Friday, September 11, 2009
Whiskey at Sea: The Sequel
On June 9 I posted an article about the economic practicality of pre-Prohibition American distillers sending whiskey overseas on ships to age and mellow it, returning it to the United States, and bottling it for sale. Subsequently, through an Internet auction I purchased a plate, shown here, with the transfer printed image of a ship and the legend “Drink Export Whiskey, Reimported and Bottled at U.S. Bonded Warehouse.”
One of my reasons for buying the item was the company which produced it: Knowles, Taylor & Knowles (KT&K) of East Liverpool, Ohio, a pottery on which I have done considerable research and writing. Not only did the plate carry the KT&K logo on the bottom but the color and design were very similar to the firm’s whiskey jugs of the period.
I also was intrigued by the sketch of the ship supposedly carrying the whiskey. The vessel combines both sails and steam for locomotion. That combination was common for oceangoing ships for into the 20th Century -- as shown here in a painting of the CSS Alabama.
The most important motivation for my purchase was to learn more about the practice of putting whiskey on ships. That proved difficult because no records exist on “Export Whiskey” as a brand or where it might have originated. By virtue of some research, however, I have concluded that Export Whiskey most likely emanated from a liquor wholesale firm called American Export and Warehouse Company located in Cincinnati, Ohio.
American Export shows up in Cincinnati business directories beginning about 1885, occupying offices in the downtown Pike’s Building. Evidence points to its owners being A. (Andrew) Pfirrmann and George Herzog. Both men were active in the Cincinnati liquor trade for years, Pfirrmann since at least1870. They became partners in wholesale whiskey ventures about 1887.
They and American Export and Warehouse were defendants in a legal case that exposes another reason for sending whiskey overseas -- it could be watered down away from the eyes of Federal inspectors. The case was brought by Nathan Hofheimer, a nationally known speculator in whiskey. Beginning his career with the Jesse Moore Kentucky distillery in 1879, Hofheimer sought more lucrative work and headed for New York. Opening an office on Broad Street, he made a small fortune buying and selling whiskey, at one time attempting unsuccessfully to create a Kentucky Whiskey Trust.
As documented in the 1894 book, American Admiralty and its Jurisprudence, Hofheimer bought three shipments of American Export whiskey that had been sent from Newport News, Virginia, to Bermuda. They shipped aboard the American schooner Warren B. Potter, the U.S. brigantine Payson Tucker, and the Norwegian bark Freja. While the barrels were stored in Bermuda warehouses, Hofheimer alleged, the contents had been water down. The financier strongly suspected collusion between the Cincinnati group and the owner of the warehouses, Henry Outerbridge.
Hofheimer’s case apparently rested on obtaining copies of correspondence from Cincinnati in the possession of Outerbridge, letters he believed would prove that the warehouse owner had been directed to adulterate the liquor in his possession. The U.S. Court requested that the Bermudan Government seize the evidence and turn it over to Hofheimer. The documents go no further and there is no evidence that Bermuda complied or that Hofheimer won his case. It may be no coincidence, however, that by 1901 the American Export and Warehouse Co. disappeared from Cincinnati business directories in the liquor trade -- never to be heard from again.