Whisky Advocate

Lincoln Henderson: a life in whiskey

September 12th, 2013

Lew BrysonManaging editor Lew Bryson looks back on the life of bourbon great Lincoln Henderson.

We were shocked and greatly saddened to receive the news that industry icon Lincoln Henderson died Tuesday night, September 10, at the age of 75.

Lincoln grew up in Oklahoma, and moved to Kentucky to take a BS in Chemistry from the University of Louisville. He put his degree to work at Brown-Forman, and was with the company for nearly 40 years. He shaped and developed some of the company’s most prestigious brands: Woodford Reserve, Gentleman Jack, and Jack Daniel’s Single Barrel. After he retired from Brown-Forman, he continued to work in the industry (he represented Yamazaki whisky at WhiskyFest for a number of years).

LincolnHenderson_lrThen in 2006, he went back to work selecting and blending whiskeys for Angel’s Envy, a company started by his son, Wes Henderson. Lincoln’s innovative feel for whiskey and instinctive genius for barrel selection quickly brought Angel’s Envy serious acclaim. Plans were in motion for a distillery in Louisville where he could once again craft whiskey from grain to glass, but someone else will have to take up the work.

Lincoln was a great distiller, but also a good friend. He told stories with a sly grin and a quick wit, and wasn’t afraid to tell a story that might upset the wrong people. “I hate this town,” he told me recently as we sat in center city Philadelphia…my town. “I hate the traffic. I hate it all.” He paused, and with a tiny quirk at the corner of his lips, he added, “It’s not really this town. I just hate traffic. I’d rather be home.”

I interviewed Lincoln a while back for a story on copper in distilling. It was pure Lincoln. I’d like to ask you a few questions about copper, I said. “We make stills out of it,” he barked. There was silence on the line. “Was there something else you wanted?” Of course there was, and once he’d had his fun, he gave me the benefit of his years of experience and chemical knowledge for an article that I look back on as a true education. Lincoln was one of those people who know more than most, and were generous enough to share it.

Lincoln’s son Wes referred to him as a “raging perfectionist” in his memorial to Lincoln yesterday. We like to drink the whiskey that comes from the hand of someone like that.

6 Responses to “Lincoln Henderson: a life in whiskey”

  1. Danny Maguire says:

    I’m not familair with American master blenders and distillers, but from what Lewsays he was one of the best. May he rest in peace.

  2. Rest in piece Mr. Henderson… A true American legend. I feel so lucky and honored to have met you and chatted with you in a couple of occasions…

  3. Charming man and an expert too – how often do you get that? Met him on a softball pitch – he cheering on his granddaughter – me my daughters – became friendly and worked a tiny, tiny bit together. He called me once on the phone and after we ended the call and I looked up – he was sitting about 6 feet away from me – we were both at Lexington airport unknown to the other at the time of the call. That was the last time I saw him but we spoke a few more times. I was stunned to learn on the web tonight of his passing. May he be with the Angels and the Angel’s share full of Envy for him to enjoy forever.

  4. Gary Mansfield says:

    I raise a glass of Angel’s Envy in honor of Lincoln Henderson. Peace be with you.

  5. Joe Riley says:

    It was my great honor to get to meet Mr. Henderson when Angel’s Envy was officially launched in Washington, D.C. at Jack Rose Dining Saloon. He was there meeting and greeting Bourbon lovers and signing bottles. I will treasure the bottle he signed for me. I very much enjoyed speaking with him, and I was stunned at his passing. A good life well-lived, though. He will be remembered fondly by many for a long time.

  6. Derek De Souza says:

    I met Lincoln at Whiskyfest Chicago, in 2005 when he represented Yamazaki. What a fine and knowledgeable gentleman!
    My deepest condolences to his family and may he rest in peace.

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