Bristol and Whiskey


While the history of whiskey will not be expounded here, suffice it to say that Kentucky and Tennessee, the homes of bourbon and whiskey, have an unpleasant and hard-fought history behind the drink.  Pioneers didn't take kindly to the government imposing one of the very things they came to America to flee, taxes.  The Excise Tax, also known as the Whiskey Tax, soon led to the Whiskey Rebellion in 1791.  With neither side willing to compromise, the Temperance movement and Prohibition would follow. 

According to the 2015 book Kentucky Bourbon and Tennessee Whiskey, by Stephanie Steward-Howard, "Prior to Prohibition, each of these states had hundreds of distilleries in operation . . . that served a national and international market; others served the local grocery store or the distiller's farmer friends on a Saturday evening."  And while some of the locations and processing techniques have changed from the backwoods to main street, from stills to distilleries, Howard describes whiskey as a "burgeoning market."

The stationery letterhead included here, of M. P. Dyer & Company Incorporated, dated November 25, 1914, lists the location as 414 Cumberland Street, Bristol, Virginia.  The striking logo on the cream-colored stationery features the popular soothing shade of green with the whiskey bottle on the left, and the approval of Uncle Sam on the right, who is shown pointing toward the brand name. 

Kentucky Tavern, a straight whiskey, trademarked in 1903, was produced by James Thompson, originally from Londonderry, Ireland, at Glenmore Distillery in Louisville, Kentucky as indicated on the bottle.  (Descendents of Thompson ran the company until 1991 when it was sold to United Distillers.) The label reads, "in bond," which means the whiskey has been bottled according to strict regulations outlined in the Bottle in Bond Act of 1897, which was created to assure consumers of a high-quality product.  M. P. Dyer & Company goes one step further and states on their stationery, "Shipped direct from government bonded warehouses."  

An ad from the Saturday, October 8, 1910 issue of the Age Herald newspaper, found in the Historic American Newspapers Collection from the Library of Congress, describes Kentucky Tavern Whiskey as follows, "Prohibition does not prohibit Kentucky Tavern Whiskey.  Its Straight.  Dr. Wiley says that 98 per cent of the whiskey sold in America is unadulterated when it reaches the consumer.  UNCLE SAM has provided a way for your protection.  Avoid adulterations by having Kentucky Tavern Bottled in Bond.  The little green stamp over the cork carries all the protection a nation can give its people by guaranteeing Purity, Age, Proof, and Full measure."

Ironically, M. P. Dyer and Company was located near where the Bristol, Virginia City Courthouse now stands.

There are numerous collections in the Archives of Appalachia on the topic of whiskey including oral histories, field recordings, sheet music, and documentation such as the Whiskey Bill and Whiskey Cases and Raids.


This M. P. Dyer & Company Incorporated stationery, dated August 6, 1914, advertises Cream of Kentucky "Thee" Whiskey.  Intricately designed with the bold colors of orange and black, this letterhead combines energy and sophistication.  The use of the white outline on the edge of the gray delineates the orange letters and makes them stand out, drawing the eye to the logo. To the left is the "discriminating" gentleman with a glass full of whiskey in one hand, pinky extended, and the bottle in the other.  To the right the whiskey bottle is featured.  The two feathery leaves at the top are representative of the shape of the barley or rye plant.  The design extends into a square surrounding the logo.  The prices are listed unobtrusively below the logo and are surrounded by orange scroll.  

In the Historic American Newspapers Collection from the Library of Congress, the Ocala Evening Star, dated November 23, 1907, describes this whiskey as "An Old, Mellow, Rye Whiskey, Aged.  Pure and Fine.  Made in Old Kentucky and no better whiskey ever distilled."  Another paper, the Age Herald, dated December 31, 1911, and November 26, 1913, describes the whiskey this way, "Cream of Kentucky "Thee" Whiskey has been the choice of two generations of discriminating people for every purpose for which a really fine whiskey is required.  For the holiday punch, the creamy egg-nog, and all the festal drinks of the holiday season, Cream of Kentucky is the whiskey which stands without a rival.  There is no whiskey just like it---there is none equal to it in flavor, bouquet, and rich, full-bodied wholesomeness.  It is a whiskey made and bottled for family use where people are careful of their health."  (Note: During the days of prohibition, whiskey prescribed by physicians was permitted.)

Bristol and Whiskey