mark® began with that very dream – a vision of what many people have come to believe is the very best bourbon whisky in the world.
You be the judge.
Celebrate Repeal Day, or celebrate every day, with one of our favorite Prohibition era cocktails, the Old Fashioned.
*Excerpts taken from Maker’s Mark–My Autobiography © 2000 by Jim Lindsey and Saber Publishing