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.

Conclusions:

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.

Score: 3/10

Bottle photo courtesy of Big Nose Kate, who also provided the sample. As should be obvious, this didn’t impact our notes or score.

CategoriesAmerican
  1. KC says:

    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.

    1. Paul Hercberg says:

      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.

        1. Paul Hercberg says:

          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.

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