– What’s In a Name? –

The People Behind the Whisky Names

We all know the labels. Famous whiskies. Household names. Chivas Brothers, Johnnie Walker, Jim Beam, Jack Daniel, John Jameson. Founding whisky fathers whose legacy is on their bottles for all time.
But there are many more whose legacy comes from more unique, if not obscure, places in history. Names that may not be quite as famous, but those who have been just as important in shaping an industry. Let’s take a peek at a few of them.

Paddy O’Flaherty was born in Cork, Ireland, in 1850. His mother ran a pub, so Paddy’s destiny was already laid out. In 1882, he started a job in sales for Cork Distillers. He travelled from town to town, by train, promoting Old Irish Whiskey, by buying rounds for customers in locals pubs. He became so well known that people started referring to it as Paddy’s Whiskey.
In 1913, the year that Paddy retired, Cork Distillers. bought the rights to his name and renamed Old Irish to Paddy Irish Whiskey. It was produced in Dublin until 1975, when the new Midleton Distillery was opened and production moved to the new facility.
In 2013, owners Pernod Ricard, released a 7 year old, 100th anniversary edition of Paddy Old Irish Whiskey, to honor his legacy and his contribution to Irish whiskey. Here’s to Paddy!

The name Dorothy Arzner may not be a household name, but what a legacy she has. As a Hollywood film director in the 1920’s and 30’s, she is credited, in 1928, with making the first movie with synchronized sound. The film was called Manhattan Cocktail. Over her directing career, she helped launch the stars of many Hollywood performers, including Katherine Hepburn, Joan Crawford, and Lucielle Ball. Following a successful directing career, she began teaching at the UCLA School of Theatre, Film, and Television. Her star pupil? Francis Ford Coppola.
Coppola was so influenced by Arzner, that the Coppola Family, who have a wine and spirits business in California, have released Dorothy Arzner Rye Whiskey as part of their Great Women Spirits line. To this day, Coppola stills refers to Dorothy as ‘Miss Arzner’.

Julien Van Winkle was born wealthy. His grandfather, Abraham Van Winkle, immigrated to Kentucky from Holland. Julien’s father, John, was a successful lawyer. But Julien wanted to find his own way, so, as a young man, he moved to Louisville and, in 1893, started work as a whiskey salesman for W.H.Weller. He travelled all over Kentucky and Indiana in a horse and buggy, selling whiskey to saloons, stores and taverns. In 1909, Van Winkle bought the distillery from Weller’s estate and managed to get one of six federal licenses to produce whiskey ‘for medicinal purposes’. Van Winkle’s business motto was “We make fine bourbon at a profit if we can, at a loss if we must, but always fine bourbon”.
Fast forward 100 years, the Van Winkle family no longer makes whiskey, but the family retains the rights to the Old Rip Van Winkle and Pappy Van Winkle Brand names, which is produced in limited release by the Sazarac Company at its Buffalo Trace Distillery. Lucky you, if you have managed to get your hands on a bottle.

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Tommy Dewar was born in Perth, Scotland, in 1864. His father, John Dewar had created Dewar’s Whisky, but after his death, Tommy and his brother, John Jr, oversaw the companies growth and popularity under the renamed John Dewar and Sons Company. Especially Tommy. While John was quiet and focussed on business, Tommy was flamboyant and outgoing. Well known for his wit and his quotes, Tommy’s “Dewarism’s” opened doors and made him famous in London’s social scene. He became a close friends with Thomas Lipton, of tea fame, and the two became known as ‘Tea Tom and Whisky Tom’.
Tommy turned many of his sayings into advertising slogans, such as “We have great respect for old age – especially when it’s bottled.” Here is a quick list of Tommy’s best known words of wisdom;
“Keep advertising and advertising will keep you.”
“Enjoy now. Another now is coming.”
“If you think that you know it all, you’re missing something.”
“Yesterday’s success belongs to yesterday.”
“Ability without enthusiasm is like a rifle without a bullet.”
“If we are here to help others, what are others here for.”
After traveling the world for much of his life, he wrote a book called A Ramble Round the Globe. He was knighted, made a Baron, and was elected to Parliament. Never married, he died in 1925 at the age of 66. One story sums up Dewar’s approach to life. During a visit to Tommy’s house, his good friend, Sir Harry Lauder, became interested in the pigeons that Tommy was breeding and raising. He asked Tommy if he could have a few. Tommy agreed and caged up a few of his prized birds for the trip back to Lauder’s estate. He smiled as Lauder left with his new prizes – a bunch of homing pigeons….

Thomas Dewar in Pictures. His wit, his book, his travels, Tea Tom and Whisky Tom, Dewar’s Whisky.

That wraps up our little whisky naming tour. Of course, there are many other interesting people behind the label, including Dr. James Crow (Old Crow ), Arthur Bell (Bell’s Whisky), Josephine Doody (Josephine’s Flathead River Rye), Colonel Albert Blanton (Blanton’s Bourbon), and William Teacher (Teacher’s Blended), to name a few. But that’s for another day. Until then, make a name for yourself and enjoy a nice dram of your favorite. Cheers!

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