‘The Good Stuff’ of Bootleggers

By Clifton M. Thuma

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Alfonse Kerkhoff, founder of Templeton Rye

When you think of the Roaring ’20s and Prohibition, you think of ‘bathtub gin,’ gangsters and bootleggers paddling ashore with crates of booze. Some of that hootch was not very good. But when 
Templeton Rye began being distilled in a small Iowa town of the same name, it was so smooth and rich that it found its way to Chicago and into the hands of one very influential mobster.

“Uncle Al’s [Capone] favorite whiskey was ‘The Good Stuff’ from Iowa – Templeton Rye. He snuck me my first taste of it when I was 15 at one of our weekly Sunday family dinners at Aunt Theresa’s house,” said Deirdre Marie Capone, grandniece of Al Capone and author of My Uncle Al (see the exclusive interview with Deirdre on page 71 of our Fall 2014 issue).

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A hollowed tombstone in which Templeton residents once hid their whiskey during Prohibition

“During Prohibition, work was hard to come by in Templeton, so my dad Alfonse Kerkhoff and other farmers started cooking rye whiskey,” said Meryl Kerkhoff in a narrative he recorded about the history of the company (he has since passed away, leaving the recipe to his son Keith). “Pretty soon, everyone was clamoring for a jug of ‘The Good Stuff.’ As a sign for folks that a batch was ready, we’d tie our white horse Babe in the front of our home. To hide it from the Feds, people would stash the whiskey in places around town, like in hollowed out monuments in the cemetery (see photo below). When Al Capone got a taste of Templeton Rye, he bootlegged hundreds of barrels a month to New York, 
Chicago and San Francisco. Legend has it that he even had a case smuggled into Alcatraz. After Prohibition, my Dad made Templeton Rye for friends, and when he died, he passed the recipe on to me.”

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Oak barrels of Templeton aged for at least four years.

Templeton Rye today
South Florida Opulence spoke with the 
Kerkhoff family’s business partner Scott Bush. “As a kid growing up, I would hear stories about backwoods stills making rye whiskey here in Templeton,” he said. “Back then, the stuff developed quite a reputation. So, when I got older, I asked around about it.”

It took a little prompting to get his grandfather’s friends to discuss it (after all, it was once illegal stuff). That led Bush to the Kerkhoff family, who still had the recipe. They wanted to revive the making of 
Templeton Rye Whiskey.

Bush and Keith Kerkhoff  distilled a new batch of Templeton Rye. “By law, you have to age the distillate for four years in charred new oak barrels.”  The first samples were encouraging. “Everybody says Templeton is very smooth, especially for a rye whiskey. We’re very selective about the rye we use.”  That may explain the very high scores by tasters and winning a 2008 spirits competition in Los Angeles.  “We are now producing the batch for use in 2019, and we’re selling ‘The Good Stuff’ we made in 2009.

“Bartenders love Templeton Rye because it can stand up to all the things they like 
to add — syrups, bitters, fruit and such,” Bush said.  “For me, I just like to pour a shot in a glass, put an ice cube in for 10 seconds and then drink it neat.”  Bush said there are even some fans of ‘The Good Stuff’ who take the round heavy glass bottle and cut off the bottom three inches. It makes a pretty good glass.

Rye’s Not Just For Drinking
The distillery now takes its spent mash (what’s left over after you make the liquid to be distilled) and feeds it to a herd of pedigree Duroc pigs. Templeton coordinates with restaurants around the country to serve their specially fed pigs at featured ‘Templeton Dinners.’ Not even Mr. Capone got to try that.

To find Templeton Rye, go to templetonrye.com or infiniumspirits.com.
Rye whiskey enthusiasts can also sign up for the Bootleggers Society at bootleggerssociety.com.

‘The Good Stuff’ of Bootleggers