Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Is Old Crow Really the Bourbon Sam Houston Didn’t Drink?

The Old Crow people, or perhaps I should say their advertising agency, have been trying to convince the public, through the medium of the popular magazines, that the father of this city preferred their whisky to other brands.

Until that recent campaign, it probably had never occurred to most of us to raise the question of what brand of liquor Sam Houston drank. But now this seems to have become a hotly debated subject in our town.

So, seeking competent testimony on the matter, I called on Sam Houston’s grandson, Franklin Williams, in the office of his insurance firm in the Gibraltar Building, corner of Capitol Avenue and San Jacinto Street…Mr Williams is eighty-one, and his hair is white. Let his hair grow longer, take off his glasses, give him a Houston hat and a gold-headed walking stick, and he could almost sit for a portrait of the Liberator of Texas.

“What about this Old Crow propaganda?” I asked the son of Sam Houston’s second daughter. Mr Williams chuckled, opened a desk drawer, and took out a Manila folder. From this he took a page torn from a magazine. Under a reproduction of a life portrait of Sam Houston were printed these words:

Sam Houston, Texas’s beloved hero, knew the glories of Old Crow. He and Daniel Webster discussed problems of national import during a historic reunion over a drink of James Crow’s whiskey.

“Well,” I told Mr Williams, “I see where the Old Crow people claim Dan Webster, Henry Clay, and Mark Twain drank their product too…Do you think Sam Houston did?”

The grandson of the hero of San Jacinto smiled. “Well, there’s no telling what he drank in the public room of the Willard Hotel, when he was in Washington. But in Texas I think Sam Houston drank Bottled in the Barn.”

“You mean ― ?” I said.

“I mean,” he said, “that in General Houston’s time most of the whisky around here was homemade, and it was mighty good whisky. Sam Houston was not the kind of man to drink whisky imported from Kentucky when he could get good Texas-made whisky. Now, was he?”

“From my reading,” I said, “I’d say you’re absolutely correct.”

“What Henry Clay and those other fellows drank, I couldn’t say,” Sam Houston’s grandson concluded.

I excerpted these 11 paragraphs from Sig Byrd’s Houston by Sigman Byrd, Viking Press, New York, 1955. In those days, Old Crow was produced by National Distillers. “The manufacturer actively pursued such publicity: in ’55, they took out an ad in College English, the journal of the National Council of Teachers of English, offering $250 for every literary reference to their product.” [Wikipedia]. Byrd’s writing implies a chronic need for money. It wouldn’t surprise me if he wrote the original column to take advantage of this offer – early “blogging for bucks.”

In a brand reboot of sorts, current owner Beam Global Spirits and Wine/Fortune Brands launched Old Crow Reserve in April, 2010. It’s a nice piece of work by Santa Rosa, CA, agency Armstrong Associates.


Julie Pettit said...

Truth in advertising!

Bruce Robinson said...

What fun I had checking out your recent blog entries! I love the interview about Sam Houston and Old Crow. As one who will buy Old Crow when it's lower in cost than Evan Williams I was amused yesterday to see Old Crow Reserve on the shelf. Good luck differentiating the whisky when the price is crows' feet level. Cheers, Bruce.