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Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Angels, Bourbon & Japan

Back in 1990-1993, while living in Japan, along with Japan's Kirin beer and rice wine sake of any brand, my preferred drink of choice whenever I plunked my butt down at the 4C bar in Ohtawara-shi, Tochigi-ken where I lived, was I.W. Harper Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey.

Well... I only began drinking it in 1991 after my grandfather Thomas (mother's dad) died back in Toronto.

His drink was whiskey and soda, and to be honest, I couldn't and can't stand the stuff. I tried it one evening as an homage to the old man that night I found out he had passed... and blech... so I tried, instead, some bourbon on the recommendation of the bar owner.

He poured me out a tall drink and added, on my request, soda water... which I think he was shocked at, as he had only ever served it to his Japanese customers on the rocks (with ice) or straight up (without anything added).

I took that first sip of the bourbon... I.W. Harper bourbon... and it was goooooood... real good. It was one of those drinks that I couldn't gulp down, and so it became my sipping beverage... meaning I didn't get drunk, because I'd make it last an hour or more...

At that time, being a 20-something single man - and a foreign one at that - in a small city bar... even a fancy bar... made me stand out a little more, I think, and almost immediately I had a couple of Japanese women come over and chat me up.

It was the beginning of me getting over Ashley (just the beginning)... though she and I would still see each other for another 12 months off and on... but generally mostly as friends with benefits - especially when that second year began as life on the JET (Japan Exchange & Teaching) Program in Japan.

I had found my adult drink... and I had found that adult Japanese women seemed to think I was either rich or sophisticated... and not just a clown prince. That's just a guess, of course... I have no idea why Japanese women suddenly found me more interesting... but the timing was virtually bang-on.

When I moved back to Canada, one of the first alcoholic drinks I ordered with my friends in tow was a bourbon soda... specifically requesting I.W. Harper Kentucky Bourbon as the main ingredient... but lo and behold... no one had it.

A visit to the LCBO (Liquor Control Board of Ontario), the only place excluding Brewer's Retail (The Beer Store) where one could purchase one's own alcohol outside of a bar or restaurant in Ontario - showed that I.W. Harper was not being sold in Toronto.

Visits to Chicago over the years for various comic book conventions netted the same negative result.

I assumed it had gone out of business... and though the Internet was still in it infancy in the very late stages of the 20th century, I never bothered to see what was up.

Until this past Sunday... I was watching the awesome 1941 movie Here Comes Mr. Jordan... decided to go on-line to find out more about the movie and cast (basically - a guy dies too soon, and is allowed to go back to Earth via another recently deceased body who is quickly resuscitated), found a link to other similar movies, including Angels in the Outfield (1951).

That movie was about angels helping the Pittsburgh Pirates - my favorite team... I was into them before the Toronto Blue Jays came into existence - and read up on the film settings, mentioning The Pirates' Forbes Field from 1909 to 1970...

The write-up noted that the statue of Bernhard "Barney" Dreyfuss (February 23, 1865 – February 5, 1932) was missing in some shots (because the film crew sometimes used other parks in the shots)... who the heck was Barney Dreyfuss? Turns out he was the former founder and owner of the Pirates baseball team.

I read up about him, and found that he had once worked as a clerk then officer for the Bernheim Brothers... who were the creators of I.W. Harper bourbon... which caused my to have a flashback... and to finally look up the fate of my once-favorite bourbon.

As luck would have it.. I.W. Harper bourbon is back... though apparently it never left.

Owned by mega spirits owner Diageo, I.W. Harper was a Kentucky bourbon brand started by Isaac Wolfe Bernheim back in 1879.

When Diageo go their hands into it, they attempted to change this Kentucky sour mash into a premium brand... and did... but only in Japan.

With plenty of competition in the bourbon market from Jack Daniels... which had, at one time, a reputation as being a redneck American drink, in the 1990s, Diageo decided to stop selling its bourbon in the U.S. and Canada, and instead focus on producing small quantities of its high-grade product to appease Japanese and one gaijin's palette.

So that's what happened!

But, as of March 2015, I.W. Harper is back on store shelves in the U.S.... and in Canada.... which brings me back full circle, as I type this blog to you in the very same room my grandfather died in back in 1991.

I.W. Harper 15-yearold bourbon whiskey is also now available with the original brand.
If you are of legal drinking age in whatever country you are in, see

Somewhere, there are angels in the computer room,
Andrew Joseph

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