TheWineBuzz’ Mary Mihaly reviews Whiskey Women, The Untold Story of How Women Saved Bourbon, Scotch, and Irish Whiskey by Fred Minnick in the magazine’s March/April issue. The following excerpts from the book include spirits as medicinal remedies in the 1800s and their part in the politics of the day.
“Even religious and lifestyle journals promoted whiskey use for good health. To cure colic, the magazine Faithful & Christian Instructions instructed readers to take two ounces of rye whiskey and a pipe full of tobacco. `Put the whiskey in a bottle, then smoke the tobacco and blow the smoke into the bottle, shake it up well and drink it,’ the magazine offered in 1850…
“Perhaps the need for medicinal liquor is why women made alcohol at home in the first place. While the men worked on the farm, early American women made butter, clothing, and alcohol. In a 1773 edition of the Virginia Gazette, an essayist wrote that liquor-making women ‘will ripen the seeds of virtue in men.’ The woman’s [sic] alcohol skills were so attractive that men paid for women to move to America just to make liquor. Creating what may have been the first true mail-order bride industry, men needed women to make good drinks for health and pleasure. Educated women followed the English Housewife’s cookbooks and were reminded of their role in making alcohol by women equal to today’s Martha Stewart. In her 1788 Lady’s Complete Guide, Mary Cole wrote: `The housekeeper cannot be said to be complete in her business, without a competent knowledge in the art of brewing…’
“At the Washington DC social scene, Kentucky corn whiskey was winning over politicians, with statesman Henry Clay famously saying he used it to `lubricate the wheels of justice.’ Virginian Letitia Tyler, a senator’s wife and future First Lady to President John Tyler, entertained guests with whiskey, hog meat, cornbread, and friendly conversation.
“Whiskey has always been strongly tied to Washington. President George Washington is frequently called America’s first distiller, albeit many women likely distilled before he did. And even though he preferred wine for himself, Thomas Jefferson purchased whiskey for his slaves. In fact, one of Jefferson’s contracted distillers was a woman.”
Excerpted from Whiskey Women: The Untold Story of How Women Saved Bourbon, Scotch, and Irish Whiskey by Fred Minnick, by permission of the University of Nebraska Press, ©2013 by The Board of Regents of the University of Nebraska. Available wherever books are sold or from Potomac Books, 800-775-2518 and at www.potomacbooksinc.com.