The image of the cowboy moseying up to the bar and ordering a whiskey are iconic scenes in any western. But what the film leaves out is the awful grimace that most likely ripped across the faces of those cowboys after they swallowed it.
Because cowboy whiskey was terrible. It had names like “mountain howitzer”, “coffin varnish” and “strychnine”. The reason why it tasted so bad is that 150 years ago there wasn’t much in the way of regulations on how whiskey should be made or what had to go into it. Some of the whiskey making its way west would be mixed with additional water or other ingredients like burnt sugar, prune juice, or even sulfuric acid to increase supply and maximize profits.
It wasn’t until the Bottled-In Bond act of 1897 and Teddy Roosevelt’s Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906 that regulations were added to increase the quality standards of whiskey and make it taste closer to what we enjoy today.
So the next time you see bottles of whiskey or bourbon romanticizing the wild west, just be glad that what’s in the bottle tastes nothing like 150 years ago. Until next time, Slainta Mthath!