Toasting to Bourbon Pioneer George Garvin Brown on his Birthday

 

Toasting to Bourbon Pioneer George Garvin Brown on his Birthday

You probably won’t find too many parents who settle on “Garvin” when naming their children, but that name has a long history and a deep connection with bourbon lore. If you’ve ever enjoyed a single drop of straight bourbon whiskey in your life, you likely owe a bit of gratitude to George Garvin Brown – the man who is credited with revolutionizing the way Americans bought and consumed bourbon in the 1870s. 

Old Forester Birthday Bourbon bottleA bourbon innovation that was clear as glass.

George Garvin Brown celebrated a milestone birthday this past Friday – The big 170. Born in 1846, he was contemporaries with other notable historic figures born that year such as Buffalo Bill Cody, George Westinghouse and, ironically, radical temperance movement champion Carrie Nation. Of course, Brown is long gone, but whiskey aficionados celebrate his birthday every year. Before Brown came along, distillers sold their whiskey exclusively by the barrel. And since most weren’t keen on the idea of buying upwards of 40 gallons of alcohol at once, many consumers brought their own jugs from home to fill directly from retailer’s barrels. In order to extend supply, less-than-scrupulous saloons and bars were known to add everything from prune juice to tobacco spit to rattlesnake heads to help fill up the jugs. “Rectifying” barrels in this manner was a common practice that allowed retailers to achieve the ideal coloring and consistency without the cost of adding more bourbon.

At the time, George Garvin Brown was a young Louisville-based pharmaceutical salesman. Glass bottles for packaging were a recent innovation and Brown saw potential for whiskey to be sold in pharmacies across the nation next to other medicines. George had a novel idea. A forward thinking idea that would turn the world of whiskey on its head: Put bourbon exclusively into glass bottles. Sealed bottles would assure quality and, 35 years before Upton Sinclair’s “The Jungle”, it was among the first steps in making sure consumers knew exactly what they were taking home. With this innovation, Old Forester bourbon was born, and an iconic brand was launched.

The beginnings of the Louisville based distillery that’s still growing today

Soon after Brown’s innovation, he partnered with another George – his accountant George Forman – and established “Brown-Forman and Company” in 1870, just five years before the first running of The Kentucky Derby. Fast forward 146 years to today and Brown’s company is among the largest American-owned spirits and wine companies in the world- an incredibly impressive feat since the list of failed Kentucky bourbon distilleries over that time period reads like a laundry list of long lost whiskey brands.

Hometown Hero banner for G. Garvin Brown who created the first bottled bourbonFred Noe, Master Distiller of Jim Beam Brands, likes to joke that Kentucky is the land of four million people and ten last names. So it comes as no surprise that today you’ll find Brown’s descendants everywhere in the Bluegrass. Louisville’s Frazier History Museum was founded by Owsley Brown Frazier in 2004. And, just two blocks down Main Street, you’ll find the 21c Museum Hotel which is co-owned by Laura Lee Brown. In fact, the current Chairman of the Board of Directors at Brown-Forman is none other than George Garvin Brown IV – George’s great-great grandson.

Break out the cake, candles and rock glasses!

We celebrate Brown’s birthday in September pretty much the same way we celebrate a lot of things in Kentucky: with bourbon. For the last 15 years, Brown-Forman has released a beloved special edition of their flagship brand known as “Old Forester Birthday Bourbon.” The oddly shaped bottle has become a “must have” for whiskey lovers who sample, collect, and trade limited edition releases. Each batch is different, each year brings a unique offering, and each release has earned a reputation as being among the most elusive whiskey for those seeking to find it on liquor store shelves.

Mint julep statue with G. Garvin BrownThis year’s Old Forester Birthday Bourbon release was patiently aged for 12 years (three times as long as the standard Old Forester product) entirely on the 5th floor of a single warehouse. These barrels were filled and then placed near the windows of the warehouse allowing them to soak up the heat of the sun. Master Distiller Chris Morris expects roughly 14,500 bottles to be released. While this year’s release is a smidge larger than years past, The Old Forester Birthday Bourbon is relatively miniscule. It takes timing and luck to stumble across a bottle. Considering most of us are lucky to end up with a cupcake and an off-key serenading of “Happy Birthday”, that is one great way to celebrate a man’s birthday.

And, beyond limited bourbon releases, Brown-Forman continues to grow. Projected to open in late 2017 will be the newest edition to The Kentucky Bourbon Trail: A $45 million Old Forester Distillery located right on Louisville’s historic Whiskey Row steps from where George Garvin Brown began the company. And Brown-Forman, makers of Woodford Reserve, Jack Daniels, Early Times and several other liquor brands, is already planning a celebration for their 150th anniversary in 2020. Now, that looks to be a party that George Garvin Brown would approve of.

So, next time you find yourself near a glass of bourbon, raise it high for a well-deserved toast to the man who had the wherewithal to put all that pure bourbon into a convenient, glass bottle. And we also ask you to consider extending some overdue thanks by considering naming your next offspring “Garvin.” Cheers to George Garvin Brown!

Mint Julep Tours can arrange visits to Brown-Forman’s Woodford Reserve Distillery or Brown-Forman’s cooperage as part of any custom tour. Call 502-583-1433 or visit us online today to begin planning your adventure!

The Unsung Hero of Bourbon – The Barrel

The Unsung Hero of Bourbon – The Barrel
November 11, 2015 

As most avid bourbon fans know, there are a number of strict requirements that any distillery must meet before their precious distilled spirit can legally be labeled and sold in America as “Bourbon.” Of all those requirements, perhaps the most intriguing and complicated benchmark involves a product that you’ll likely never see on the store shelf or at the bar – the bourbon barrel. By law, bourbon must be aged in charred, American oak barrels that are used once and never again for bourbon. Yup, that’s right. Every last ounce of bourbon must be aged in a fresh, new barrel. Cumbersome and costly? Perhaps. But generations of Master Distillers have agreed time and time again that it’s worth it. Many argue that the barrel and subsequent aging have the biggest impact on bourbon’s signature flavor.

When you consider that over 19 million cases of bourbon were sold in 2014, it’s pretty easy to see how the demand for an endless amount of new barrels starts adding up quickly. While this unique requirement gives the bourbon industry a specific set of challenges, it also creates some incredibly unique visitor experiences for those adventurous aficionados eager to see a different side of bourbon. While bourbon distilleries on and off the Kentucky Bourbon Trail® have soared in popularity over the years, many are making time to visit cooperages – factories where bourbon barrels are made. Today, two major cooperages provide the vast number of barrels to bourbon makers throughout Kentucky and beyond: Independent Stave Company in Lebanon, KY and The Brown-Forman Cooperage in Louisville. And for a fascinating look into the detailed and meticulous process of making a vessel in which bourbon spends years maturing, each one is worth a visit.

Kentucky Cooperage where Bourbon Barrels are madeThe Independent Stave Company knows a thing or two about crafting the perfect barrel – they’ve been at it for over 105 years. TW Boswell (a name that for many has become just as synonymous with bourbon as the name Beam) started milling in the Missouri Ozarks in the heart of White Oak Country in 1912. These days, Independent Stave Company Trucks, which roll out of the Kentucky Cooperage location, are a common site roaming the highways and byways in counties throughout the state. After all, ISC provides thousands and thousands of new barrels to several major distilleries every year. The company offers an eye-opening detailed, industrial factory tour. Visitors here have the opportunity on twice daily tours to see the manual shaping of the staves, the fire that chars the inside of each barrel, the manual placement of the metal hoop and, most importantly, watching coopers make sure that each container is liquid-tight without any nails, glue or other manmade sealers. Any visit to ISC’s Kentucky Cooperage will provide fascinating insights into how those endless ricks of barrels you see in storage are created.

Brown-Forman Cooperage TourPaying a visit to the Brown-Forman Cooperage is a quite different experience. Located less than 1,000 feet from an active runway near Louisville International Airport, the cooperage is hard to find, but full of amazing history. Brown-Forman started the Cooperage in this location back in 1945. Many modern updates have been added to the facility, but the majority of the process has remained unchanged for decades. Most notably, Brown-Forman has bragging rights as the world’s only major distiller which both owns and manufactures its own barrels. The cooperage makes more than 600,000 barrels solely for brands under the Brown-Forman umbrella such as Old Forrester, Woodford Reserve and Jack Daniels. (Hey, even Tennessee Whiskeys need barrels, too.) Each barrel in this cooperage is made exclusively of white oak and holds exactly 53.4 gallons. Once complete, the empty vessels weigh more than 120 pounds. Being a cooper is hard, hot work in the summer and tough, cold work in the winter.

So, next time you raise a glass, make sure that you save a toast for the beloved and often overlooked barrel. Your drink has earned that moniker of bourbon in no small part to the effort of those charred staves adding 100% of the color and upwards of 60% of the flavor of your beverage. Never discount the role that this unsung oak hero plays in America’s native spirit. After all, bourbon is only as good as the barrel from which it was once poured!

The Independent Stave Company’s Kentucky Cooperage is located at 712 East Main Street and offers complimentary factory tours at 9:30 AM and 1:30 PM Monday-Friday. A stop at the Kentucky Cooperage can be included on a personalized, custom tour with Mint Julep Tours. The Brown-Forman Cooperage is not open for public tours, but private tours can booked exclusively through Mint Julep Tours. Call 502-583-1433 or e-mail info@MintJulepTours.com to book a tour today.