Lincoln Henderson: a life in whiskey
Managing 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).
Then 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.