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Historical Whiskey Distilleries in the 1800s American Wild West

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I'm doing some research on Whiskey and distilleries in the 1800s west of the Mississippi and I'm trying to find any references to known distillers of the era in the area. Not much luck so far and I'm hoping that one of you ADI forum members might be able to point me to a source.

When America began its movement into the vast West, the saloon was ever present. Though places like Taos and Santa Fe, New Mexico already held a few Mexican cantinas, they were far and few between until the many saloons of the West began to sprout up wherever the pioneers established a settlement or where trails crossed.

"...towns sprouted in the 19th-century American West — outside Army forts, at river crossings along wagon trails, in mining districts and at railheads — some of the first structures built were recreational facilities. Recreation for the almost totally male population inevitably meant the triple-W vices of the frontier: whiskey-drinking, whoring and wagering"

I can only find one reference - Kessler's Distillery in Leadville, Colorado. Starting in the 1870s, Julius Kessler was selling whisky in western mining towns and construction camps, carrying his entire stock in trade on the back of a burro over rough mountain trails. It was said that he produced over a million gallons of whiskey during his life time. In the early days, Kessler went from saloon to saloon selling the whiskey.

So, they either shipped in the whiskey or they made it. That's what I'm trying to determine. If they made it, who were the distillers (and, there was a 25% excise tax at the time.

I hope someone out there can be of help.

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Try Starting here. You will have to do some digging, but there is some interesting information. Do some research under the headings Distilleries and Brand Names. Also here is a link from the Brand names page for a book about California's distilleries. The third listing is the High West story of Whiskey in Utah. You may find other listing like that for other states.


Good luck and let me know what you find.

This might make a great presentation for an ADI talk.

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If you want to find distilleries, look for grain. No grain...or water...no whiskey. Plus in the late 19th century the railroads made it easy to buy whiskey from Illinois or Kentucky. Everybody knows the railroads going east were full of cattle, but what was in the trains that went west? Whiskey.

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If you want to find distilleries, look for grain.

Distilleries have always taken advantage of numerous sources of fermentable sugar other than grain, and made numerous products other than bourbon (gasp!)

Cane, agave, tubers, and fruit (to name a few) have also been utilized by distillers for ages.

You might look there as well.


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Some very interesting info here about whiskey, Ben Holladay, the Shawhan family, McCormick, Weston Missouri, the Butterfield Stagecoach company, and several western railroads. Fascinating stuff.


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