The records are not exactly clear, but this much is certain: Jack Daniels (the man himself, not the Tennessee whiskey) was only a small boy when Chicken Cock Whiskey was founded in 1856 in a Kentucky town called Paris, in Bourbon County. Records show the hooch was one of the top sips of choice up through and past the Prohibition era, a run that came to an unfortunate end caused by a distillery fire in the 1950s. But it's hard to keep a good whiskey from rising from the ashes. “While I was doing research on the early days of distilling in America, the name jumped out at me, first thing,” admits CEO Matti Anttila.“Digging deeper, I realized this was kind of a hidden gem that had been basically forgotten.”
Indeed, Anttila eventually found numerous colorful gems in various whiskey history institutions in Lexington and Bardstown, Ky., including labels, advertisements and even a pre-Prohibition bottle he had modeled for the relaunch. “This was the house whiskey at the Cotton Club in Harlem,” he says. “If you wanted a table near the stage, you had to order a bottle. It's mentioned in Duke Ellington's memoir.” Patina is one thing, of course, and flavor another. The good news is the iterations that have appeared so far (starting in 2017) are delicious, offering a classic bourbon style with strong spice and vanilla on both the nose and palate. Here in Atlanta, it has found its way behind the bar at The Southern Gentleman and Chicken + Beer, among other destinations. Until its supplies reach maturity, the company is focusing on limited releases, including a beer-barrel-aged batch expected this spring. But for now, hunt down the new 10-year-old ($250), a balanced spirit of which only 330 cases were made. Smooth, yes—but sure to wake you up.