I’ve been selling Bourbon for almost a decade. While my love for various types of spirits is vast, none has quite a place in my heart like Kentucky Bourbon. Not only was Bourbon the first spirit that I truly geeked out on, it also holds an important place in my family history. I credit my larger than life Great Grandfather, Abram Ali Lyon, for my decision pursue a career in this industry. Transforming my passion for gustatory adventure into a profession would have never been realistic to me had it not been for this man.
Abram Lyon, or as we affectionately called him Popoo was born in a poor village in Russia. He lived there until just before the start of WWI when an Uncle stateside sent word that he needed help manning his "Service Pharmacy," in Los Angeles. In 1975, Popoo wrote an autobriography, consisting of three volumes detailing is entire journey from his village outside Vilnius to the pharmacy to his rise as a prominent importer and distributor of alcohol and his eventual purchase of a distillery in Bardstown. Meeting my grandmother, Susie Lyon, during his military service in San Francisco, they eventually moved back to Los Angeles where he bought a beer distributor in the weeks before the repeal of prohibition. He built his distribution company by traveling the world buying whisky, cognac, developing brands and remembering nearly every meal he ever had. 85% of everything he talks about in the book is food.
Having only started the first volume, I can say that what I’m doing today is not at all out of stride with what Popoo was doing nearly 80 years ago. Beyond his near picture perfect recollection of every single meal, he also describes his business dealings in depth. His first foray into the booze business seems to be a botched deal to buy Woodbridge Winery during prohibition, which was a coop at the time. It all sounds made up, but apparently, my grandfather was approached by Mike Gallo to be come partners in the Lodi winery. The idea was to sell sweet grapes to Sebastiani as well as Italian families back east who had special permission to produce wine for home consumption. Popoo was skeptical that the winery would be used exclusively for above board production, but invested some $10K nonetheless. His suspicions were apparently correct at one point confronting Gallo accusing him of being a con-man. They ultimately part on good terms when Gallo returns his entire investment of $10,000 during a quick trip to the bank, Popoo was grateful that Gallo's flashy and expensive style was not a total farce.
He details his adventures from his first spirits brand, Hollywood Gin to his partnership with the great Al Hart, the development of Kahlua, his conversations with "old man Sauza," telling encounters with various prominent distillers across the country, he was a true liquor industry veteran. He was Vice President of the WSWA for many years and ran distribution for Schenley brands throughout Arizona. All this leading up to his eventual purchase of the Glencoe Distillery in Bardstown. The incredible thing about his autobiography is just how relevant everything he talks about to what I’m currently doing in my life. He talks constantly about designing labels, finding deals, new brands and how Scottish coffee is terrible. I’m going to wade my way through the rest of this tome and hopefully find some cool Kentucky stories to relay throughout the week.