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Issue 120 - Strategic Location

Whisky Magazine Issue 120
June 2014

 

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Strategic Location

How Islay distilleries contributed to the war effort

During World War II in all whisky-making regions, grains were rationed and whisky distilling came to a halt. Most distilleries in Ireland and Scotland were mothballed, but still endured the same collateral damage risks as every other building in Europe. Bombers pelted the Bushmills' Dublin offices, destroying the company's archives, while its Northern Ireland facilities were used as billets.

In America, Brown-Forman's Owsley Brown served on U. S. president Franklin D. Roosevelt's “whiskey council” to help the government create a distillery plan for the war effort. The Kentucky bourbon distilleries were forced to make grain alcohol for industrialised alcohol, requiring roughly 195-proof alcohol. Since the average bourbon still could only reach as high as 160 proof, the American stills had to be modified.

They added collar columns, applied greater pressure and reached higher temperatures during distillation. The alcohol never touched oak and would have been shipped immediately to a facility for eventual use to create grenades, jeeps, parachutes and other essential war materials. Woodford Reserve master distiller Chris Morris says World War II and the use of the distilleries created the modern Louisville. “The spirits industry in Louisville is the reason for the industrialisation of Louisville. There would be no rubber town or DuPont area if not for the distilling capabilities,” Morris says.

Islay in World War II

In October 1939 close to the Orkney isles, a G...

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