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Issue 109 - Young was once a Distiller

Whisky Magazine Issue 109
February 2013


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Young was once a Distiller

Fred Minnickinvestigates the links between the faith and distilling

During the recent American presidential election, much was made of Republican candidate Mitt Romney's religion. Romney is a member of the Church of Latter Day Saints, a family-oriented faith founded in 1830 known for its anti-gay marriage messages, no caffeine and absolutely no alcohol. But what many people may not realise is Mormons were once whiskey makers.

In fact, Mormon whiskey was so popular that Mark Twain referenced it as “Valley Tan” in his book Roughing It. Valley Tan “was the exclusively Mormon refresher,” Twain wrote.

As new American settlers travelled West in the 1800s, they used whiskey as currency, trading it for beaver pelts, tobacco, food and even for a good romp in the sack.

Like most Americans, the Mormons needed whiskey for survival in a time when money was not regularly available. Travelling toward Utah would require whiskey to trade with Native Americans and mountain men looking for gold.

But, this necessity for currency contradicted the faith. The consumption of alcohol violated founder Joseph Smith's Word of Wisdom. Despite this, many early apostles, even Smith, partook in alcohol consumption. On July 1, 1845, Mormon and frontiersman Hosea Stout wrote in his diary: “This day there was a grand concert ... we had .... much beer, wine....”

Several other accounts confirm the discourse between the preaching of no alcohol and consumption. But, something even more heinous in the eyes of some Mormon followers began occurring: They made the alc...

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