Bourbon may not generally be regarded as a Jewish drink, but Jewish immigrants played an important role in its history, Reid Mitenbuler writes. Among the highly successful labels founded by Jews was I.W. Harper:
In 1867, a Jewish immigrant by the name of Isaac Wolfe Bernheim arrived in America from Germany. He rode in steerage . . . and survived on potatoes—a humble beginning to the bootstrapping success story he would tell decades later. . . . Bernheim was always ambivalent about the liquor business, a trade he had fallen into in 1868 after two distillers from Paducah, Kentucky, enlisted him for his bookkeeping abilities. After earning enough money to bring his brother Bernard over from Europe, the two began their own distillery in 1872. The new operation needed its own brand, which presented a dilemma: what should Bernheim call it? . . .
[M]any of his contemporaries—such as the Beam or Pepper families—were able to use their frontier ancestors for marketing purposes. But Bernheim didn’t have such an ancestor . . . [and] felt that his ethnic surname would draw prejudice if he used it as a brand. He compromised by placing the Anglo-Saxon “Harper” after his own first two initials to create I.W. Harper bourbon. In 1944, a year before Bernheim’s death at age 96, he would admit that he borrowed the name from John Harper, a popular horse trainer. At that point the brand was huge and still ascending—by 1966 it could be found in 110 countries worldwide.