Monday, June 1, 2015

Blood Oath Pact 1 - Luxco Makes A Luxury Vatting. Marketing Hype or Innovation?

Luxco, the aggregator and NDP bottler of the great defunct Bourbon brands Rebel Yell, Yellowstone, and Ezra Brooks, has a new brand, a possibly interesting vatting of rye and wheat mash Bourbons.  But the wooden box and comic-book dramatic name "Blood Oath" make the brand sound like a Disney ride. Apparently the releases of Blood Oath are designated by "Pact" number.  This first batch is "Pact No. 1".  But the "pact" itself is a promise on the label that "this rare whiskey shall never again be made".  But the real story is the signature on the bottom of the front label:  "John Rempe".  Rempe is a flavors wiz for Luxco.  He works with Bourbon, but he works with flavored vodka too.  As an interview with "Sauce" magazine put it:

"At local spirits producer Luxco, someone has to formulate the flavors for Pearl vodka and the other 100-plus alcoholic beverages in its portfolio. For the last 16 years, concocting flavors has been the job of John Rempe, Luxco’s director of corporate research and development, otherwise known as “the mad scientist.

How popular is flavored alcohol?
Ten years ago, you didn’t see anything on the shelf in terms of all the different flavors. Now’s it’s just exploded. The main one I’m focused on now is Pearl. We’ve got 19 different flavors. Other than that, it’s flavored whiskies. There’s cherry, honey. Cocktails are starting to come back, ready to drink – just open and pour.

How many flavors are in your lab?
Several hundred. I’m constantly updating my library of flavors and extracts.


http://www.saucemagazine.com/blog/?p=38147#sthash.fRCo4qzr.dpuf

(emphasis my own).

Yes, he talked about flavored whiskies in the same breath as flavored vodka. This is his baby and Luxco is emphasizing his prowess with flavors.  I'm wondering, will he vat Bourbon the way he designs whipped cream vodka or cherry Bourbon?  In Bourbon & Banter's video from their post announcing the launch of the brand, Rempe talks corporate marketing-ese while cool jazz plays in the background.  ..."in bringing this product to market our particular goal was to bring an innovative and unique tasting experience and bourbon experience to the bourbon connoisseur."  Later he tells us that the product is designed to deliver "what the Bourbon connoisseur is looking for".   He explicitly says that NDPs have an advantage because they are not "tied down" to a spirit that they are producing".  It's hard not to wonder whether he considers Blood Oath a flavor blending exercise like he does making Honey Bourbon or Cucumber flavored vodka.


Rempe does convey some useful information in the video.  We learn that Blood Oath is a vatting of three Bourbons with two different flavor grain mashes (and that's the extent of the information we are given):  a  7 yo rye mash bourbon, a 12 year old rye based Bourbon, and a 6 year old wheat based bourbon.  Bottled at 98.6 proof.  Yes - the proof is the temperature of blood.  Is it just me, or is that a tad theatrical?  At least it's a relatively high number.

My impression of all this branding stuff is to feel manipulated.  I don't buy into the "pirate" or "old west" visual theme of the label.  I'm not too romanced by John Rempe talking about hitting a flavor profile for "the Bourbon connoisseur".  In the video they refer to Blood Oath as a "super premium" Bourbon.  All the fancy packaging certainly implies a marketing positioning of the contents as "super premium".  But what little we know about the contents doesn't particularly imply super-premium: that the wheat mash bill is 6 year old stocks from somewhere (almost certainly Heaven Hill - in the form of Rebel Yell Reserve) and some 7 and 12 year old rye flavor-mashed Bourbons (Luxco currently sell a 12 year old single barrel expression of Ezra Brooks sourced from Heaven Hill for $36)   None of that sounds like something worth $80.  I get the feeling that there's an attempt to get with the Bourbon mania and try to tap into the raging market for cult Bourbons, like Buffalo Trace inspires with the BTAC or Heaven Hill does with the Parker Heritage Collection.  But there is a vatting story that might be interesting.  OK, so throw down - let's get to tasting.  All this talk about branding - and either liking the story or not liking the story ultimately doesn't mean a thing if the whiskey isn't good and doesn't seem a reasonable value.  The angle here is clearly the vatting.  Is it delicious?

The fancy presentation box sent to reviewers.
Consumers get a nice box too, but no booklet or Glencairn

Blood Oath Pact 1 49.3% abv. 98.6 proof.

Color: coppery orange.

Nose: vanilla, honey, charred oak, musk,   daisies and marigold flowers.

Sweet on opening.  Fruity candy - juicyfruit. Honey, wine gums.  Citrus compote.  Candied orange rind.  Chocolate, then oak tannin.

A drop of water adds sweetness.  Vanilla buttercream on top of the honeyed entry.  The body becomes a little thicker.  The expansion tingles with some blond tobacco.  Prickly heat with white pepper spice.  The finish is medium long with oak char and tannin bitters.

****

It's an interesting vatting alright.  It hits the juicyfruit flavors I like so much in some mid-century dusty Bourbons, but with some freshness and intensity.  I poured this for Steve Zeller, the Smokey Beast.  Steve like it.  Heck, I'm giving it 4 stars - I like it too.  It's a little too sweet and open and sunny and fresh to feel like a Bourbon I'd spend a lot of money for.  Bourbons that get big bucks, like mid-aged Willett's, Parker Heritage, BTAC, EH Taylor, have darker richer flavor profiles and are bottled at higher proof.  But, that said, the flavors here are certainly good and this is an enjoyable pour, even if the comic book branding stuff isn't to your taste.  But even if it is, you still need to ask yourself whether it's a good value and, in my opinion at $89.99 retail the answer has to be "no".  There are good store picks of Four Roses Single Barrel (with the shiny gold labels bottled at barrel proof) available for $55-$70.  There are High West rye based vattings with serious appeal for less.  Although the particulars of this Bourbon vatting are a bit different from what's on the market right now, 4 grain vattings aren't totally unique, and this isn't uniquely good at its price level.  But the whiskey itself is a perfectly nice pour.  I'd just be happier about it if it were sold in a regular bottle at a more moderate price and without the limited edition story.  If this is pretty much a vatting of some older barrels of Rebel Yell reserve, Ezra B., and Ezra Brooks black then it could well be a regular expression at a much more moderate price indeed.  Are we paying a premium price for some hardware and some fancy printing?  That's not really something I'd like to encourage.  But with the Bourbon boom in full swing none of this may matter if enthusiasts snap it all up.

Disclosure: this review was based on a full bottle I received from the PR firm Common Ground (thanks, Pia).
Presentation box cover.


Saturday, May 30, 2015

The Water of Life Event: a fund raising effort that produced magic

Matthew Lurin hosts The Water Of Life event.

May 6th saw the birth of a new kind of whisky event: one with a both a moral purpose and a different format that lends itself to deeper tasting.  Matthew Lurin is a well-known whisky enthusiast and doctor in New York.  His stepfather struggles with a rare form of cancer called "Gastro Intestinal Stromal Tumors" (GIST).  Matt conceived of a whisky tasting event as a fund raiser for The Life Raft Group which supports research on GIST and supports patients.  It's a good cause and, as a fund raiser, the cost of admission is tax deductible.  The whisky community is generous, and many people donated excellent whiskies and other prizes for a raffle at the culmination of the event.  A critical mass of the North-East's whisky community attended and the selection of spirits being poured was superb.  But there was something more to it.

Lurin chose a great venue for the event: the Battery Gardens restaurant in Battery Park at the foot of Manhattan.  The views were excellent and the sunset was glorious.  A terrace allowed the holders of VIP tickets to enjoy cigars with some special whisky selections.  (Matt Morrissey provided Villager Elite cigars.  And special drams were provided by Raj Sabharwal of Purple Valley Imports and also by Compass Box.

Jennifer Wren shares news she is now
a brand ambassador for Glenfiddich
But what ended up being the most significant thing about the evening, for me, was that the format was conducive to close focused whisky dramming sessions with high quality experiences.  The structure of sitting down in a small group of people at a table with the whisky brand ambassador and having what feels like a one on one personal dram session feels more intimate and conveys more information, which simultaneously feeling more relaxed and convivial.  It's more like having a drink with a friend, which is very much what this event was all about.  The structure of the evening has you cruising in a tight formation with a group of fellow drinkers through a series of tables.  The people at this show included a fabulous group of whisky people who are friends of mine and I was very fortunate to do the show with a great group of human beings, particularly Malt Maniac Peter Silver, The Malt Impostor, and Jennifer Wren, the whisky event instigator known as Whersky .  Jennifer, by the way, had just learned that she had landed the job of repping Glenfiddich for the NorthWest - living her dream and moving to the spirits world professionally.  She was bursting with happiness about it and between her beauty, grace, amazing palate and love of the whisky, was an exhilarating drinking partner.  Later, there was ample opportunity to break from the group for dinner and terrace time.  The cigars were terrific and the company was fantastic.  There was a very special energy, with people really engaged and upbeat.

Robin Robinson poured Compass Box, but more than that, he shared his love and enthusiasm for the spirit.
It sounds like such a simple and small thing, sitting down with the brand ambassador rather than just standing at the table, but it turned out to be much more than that.  In the normal whisky show format people mob the tables and the people pouring are racing to fill the extended glencairns and rushing to give a basic orientation spiel over and over.  With the the "speed dating" format of The Water of Life Event there are no mobs and you have a solid piece of time in a small tight group at each table so you can relax and get the full attention of the rep and the people you're with.  It's civilized and more relaxed.  It fosters real conversations and more careful tasting.  It actually made an unexpectedly huge difference.  I'm going to post a bunch of pictures so you can get the feeling.

The Malt Impostor and Jennifer Wren
The Malt Impostor posted a review of this event here:
http://maltimpostor.com/2015/05/1st-annual-water-of-life-charity-whisky-event-in-nyc-2015/

Steph Ridgeway pops up a surprise - a taste of Odin.

Can you tell that Steph Ridgeway loves what she does?
Raj Sabharwal of Purple Valley on the VIP balcony with Glenglassaugh 43.
Raj also had this on the VIP balcony
Elana Effrat of Vintry

Sallie Dorsett  
Craig Bridger of Macallan pours the good stuff
Susanna Skiver Barton noses Glenglassaugh 43
David Bailey of Compass Box and Timothy Malia
Our host, Matthew Lurin on the balcony
The sunset on the balcony was lovely.

David Laird of Balvenie did a chocolate whisky pairing
There were so many highlights.  One of them was definitely David Laird's brilliant presentation of Balvenie 12 Doublewood, Caribbean Cask 14, and Single Barrel 15 paired with excellent chocolate from Green and Black.  As a special encore, he also poured 21 Portwood.  It was an amazing treat and the pairings were brilliant.


Balblair's pours were spectacular.
There was fantastic food and terrific dessert.  At the end of the event there was the raffle drawing.  The tickets were expensive - but the event was for charity after all - and the percentage of winners was unusually high given the large number of donated prizes that the charity format inspired.

Full disclosure: Josh Feldman totally scored this awesome
Mark Gillespie original photo print in the raffle.

The Brandy Library was there - warm and wonderful.

Josh Hatton in his new position repping Impex Imports.


Peter Silver and I enjoying An Cnoc - photo courtesy of Ellie of nycwhisky.com
Matthew Lurin was clear that this was the First Annual Water of Life Event.  He intends this to happen again and again and wants it to grow.  Given how amazing it was, I hope he succeeds.  The mix of attributes - the tax deductible nature of the costs and donated raffle prizes, the excellent and relaxed format, the wonderful group of whisky enthusiasts, the superb venue, and the top flight food, cigars, views, and environment makes this an absolutely premier event.  I recommend it highly.  Watch for it next year.  It's not to be missed.  Bravo, Matthew Lurin.  What a wonderful way to foster community, love of whisky, and also to give something back to help those with GIST and help find a cure.

Keep track of The Water of Life Event on their web site:
...and their Facebook group:

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Brenne 10 - Taking It To Another Level


Brenne, the single malt whisky brand from Cognac, is preparing to release a 10 year old limited edition expression this Fall.  This is exciting news to people who have been seduced by the ineffable combination of creamy fruity flavors and silky mouth feel of Brenne Estate (a single cask bottling that is 7, and sometimes 8 years old).  It's also intriguing news to those who have wondered what Brenne would taste like at higher proof and with more oak.  How will additional maturation affect the flavors? (I have some answers later on.  And if you aren't familiar with Brenne, I have some links at the bottom of this post.)

Brenne's stills.
Brenne is all about the terroir of Cognac.  It is distilled from a mash of Vanessa and Prestige barley strains grown on the same estate where it is distilled, plus local Charente River water, and the same yeast strains used for the estate's Cognac.  It is double distilled in charantais alembic stills normally used for Cognac and then matured with an interesting wood management scheme that starts with half a decade in virgin French oak and then finishes for a couple of years in ex-Cognac casks.  That wood management story is, as it turns out, something else that is unique about Brenne 10 beyond just the maturation.  Instead of being a single cask product, it is a vatting of casks with a varied wood management program, including ones that have spent the full ten years in virgin oak and ex-Cognac casks.
Allison Patel nosing Brenne new make.

Allison Patel, Brenne's creator, is a personal friend of mine.  Over the years she had mentioned that she was holding stocks back to make a ten year old expression - but had wanted to keep things confidential until she could get all the details arranged.  Secrets aren't easily kept in the whisky world, however.  There have been rumors of this release for months.  Steve Ury of skusrecenteats blog keeps tabs on the COLA label announcements on the TTB's web site and he tweeted out Brenne 10's label application back on April 4th:

Brenne 10 label from the TTB COLA form back in April.

A couple of weeks ago Brenne's Facebook fan page released a couple of photographs of Allison picking color swatches and working on the bottle's design.  Those (plus a few more from the Brenne FB page and some she e-mailed me are the photos you see here.  All of them, minus the COLA form, are courtesy of Allison Patel.) 

The story of how this 10 year old expression came to be is a testament to Allison's foresight and perfectionism.  Demand for Brenne has run high and she could easily have sold every drop she had.  But she deliberately held back stocks in both cask types to understand how each kind of wood affects the spirit over time.  She did so because she's a whisky geek (bless her heart).  She's also a genius at branding and releasing a higher end expression a couple of years in builds excitement and provides fresh exposure.

I asked Allison a few questions about it and her responses are illuminating:

Q: Normally Brenne is aged for 5 years in unused toasted french oak casks and then finished for 2 years in ex-Cognac casks. Is the 10 aged 5 years in new and 5 years in ex-Cognac?
A: "This first release (the 2015 bottling) of Brenne Ten - the 2nd product in my French Single Malt brand - is a blend of 4 barrels of Brenne. I'm using a combination of virgin French Oak and ex-Cognac casks as I've done for Brenne Estate Cask but choosing this time to have some that have been in both barrels and others that are exclusively aged in either the virgin French Oak or the Cognac barrel for the full 10 years."

Allison Patel working on the label and box for Brenne 10


Q: Did you specially select the casks that became 10 early on? What criteria did you use in cask selection for the 10?

A: "When I first met my distiller, a majority of the whisky he had been making prior to our introduction had been laid down in virgin french oak (the oldest of these barrels being 4 years old at the time, when they came up to 5 years old, I started moving some of them into the Cognac barrels which have now been released at 7-8 yrs old in the Brenne Estate Cask line). There were a few barrels at that time that had been aging exclusively in Cognac barrels (not started in the virgin French oak). To be able to study the barreling effects on his (and now our) distillate, I wanted to keep those aside as well as age further some of the all-virgin Limousin oak barrels AND the double barreled juice once we had that going too. Every year since I've kept an assortment of barrels aside. So, when I was playing around with the idea of releasing some of the oldest ones in a 10yr old expression, it was exciting to my palate to use a combination of these barrels a blend them together (versus doing single cask releases like Brenne Estate Cask) to showcase the typical profile of Brenne in much a richer & balanced way. "

A darker shade of blue.
"The fun continued when it came time to choosing the proof at which I wanted to bottle the Brenne Ten. At cask-strength, it's totally awesome but you loose too much of the subtleties of the fruit and floral notes. At 40% abv I found Brenne Ten to be far too weak. So I played around in the 45% abv - 55% abv range and settled on 48% abv, experiencing that this gave the whisky's characteristics just the right platform upon which to really shine."

Q: Will the 10 become a regular (limited) expression or is it a one time thing?
A: Yes, the goal of Brenne Ten is to release it in limited quantities annually. Since the initial release is so small (just 290 cases), I predict it won't be something that stays on the shelf a long time but I hope there is enough that those who want it are able to get it. While I have this year launched Brenne in France (through Les Whiskies du Monde), Brenne Ten will be something exclusive to the USA this first year.


Allison had a small sample of a pre-release batch of Brenne 10 at Whisky Live in April.  This is the stuff that she used to develop the expression.  It's a half year or so younger than the final released version will be, but it shows her thinking and what the product, in the main, will taste like.  She was nice enough to provide a bit of it to me.  Peter Silver and I tasted it shortly thereafter and tasting notes follow.  Because all of the branding prowess and great story doesn't mean a whole lot if the whisky isn't good.

Brenne 10 - Prebatch 1 (aged 9 1/2 years) - 48% abv 


Color: Gold

Nose:  richly floral (magnolia and lily), fresh cream, and citrus buttercream confectionery filling.  Undercurrents of musk, canola, and oak.  The oak is light and refined - like fresh sawn yard aged oak.

Palate: Really big ripe banana amid floral sweetness on the opening.  Spiciness like cloves tingle  on the expansion.  Then sweetness and waxing apricot cream on the mid palate which blooms with toasted oak and some incense complexity and filigree.  The turn has a moment of musk melded with apricot and cream.  The finish is medium long on apricot banana with oak tannin with some herbal bitters and pumpkin seeds.

My dominant impression is the massive banana on the opening.  I should make it clear that this sample is from Allison's initial development of the product.  It's at least half a year younger than the released product will be.  But still, this answers the question of whether extra maturation will amp up the esterification already rampant in Brenne.  The answer is "yes",  This already effusively estery fruity whisky has become even more intensely so with additional years in the wood.  At higher proof  and with this extra time there is more intensity and richer flavor with the 10 than the regular expression, which is most welcome in my book.  This is Brenne on steroids.  It's more everything.  Like a trip from Angoulême to Cognac on the back roads, this whisky breathes the air, soil, and water of a magical place.

FYI: Brenne Ten is scheduled for release in the Fall of 2015 via Classic Imports (http://www.classic-imports.com/Classic-imports.aspx). It will retail in the $100-$120 range.

Other posts about Brenne:


The story of the "Last Call" cocktail which marries Brenne and Sorel:
http://www.cooperedtot.com/2013/12/sorel-and-brenne-odd-and-compelling.html
The first rumor of Brenne:
"One of her current projects is the development of an exciting new single malt world whisky expression called Brenne. It promises to be a significant new spirit: Cognac's first single malt."
http://www.cooperedtot.com/2012/07/tasting-special-unreleased-casks-of.html

A great review of Brenne on Sean Fousheé's WhiskyMarks:

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Old Forester and Old Taylor: New Versus Old. A Historically Inflected Tasting.

Photo courtesy of Xavier Wine Co.
What makes a Bourbon great?  Corn's sweetness melded to the smoky richness of charred oak with the glorious maillard sugars of cooked oak's red line and some herbal bite of rye grain, and oak tannin.  It's the combination of mash, distillation, oak, and time.  All Bourbons, by law, have these things (although the flavoring grain can vary).  But some are extraordinary and some are less compelling.  Why?  Fascinatingly we see some brands achieve greatness and then slip over time.  Others up their game.  Part of the story is that American whiskey brands exist independently from particular distilleries.  Some brands get sold to new owners who shift production to new distilleries and new mash bills and have little in common, as time passes, with what they once were.  In fact, that's pretty much the norm for most whiskey brands, no matter what the marketing says.  But it seldom jumps out at you like when you taste new and old expressions head to head.

Josh Feldman and Steve Zeller 
Photo by Dana Weisberg Zeller
A couple of weeks ago I had the great pleasure of doing a public tasting that did just that with Steve Zeller of The Smoky Beast at a new liquor store called the Xavier Wine Company, a fine emerging establishment down in Manhattan's slick Meat Packing District.  Jim Parisi of Xavier Wine welcomed us with open arms to a wonderful event space in the basement, around a single enormous table built from a gigantic slab of a single tree.  Steve and I had structured the tasting to compare old and new expressions of two Bourbon brands that are deeply connected with the history of Bourbon itself:  Old Forester and Old Taylor.  Steve and I have great chemistry.  We love to drink together and geek out together.  Steve has tasted more widely of American whiskey than I have and is a great presenter.  Personally, I like to tell a long detailed history - but in a structured tasting you need to rein it in and let people drink.  Ha ha!  I'm completely joking!  I talked everyone's ears off and here's the gist of what I said and what it all tasted like:

FYI - Steve Zeller has already blogged about this tasting on his excellent blog:  The Smoky Beast:
http://smokybeast.blogspot.com/2015/03/bourbon-past-vs-present-tasting-at.html




Old Forester was the original Bourbon brand sold exclusively in sealed bottles. The branding story emphasizes continuity of family ownership of Brown Forman corporation and fidelity to the original expression.

George Garvin Brown (1846-1917) joined his half brother John Thompson Street Brown Jr. (J.T.S. Brown) who had started a wholesale whiskey business on Whiskey Row, Main Street, Louisville in 1870.  They bought in bulk from J.M. Atherton Distillery and Mellwood Distillery and BF Mattingly Distillery. Blended and sold under brand names like “Sidros Bourbon”, “Atherton…” “Mellwood Bourbon” sold by the barrel. Other brands included “Larue’s Best” “Widow McBee”, “Diamond Bluff”, “Beech Fork”, “Fox Mountain”, Old Forman” “Golden Age”, “Major Paul” etc… But barrels were often adulterated and/or diluted. To counter this G. G. Brown decided to bottle the whiskey with the brand “Old Forrester”. Named for “Dr. William Forrester” a leading Louisville KY physician. (Michael Veach’s story - debunking the popular rumor of it being named for Cavalry General Nathan Bedford Forrest). The label was meant to look like a doctor’s prescription. So, right off the bat, Old Forester was what would today be called an "NDP" brand (whiskey bottled by a company that buys it bulk from other distilleries, which doesn't distill any whiskey of its own). We don't think of the brand that way because the situation soon changed.

In 1902 Brown Forman bought the Mattingly Distillery that had been their major supplier. 1907 they added St. Mary’s Distillery. In the 1920s, during Prohibition, Brown Forman bought the Early Times brand from S. L. Guthrie. Whiskey at the many rickhouses was moved to White Mill’s Distilling #414, located at Jefferson County 5th District, Louisville, as a concentration warehouse to bottled for medicinal purposes. The distillery was rebuilt in anticipation of Repeal - and was renamed "Brown-Forman Distillery" DSP #414. It produced the Old Forester brand from the end of WWII until 1980.
Distilled and bottled at DSP-KY-414
After that, production of Old Forester was moved to Early Times Distillery DSP #354 (originally called the Old Kentucky Distillery, it had been purchased by BF in 1953 and renamed Early Times). Shively, KY (suburb of Louisville)

By the way, in 1956 Brown Forman - purchased the Jack Daniels Distillery too. They have had some success with that brand as well.  

The family continuity angle is completely true. George Garvin Brown IV, great great grandson of George Garvin Brown, is chairman. In May 2015 his brother Campbell Brown (age 47) will take control.
So, from a modern dusty hunting angle, the big divide is around 1980 when production shifted from Brown Forman #414 to Early Times #354.

We tasted two expressions head to head: 2014 Old Forester Birthday Bourbon and Old Forester Bottled in Bond Fall 1973-Fall 1979:

Old Forester BiB Fall 1973-Fall 1979 (6 years old) 50% abv. DSP-KY-414

Color: Medium-dark amber

Nose: Dark malty sweet, pecan nutty, and complex sandalwood incense with dense oak filigree. Rich.

Palate: Big sweet opening, with dark brown malty rich flavors and a rich mouth feel. Maple and fig on the expansion, melded with big and complex oak, redolent of old furniture, leather, and char. The finish is long and lingering, back to nuts and figs and sandalwood incense with a fragrant herbal bitter aspect. Superb, memorable Bourbon, redolent of the dark, rich, sweet brown qualities that typify the best Bourbons of America's mid-20th century golden age.

*****

Old Forester Birthday Bourbon 2014 (distilled 2002 - 12 years old) 48.5% abv (97 Proof), DSP-KY-354

Color: Light amber.

Nose: Sweet caramel, pecans, malt, solvent, oak, char, and loam.

Palate: Sweet opening with toffee, and honey. The mouth feel is thin and hot. There is citrus, solvent and some yeast on expansion. Oak and bitters on the turn. A fairly short finish for a big Bourbon.
****

There's little comparison here. Despite being half the age in wood of the new stuff, the 1970s Old Forester BiB totally skins the new stuff. It's richer, thicker, more complex, and more satisfying. Why? Clearly there was something special going on at the Brown Forman Distillery #414 in the mid-century decades. That said, there is a nutty flavor in common. You have to linger over them, but the kinship is clearly detectable, even though they were made at different distilleries.

The second pairing was between Old Taylor produced by National Distillers and Colonel EH Taylor produced at Buffalo Trace. 


Old Taylor fits the theme of "Bourbon origins" because Edmund Haynes Taylor himself was one of the major 19th century early leaders of industrialized Bourbon production in Kentucky and is often credited with getting the Bottled In Bond act passed, which completed what the Brown brothers started in moving the market permanently away from selling Bourbon in barrels to selling it in sealed bottles with recognizable brand names.
E. H. Taylor (Edmund Haynes Taylor 1832-1922) was the grand nephew of Zachary Taylor. He was named for his father's wealthier and more successful brother, a banker, and he started working at his uncle's bank in Frankfort, KY, at age 19. In 1857 the bank closed and Taylor got into various schemes with an incorporated "E.H. Taylor and Company" started in 1858 including dealing cotton during the Civil War. After the war, Taylor provided financial backing for the Gaines, Berry, and Co. who built the Old Hermitage distillery and resurrected the Old Crow brand (after Dr. James C. Crow, the Scottish immigrant distiller who is popularly credited with the sour mash process no near universally used for making Bourbon, had died taking his recipe with him to the grave). Old Hermitage distillery was a success and post-war demand for Kentucky whiskey was high so Taylor assembled investors and started the O.F.C. Distillery in 1869.

Taylor wanted O.F.C to be a showpiece and he invested heavily in it. He also purchased the Carlisle Distillery, and then the Old Oscar Pepper distillery. Over production and then the run on the banks known as the Panic of 1875 forced Taylor into bankruptcy. Two of Taylor's major customers, August Labrot and the firm of Gregory and Stagg took over Taylor's distilleries.

EH Taylor's son, Jacob Swigert Taylor had purchased a distillery on Glenn's Creek in Woodford County in 1879 called James C. Johnson Distillery. He renamed it J. Swigert Taylor Distillery and sold it to his father in 1882. They renamed it E.H. Taylor, Jr. & Sons Distillery RD#53 - a name it bore until 1900 when it was henceforth known as Old Taylor Distillery. Taylor, as he had done with O.F.C. desired to make it a showpiece and invested heavily. Taylor built the distillery building known as "The Castle" by 1887 and created a new brand called "Old Taylor". It was a success.

EH Taylor was interested in politics and eventually held many posts including the Mayor of Frankfort, and a Representative in the Kentucky State government. Savvy in politics and an experienced hand in the whiskey business, he was influential in the passage of both the Bottled in Bond Act of 1897 and the related but much further reaching Pure Food Act 1906.

National Distillers Corporation (the rump of the Whiskey Trust, which had operated as "American Medicinal Spirits Corporation" during Prohibition) purchased the distillery in 1936 and production continued until 1982. In 1985 American Brands (Beam) purchased the distillery which was allowed to become a ruins, while the warehouses continued to be used. The Castle is currently being resurrected by independent investors Will Arvin and Wes Murray who bought the site and are investing $6 million into renovating it. Marianne Barnes, 28, formerly of Brown-Foreman, was just named first master distiller. .

Beam produced Old Taylor until 2009 when it was purchased by Sazerac Corporation as part of a deal involving Effen vodka. Old Taylor is still produced in Frankfort, KY, but now at Buffalo Trace.

That's quite a story. But we were drinking whiskey and we had the opportunity to taste a 1970s example of Old Taylor produced at The Castle head to head against one of the new high end boutique expressions of Colonel EH Taylor produced at Buffalo Trace - the Barrel Proof (the 64.5% edition - which isn't known necessarily as the best of them - but is, without a doubt an assault on the high end by Buffalo Trace - a distillery that knows about making high end Bourbon.)

Old Taylor 40% abv. 1970s 4/5th quart bottle, no UPC, castle on the label.


Color: Medium amber.

Nose: Toffee, vanilla, jelly candies, turkish delight with powdered sugar.

Palate: Earthy sweet on opening. Juicy compote of citrus and apple. Sweet creamery butter. Then fruity on the expansion with notes of jelly candies and cotton candy joined to earthy loam. There is a cardboard note at the height of the expansion - a kiss of bitterness. Then the fruity returns in the medium long finish.

***

Experience has taught me that the 80 proof Old Taylor is a shadow of the Bottled In Bond version. I'll put these to a head to head in an upcoming post. But as it stands, this was the weakest pour of the night.

Colonel EH Taylor Barrel Proof 64.5% abv


Color: Medium amber

Nose: Vanilla, linseed oil, herbal notes of cut corn stalk, musky loam, and lurking notes of charred oak.

Palate: Explosive bourbon goodness. Sweet and grassy on the first hit, rapidly expanding into a big expansion full of citrus zing, blond Virginia tobacco and clean new leather. The turn to the finish is marked by herbal notes of licorice and cilantro which I recognize as rye. The finish itself is fairly long and nutty with herbal bitters and toasted seeds and oak char.

*****

This was a totally unfair head to head pairing, pitting the lowest possible proof Bourbon against among the highest. But they are both young classic Bourbons and the palates are telling. The National Distillers OT of the 70s was fruity and candied - a classic flavor profile of the time. The new EH Taylor is a young Bourbon, but superbly crafted and a delicious pour. Totally different, but both successful and delicious to drink. The point here is that Bourbon's glory days are not in the past. The future of Bourbon remains bright - perhaps brighter than ever with plenty of demand, interest, and money stoking the production end of things to reach for the high end.

Jim Parisi is interested in having future events of this type at Xavier Wine Co.  Hopefully there will be many more and I'll see you there.
The great table at Xavier Wine's tasting room.  Photo by Jim Parisi

Sunday, March 15, 2015



Steve Zeller, the Smoky Beast and I present a historically interesting experience. Come and taste classic 1970s dusty Old Forester BiB from DSP-KY-414 and National Distillers Old Taylor against premium expressions of the current stuff: Old Forester Birthday Bourbon and the powerhouse EH Taylor Barrel Proof at Xavier Wine Co. down in the Meat Packing district. Tuesday March 24th.

Tickets (only 10 left) are available here: http://thepastpresentofbourbon.splashthat.com/

Sunday, March 8, 2015

The Ancient Metaphor of Alcohol as Female Sexuality

A female spirit as the source of the juice.
1940s Guillot Triple Sec poster
There is a deep symbolic connection between alcohol and femininity in art from ancient times until the current moment.  It stems from notions of a "cosmic feminine" that is both nurturing and erotic.  In modern advertising and art we see alcohol represented in two distinct ways: 1) as mother's milk emerging from glasses shaped like breasts, and 2) as a metaphor for sexual ecstasy.  Women appear as spirits in cocktail glasses.  Cocktail glasses show up as vaginas.  Beware.  Once seen it cannot be unseen.

Is all of this objectification of women?  You bet.  The very definition of sexual objectification is reducing human beings to sexual parts.  The fact that these tropes are ancient helps explain them but doesn't make it right.  The use of women's bodies - and body parts - to represent aspects of alcohol, nourishing, nurturing, inebriating, or ecstatic - is still ugly.

The beauty here for me is the unity of nurturing, sex, and alcohol.  It goes to the root of human agricultural civilization.  Humanity made a fundamental change in lifestyle in the fertile crescent of the Levant somewhere around the end of the last ice age.  A devil's bargain was made whereby people exchanged the freewheeling but precarious existence of nomadic hunting and gathering for a socially regimented dutiful life of agriculture.  Why would people do this?  With the hindsight of history we can see the advantages of plentiful food fueling social stratification with advances in science, religion, technology, statehood and authority with professional metal workers arming professional armies.  But in the moment of inception, early domesticated plants were indistinguishable from their wild ancestors.  Yields were poor.  Methods were rudimentary.  Enabling co-technologies like rodent resistant grain storage, the plow, baked leavened bread, etc... didn't yet exist.  Given up were freedom, dietary variety, and protein.  What was the compelling thing that led people to trade away the wandering herds for the promise of grain?  Jeffrey Kahn in NY Times' "Grey Matter" in March of 2013 explains:

"Current theory has it that grain was first domesticated for food. But since the 1950s, many scholars have found circumstantial evidence that supports the idea that some early humans grew and stored grain for beer, even before they cultivated it for bread." 

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/03/17/opinion/sunday/how-beer-gave-us-civilization.html

This idea has been around for a while:

"There is ample evidence of small-scale fruit wine production during the Neolithic and possibly the Paleolithic Era (Stanislawski 1975: 429). Alcohol occurs naturally when fruits freeze and thaw repeatedly or when fruit accumulates under the right conditions, and many species of birds and primates alter their feeding behavior in order to access seasonal quantities of alcoholic fruits (Poo 1999: 124). Foraging societies often have knowledge of alcohol preparation, but are unable to produce alcohol on demand throughout the year. Indeed, many foraging and horticultural tribes around the world today produce alcohol periodically, but on a far diminished scale compared to agricultural societies."

Hence when some 11,500 years ago, humans living in the Fertile Crescent began to domesticate wheat and barely, as their ability to grow and store sizable crops increased so too did their capacity to make alcohol on a year-long basis."
http://www.eaines.com/archaeology/the-archaeology-of-ancient-alcohol/

Alcohol is compelling stuff.  It isn't just one of the things you can make with the staff of life.  It's a gateway to something extraordinary.  William James in The Variety of Religious Experience says

"The sway of alcohol over mankind is unquestionably due to its power to stimulate the mystical faculties of human nature, usually crushed to earth by the cold facts and dry criticisms of the sober hour. Sobriety diminishes, discriminates and says no; drunkenness expands, unites, and says yes. It is in fact the great exciter of the Yes function in man. It brings its votary from the chill periphery of things to the radiant core. It makes him for the moment one with truth. Not through mere perversity do men run after it."
http://csp.org/experience/james-varieties/james-varieties16.html

William James, writing at the nexus between the dawn of modern rationalism and the end of romantic spirituality captures the transcendental nature of alcohol vividly.  Kahn, in the previously cited NY Times' March 2013 "Grey Matter", connects it to its essential role in the dawn of agricultural civilization:

"Five core social instincts, I have argued, gave structure and strength to our primeval herds. They kept us safely codependent with our fellow clan members, assigned us a rank in the pecking order, made sure we all did our chores, discouraged us from offending others, and removed us from this social coil when we became a drag on shared resources. Thus could our ancient forebears cooperate, prosper, multiply — and pass along their DNA to later generations.

But then, these same lifesaving social instincts didn’t readily lend themselves to exploration, artistic expression, romance, inventiveness and experimentation — the other human drives that make for a vibrant civilization. To free up those, we needed something that would suppress the rigid social codes that kept our clans safe and alive. We needed something that, on occasion, would let us break free from our biological herd imperative — or at least let us suppress our angst when we did.

We needed beer."

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/03/17/opinion/sunday/how-beer-gave-us-civilization.html


So, alcohol is two things right off the bat: the original impetus for civilization, and the escape valve for the social strictures that civilization entails.  As "mother" of civilization, alcohol conflates with the grain and grape that are the staff of life and there are a series of symbols of alcohol as mother's breast and mother's milk.  As escape valve, alcohol is symbolic of the ecstatic escape of orgasm.  But, as William James described, it's more than simply ecstatic escape; it's the gateway to the numinous and the miraculous.  I'm tempted to treat these two very different symbols independently - but I believe they interrelate as both are about conflate women's bodies with alcohol in various ways.

This isn't a new idea, by the way.  The idea for this came directly from Adrienne Mayor's academic article "Libation Titillation: Wine Goblets and Women's Breasts" in Studies in Popular Culture XVI:2 April 1994.  http://pcasacas.org.seanic11.net/SiPC/16.2/Mayor.pdf
I came across this fascinating paper in a very modern and personal way.  I'm a fan of Adrienne Mayor's books
The First Fossil Hunters: Dinosaurs, Mammoths, and Myth in Greek and Roman Timeshttp://www.amazon.com/First-Fossil-Hunters-Dinosaurs-Mammoths/dp/0691150133
and
The Poison King: The Life and Legend of Mithradates, Rome's Deadliest Enemy
http://www.amazon.com/Poison-King-Legend-Mithradates-Deadliest/dp/0691150265/
and I'm currently reading her fascinating new book
The Amazons: Lives and Legends of Warrior Women across the Ancient World

Finding fresh insight in ancient sources is a specialty of Adrienne Mayor's.  I followed her alter ego "Mithradates Eupator" on Facebook and interacting with her there, I found myself in conversation with her a number of times and mentioned my post about the way women were depicted in American whiskey advertising:
http://www.cooperedtot.com/2014/05/women-in-american-whiskey-advertising.html
She forwarded me a link to "Libation Titillation: Wine Goblets and Women's Breasts" which opened me to the wider topic of the connection between women's sexuality and alcohol through a focused examination of the connection between the shape of glassware and women's breasts.

Wineglass As A Woman's Breast

Image from a blog post at:
http://flairliquidchef.blogspot.com/2014/05/breast-shape-became-shape-of-champagne.html
The idea that wine or beer is a nourishing thing flowing from female breasts has a long lineage.  The usual driving metaphor is in the form of breast shaped glassware.  Champagne coupe glasses look like women's breasts.  There is a legend that they were created as a representation of Marie Antoinette's breasts.  The story is so widely disseminated that Snopes takes the time to debunk it:

"The Champagne coupe is often claimed to have been modeled on the shape of the breast of a French aristocrat, often cited as Marie Antoinette or Madame de Pompadour."
"FALSE"
"None of the "famed beauty's breast" tales hold up. Champagne was invented in the 17th century when a Benedictine monk discovered a way to trap bubbles of carbon dioxide in wine. As for the glass, it was designed and made in England especially for champagne around 1663, a chronology that rules out du Barry, du Pompadour, Josephine, and Marie Antoinette, all of whom were born long after the coupe came into existence. As for de Poitiers, she died a century before either the glass or the beverage was invented. And if she existed at all, Helen of Troy antedated both champagne and the champagne glass by about two millennia.

http://www.snopes.com/business/origins/champagne.asp

Indeed, the story that the champagne coupe is modeled on Marie Antoinette's breasts is common, and durable, with specific evidence in a number of dimensions.

But the story isn't that simple.  Adrienne Mayor notes that Pliny the Elder describes a drinking vessel modeled from Helen of Troy's breast:

"According to Pliny the Elder, writing during the reign of Nero in the first century A.D., tourists visiting the island of Rhodes could admire an exquisite electrumcalix (chalice or wine-cup) in the local temple of Athena. This celebrated silver and gold cup was said to have been a gift from Helen herself. The vessel's real claim to fame, however, was not its precious metal or its antiquity, but the popular belief that the goblet had been fashioned to perfectly represent Helen's fabled breast (Pliny 23.81)"
"Libation Titillation: Wine Goblets and Women's Breasts" - Studies in Popular Culture XVI:2 April 1994 http://pcasacas.org.seanic11.net/SiPC/16.2/Mayor.pdf

The ancient Greeks, indeed had drinking vessels modeled on women's breasts: the "Mastos" cups.

Claire Carusillo, in her Dec 10, 2014 post on Eater wrote:

"The connection between the breast and spirits was evident in classical Greek antiquity. For one, there's the mastos, an ancient Greek wine vessel shaped conically like a woman's breast, nipple and all, which popped up as early as the fifth century BCE. With its double handles and black-figure drawings depicting myths, it was usually incorporated into rites involving deities whose roles had to do with fertility or breastfeeding, including the worship of the thirsty god-bro Hercules himself."

"But vessel worship wasn't always tied to fertility; sometimes it came from a place of straight-up lust. Helen of Troy has an outsized role in the history of libations: Homer credits her as the first person to suggest serving wine before a meal, and she soothed an entire troop of Trojan War-addled veterans with a signature opium cocktail in the fourth book of the Odyssey. But the woman didn't just pass out goblets; she was purportedly also the model for one. According to Pliny the Elder's Natural History, written in the first century CE, Helen lent the dimensions of her breast to a goblet on display for pilgrims at the Temple of Athena at Lindus on Rhodes."

"..Still, it's easy in our culture to keep imagining women as containers, as objects, their bodies as fountains from which men can draw strength, power, and physical fulfillment. "
http://www.eater.com/2014/12/10/7339903/breast-champagne-coupe-marie-antoinette

Marie Antoinette's Sèvres “Etruscan” style breast cup c, 1788
at the Musée national de Céramique-Sèvres
As for the Marie Antoinette connection, it's not a total fantasy either.  Louis XVI gave her  The Laiterie at Rambouillet (a dairy farm estate) in 1787 and they chose an Etruscan themed china service which included four mastos-type cups (right).  There isn't any specific reason to think that they were modeled on Marie Antoinette's breasts per-se - but the fact remains that Marie Antoinette actually owned cups explicitly modeled on a woman's breast - with pearly pink nipples and all.

If Marie Antoinette had modeled a glass on her breast it would have been an explicit classical reference to Helen of Troy.  Such a classical connection continues to this day.  As recently as October of 2014 we were treated to a celebrated beauty making a champagne glass modeled on her breast's shape:
As the august New York Post reported on October 9th, 2014:

"These cups runneth over!

On Wednesday night, iconic model Kate Moss celebrated her 25 years in the fashion industry with an intimate party at posh London restaurant 34, with a guest list that included Rita Ora and Sadie Frost. But in lieu of ordinary Champagne flutes, revelers sipped bubbly from glasses molded from Moss’ left breast.

The project began in August, when Moss’ breast was first fitted for the coupe. British artist Jane McAdam Freud designed the glasses, which were inspired by Marie Antoinette — legend has it that the first Champagne coupe in the 18th century was modeled from the royal’s left bosom."
http://nypost.com/2014/10/09/sip-champagne-in-a-glass-molded-from-kate-moss-breast/


Baby Lake, stripper at NYC's Latin Quarter 1951 costume

The mastos cup concept is an idea that just doesn't die.  Check out this publicity still of New York City stripper Baby Lake, who danced at the famed club "The Latin Quarter" in this 1951 publicity still.  Her breasts are covered by grotesque masks that are sipping from mastos cups mounted on her hips.  I'm tempted to speculate on the symbolism of not having the mastos cups on her actual breasts (which would be the rational thing), but I don't have a clue..

Morlant de la Marne Champagne poster - 1940s
Bailey's Irish Cream Ad - 1990s -
"The Milk Of Ireland"

The connection between breast and alcohol is broader and deeper than just the cup.  As Adrienne Mayor noted, there are numerous visual metaphors connecting alcohol with breasts in sources ranging from antiquity to the modern day.  A quick look at advertising confirms this.  This Morland champagne poster circa 1930 (right) makes the metaphor explicit.  The champagne is literally the milk from the breasts of a female spirit of the vine.  The more recent Bailey's Irish Cream magazine ad (1990s, below) is more subtle (and given the actual cream content, perhaps more literal) but still squarely in the theme as the tag line makes clear:  "The Milk of Ireland".

The terminal state for the mastos drinking vessel as breast metaphor might be found in this Halloween costume (right)  which plays on the "wearable beer consumption" theme by converting the (female) wearer's breasts into beer spigots.  The point is clear.  As in the Morlant Champagne poster, alcohol comes from an objectified human or metaphoric breast.

Another rich vein of the conflation between breast and alcohol is the trope of the beer wench.  Iconic of Munich's Octoberfest and brands such as St. Pauli Girl, the beer wench carries overflowing steins at bust level while wearing a bodice bulging gown.  The bodice and decolletage is underscored, physically, by a bloom of beer steins in each hand.  The connection is inescapable.

The St. Pauli Girl's bust line
is directly in line with beer steins.
Octoberfest waitress in action.

.
And, just in case the point could be missed, this ad for Schneider (right), makes it explicit.  It's a famed example of subliminal advertising, which plays with the age old conflation of breast, glass, and beer.  Do I need to spell it out for you?


Alcohol as Gateway to Ecstasy

The other face of alcohol, beyond the mothering staff of life, is the metaphor of female sexuality as the euphoric release of inebriation.  The roots of this conflation go back at least as far as the trope of alcohol as life giving milk.  In fact, they go back demonstrably much farther.  The dawn of literate civilization occurred in Sumeria over 5000 years ago.  And, apparently, the conflation of the ecstasy of inebriation with that of sexual release was already established:

"We know from sources such as the Code of Hammurapi that Sumerian beer was, in fact, consumed in taverns which were often run by women. These taverns were places of amusement, of prostitution, and of crime.[57] To consume alcoholic drinks such as beer fits the picture of such an environment. It also meets modern expectations of what the intoxicating effect of alcohol might be good for, since ancient beer was consumed in great amounts on the occasion of feasts. Some depictions of erotic scenes also suggest that there was a habit of drinking beer during sexual intercourse."
http://cdli.ucla.edu/pubs/cdlj/2012/cdlj2012_002.html
(emphasis my own)
 Impression of a Sumerian cylinder seal from the Early Dynastic IIIa period (ca. 2600 BC; see Woolley 1934, pl. 200, no. 102 [BM 121545]). People drinking beer are depicted in the upper row with straws in a beer jar. http://cdli.ucla.edu/pubs/cdlj/2012/cdlj2012_002.html

The connection of orgasmic sex and alcohol is, thus, explicit from the dawn of written civilization.  As an example of the described erotic depiction of drinking beer during the act of intercourse, here is an ancient Babylonian plaque:

Ancient Babylonian plaque from The Israel Museum depicting sex while drinking beer with a straw in a beer jar in the Sumerian fashion.
We see examples of this conflation of sex and alcohol in virtually every subsequent era and artistic tradition.  For example, here is an ancient Greek lesbian scene from the 6th century BC in which one of the lovers holds a wine drinking vessel:

Lesbian erotic scene on a kylix cup.
Note that the standing figure is holding a kylix drinking vessel.
The ancient Greeks regularly depicted erotic scenes - particularly on drinking vessels.  The name for the flat Greek drinking cup was "kylix".  A google search of the two words "kylix" and "erotic" yields this cornucopia of visual support for this hypothesis.  Here is a link to that search.  Be careful here - there is a lot of explicit content: "Kylix" plus "Erotic"

Wall Fresco from Pompeii - conflating erotic activity with consumption of wine.
Here is first century AD erotic scene from a wall fresco at Pompeii in which lovers are shown at a banquet kissing and embracing while a woman drinks wine.

Woman as the Spirit in the Glass


In each one of the examples above, sex is conflated with drinking alcohol through a depiction of a drinking vessel.  This conflation became more explicit in the last century with depictions of females inside alcohol drinking vessels.  In her essay, Adrienne Mayor references two:  artist Leo Putz 1902 painting in the Hartford Atheneum, "Woman in a Glass", and the cartoon of the stocking wearing nude at the top of the jokes section in Playboy magazine:

Woman in a Glass by Leo Putz 1902: 

"...the minature busty brunette in black stockings who often cavorts around and inside a champagne glass on the "Playboy Party Jokes" page.  This synecdochical feish, in which woman-as-breast-shaped goblet, had long served as an expression of the breast / drinking vessel dynamic in both high and low culture."
"Libation Titillation: Wine Goblets and Women's Breasts" - Studies in Popular Culture XVI:2 April 1994 http://pcasacas.org.seanic11.net/SiPC/16.2/Mayor.pdf

Domaine Ste. Michelle Champage c 1930
Vlan du Berni Belgian Apertif poster c 1920
The woman in the glass theme has a long standing and robust place in popular culture - appearing in advertisements for alcoholic beverages from the early 20th century all the way to the current day, and appearing as a visual trope of licentious excess on both film and stage, as well as in burlesque.
Alberto Vargas pinup art - 1940s

Alberto Vargas, a leading pinup artist of the period, put a lingerie clad redhead in a martini glass in an image that quickly became iconic.

Shirley Maclaine and Robert Mitchum
in What a Way to Go! (1964)
New Year's party dancers - 1960s
The champagne coupe became a platform for burlesque dance in the Mad Men era and appeared in numerous popular culture images both high and low.  The popular 1964 Arthur P. Jacobs black comedy "What a Way to Go!", which starred top performers of the period (Shirley MacLaine, Paul Newman, Robert Mitchum, Dean Martin, Gene Kelly, Bob Cummings and Dick Van Dyke) featured a bedroom scene in which MacLaine and Mitchum get it on in a giant coupe that looks suspiciously like the one taken at a lavish private New Year's party at the same time.
"Rita"-1971 PR still. NY
Top American stripper Dita Von Teese's signature

burlesque act - in a coupe glass.








The champagne coupe or martini glass burlesque act features in the waning fortunes of the form in the 70s, as well as its resurgence in the 1990s through the current day.  I came across the 1971 cut sheet for a performer named "Rita" in a glass.  Other details are lacking.  Not so for Dita Von Teese - probably America's top stripper for a quarter century and often credited with bringing burlesque back as an art form.  Her signature act features her cavorting wet in a large coupe glass.  Her act is big and mainstream enough that liquor brand Cointreau created a cocktail and an ad campaign around her act, complete with a tour in 2009.  And Von Teese isn't the only one.  Rachel Saint James has been performing a similar act in Australia for over a decade.

Von Teese's Cointreau ad - 2009
Rachel St James
The theme of the woman in the glass is a conflation of a sexualized female image with an icon of alcohol.  This conflation has been used in other contexts than just the glass too.  For example, check out the 2012 Budweiser ad, at right.  The woman is one with the bottle in a direct visual conflation of her sexuality with the alcoholic product: objectification in purest sense.

A fall 2013 campaign for Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin champagne combines all the aspects of this conflation of sexualized woman with alcohol: the woman in the glass as well as the woman conflated with the bottle (this time the bottle also has connotations of the male sexual organ which we will see more of shortly).  The ad campaign was a co-branding with a luxury brand of shoes and handbags: Charlottle Olympia, so the conflation was an attempted 3 way: booze, shoes, and female sexuality.  This shows that these tropes and type of sexual objectification are completely mainstream even in the current day.


End of the Line?  Conflating Alcohol with the Vagina

Given the trend in modern culture towards greater directness, explicitness, and the desire to shock, it is, perhaps, unsurprising that a visual trope has emerged that has taken the conflation of female sexuality and alcohol one step further.  In these images, both in contemporary print advertising, fine art photography, and in various other forms of erotica, alcohol is conflated directly with the vagina itself.  It appeared to start with an ad poster for French wine in the 60s, where the letter "V" in the word "Vin" was made to simultaneously represent the female organ.  It's a little unclear to me which artist first put a glass of wine itself in that location - so I'm just going to show you a bunch of the more prominent examples and maybe someone can enlighten me further in the comments.

1960s Promotional Poster
Chema Madoz fine art photograph - 2006












Julynacom print ad - 2012
Fundraising the the fight against cervical cancer
Dominic Rouse - fine art photograph 2008



Biss V. by Alexandra Privitera




This final example a 2008 cartoon posted to Toonpool - but apparently seen nowhere else ( http://www.toonpool.com/cartoons/Vine_14968) has the unusual attribute of taking the wine metaphor all the way with the bottle as male member, grapes as testes, and the wine filling up the woman's vagina.  It's an oddly satisfying visual literal metaphor after all that innuendo.
"Vine" by Karry, June 19th 2008
Why is Lady Liberty depicted as a female?  Or Brittania?  Or blind Justice with her scales?  In the allegorical world of classical and medieval thinking aspects of the world are represented by figures which represent what philosophers and artists (particularly male philosophers and artists) feel are their essence.  The ancient Greeks thought that wine had a male god, Dionysus; the Romans had Bacchus, but the overwhelming consensus across the broader culture is that alcohol is female, both nurturing and titillating.  This is partly reflected in deities, such as Egypt's goddess of beer, Tenenet, Sumeria's goddes of beer, Nin-Kasi.  But even in cultures where the alcohol deity was male, you'll find sex linked with wine and women's bodies objectified into aspects of alcohol consumption.  Emerging from the fruit and grain that are the staff of life, as original impetus for the agricultural revolution that birthed our civilization itself, to the narcotic that provides escape from the cage of social and cultural constructions it engendered, alcohol is repeatedly conflated with the female body in both nourishing and sexual aspects time and again across vast reaches of time and space.  This symbol and this objectification is clearly still alive after all this time, and ongoing - for better or for worse.  In so far as women still struggle for rights and are objectified sexually in our society, these tropes are problematic in that they contribute to an ongoing pattern of reducing women, sexually, to impersonal idealized images.