In wine there is wisdom, in beer there is freedom, in water there is bacteria. Benjamin Franklin, supposedly. Except the first recorded use of the word “bacteria” occurred in 1864 and Franklin died in 1790.

Single barrel and small batch

Every barrel of whiskey is slightly different from every other barrel in the same warehouse, and therefore to maintain the consistency of the brand distillers today blend many barrels together. A century or so ago, when whiskey was shipped in barrels rather than bottles, every whiskey was a single-barrel whiskey.

The Old Days returned in 1984 when Blanton’s whiskey became the first modern single barrel bourbon. Distillers had long been bottling single barrel whiskeys for their personal use, but Blanton’s was the first brand to sell itself to the public as a single-barrel product.

Blanton’s is produced in a distillery where the oldest building was erected in 1792, and that distillery also produces the legendary Rip Van Winkle whiskeys, which are almost impossible to get – or afford.

In 1988 Booker Noe, grandson of Jim Beam, football star at the University of Kentucky and the sixth generation family member to run the Beam distillery, created Booker’s Bourbon, a small batch, uncut whiskey (that is, no water was added), bottled straight from the barrel. If you wanted to add a splash of “branch water,” as Booker did, that was up to you. (The original meaning of branch water, by the way, was the water the whiskey was made with. Part of a high quality stream would be rerouted and a “branch” of it run into the distillery.)

There is no official definition of “small” in small batch, but according to TOCSC “twenty to fifty barrels seems to be the most common range.”

From scoundrel to immortal

Peter Bent Brigham opened his Oyster Saloon in Boston in the early 1800s and listed eighteen drinks on offer – what he called his “Fancy Drinks.” Prohibitionists were outraged, and when one of them, Charles Jewett, criticized Brigham in print, Brigham responded by creating a new cocktail, “Jewett’s Fancy.”

Prohibitionists, along with many Boston Brahmins, despised Brigham, but not for long. Brigham endowed Brigham and Women’s Hospital, now one of the most respected health facilities in the world. In 2023 “Brigham’s ranked first in the nation for obstetrics and gynecology” according to US News and World Report.

A confident (and astute) brewer

In 1759 Arthur Guinness famously signed a 9,000-year lease for the St. James’s Gate Brewery in Dublin, agreeing to pay £45 per annum, fixed.


One of the most wonderful bars I ever stumbled into is located in an obscure alley in San Francisco, catacorner from the US Border Patrol Building.

For years I naturally assumed that the place was named for Bix Beiderbecke, the legendary cornet player, which gave the bar an additional allure. Alas, I learned – not from visiting the bar but from TOCSC – that it’s actually named for a guy named Bix Beiderbeck (no final “e”) who owns the place.

Home distilling

Although my family on my mother’s side hails from southeast Kentucky (near Harlan), and although every one of those relatives brewed their own moonshine, unaccountably the skill was never passed down to me. But that doesn’t mean that there is no moonshine aging in barrels at the Curtis household.

Eighteen months ago one of my sons gave me a half whiskey barrel, pre-charred, and many fifths of moonshine, and I have been aging and tasting the whiskey ever since. I keep the barrel in my entry, which, okay, smells a bit like a distillery, but I’ve smelled worse entries.

When we poured the first bottles of pure moonshine into the barrel we threw a party. The way it worked is that each person would open a bottle of moonshine, take a long, satisfying pull on it, then pour the balance into the barrel. The barrel took so much moonshine that everyone was quickly soused-but-happy.

Alas, we were too soused to notice that one of my grandsons, properly unhappy that he wasn’t allowed to sample the moonshine, dropped a pop-top into the barrel. Horrified, I called the distillery but was assured that aluminum didn’t react with anything and that the whiskey would be no worse off.

Every six months we have another party at which we remove the wooden cork from the bunghole and then, using long stainless steel straws, taste the whiskey. It gets darker and more robust with each tasting, and after two years (a shorter time because the barrel is smaller) I will probably cut the whiskey with water and bottle it. I expect to get about one hundred fifths of whiskey, which should last me at least a couple of months.

If you want to try this at home, I highly recommend that you contact the McLaughlin Distillery in Sewickley Hills, north of Pittsburgh. And while you’re there, pick up a couple fifths of their award-winning bourbon. It’s delicious but not, I’m afraid, for the faint-hearted.

Speaking of bungholes …

When I was in college my frat house entered the college’s “Hums Contest,” at which many groups of singers vied to win the three-inch tall, plastic Hums Trophy. My frat, singing a little ditty composed by one of our frat brothers, and singing it in six-part harmony and in Latin, won hands down, it wasn’t even close. Alas, a killjoy Latin professor reported to the college president that the lovely-sounding Latin phrases we were singing translated as “Why don’t you blow it out your bunghole.” We were disqualified.

The Green Swizzle

In his 1925 short story, “The Rummy Affair of Old Biffy,” P.G. Wodehouse suggests that Bertie Wooster’s life was saved by a timely encounter with a Green Swizzle. Everyone assumed that Wodehouse had simply invented the drink, but as TOCSC points out, subsequent research showed that it actually existed and was fairly popular, at least in Barbados and Trinidad.

But if you are thinking of downing half a dozen or so Green Swizzles in memory of old P.G., be aware that you will need to have some weird ingredients on hand – Falernum and wormwood bitters, to mention two.

Next up: The Oxford Companion, Part 14

[To subscribe or unsubscribe, drop me a note at]

Please note that this post is intended to provide interested persons with an insight on the capital markets and other matters and is not intended to promote any manager or firm, nor does it intend to advertise their performance. All opinions expressed are those of Gregory Curtis and do not necessarily represent the views of Greycourt & Co., Inc., the wealth management firm with which he is associated. The information in this report is not intended to address the needs of any particular investor.

Visit the Greycourt website »