The Chicken Cock Story

The History of The Famous Old Brand​

Established in 1856 in Paris, Kentucky, a town tucked away in the heart of Bourbon County, the original Chicken Cock American Whiskey rose to popularity during the 19th century. James A. Miller built a distillery and started making Chicken Cock, a type of whiskey unique to the bluegrass region. It was an infamous staple of prohibition-era speakeasies, like the Cotton Club, and was smuggled inside in nondescript tin cans. Unfortunately, the original distillery where Chicken Cock was made, burned down in the 1950s. Known as The Famous Old Brand, Chicken Cock Whiskey has now been resurrected, because good spirits never go out of style. Staying true to the rich 160-year-old brand identity while modernizing it just a touch, the products we’ve created are an unsurpassable collection of heritage whiskies.

Chicken Cock’s Endures

Just a few years after he founded Chicken Cock, James A. Miller died, leaving behind a few thousand dollars to a trusted distillery clerk and a high-quality whiskey brand that was still in its infancy. The clerk, a man named George G. White, continued Chicken Cock Whiskey and made it the legend it become.

Together with a few partners, White was able to buy the distillery and continue production. Soon after, Chicken Cock Distillery was mashing up to 400 bushels of grain per day, filling 9,000 barrels of Chicken Cock Whiskey per year.

In 1880, White changed the name of the distillery to G.G. White Distillery. While the name changed, the iconography of the bourbon remained the same and White continued to pay homage to James A. Miller by renaming the spirit itself to The Old J.A. Miller Chicken Cock.

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By 1886, White had increased the mashing capacity to 600 bushels per day, thus warranting the creation of six warehouses each capable of storing up to 32,000 barrels. That’s a lot of whiskey, and America started to notice.

Chicken Cock Goes West

Kentucky’s proximity to the Mississippi River made for accessible bourbon distribution, to every port down to New Orleans and from there, to anywhere in the world. Through aggressive advertising, J.A. Miller Chicken Cock rose in sales and expanded its reach across the country. By forging relationships with a broad network of distributors, J.A. Miller Chicken Cock eventually made its way out west, all the way to California where it became a fast favorite.

Large dealers were purchasing lots from 50 to 1500 barrels at a time. In a land that loves its whiskey, Chicken Cock made an impact.

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Imitation

In 1889, Chicken Cock was so popular, White discovered an imitation brand. Miller’s Game Cock Bourbon, out of Boston, had copied everything from the name to the label design and while imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, White had to take action.

The Circuit Court of Massachusetts ruled in White’s favor in a trademark infringement suit, stating, “This whiskey for more than 30 years has always been known in the trade as Miller’s 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.”

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Legitimacy

While the brand was being copied, grain economies were strong and thriving during this time and as whiskey continued to gain popularity, distilleries popped up across the nation. Unfortunately, not all of these makers were craftsmen and dishonest spirit manufactures added things like prune juice, other alcohol and even tobacco spit to their products and tried to pass them off as bourbon. 

This kind of goon business tarnished the whiskey industry and made it difficult to decipher what was true bourbon. To protect the cherished industry, and add legitimacy to the bourbon, the upstanding distilleries lobbied Congress and successfully passed the Bottled-in-Bond Act of 1897, a stamp that would signify a high-quality, pure bourbon product.

Chicken Cock and Prohibition

Prohibition began in 1920 and while large distilleries were able to utilize a legal loophole to sell their spirits for “medicinal purposes” at pharmacies, this process was too expensive for many smaller distilleries.

These new laws brought many independent companies to a halt, including G.G. White Distillery and its J.A. Miller Chicken Cock Whiskey. Like many small operations, a larger foreign conglomerate bought them out. Distillers Corporation Limited, of Montreal, Canada, purchased legal rights to the Chicken Cock name and began production outside of the U.S.

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CHICKEN COCK AT THE COTTON CLUB

The Cotton Club, located in Harlem at 142nd St. and Lenox Avenue, featured Chicken Cock as their house whiskey. 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+ today).
—Excerpt from Music Is My Mistress, Duke Ellington

Chicken Cock Fades Away But Not Forever

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 ended, 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.

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 and whiskeys quickly fell out of favor for lighter, unaged spirits.

Gradually, the once-coveted Chicken Cock Whiskey brand started fading away, until dying off completely in the 1950s.

The Revival

In 2011, Chicken Cock’s questionable fortune changed when spirits entrepreneur Matti Anttila discovered the brand while researching the early days of distillation in the U.S. Just a memory of yore at that time, Anttila decided that The Famous Old Brand was worthy of a rebirth, so he began buying the best aged-bourbons he could find and explore the market for old relics leftover from the days when Chicken Cock was one of the country's best known bands.

Gold for Chicken Cock

To celebrate the revival of The Famous Old 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 the pre-prohibition Chicken Cock bottle, the bourbon was a smashing success. 

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.

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Barrel #1, released only to the brand’s Facebook audience, sold out in less than 48 hours at $100 per bottle. The Famous Old Brand was back.

Encore Limited Release

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 was the brand’s most unique and special limited release to date. Chicken Cock’s Master Distiller selected twelve barrels of 10-year-old bourbon, marrying 2 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, with just a small amount of pure water to open up the amazing flavors, and non-chill-filtered to retain the rich amber colors and exquisite taste profile.

Bardstown Bourbon Company + Grain & Barrel Spirits

On September 10, 2018, The Bardstown Bourbon Company (BBCo) announced that Grain & Barrel Spirits, the maker of the famed Chicken Cock Whiskey, had joined their Collaborative Distilling Program. Grain & Barrel joined forces with BBCo to produce custom bourbon and whiskey for the historic Chicken Cock brand which was originally created way back in 1856, a mere 78 miles away in Paris, Kentucky. The first collaborative distillation produced 616 spectacular barrels.

Beer Barrel Select

This most recent limited release from Chicken Cock Whiskey — is the result of creative partnership, a hallmark approach of the brand and its parent company, Grain & Barrel Spirits. In the summer of 2018, six barrels that had held Chicken Cock’s 10-Year-Old Double Barrel Bourbon were given to Goodwood Brewing in Louisville to finish their Walnut Brown Ale. Once finished, Goodwood Brewing returned those six barrels to Chicken Cock. Chicken Cock Master Distiller Gregg Snyder then filled them with a blend of 100% Kentucky Bourbon aged 1.5-11.5 years. The Bourbon was finished in the six barrels for six months before final blending and bottling, yielding 1,800 bottles of this all-Kentucky collaborative release.

Beer Barrel Select is full-bodied, with initial notes of butterscotch, caramel, and vanilla, followed by a hint of toasted oak, and then a sweet finish with nut and chocolate flavors. Never chill-filtered, Beer Barrel Select retains the flavors and slight haze of the Walnut Brown Ale. Chicken Cock’s unique, Prohibition-era bottle and “sipping glass” lid complete the heritage bourbon experience.

Cheers to More Stories and Decades of Whiskey to Come.

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