This is a love story — between a man and the great-grandfather he never met — and also a business start-up, inspired by the great-grandfather. The old man was John Francis McCann, who was born in Scranton in 1893, the son of immigrants from Armagh County, Ireland.
McCann's kin fled to America to escape the potato famine in the mid-1800s that starved Ireland. Almost a million others boarded vessels so dangerous they were called "coffin ships."
When they arrived, Irish immigrants occupied the bottom rung of society, says the great-grandson, Jason Fogg, 38, who has worked in the liquor business for years.
His great-grandfather "was born seven years after the Molly Maguires were executed. He went to work in the mines, he saw that there was not a future for him," says Fogg. The Molly Maguires were Irish who fought, sometimes violently, for workers' rights.
"He moved to Philadelphia and was basically homeless, living at a YMCA," says Fogg, but his great-grandfather's luck was about to change.
He met Anna Hughes at an "olde Irish dance" on Front Street, says Fogg. They married, settled in Kensington, and planted the family tree in Philadelphia.
The great-grandfather, known as Pops McCann, died long before Fogg was born. I asked how he knew so much about him.
"I heard the passed-down stories from my mother and from the rest of the family," says Fogg, who grew up in Juniata Park. He now lives in Plymouth Meeting with his wife, Kim, and sons Jase, 5, and Ryan, 2; and daughter, Brooke, 1.
Having spent several years selling other people's liquor, last year Fogg decided to sell his own, and he also wanted to honor Pops, who had returned to Europe as a Doughboy in World War I.
"I wanted to do a historical product, about me and all our ancestors, to tell the tales of the American Irish and their struggles," says Fogg, who bears a physical resemblance to his great-grandfather.
The label of Pop's McCann Whiskey uses an apostrophe for branding purposes, Fogg says, along with a picture of McCann in his Army uniform.
The history is on the back label: "For all those who crossed the Atlantic Ocean in a packed wooden boat, sick, starving & looking for a new life in the new land. For all those who didn't make it. For all those that experienced many hardships & had to fight."
Fogg is a Widener University grad with a degree in business marketing. His startup was something we all can understand — alcohol: Pop's McCann Whiskey, which he says is made from "a pre-Prohibition special recipe" and is "triple distilled, single grain Irish whiskey finished in American bourbon barrels."
The whiskey is made in Dundalk, County Louth, Ireland, at a distillery owned by Irish millionaire and entrepreneur John Teeling, whom Fogg met through a mutual friend.
It is shipped "in vats, called totes, from Ireland to Michigan," says Fogg. That's where it is bottled, labeled, and shipped across America.
He started the brand last summer and got it into Pennsylvania's State Stores a while back, and it went statewide in New Jersey last month.