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How 5 Whiskey Brands Got Their Names

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Whiskey and storytelling have always existed hand in hand. But ever since American whiskey started regaining its popularity, every brand became eager to tell its story. That is, if its story was documented at all. Some brands’ tales, like Barton 1798, are completely unknown.

Whether you’re a whiskey aficionado or newcomer, knowing the story behind the whiskey can spice up your next whiskey night. To help, we’ve researched five brands’ names.

1. ANGEL'S ENVY

Within the industry, the whiskey that evaporates during aging is called the "angel’s share." Though this amount varies in alcohol or water concentration, it often results in a loss of about three percent every year. According to Kyle Henderson, grandson of Angel’s Envy Founder Lincoln Henderson, their whiskey is so good that the angels want more than their share. “If the angel’s share is what evaporates, the angel’s envy is what’s left in the barrel, and the angels are jealous,” he says.

2. FOUR ROSES

According to Four Roses Master Distiller Jim Rutledge, co-founder Paul Jones Jr. trademarked the Four Roses name in 1888. Like with many other distilleries, “nobody 100 or 200 years ago wrote something down in case we wanted to talk about it today.”

As a result, the company chose the most historically documented story. “We chose this legend because we can track the movement of the Paul Jones Company from Atlanta to Kentucky,” says Rutledge.

The story goes that Paul Jones Jr. and his father, Paul Jones Sr., had opened a grocery and warehouse in Atlanta and the younger Paul became interested in distilling. At the time, he was also courting a local lady, and asked for her hand in marriage.

“They agreed that, at a grand ball they were to attend, if she were to accept his proposal of marriage, she would wear a corsage of four red roses,” says Rutledge. “She wore the corsage,” and the two were married.

3. KNOB CREEK

Produced at the Jim Beam distillery in Clermont, KY, this whiskey is named for the creek that ran behind Abraham Lincoln’s childhood Kentucky home. The late Booker Noe, Jim Beam’s sixth generation master distiller, chose the name because he thought it reflected his values in making whiskey.

4. WHISTLEPIG

This rye whiskey brand’s name comes from the “single oddest piece of social interaction” that founder Raj Bhakta had ever experienced. A decade ago, Bhakta was hiking outside of Denver, Colorado. “Out of the blue popped a guy with a thick French accent and a big shock of white hair,” says Bhakta. “He got very close into my personal space and asked ‘Could it be? A whistlepig?' I had no idea what he was talking about or what he was looking at. When I didn’t understand, he snapped in my face and repeated himself. When I still didn’t understand, he flicked his wrist and took off.”

5. WILD TURKEY

After 60 years in the business, Wild Turkey’s Master Distiller Jimmy Russell has more than a few stories. One that he knows well is the story behind the whiskey’s name.

Back in the 1940s, “Thomas McCarthy [an executive from Austin, Nichols, the company that made the whiskey at the time] took all the New York business folks on a big turkey hunt every year,” says Russell. The trip’s festivities would include some hunting—and some whiskey. That year, he pulled 101 proof bourbon for the guests. “The next year, they asked him to bring the same bourbon,” says Russell. He pulled a sample, and the brand’s name was born.

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What's the Right Way to Make a Sazerac?
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If you pronounce New Orleans "New Or-leens," or if you can’t get enough of those Big Ass Beers sold on Bourbon Street, you’re probably not actually from New Orleans. But if you’re feeling adventurous and missing the Big Easy, a Sazerac might be just what the doctor ordered. 

‘Tails and Stories

A few hundred years ago, you might have actually gotten a doctor’s order for a Sazerac. One of the drink's origin stories claims that it was invented by New Orleans apothecary Antoine Amedie Peychaud. According to this tale, Mr. Peychaud mixed up the drink with his eponymous bitters and served it in an egg coupe in his shop. 

A more likely origin story states that the drink was invented by a different New Orleans resident (though in the same neighborhood). Around 1850, Sewell T. Taylor sold his bar to Aaron Bird and went into the import business. One of his products happened to be Sazerac-de-Forge et Fils brandy. While Taylor was importing, Bird renamed his bar the Sazerac House and began serving a house cocktail that featured Taylor’s brandy and, as the story goes, bitters made by his neighborhood apothecary, Mr. Peychaud.

In the 1870s and 1880s, Europe's grape crops were decimated by an infestation of American aphids. In just four years, French wine production was cut by 67 percent, and even the most dedicated cognac drinkers switched to whiskey. For New Orleans, that meant switching to rye whiskey that was shipped to the city down the Ohio River and through the Mississippi. Thomas Handy, who owned the Sazerac Bar during that time period, likely switched the drink's main ingredient. This take on the signature cocktail is the one that found its way into the 1908 edition of The World's Drinks and How To Mix Them, with the recipe calling for "good whiskey," not Sazerac cognac. 

The origins of the Sazerac’s name is vague. It’s possible that it was a nod to the fact that it was the bar's house cocktail, but it’s also possible that it’s a reference to the brand of brandy. In those days, “cocktail” referred to a specific alcoholic drink format. As put forth by The Balance and Columbian Repository in 1806, a “cock-tail” is “a stimulating liquor composed of spirits of any kind, sugar, water, and bitters.” If you wanted this type of drink with whiskey in it, you would ask for a Whiskey Cocktail. If you wanted Sazerac brandy (until the aphid plague, at least), you'd ask for a Sazerac cocktail.

Hit the Lab

Sazerac Recipe:

2 dashes Peychaud's bitters
.25 oz simple syrup (or a sugar cube)
2 oz good rye whiskey (use the good stuff)
lemon peel for garnish

Place the sugar cube into an absinthe-rinsed rocks glass. Dash the bitters onto the cube and muddle. Add whiskey and one large ice cube and stir to combine. Garnish with a lemon twist.

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Flickr User Janice Waltzer // CC BY 2.0
What’s the Right Way to Make a Caipirinha?
Flickr User Janice Waltzer // CC BY 2.0
Flickr User Janice Waltzer // CC BY 2.0

The Rio Olympics start in just a few weeks, and all eyes are on Brazil. To celebrate, we decided to focus on the country’s most famous cocktail creation: the Caipirinha.

In form, the Caipirinha is pretty much a Brazilian Daiquiri. It’s made from sugar, lime, and cachaça. Cachaça could be considered a cousin to rum, but it is altogether unique. While most rum is made from molasses, cachaça is made from fresh sugarcane juice.

Unlike rum, which can be made anywhere, cachaça can only be made in Brazil. Though it’s often sold unaged, it is usually matured in woods that are native to Brazil, like peanut and balm. As with wine, beer, and whiskey, different kinds of wood affect the product inside differently.

The classifications of cachaça aren’t based on the type of cask in which it’s aged. It can get a bit confusing: Spirit that is not stored in wood or is kept in stainless steel vats before it’s bottled is often called branca (white). But cachaça aged in wood that doesn’t color the liquor may also be labeled as branca. This category goes under several other names, including prata (silver) and clássica (classic).

Cachaça that’s stored or aged in wood is usually labeled as amarela (yellow), in reference to its color. These may also be labeled as ouro (gold). Envelhecida (aged) cachaça, a subtype of amarela, is a bit more involved: it’s considered aged if more than 50 percent of the content of the bottle has been aged for at least a year in a barrel that’s 700 liters or smaller.

Cachaça is the “third most produced distilled drink in the world,” according to Alcohol In Latin America: A Social and Cultural History. Though more than 5000 brands existed in 2008, it was relatively ignored outside of Brazil until the recent resurgence of craft cocktails. In fact, until 2013, it had to be labeled “Brazilian rum” to be imported into the U.S. As a result, it’s often mistaken by many people for being a type of rum.

Unfortunately, we don’t really know anything definite about the origins of the Caipirinha. Like the Mojito and the Old Fashioned, the formula was perhaps first used in folk medicine. Carlos Lima, the executive director of IBRAC (the Brazilian Institute of Cachaça) told Casa e Jardim that a mix of lime, garlic, and honey with a pour of cachaça was probably used in São Paulo around 1918 as a remedy for the Spanish Flu.

As the story goes, someone eventually decided to skip the garlic and honey. Then, to balance the acidity of the lime, sugar was added. Over time, the drink spread into bars, ice entered the equation, and it became the Caipirinha we know today.

HIT THE LAB

Like the Mojito, the classic Caipirinha recipe is quite simple, but it’s also been the subject of many, many variations. We’ve included the International Bartenders Association (IBA) recipe as well as a modern take on the drink.

Caipirinha
Modified from the IBA website.

2 ounces Cachaça
1/2 of a lime
1 tablespoon sugar

Muddle lime and sugar in an Old Fashioned glass. Fill with ice and pour cachaça over it. Stir and enjoy.

Prata B. (Puerto Rico Asta Ah Brazil)
Recipe by Luis Ramos, bar manager of Bourbon and Branch in San Francisco.

1 3/4 ounces Avua Prata Cachaça
3/4 ounce lime juice
3/4 ounce pineapple gomme syrup
1/2 ounce Pedro Ximenez sherry
1/4 ounce Punt e Mes
Grated nutmeg, lime zest, lime wheel for garnish

Combine all ingredients in a Collins glass. Add crushed ice and stir until glass frosts. Top glass with grated nutmeg, lime zest, and lime wheel.

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