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While Presidents Johnson and Grant were going through their personal and political strifes, the excise tax that Lincoln had been forced to impose in 1862 had taken a heavy toll on the whiskey industry. The tax was due upon production, as soon as the whiskey ran out of the still, and after the Civil War, many of the smaller distillers just didn't have the capital to comply with the law. By this point in time, aged whiskey was preferred by far over the raw spirit that had been acceptable some 60 years previous. Reconstruction marked a time in the whiskey business that really sorted out the men from the boys; unfortunately, many of the boys were the ones who made great whiskey, and many of the men were more concerned with business. Quantity mattered more than quality. Luckily for us, a few of the business types had deep pockets and a long-term view, and these were the distillers who continued to make good whiskey.
During the postwar years, when many distilleries were being built or rebuilt, Aenaes Coffey's continuous still became commonplace in the American whiskey business. The death knell was tolling for the slower, more work-intensive, old-fashioned pot stills. Many of the larger distilleries built massive continuous stills; between 1865 and 1900; whiskey was becoming big business, and continuous stills were more economical. We wouldn't, however, see the very last of the pot still until Prohibition, and one diehard distillery in Pennsylvania was using a pot still for a secondary distillation until it closed in the late 1980s.
Not everyone was enamored of this new method, however, and some forward thinking individuals took to actively advertising the fact that they continued to use "old fashioned methods." Even as late as 1891, James E. Pepper was proclaiming in print that he distilled twice over open fires, signifying the use of pot stills.
In the years between the Civil War and 1900, the very ways in which whiskey was packaged and marketed were also updated and modernized. Though the first glass factory in American was built in Jamestown, Virginia, in 1608, it would be 1903, when Michael J. Owens invented the first automatic bottle-making machine, before selling whiskey in bottles was financially viable for most distillers. Until then, glass bottles remained fragile, expensive hand-blown vessels that were very dear in every way. Decorative glass and ceramic bottles containing whiskey were a novelty that had been around since the early 1800s. Some depicted Benjamin Franklin, George Washington, Grover Cleveland and Carry Nation, while others pictured tableaux, such as a jockey on horseback or a Continental soldier. One late-nineteenth-century whiskey bottle was shaped like a baby's bottle and bore the words, "Here is the Milk of Human Kindness."
Bottles, however, were the exception rather than the rule-they simply added to the price of whiskey. Most goods at this time were sold locally by portions-the buyer knew to bring his or her own flour sack, barrel, tub or jug to the purveyor, who filled it with flour, oats, lard or whiskey. The jugs most often were glazed stoneware in sizes ranging from one pint to five gallons. But in the late 18605, the use of hinged metal molds made it easier to make glass bottles in greater numbers and at £1r more reasonable prices. These bottles were too costly for many distillers, but some, at least, took advantage of the invention. This date coincides nicely with George Garvin Brown's 1870 decision to sell his Old Forester bourbon exclusively in sealed bottles.
With the advent of the glass maker's hinged mold came incised molds that could act as labels to display the distiller's name, address, brand name or another designation. Most of these were of the plainest design, though handsome in their simplicity. The advantage of this new type of packaging was that the potable became more portable.
During the years of Reconstruction, more and more people, most of them experienced whiskey drinkers, went West. When they arrived, they needed whiskey, and distillers rushed to meet the demand. They were shipping whiskey to all sorts of colorful Western towns-Laramie, Tombstone, Dodge City-but it wasn't always good; much was completely unaged and cut with water. When a movie cowboy orders "three fingers of red-eye" (although a dictionary will tell you that "red-eye" is cheap whiskey), he is actually demanding the "good stuff"-it doesn't get red until it's aged. By the 1880s, however, when some of those travelers had amassed small fortunes, decent aged whiskey was at last being shipped to the Wild West.
During the postwar period, the distillers were busy either going broke or going for broke. Here's an update of a few significant people and events in the years between 1860 and 1900:
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