This Month's Bourbon Zeppelin Feature Article
A Look at....
Al Capone's Role in American Whiskey History with his Niece, Deirdre Capone
by Colonel Steve Akley
While you may not be a fan of his role in U.S. history, there is little doubt that Alphonse Gabriel Capone has a spot carved in stone in the American lexicon. Equal parts fear and fascination, Al Capone so garnered the attention of the American public, he remains almost as recognized today as he was some 70+ years after his death.
The loose term of "gangster" that was associated with Capone, often conjures up the images of Robin Hood... helping out the poor with the riches of these good deeds. There certainly was an element of giving back to the community with Al. Even the very nature of his business of providing whiskey, in a time in American history when you couldn't legally buy it, helped people rally around him as they sought out to enjoy a taste of a product that was now deemed illegal by its government.
Capone literally built an empire selling whiskey during Prohibition. The fascinating thing about what he was doing was the fact he was dedicated to providing quality products to his customers. Think about this for a moment: he had almost no competition; certainly none on a grand scale as himself.
It harkens back to the time of the rectifiers that Colonel EH Taylor battled and ultimately helped enact the Bottled-in-Bond act to provide quality to the industry. These individuals would take unaged whiskey and add coloring and other ingredients to make it look and taste like a product that had been aged much longer.
Yet, despite the fact he wasn't competing, Capone still focused on providing quality products to his customers. It would have been so much easier, and likely more profitable, to take short cuts to provide a cheaper product. Instead, Al, who always looked at himself as a businessman providing a product to his customers that they couldn't get, actually was focused on getting the best whiskey possible for his customers. His crews were literally running all over the U.S. and Canada bringing whiskey in to Chicago and other big cities across the United States.
Make no mistake, whiskey was plentiful during this era. Even though it was being made, other than for "medicinal purposes" by a few distilleries, many hadn't destroyed all of their product and if you believe the whispers, Capone's crews were buying and distributing it.
Did Al Capone save whiskey in the United States?
Well, you can't definitively say that, but, tastes do change. Had he not kept whiskey flowing during Prohibition, who knows what might have happened. In fact, Prohibition did build the popularity of unaged spirits like gin because people were able to make it at home. Cocktails also became popular as individuals had to both stretch what alcohol they had and they often had to mask the taste of inferior products.
Capone kept the thirst going for aged whiskey by continuing to make it available to customers willing to seek it out. While we can't say that he saved the American whiskey scene by himself, he certainly played a role in keeping it going.
When I saw that Al Capone's niece Deirdre had written a book about her uncle I had to reach out to her to see if she would appear in Bourbon Zeppelin talking about Al's role in American whiskey. I'm pleased to say she did respond back to me and I have a great interview with her today.
What is so great about Deirdre is the fact that not only does she have all of the interesting family stories about her uncle, she also was close to him as a young girl. Obviously, she knew him at a time far removed from his days running whiskey and his health was failing, but she brings a great perspective and certainly humanizes him for us. I couldn't be more excited to bring you my interview here with Deirdre Capone.
Steve Akley/Bourbon Zeppelin (SA/BZ): Please tell us a little about yourself and your relation to Al Capone.
Deirdre Capone (DC): I am Deirdre Marie Capone. My grandfather Ralph James Capone was Al Capone’s older brother and business partner.
SA/BZ: Could you share a memory from your childhood with your Uncle Al?
DC: As a little girl I was at the home of Al Capone’s mother, my great grandmother, helping pick dandelions for dinner that day. I climbed the apple tree to pick can apple when I fell on my back and had the wind knocked out of me. I was very frightened and my uncle Al Capone picked me up to comfort me. He felt so big and strong. He took me inside the house where he taught me a Italian folk song and to play it on his mandolin.
SA/BZ: Tell us a little about what you know about Al's involvement running whiskey during prohibition.
DC: During prohibition, people in big cities needed someone to supply them with liquor. Beer was easy to brew but good whiskey, which is aged, need to be purchased from places like Canada. My family only supplied top quality whiskey to their customers.
SA/BZ: Despite the illegal nature of what Al was doing, there was some integrity to what he was doing in whiskey... he was obtaining quality whiskey for the speakeasies and customers he was selling to, correct?
DC: That is correct. My family prided themselves with the fact that they only supplied top quality whiskey for their customers.
SA/BZ: Al's personal favorite whiskey was Templeton Rye. Was this something he was enjoying even when you knew him as a child?
DC: The very first spirits I tasted was Templeton Rye. I was at my grandfather’s home. He said it was ‘The good stuff’. He then told me the story behind them finding it in Iowa.
SA/BZ: You actually do some work yourself for Templeton Rye now, correct? Please tell us about what you are doing for them.
DC: I make appearances for them at major events. I sign bottles and my book.
SA/BZ: There is so much legend and lore surrounding Al, you have to hear some great stories. Knowing these things often cannot be verified, do you have a personal favorite associated with your uncle's involvement in the whiskey business?
DC: My grandfather told me that he and Al would often get annoyed with the competition between bootleggers. He would tell them very often, “There is enough business here for all of us."
SA/BZ: Please tell us about your book, Uncle Al Capone.
DC: My book, Uncle Al Capone – The Untold Story from Inside His Family is the only book written about Al Capone from someone who actually knew him.
SA/BZ: If there is one thing you wanted to tell our readers about your Uncle Al, what would it be?
DC: He is a very misunderstood man because most of what has been written about him is fake journalism.
It was an incredible honor to be able to speak to Deirdre and find a little more about how Al Capone's business model involved something that still holds up today: provide a quality product for a fair price and customers will seek you out. Be sure to check out Deirdre's book, Uncle Al Capone – The Untold Story from Inside His Family. You can pick up a copy of it on Amazon by clicking here.
Also, Deirdre is doing some work for Templeton Rye. Check them out via this link.
Finally, Deirdre, has her own website where she has some press information and a list of her upcoming appearance. You can head over there by clicking right here.
In this issue...
|The BZ team has done it again. They have figured out a way to once again raise the bar for a quality publication. The articles are just fantastic. Am I allowed to be a fan of a publication with my name on it? I don't care what the official answer to that one is, I can tell you I love what the team is doing.
As always, we've also got some great guests contributors. Jon Spackman tells you about his favorite bottle (right now) and Heath Layson checks in from the Bourbon Lounge to tell us what historical figure he would have liked to share a dram with.
Finally, we have two awesome new team members. Tanya Lawrence and Lisa Carrington have both written for the Zeppelin as guest contributors. I'm please as can be to have them joining us now as regulars.
As always, I hope you enjoy reading BZ as much as we did writing it... for you!
Editor-in-Chief & Kentucky Colonel
Reviews of Unique Bourbon Offerings by Steve and Four Bourbon Zeppelin Team Members
This month we take a look at:
A cornerstone of Bourbon Zeppelin are the Steve + 4 Reviews. In this regular feature, Steve and four of the B.Z. team members will rate and score a bourbon. Knowing that there is something intrinsically wrong with any scoring system, BZ attempts to smooth out the human factor in three ways:
1). Right out of the gate, having five evaluators automatically adds legitimacy to this type of system which is typically completed by one person.
2). Steve + 4 helps remove personal bias by tossing the top and bottom scores, leaving only the three scores in the middle as the ones that count.
3). The three scores that are left are then averaged giving us the final score for the monthly selection.
All final scores are tallied and kept at the bottom of BZ allowing us to have a growing comparative database.
Let's see how this month's selection fared:
Jess Rubin - 81.0
Aroma - Oak with spice. Let's just say spicy oaky.
Taste - Sweet and spicy. The oak is there, but doesn't overtake it.
Final Evaluation - The initial taste quickly evolves as it hits the accelerator, but the intensity quickly dissipates leaving you with what Steve calls, "that old familiar sting." Solid pour.
Continued in next column.
Kimberly Burns - 77.5
Aroma - I get butterscotch, honey, and band-aids on the nose from this selection.
Taste - The flavor is full and rich. A mild nuttiness gives way to a light, fruit-like sweetness. A hint of a leathery, spicy flavor creeps up in the finish.
Final Evaluation - This is a pleasant, easy-drinking, and approachable bourbon. Easy to sip neat, but I wouldn’t feel guilty offering it up as a mixer, either.
Mark Hansen - 83.0
Aroma - Oak rules the roost here.
Taste - Buttery taste. Reminiscent of caramel popcorn.
Final Evaluation - Buy one and bunker one so you don't run out.
Steve Akley - 84.0
Aroma - Solid! Very complex. Caramel, Butter Rum Lifesavers and oak
Taste - Oak, caramel, honey, baking spices and a little heat
Final Evaluation - Hadn't had this one in a while. I forgot how good it is.
Aaron Cave - 71.0
Aroma - Nice hints of dried fruits, caramel, apricot jam, rye spice, and oak.
Taste - Sweet corn, brown sugar, butterscotch, cherry wood, oak, and cinnamon.
Final Evaluation -Nice sound bourbon. Great for people starting to get into bourbon. Well balanced.
The final score for this one is...
Who doesn't love a little trivia about their favorite distilled spirit?
The straw was invented by Marvin Stone in 1888 so he could better enjoy what bourbon-based cocktail?
The answer is below at the bottom of this issue (under Hasse's column)
News About Bourbon the B.Z. Team has Heard
Next month, Old Rip Van Winkle Distillery is releasing its oldest offering yet... a 25-year-old, Old Rip Van Winkle bourbon. This 750 ml bottle will come in a crystal bottle from Scotland and a box crafted from barrel staves in North Carolina. The suggested retail on these 710 bottles is $1,800.
Like to get your hands on a bottle? Good luck!
25 Year Old Rip
The Bourbon Virgin Tries...
So bourbon has won a special place in my heart, especially after taste testing this one. I am not quite to the point of starting my own bourbon hoard or sipping on this at weekend parties, but by golly it is getting really, really close; close... like when the Atlanta Falcons almost won the Super Bowl.
Ha Ha, had to throw some sarcasm in there!
To move on with it, Angel’s Envy is a bourbon that if I drank plenty of it, I would certainly feel like I was an angel flying around in the sky. What made my mouth water before drinking this was the soft smell of vanilla that crept out of the bottle as I poured it, topped off with a hint of maple syrup! This would go great with some pancakes at breakfast time and make for an interesting day at work afterwards!
I’m totally looking forward to my alarm going off tomorrow morning :D