The History of The Famous Old Brand


Chicken Cock Whiskey was first established in 1856 in Paris... Paris, Kentucky, that is; a town tucked away in the heart of Bourbon County. One hundred sixty two years ago, James A. Miller built a distillery and started making a type of whiskey unique to the Bluegrass region, bourbon. He named his whiskey Chicken Cock.


Chicken Cock’s Rapid Growth

Just a few years after Chicken Cock's founding, James A. Miller passed. All he left behind were a few thousand dollars to a trusted clerk at the distillery and a high-quality whiskey brand that was still in its infancy. The clerk, a man named George G. White, would be the man to carry on Chicken Cock Whiskey’s legacy and make it into what we know today.
 
Together, White and a few partners were able to buy the distillery and continue production. Soon, the Chicken Cock Distillery was mashing up to 400 bushels of grain per day. At this rate, 9,000 barrels of Chicken Cock Whiskey were filled annually.
 
Around 1880, White changed the distillery’s name to the G.G. White Distillery. The name might have changed, but he didn’t forget who created this iconic bourbon. White paid homage to James A. Miller by renaming the spirit The Old J.A. Miller Chicken Cock.
 
By 1886, White had increased the mashing capacity to 600 bushels per day. This warranted the creation of six warehouses, each capable of storing up to 32,000 barrels.
 
America was starting to notice.

Growth, Prosperity, and Imitation

The G.G. White Distillery continued to grow in size and production capabilities. Eventually, the distillery grounds included a cooperage, cattle barn, and grain bins. Hundreds of heads of cattle and hogs were fed the spent grain mash, or slop. The cooperage crafted handmade wooden barrels for the bourbon to age in, while White continued to prove to be a keen and determined businessman.


Chicken Cock Goes West

Kentucky’s proximity to the Mississippi River granted access to distribute bourbon to every port down to New Orleans. From there, it could go anywhere in the world. Through aggressive advertising, J.A. Miller Chicken Cock rose in sales and expanded its reach across the country. They forged relationships with a network of distributors stretching from the Midwest to up the East Coast.
 
J.A. Miller Chicken Cock even made its way out west, all the way to California.
 
An article published in California praised Chicken Cock Whiskey as a favorite. Large dealers were purchasing lots from 50 to 1500 barrels at a time. In a land that loves its whiskey, Chicken Cock was making an impact.

Catching a Copycat

Chicken Cock Whiskey became so popular that in 1889 White noticed signs of an imitation brand. Miller’s Game Cock Bourbon, out of Boston, Massachusetts, copied everything from the name to the label design of J.A. Miller Chicken Cock. And while imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, something had to be done.
 
In order to protect the name of his whiskey, White filed a trademark infringement suit. The Circuit Court of Massachusetts ruled in their favor, stating:
 
“This whiskey for more than 30 years has always been known in the trade as Miller’s Chicken Cock Whiskey,” or “Chicken Cock Whiskey,” and has been noted for its high grade and uniform excellence; and this mark has been stamped on every barrel or package of the whiskey made or sold by Miller or his successor in the business.”

Increasing Legitimacy in the Bourbon Industry

States with strong grain economies, such as Kentucky, Tennessee, Maryland, and Pennsylvania, particularly thrived during this time of rapid expansion. As whiskey continued to gain popularity, distilleries began popping up across the nation. Unfortunately, not all of these makers were in it for the craftsmanship of distilling spirits. Dishonest manufacturers added things like prune juice, other spirits, and even tobacco spit to their product and sold it as bourbon. Actions like this tarnished the whiskey industry, making it hard to decipher what was true bourbon and what was not.
 
Distilleries sought a way to protect the bourbon name and add legitimacy to the industry. They needed some form of federal quality regulation. Bourbon distilleries lobbied congress and successfully passed the Bottled-in-Bond Act of 1897. The act put in place specific regulations that ensured that only quality bourbon was being sold as such. Bourbon was now required to be stored in government-regulated and supervised warehouses, be aged a minimum of four years, poured at 100 proof, and be a product of a single distillery. By following the government regulations, distilleries could earn the “bottled-in-bond” stamp of approval signifying a high-quality, pure product.

Whiskey Worth More Than Murder

 
Bottled-in-bond bourbon wasn’t cheap, and it turns out that stolen whiskey was worth more than murder. In 1899, Bourbon News reported that Henry Gaines was sentenced to five years for the murder of Tom Allen. However, John Henry Trigg received 10 years for stealing a barrel of Chicken Cock Whiskey. Five years went to the man who knowingly bought the stolen whiskey.

Chicken Cock Releases Premium Aged Bourbons

 
Having been a prominent whiskey distillery in the South for roughly 50 years, Chicken Cock had been around long enough to produce premium whiskey that had been aged for decades. In 1905, Bourbon News reported that a run of Chicken Cock Whiskey aged for 25 years was now available. This run, however, was for society’s elite and sold exclusively to "millionaire clubs." That is, until prohibition.


New Owner, Same Chicken Cock

With longer transport routes, Distillers Corporation Limited did away with the identifiable J.A. Miller Chicken Cock Whiskey glass bottles and opted for tin cans filled with Canadian Rye. The packaging and liquid may have been different, but Chicken Cock was still making its mark in whiskey lore.
 

Chicken Cock and the Cotton Club

As a result of prohibition, smuggling alcohol into America became an industry of its own. The illegal sale of bootlegged alcohol ran rampant, and nowhere more so than in speakeasies. Speakeasies offered refreshment, exclusivity, music, and secrecy. It wasn’t long before Chicken Cock found its way into one of New York City’s most popular nightclubs. The Cotton Club, located in Harlem at 142nd St. and Lenox Avenue, featured Chicken Cock as their house whiskey.

Making an Impression

The Cotton Club was one of the most famous speakeasies in history and hosted some of the jazz era’s most prominent musicians. Louis Armstrong, Count Basie, and Fats Waller all took their turn performing at this iconic 1920s hideout. Duke Ellington and his orchestra regularly performed on the Cotton Club’s stage, which eventually launched him into national fame and international stardom.
 
As the house whiskey, Ellington recalls Chicken Cock as “good whiskey,” and even reminisces about the whiskey that came sealed in a can in his memoir, Music is My Mistress.
 
During the prohibition period, you could always buy good whiskey from somebody in the Cotton Club. They used to have what they called Chicken Cock. It was a bottle in a can, and the can was sealed. It cost something like ten to fourteen dollars a pint ($140+ in today's dollars).
 
—Excerpt from Music Is My Mistress, Duke Ellington
 
Prohibition didn’t last forever, though, and when the 21st amendment was passed, distilleries were hopeful for whiskey’s future.

Toward the end of prohibition, Chicken Cock Whiskey changed hands again. The American Medicinal Spirits Company, owned by National Distillers Products Corporation, trademarked the brand and sold it for medicinal use. After the 21st amendment passed and Prohibition came to an end, there was a push for the revival of Chicken Cock Whiskey. National Distillers Products Corp. poured efforts into advertising attempting to bring it back to its pre-prohibition glory.
 
But it wasn’t that easy.

Bourbon Faces Challenges

Prohibition outlawed the manufacturing of intoxicating beverages in the United States. This means that for thirteen years, while prohibition laws were intact, there was little to no whiskey being distilled in the U.S.
 
For several years after the end of Prohibition, whiskeys were either barely aged or replaced by unaged bourbon. It was hard (if impossible) to procure quality aged liquors for the market. Whiskeys quickly fell out of favor for lighter, unaged spirits.
 
Gradually, the once coveted Chicken Cock Whiskey brand started fading away, until dying off in the 1950s.


Chicken Cock Brings Home Gold

To celebrate the revival of the brand, Chicken Cock released 30 barrels of 8 Year Old bourbon in 2017 as a limited edition 160th Anniversary Single Barrel. Bottled in Owensboro, Kentucky in an ornate replica of pre-prohibition Chicken Cock bottle, the bourbon was an immediate hit.
 
The 160th Anniversary Single Barrel Bourbon won a double gold medal at the prestigious 2017 San Francisco World Spirits Competition; Platinum Medal at the consumer-judged 2017 SIP Awards; and scored 94 points at the 2018 Ultimate Spirits Challenge. Barrel #1, released to the brand's Facebook audience, sold out in less than two days at $100 per bottle. The Famous Old Brand was back!

Chicken Cock Moves 77 Miles From Original

From the day Matti Anttila discovered Chicken Cock, his goal was to eventually return the brand to its ancestral home, Kentucky. That journey was completed in 2018 with the laying down of the brand's first barrels of Kentucky Bourbon in over 50 years and then in September, the announcement that Chicken Cock had joined the collaborative distilling program at The Bardstown Bourbon Company(BBCo).

Through BBCo’s distilling program, Chicken Cock's Master Distiller Gregg Snyder will collaborate with Bourbon Hall of Fame Master Distiller Steve Nally (formerly with Maker's Mark) and BBCo’s distilling team, led by Executive Director of Distilling Operations, John Hargrove, to produce its high-quality, small-batch whiskey, bourbon, and rye for many years to come.

Limited Release #2

After the success of the 160th Anniversary 8 Year Old Single Barrel Bourbon in 2017, Chicken Cock revealed its second Limited Release in October, 2018; a 10 Year Old Double Barrel Bourbon.

Chicken Cock 10 Year Old Double Barrel Bourbon is the brand's most unique and special limited release yet. Chicken Cock's Master Distiller selected twelve barrels of 10-year-old bourbon, marrying two barrels at a time to create a perfectly balanced, extremely smooth, small batch bourbon (only 1,980 bottles were produced). Through countless samplings, he determined the “perfect proof” at 104-proof, with just a slight amount of pure water to open up the amazing flavors, and non-chill filtered to retain the rich amber colors and exquisite taste profile. 

Celebrating the Old and the New

Chicken Cock has survived the ups and downs of America’s whiskey history. While it may have taken a break, James A. Miller’s Chicken Cock legacy was not forgotten. Grain & Barrel Spirits is excited to breathe new life into this historic whiskey and carry on the quality and consistency that earned it its nickname, "The Famous Old Brand."
 
One hundred sixty two years ago, Paris, Kentucky got a brand new distillery. Today, we reintroduce America to one of the nation's most enduring whiskey labels. Cheers to another 162 years!