Big Nose Kate is named after a real person.
The real Big Nose Kate was actually Mary Katharine Horony. She was born into an aristocratic family in Hungary. Her father was a prominent physician. Kate spoke five languages, was well traveled, and well educated. In 1862, her family relocated to the exotic locale of… Davenport, Iowa. Sadly, just three years later, both of her parents contracted Yellow Fever, dying within a month of each other. Kate, now fourteen and with no relatives nearby, was placed into an orphanage.
Two years later she ran away, stowing herself aboard a steam ship bound for St. Louis. She was discovered by the steamship’s captain. As a result of their, um… meeting… she took the captain’s last name, becoming Katie Fisher. It was also through this relationship that she enrolled in the Ursuline Convent in Wichita, Kansas. The Tombstone and Prescott history tours say the captain of that steamship pulled strings so Kate could study at the convent. He must have, at the very least, paid for her to study there.
Imagine this young woman’s charm and guile – caught as a stowaway at sixteen, yet she manages to captivate the captain and land herself in a boarding school. She must have been an incredibly fun and endearing penniless orphan.
The next recorded chapter in Kate’s life was working under Madam Blanche Tribole in St. Louis. Kate’s chosen field, at that time as now, was known as “prostitution.” In 1874 Kate was fined for working as a “sporting woman” in a “sporting house” run by the wife of James Earp, who was, of course, the brother of Wyatt Earp.
Kate has been depicted in several films and TV series, best known for being Doc Holiday’s lady. The next time you watch Tombstone, the young lady cavorting with Val Kilmer? (“Why dear, you’re not wearing a bustle.”) That’s supposed to be Rowdy Kate. In reality, while Mr. Holiday was drinking and gambling, she was working at dance halls and brothels, bringing home the bacon.
Nowhere on the label of Big Nose Kate, nor anywhere on the company’s website, nor anywhere on their Instagram account, do they mention that their sourced whiskey mascot was a sex worker by trade. This irks me. I have put off writing this for weeks (Sorry, Taylor) because my modus operandi is to be the supportive midwestern mom that doesn’t hurt anyone’s feelings. But this really irks me. The banner on BNK’s homepage says “The Greatest Story Never Told, Or Let’s Just Say, Not Told Nearly Enough. Until Now.”
No, you were right the first time. It’s never been told. At least, not by the makers of Big Nose Kate. Kate did what she did to survive. Or because she enjoyed it. Or both. We don’t know. But either way, it was how she survived terrible circumstances in a brutally harsh world. What she did was a fundamental part of who she was. Whether one approves or not is sadly irrelevant. For a brand capitalizing on Girl Power, Disnefying her story is insulting. She wasn’t ashamed, why should you be? You slapped her face on a whiskey bottle, not a jar of baby food. If you’re going to appropriate Kate’s name and likeness, tell her story as well.
Big Nose Kate was larger than life. She rescued her husband, Doc Holiday, by setting a building on fire, bursting into a room where he was held captive, guns blazing, and sprung him from his captors. In her older age, thanks to her being a prostitute, Kate was admitted to the Arizona Pioneer’s Home for Ailing and Destitute Miners. The only caveat was that all of the residents had to be American citizens. Unfortunately, Kate was not an American citizen. If you recall, she was born in Hungary. So she called up an old “client,” Arizona Governor George Hunt. The good Governor falsified documents so she could enter the home. If prostitution is the oldest profession, then politicians are their most loyal clientele.
Kate’s path from debutante to debauchery is impressive, but I don’t know what she has to do with whiskey. Most of what we think we know about the Old West are broad myths portrayed in movies and TV, and memes. If I hear one more person spread the falsehood that a “shot” of whiskey got the name because you could trade a bullet for a swallow of whiskey–I’m going to need a shot of whiskey! The Old West era predates the term “shot” by like 50 years.
The Wild West is the predominant American myth. It is also a time and place most people know very little about. So, why not put a woman from the Wild West woman icon on a bottle of Western whiskey? The branding – to a normal, non-grouchy person – is magnificent. The website is slick, and I have nothing but respect for the people involved in creating this brand. Ig Nose Kate has a woman distiller that I reflexively want to support. But Goddamnit, if you don’t want to tell the whole story – the real story – don’t tell it at all.
Using and profiting off Katie Fisher’s name and likeness, but then whitewashing her story, is to miss the point completely. She is a historical, powerful figure because of what she did and how she did it. She saved herself by selling herself. If you don’t want to mention prostitution, don’t name your product after a prostitute. I know that seems obvious, but apparently not. There is not a whisper of Kate’s profession on the website. Instead, we get a cut and paste job; barfed up, tangential feminism. If the whiskey was called Jesse James, would they have omitted the fact that he was a bank robber? Surely, we don’t want to celebrate armed robbery. I guess, maybe, they’d just focus on the fact that he wore cowboy clothes and rode a horse.
“Hello Boys. A message to Jim, Jack, Johnnie, Evan, George, Elijah, and all the other cowboys dominating the whiskey business: make some room, fellas. Big Nose Kate is here. It is her time. Deal me in.” This is the quote on the website, next to a portrait of Kate.
Cringe. Jim Beam? Beam Suntory has dozens of high-level executive women, and they give their employees six months of paid maternity leave. Jack Daniels just named Lexie Phillips as their first woman Assistant Distiller. Fawn Weaver became an overnight legend when she spread the story honoring the enslaved man who taught Jack Daniels how to distill. Johnnie Walker just appointed their first ever woman master blender, Dr. Emma Watson. George Dickel’s tributary Cascade Hollow Distilling’s general manager and distiller is Nicole Austin, who, among her many other talents, is a woman. There are just as many women “dominating” whiskey as there are men. I’m sick to death of people acting like women in whiskey is a brand-new thing. Big Nose Kate is the whiskey equivalent to the all-women reboot of Ghostbusters.
Big Nose Kate Western Whiskey – Review
Color: Ruddy watered-down Coke color.
On the nose: So, Kate was nicknamed Big Nose Kate because apparently she stuck her nose in other people’s business. So they wanted the whiskey to have a “big nose,” and all the language in the tasting note reviews says it does, but it does not. It has an average nose. I couldn’t find anything but honey, vanilla, bubblegum– all the usual suspects, except I did pick up some Purple Glue Stick, which was faint and pleasant by association. It has the totally friendly and inoffensive standard faire nose that mostly all American whiskies have.
In the mouth: Just fine. Dull. It has the orange, caramel, walnut, nutmeg that most whiskies have. Play-Do. Big Red Gum. Unremarkable, approachable, just fine. Perfect for anyone who doesn’t know or care.
Cynically, it doesn’t matter what is in the bottle. BNK won’t lose a single sale because of the opinion of one cranky twerp. Big Nose Kate doesn’t need to be exquisite, with layers and layers of nuance and deceptive noses and surprising finishes. They don’t need high scores from reviewers. Their label/bottle/concept is eye-catching, people will be drawn to it. It’s buzzy, and good for them! Some of the best-selling whiskey globally is straight up bad, in my opinion. Jack Daniels tastes like a banana peel dipped in nail polish remover, Maker’s Mark tastes like sunblock, Jameson tastes like the last sip of a can of Bud Light that’s been sitting open in a trunk since your last tailgate. Big Nose Kate is better than the aforementioned.
Bottle photo courtesy of Big Nose Kate, who also provided the sample. As should be obvious, this didn’t impact our notes or score.
Reading your article, I was reminded of another US distillery, Yellow Rose of Houston Texas, named after a Texan heroine during the Civil War, though debatable whether she really existed. Unlike Big Nose Kate though, Yellow Rose Distillery didn’t go on and on about any possible connection to the historical figure, just truthfully mention that they based their name off of her.
I know every new distillery probably needs a new angle in order to market themselves to stand out but I agree with you, sometimes it can be overdone.
Uncle Nearest was another brand that I was skeptical about at the start, due to its heavy marketing on being black-owned and based on a famous historical figure. It wasn’t until a couple of bourbon guys (whose taste I trust) highly recommended them, that I start to hunt some of their bottles down for myself.
Yellow Rose Rye was the second worst rye I’ve had (Koval was the worst, if you were wondering).
I keep on hearing good things about Uncle Nearest and really should try it for myself as I, like you, was a little sceptical (and €70 was a little outside my comfort zone for bourbon).
I don’t always mind a little bit of marketing and I definitely will buy a whisky because it has a nice bottle, but sometimes it goes too far for me. All the waffle on a bottle of Mortlach 12 nearly put me off what I find to be a perfectly decent dram.
Just as a counterbalance, Koval is the best rye I’ve ever had (of an admittedly limited collection).
To be fair, my wife did by me a second bottle of Koval Rye as a birthday present (she didn’t think I’d had it) and that bottle was better, so it could just have been a bad batch.
I think the best ryes I have had are High West Double Rye and Catoctin Creek if that explains anything.
After reading the review, I couldn’t help but wonder how much the low score was a result of reading the “whitewashed” story on the distilleries website. Like food, we eat with our eyes first. If something looks questionable or disgusting you’ve already set yourself up for disappointment. I’m not sure which you did first, read or taste. But tasting the product first would be more helpful and less biased. I bought a bottle and thought it was very good. I don’t need to read the content on a website. As long as they are somewhat transparent, and doing nothing illegal who cares.
Hi Joe! We taste with our eyes first? Thanks for telling me, I didn’t know that.
Did you read the part where I said the label and marketing was magnificent and I reflexively wanted to support the woman distiller? I drank the entire bottle over the course of 2 months. I took my time with it. With every review, I sip at different points of the day for several weeks, adding drops of water, seeing what opens up or changes as I get deeper into the bottle. I wanted to find something more exciting, but I did not. I found it just fine. Which I said. I also poured it blind for a Drammers club event that I hosted. Some of the best palates and minds in whisky were in attendance. They concurred it was flat, mild, run of the mill. Preferences vary! I’m happy you liked it. I love that for you.
I didn’t deep dive the website/social media/press until the night before my article was due. But thanks for suggesting that I could be so negatively influenced by a bottle that I forget all of my tasting training and experience.
Also, why is “whitewashed” in quotes? Do you know what it means? It means to conceal unpleasant facts. They have a famous prostitute on the label, and in all their PR, it’s never mentioned. That’s literally the definition of white washing.
“I dont need to read the content on their website. As long as they are somewhat transparent and not doing anything illegal, who cares?” I’m so happy to hear this. You don’t need to dig deeper by reading and researching all of a product’s content available. I know you don’t, Joe. I can tell.
We (my wife and I) just finished the bottle we ordered. As whiskey lovers we like to buy three or four new brands each month, try them over the course of a week or two in cocktails, on the rocks and neat. When we finish the bottle we both jot down our score and comments. Once we finish a bottle, I then like to go check my opinion against reviews I can find on the web….thus I arrived on your review. I typically don’t comment on reviews but after reading you kill this brand and your response to the comment from Joe, I wanted to pass along my thoughts and ask a couple questions.
First the whiskey- My wife and I found this whiskey unique and versatile. As a blended American whiskey I feel it brings something to the market that’s different than all the bourbons, ryes and barrel finishes that are being pumped out of regioanl craft distilleries these dats. Its mixes well in numerous cocktail recipes and when served neat or on the rocks you definitely pick up the “malt” in the blend on the nose and your first sips. I agree with you in that the whiskey does not have a “Big Nose” as claimed, but contend that is a home-run marketing claim. Also at $38 bucks this whiskey outperforms hundreds of other releases that cost $15-$30 more. I think you are spot on regarding the color & “big nose”, but on taste we disagree. I enjoyed the versatility, balance of the flavors, mild burn and really like that they didn’t release just another bourbon.
As for the rest of your review on Big Nose Kate Whiskey and her story I will leave you with two comments and two questions ;
Comment #1: Thank you for the additional facts and history lesson on this amazing woman’s story. I am going to dig in deeper to who she is even more now than the brand intrigued us to
Comment #2: I agree with Joe from the above comments in that I cant help but wonder if your personal opinions and views may have spilled over into the whiskey review and score. You really take some shots in the article. Perhaps some of your personal opinions around the cultural issues of “sex-work” and female representation in the whiskey business and its marketing to drinkers bled over into your review of the brand? My wife asked “did she have a bad day when she wrote this? what a takedown piece. ghostbusters” after reading the article. I am looking forward to your response to this comment as it was the tone in your response to Joes comments that got me to weigh in on your review. Let me have it!
That leads me to my two questions :
Question #1 : Did you interview anyone from Big Nose Kate Whiskey prior to your review? Or after? Curious if we know what whiskeys make up the blend and how they talk about the brand and story
Question #2 : I happened to poke over the Big Nose Kate website while writing this and saw a reference to Kate as a “sporting gal” and “madame”. Did you have them change it after speaking with them?
Thanks for providing me some Saturday night entertainment. I enjoyed learning from your article about Kate and getting sparked to share my opinion with you. I look forward to reading through your other reviews and comparing notes on bottles we’ve tasted.