Why Whiskey, Why Davenport

Let’s talk about whiskey.  The process of distillation has been around since the 2nd Millennium BC.  Those same Babylonians mentioned in the Bible are thought to have been the inventors of the process mostly for perfume making.  Ancient texts mention the distilling of wine into a more powerful spirit sometime around the 12th century; definitely not Whiskey but getting close. Whiskey came into being in Ireland sometime in the 1300’s. With the name actually coming from a Gaelic word meaning “water” or “water of life.”


It would be an understatement to say the practice spread.  Within a hundred years, the Scots and English were producing the stuff.   And, thankfully they brought the process to the New World.  Even the Father of our Nation, George Washington was producing whiskey.  But there is more to the story.  And, this brings us to the rest of our story and a question.  Why Whiskey?


Whiskey was consumed for a number of reasons. First, many thought of it as a medicine of sorts.  Back in the days before aspirin, it served as a pain killer. Sore muscles from a long day behind a shovel, why not sooth the pain with a few ounces of your local favorite. Louis and Clarke known to have carried well over a 130 gallons of “spirituous liquor” with them on their expedition. A few years after George Washington’s Continental Army, a document was produced to detail the proper rations. Here is an excerpt from the US Quartermaster Foundation History of Rations: “The gill (4 oz.) of rum which had been added to the ration in 1785, was reduced in 1790 to one half a gill of whiskey. Four years later, a congressional act authorized: that to such troops as are, or may be, employed on the frontiers, and under such special circumstances, as in the opinion of the President of the United States, may require an augmentation of some parts of their ration, the President may be authorized to direct such augmentation as he may judge necessary, not to exceed one-half a gill whiskey in. addition to each ration.” Whiskey was viewed as essential to life then as flour, salt pork and soap.


More importantly, whiskey was seen as a convenient way to market surplus corn. If one thinks of those early production hot spots of Whiskey, all had difficulty transporting their grain to market. The vision of mountaineers producing moonshine are true; not because of derelict society but because of practicality. Moving through the mountain with tons of corn required massive teams of draft animals and much labor. Carrying the equivalent corn in the form of whiskey was more easily performed.And this brings us to our second question:
Why Davenport, Iowa?
The area around historic Davenport hosted some of the finest grain producing lands in North America. Abundant crops were there for the taking. Producing a surplus was easy. References appearing in many 19th century documents indicate over a half dozen distilling operations appearing in the Davenport area. All are similar to the story of grist-mill operator Thomas Wood who built the first distillery on the banks of the Mississippi River just a short distance from present day Artisan Grain Distillery.


In those days, farmers would bring their grain to the mill for grinding into flour, feed stock and other useful items. Because cash was in short supply, they paid the grist-mill operator in grain. Certainly, Mr. Wood sold some of the grain to townsfolk and perhaps send some by river boat to other markets. But, much of the left over grain was used to render Davenport-style whiskey. Whiskey was then carried away from the river by traders, trappers and early pioneers.
Think about the time. Using the US Government’s census figure from the day, Chicago had a population of 4,400 souls around the time of the first Davenport distillery. There is a very good chance many of the early Illinois settlers depended on Davenport for their whiskey needs. Recalling those years, future President Abraham Lincoln had just moved from tiny New Salem, Illinois to Springfield, Illinois. Historians note Abraham Lincoln drank whiskey and Springfield didn’t get a distillery until 1857. So, it could be possible “Honest Abe” was sipping on some Davenport-style whiskey.


What is Davenport-style whiskey? Let us start with flavorful and relaxing. Created from some of the finest corn on the planet, blended with the sweet clear water and distilled using a time honored process. Since the turn of Prohibition, this unique Davenport-style flavor has lingered on the taste buds of the locals but been legally impossible to locate. Thankfully, Davenport’s Artisan Grain Distillery re-charted history. After painstaking research, they began gathering the resources to bring a lost bit of Americana back to life.


If you haven’t tried Davenport whiskey, you’re missing out of a slice of those by-gone years when life was simpler. We invite you to visit the Davenport’s Historic Bucktown. See history, sample the beauty of America’s Old Man River and literally taste the time.  Artisan Grain Distillery is a slice of the good life.