Sifting through the vast selection of bourbons at a liquor store one should easily find several bottles of Old Crow Bourbon. It’s typically located at ankle level amongst the castaways of plastic bottles consumed by young twenty-somethings on a Friday night.
The Old Crow Bourbon is sad story. So sad in fact, its fall from grace to the bottom shelf is likely the biggest plunge in whiskey history!
For starters, Old Crow has nothing to do with birds.
Old Crow is named after Dr. James C Crow. A Scottish trained physician and chemist, who immigrated to the U.S. in the early 1820’s. Dr. Crow’s rigorous approach to distillation could rival an army of today’s NASA design rocket scientists. He is credited with developing and incorporating the Sour Mash process into distillation. Your welcome American Distillers!
Crow’s sour mash whiskey was exceptional! He was also reportedly the first distiller to ONLY sell aged whiskey. That’s right, white lightning was the common spirit of the day. Your welcome American Distillers! Old Crow became the symbol for premium whiskey by the mid-1800’s. While most whiskey sold for $.15 per gallon, Crow’s sold for $.25 (top shelf + plus!).
Dr. Crow passed away unexpectedly in 1856. Fortunately, the brand and recipe continued on in a thunderous freight train-like path to become one of the world’s top selling bourbon by the late 1940’s.
The fall from grace begins….
During major distillery expansion in the 1960’s, the percentage of back set to new mash was altered from the original Old Crow recipe. Essentially, they severely lowered the amount “sour mash” and stripped the essence of what made Crow exceptional. Sales declined, customers complained, and ultimately the brand was purchased by Jim Beam.
Enshrinement into bottom shelf purgatory…
Jim Beam now produces Old Crow using the same mash bill as the standard Jim Beam mash bill. Its is marketed as a value brand. A shell of its former self. A bottom shelf dweller. A far cry from America’s original premium sour mash aged whiskey.
Here's to Dr. Crow. May his legacy live on in every bourbon bottle but the one that carries his name!
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