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Issue 2 - What's in a name?

Whisky Magazine Issue 2
March 1999

 

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What's in a name?

Jim Murray goes in search of Whiskeytown and encounters more water than whiskey

One hundred and fifty years ago this year, America's greatest gold rush began. The Forty-niners headed for California in their tens of thousands, doubling and doubling again the population of this remote part of the continent.

With the prospectors came towns, and with towns came bars, and with bars came alcohol. So why was it that local distilleries did not follow? With all the clean water gushing down from the hills, and the plains which soon began attracting farmers, this was surely prime distilling country. Supplies of whiskey from Kentucky and other states took a long time to arrive, and attracted premium prices when they did. Why did no entrepreneur set up a large-scale, long-term distilling enterprise?

And yet, on maps of northern California, where the first mining camps were located, there is actually a community called Whiskeytown. I had long wondered if this was the answer to the conundrum: the place where local whiskey was made. Last autumn I finally visited it.

The journey today is a simple matter of flying to San Francisco and then driving for four hours or so northwards past Sacramento to Redding, and then taking the mountain road to Eureka. In 1849, without trains or roads, and simply following the setting sun, the journey took anything up to six months from the east across country by wagon or river. Many prospectors took their life in their hands by rounding Cape Horn in clippers or any other vessel they could find that was sailing to San Francisco. As they ...

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