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.
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.