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Issue 93 - A Little Piece of History

Whisky Magazine Issue 93
January 2011


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A Little Piece of History

Once, Old Crow was synonymous with quality bourbon, but for some years it has been lost in the wilderness. Now it's set a new lease of life. Dominic Roskrow reports

When it comes to iconic bourbon names they don't come any bigger than James Crow, or the bourbon named after him, Old Crow. For more than 150 years Crow meant good bourbon.

No brand could call on a richer source of history and heritage, and when tasted, it never disappointed, its four years in the barrel and its distinctive zestiness and spiciness marking it apart from mainstream whiskies. But by the end of the last millennium the classic Old Crow had been replaced by a younger more gutless bourbon bearing the same name, and it fell from favour, trading on its name while failing to deliver. Neglected and unloved, it ceased to matter and almost ceased to exist.

Now, though, Old Crow is crowing once more – and it could be set to reclaim a place among bourbon royalty.

James Crow's contribution to bourbon cannot be underestimated. Trained in Edinburgh as a physician and a chemist, he emigrated to Kentucky in the 1820s where his talents were recognised and he found work as a distiller. He brought with him science and played a major role in the creation of what we know as bourbon today.

Although it is often said that he invented the sour mash process he almost certainly didn't. There are references to the process in books written before Crow even arrived in America. But he certainly developed the process, perfected it and recorded it. He brought standards of hygiene to bourbon making and applied science to it, ensuring consistency in his product, and he is credited as being t...

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