Drink History: Chicken Cock – The Rooster Crows Once More

As bourbon branding goes, there may not be a more interesting brand than Chicken Cock.  Yes, you read that correctly; Chicken Cock. Go ahead, take a minute…..there. Now that you have gotten yourself under control from your sophomoric giggling, lets discuss this brand and what they are doing today.

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    In 1855, a gentleman by the name of “Mr. Foley”, established the Chicken Cock Distillery in Paris, Ky.  The distillery produced a brand of bourbon called Chicken Cock. Chicken Cock bourbon was a very well respected spirit by consumers as well as club and bar owners.  The distillery campus consisted of the main distilling building, a grain warehouse, a corn barn, and a cooper shop. There were also six federally bonded warehouses and one non-bonded warehouse to store the aging whiskey.

    From 1855-1882, the distillery ownership changes hands but the popularity of the brand strived.  Although comical to read and say, the Chicken Cock brand that had a provenance and certain degree of exclusivity.   It was during this time that Chicken Cock became so popular that it was distributed nationwide in large markets like Boston, Chicago, and New York.  It was a favorite brand of large distributors due to the high volume of production and availability from the distillery. Part of its popularity was the branding which consisted of a large, strutting rooster.

    Like all but 6 distilleries, the Chicken Cock Distillery shut down during prohibition, but the brand did not.  During prohibition, the production was moved to Canada and the Chicken Cock whiskey was smuggled across the border in tin cans that required a key to gain access.   The smuggled whiskey became so popular that is was the house whiskey at the Cotton Club in Harlem. It was known as the “whiskey in a tin can”. Business was good for Chicken Cock during prohibition.

    After prohibition, the original Chicken Cock Distillery in Paris was re-opened and production was started back up.  The brand did not sell as well as pre-prohibition. The large distilleries that were allowed to operate to produce medicinal whiskey started gaining market share from distilleries that shut down during prohibition.  In 1950, a fire at the distillery closed it forever and with it, the Chicken Cock brands.

    As the great bourbon boom of the 2010’s began, a company called Grain & Barrel Spirits was founded.  In 2016, they purchased the dormant Chicken Cock brand and began releasing sourced whiskey under their newly acquired brand.   The new Chicken Cock is an MGP sourced bourbon that is 8- year-old age stated and is bottled at 90 proof. There were only 30 barrels chosen for this initial release and they are bottled in a retro bottle with a metal cap over the cork, reminiscent of yesteryear.

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On September 10th, 2018 it was announced that the Chicken Cock brand production has moved back home to Kentucky via the Bardstown Bourbon Company distillery.  The Chicken Cock brand will be part of the BBCo’s Collaborative Distilling Program. The first 616 barrels of distillate were produced at the end of August 2018.  The rooster is ready to crow again, back home in Kentucky.


Wes Hardin


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