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:

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."

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."

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."

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."

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.
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 Times
The Poison King: The Life and Legend of Mithradates, Rome's Deadliest Enemy
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:
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:
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."
"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.

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

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. "

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."

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."
(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.

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

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 ( 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.  

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Teeling Single Grain Irish Whiskey Comes To The USA

The rising trend of drinkable grain whisky now sees a new Irish entry, joining Cooley's Greenore expressions (6, 8, 15, and 18 year old).  It's Teeling Single Grain Irish whiskey, just under 6 years old, but boasting solid complexity and drinkability for such a young grain whiskey.  The explanation involves a flavored barrel maturation story - which is quite a common trend these days, but the Devil is in the details.  The payoff here is that this is worth drinking.  (Grain whiskey, a traditional part of blended Scotch and Irish whiskies, is distilled from un-malted grains, typically corn, wheat, barley.  Distillation typically happens on column stills, often in an industrial setting, with distillation taken to very high proofs - usually in the mid 90% abv.  The resulting spirit is very light and sweet.  Grain whiskey suffered a stigma until recently when luxury expressions such as Compass Box Hedonism, Nikka Coffey Grain, Greenore, and recently Haig Club appeared).

There's deep kinship between Teeling Single Grain and Cooley's Greenore single grain whiskey.  It starts with the mash bill:  95% corn and the rest malted barley.  There's also the distillery: Cooley.  Cooley is the distillery that John Teeling converted to whiskey from potato schnapps from 1985 to 1987 by adding column stills.  Teeling's Cooley was the first Irish whiskey distillery in Irish hands in generations and marked the resurgence of Irish whiskey's innovation and local pride.  Fascinating expressions include double distilled (as opposed to the usual triple distilled) and richly peated Irish expressions.  Cooley was breaking the mold and pushing the envelope.  Beam International ended up buying Cooley in 2012 for $95 million.  (Beam has since been purchased by Suntory International.)

But the Teelings didn't take the money and get out of the game.  John Teeling's sons Jack and Stephen have started a new distillery project in Dublin (the first in a century).  They have just distilled their first run.  But while the distillery part gets up to speed and the whiskey ages, they are selling stocks secured under contract from Beam's Cooley as part of the Cooley sale.  Teeling sells a small batch blended Irish whiskey, a single malt, and a 21 year old single malt, as well as this new single grain - which will launch in the USA this week for msrp $49.95 a bottle.  So this is the same distillate as Greenore - but the similarities end there.  The barrel maturation story is different from inception, with Greenore maturing in ex-Bourbon barrels and Teeling Single Grain maturing entirely in ex-California Cabernet wine barrels for just a bit under 6 years.

In Oliver Klimek's landmark Malt Maniacs epistle of 2012 called "Complexity in Whisky - Lost and Found" he describes how production method changes in the past quarter century have robbed modern whiskies of complexity compared to whiskies from decades in the 70s and prior.  Whisky makers have compensated with wood management, strong flavors, vattings, and using wine and other spirit barrels:

"And of course there also are the ever-popular cask finishes. If done right, they really can enhance a whisky, like adding a few bells and whistles to a chamber concerto. But when things go wrong they are like the roaring saxophone playing in the string quartet."

Klimek's hypothesis explains the wide spread of flavored barrel finishes and maturation.  Examples include Bill Lumsden's Glenmorangie and Ardbeg expressions, Jim McEwan's effusively creative Bruichladdichs, Lincoln Henderson's Angel's Envy, Rachel Barrie's Bowmores etc...  Teeling Single Grain isn't a wine finished whiskey.  It's matured in ex-wine barrels all the way.  It's a prime example of introducing other flavors into a simple spirit through the use of flavored barrels.  Teeling's Blended Irish Whiskey was finished in ex-rum casks.  The interesting wrinkle here is that this is a single grain whiskey getting the flavored barrel maturation treatment.  That's a fairly new thing - as single grain bottlings are still a pretty fresh segment.   But creative maturation schemes like this can be hit or miss.  Particularly with wine barrels.  The proof is in the glass.  So I took a wee sample and here are my notes...

Stephen Teeling presents

WhiskyCast's Mark Gillespie noses Teeling Single Grain

Teeling Single Grain Irish Whiskey - 46% abv

Color dark gold with coppery glints.

Nose: vanilla custard, burnt sugar, grapefruit citrus and a hint of dark chocolate with candied orange peel (my friend Temma Ehrenfeld's note).   Linseed oil.

Palate:   Sweet opening with vanilla frosting and honey.  The sting of medicinal grain.  Then complexity on the expansion with some nutty rancio, dark grape, red fruits and a drying of the palate with oak tannin, musk, and a clean herbal note as you head to the finish.  There are gentle wafts of bubble gum and mint.

Surprising complexity for a 5 year old grain whiskey.  This is engaging stuff that challenges your expectations of what young grain whiskey can be.  It's light and sweet like you'd expect, but there's more richness and complexity too.  It's doesn't have the tartness you might expect from wine barrel maturation. 


Someone with a palate is doing some good things over at Teeling.  This is a company to watch.

(20cc Sample secretly taken from a launch event at Rye House in Manhattan, with Teeling Single Grain presented by Stephen Teeling.  Event arranged by Baddish Group.) 

Stephen Teeling presenting Teeling Single Grain Irish Whiskey at Rye House in Manhattan.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Rebel Yell - Past and Future

Late 1960s Rebel Yell magazine ad.: 
a romantic vision of the ante-bellum South.
(thanks Herb Allen, for finding this)
Rebel Yell is a wheated mash bill Bourbon originally sold only in the South - to personify the South.  It was light and sweet and beautiful and sort of an inside secret of the South.  I want to write about the history, but I can't do better than Michael Veach's  (Posted 04-05-2004 on - 

"Alex Farnsley worked at W.L.Weller and Sons with Julian Van Winkle in the late 1800's/early 1900's. They purchased the company about 1910 and George Weller became the President, with Van Winkle and Farnsley as Vice President and Treasurer. Farnsley also became President of the Bank of St. Helens (in what is now Shively) about the same time. Prohibition saw the retirement of Weller and the last family tie to the company."

Charlie Farnsley,
mayor of Louisville 1948-53
Congressman, KY's 3rd 1965-67
Creator of Rebel Yell
(Photo from wikipedia)
In the 1940's Charlie Farnsley became Mayor of Louisville. At the same time he started bottling a few whiskies for his own use and to give as gifts. He created the brands "Rebel Yell" and "Lost Cause". There is a label book at the U.D. Archive with a 1948 label for Rebel Yell. It is white with a cannon shooting a cannon ball. Lost Cause did not have a graphic design and was even more plain than the Rebel Yell label."

"In the 1960's to honor the cenntenial of the Civil War, Stitzel-Weller took the label to the public, but only below the Mason-Dixon line. It was a 5yo 90 proof wheated bourbon at that time."

"United Distillers decided to take the brand world wide and amde it available anywhere in the U.S. I thought this was a mistake - A better selling point in London or Paris or Sidney would have been "What can you get here that you can't get in New York City or Boston?". They also lowered the proof to 80 proof. It became part of the brand sale to Heaven Hill and Bufallo Trace in the late 1990's and was in turn sold to David Sherman."
Mike Veach

Steve Leukanech's late 70s 200ml example.
From the 1960s when it began until sometime in the 1990s Rebel Yell was a product of Stitzel-Weller distillery located in the Louisville suburb of Shively.  United Distillers closed Stitzel-Weller in 1992 and transitioned production of Rebel Yell to their new Bernheim distillery subsequently - and then sold the brand to David Sherman Corp (which subsequently became Luxco) and distillery (Berhnheim) to Heaven Hill in 1999.  I've written about Stitzel-Weller before in connection with their flagship expression Old Fitzgerald and the anchor expression Cabin Still and they have been love letters.  This is no different.  Stitzel Weller Rebel Yell is a thing of stunning beauty.  It's a lot like S-W Cabin Still, slightly lighter and sweeter than the dark tannin complexity of classic S-W Old Fitz.  It was a 6 year old age stated Bourbon for most of the 70s and early 80s - the heyday.  Full tasting notes will follow at bottom.  A number of commentators over the years have commented on the irony that a gentle and sweet Bourbon would have the fierce name "Rebel Yell" but the actual sound of the rebel yell was not the fierce, angry, deep yell you might imagine.  It was a high pitched coyote sounding cry.  There's something plaintive and haunted about it.  As evidence, I present this famous clip of Confederate veterans doing the rebel yell in 1938.  Granted they are old men - but you can see the pride they take in performing the yell.  I have little doubt they are doing it properly.  They would know.  They had been there.

1938 footage of Civil War Confederate veterans performing the Rebel Yell.

One story is that Keith Richards, legendary guitarist of the Rolling Stones, loved Rebel Yell.  According to wikipedia's article about Billy Idol's song "Rebel Yell":  

"At a televised performance of VH1 Storytellers Billy Idol said that he had attended an event where Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, andRonnie Wood of The Rolling Stones were taking swigs from a bottle of "Rebel Yell" bourbon whiskey. He was not familiar with the brand, but he liked the name and decided to write a "Rebel Yell" song."

One of the later verses goes like this:

"I'd sell my soul for you babe
For money to burn with you
I'd give you all, and have none, babe
Just, just, justa, justa to have you here by me
In the midnight hour she cried- "more, more, more"
With a rebel yell she cried- "more, more, more"
In the midnight hour babe "more, more, more"
With a rebel yell "more, more, more"
Billy Idol "Rebel Yell"

It's not articulate - but it conflates the topics of delirium, lust, desire, and disregard for financial responsibility that are at the heart of rock 'n roll and of Bourbon-mania.

When Stitzel Weller's brands were being sold off by United Distillers in 1999 Rebel Yell's proof had been dropped 80 (40% abv.) and the age already reduced from 6 years old to a NAS 4 years old in the decade before.  Rebel Yell ended up with David Sherman Corporation of St. Louis (the company was renamed Luxco in 2006 in honor of former CEO of DSC, Paul Lux, who died the previous year).  Luxco contracted for it to be made by Heaven Hill.  Heaven Hill's version of the wheater wasn't the same.  How could it be?  But it's overly simplistic to simply compare the two expressions and find the new one wanting.  It's unfair to take the apex of American Bourbon making that was Stitzel-Weller in its prime and compare it with anything else - let alone something that sells for less than $20.  Luxco's Rebel Yell can often be found for in the neighborhood of $15.  Make no mistake, modern Rebel Yell isn't the masterpiece that came out of Pappy & Farnsley's distillery.  But the new stuff has a thread in common with what came before: the wheated mash bill.  Wheat adds a sweetness and a grape quality that in the new stuff comes across like marc or young cognac.

Rebel Yell - new label 80 proof (40% abv.)  NAS, but apparently 4 years old Luxco (sourced from Heaven Hill, wheat mash)

Color: gold

Nose: vanilla, sawn oak, woodshop, solvent and glue, mineral dust, cut flower sap (marigold stems).

Palate: a hot and sweet entry with flavors of dilute vanilla extract, sugar, applejack, and solvent.  Fruity and spicy on the expansion with raisin and spice.  The solvent, raisin and spice puts me in the mind of VS cognac.  There's plenty of young kiln dried oak which carries some plywood notes.  This aspect of the wood puts me in the mind of young small barrel craft bourbon.  The finish is short, but sweet with plenty of char.  Repeated sips and lots of air amp up the raisins and the vanilla.

This is a young wheater and tastes it.  My first impression was negative, but as I get further down into the bottle I'm finding it charming in its brash youth.  This drinks like Craft whiskey.  For the money you can do plenty worse.  Just don't expect this to drink like regular rye-mash inexpensive Bourbon such as Heaven Hill BiB or black (it's hotter. sharper, and fruitier).  The wheat really makes this different, and the youth makes this taste different from the more mature wheaters you know (like Weller, Larceny, or Maker's Mark).  The defining signatures that mark this difference are raisins (think marc) and a starkness to the oak that reads like small barrel Craft.  The bottle opens up over the course of weeks which takes the edge off the solvent, sharp and hot notes which detract early on.  It becomes sweet, open, and lightly fruited in a way that is not at all unpleasant.

(This bottle was provided by Pia of Common Ground PR for Rebel Yell / Luxco on the occasion of the release of their new bottle design)

Rebel Yell, 1970s 1/10th pint 90 proof (45% abv) 6 year old age statement Stizel-Weller labelled "Exclusively for the Deep South".

Color: Dark coppery amber

Nose:  Big black greasy vanilla pods.  Malt. Malted milk balls candy.  Sandalwood oak. Caramelized brown sugar and apple Brown Betty. Magic.

Palate: Sweet and spicy on opening.  Vanilla extract, root beer, cherry, red hots, caramelized cinnamon loaded apple upside down cake.  Then a big swing of tannin loaded oak redolent of big dark furniture in a fancy lawyer's office.  This trends into bitterness in the finish with herbal bitters, dark oak, and then a returning note of root beer candy.  At the fade out you're left with good herbal bitters - like Dr. Adam Emegirab's Orinoco Bitters.

This is all utterly characteristic Stitzel-Weller goodness straight out of the Old Fitzgerald playbook.  It's beautiful.  It's candy and spice, heat and oak richness.  It's big and dark and brown: a flavor bomb.  I can't be objective about this stuff.  It's the classic Stitzel-Weller flavor signature and it's beautiful beyond words and all the more precious for being lost and gone.


(bottle is a mini originally from the incomparable collection of American whiskey minis of Rotem Ben Shitrit:

(These were tasted blind - with the assistance of Temma Ehrenfeld - with the original tasting notes dictated while blindfolded.  Suffice it to say, I was able to identify them correctly, repeatedly, blind).

Herb Allen's faux tax stamped
 88 glass marked bottle.
Where are the points of intersection between these two versions of Rebel Yell?  They are wheat mash and oak.  This is the old recipe made in a different way: younger, lower proof, with different oak (I'm guessing kiln dried as opposed to air cured).  These are profound differences.  Yet, for all that, there's a fruity sweetness that they share in common.

Is your bottle of Rebel Yell Stitzel-Weller or Heaven Hill?  Stitzel-Weller closed in 1991-92 and David Sherman Corporation bought the brand in 1999.  What if you have a bottle from within that transitional period?  Bourbon brands transitioned to different distilleries in different ways.  Stitzel-Weller had a ton of whiskey aging in it's rickhouses when it closed and the S-W expressions continued to be bottled with S-W juice for a number of years afterwards.  But by the late 90s things definitely did transition. One way to tell with Rebel Yell is to look at the UPC code (and if there's no UPC code the bottle pre-dates the 1990s which shows it's S-W juice). 88508 UPCs generally indicate Stitzel-Weller. Later bottlings have 88076 or 88352 codes which generally indicate Heaven Hill. Another way to try to gauge is to look at the color. The S-W stuff is generally much darker than the Heaven Hill stuff.  (More on this in a follow-up post to come).

Every time I think about Stitzel-Weller's closing and the trading away of its brands I can't help but feel it's a parable about America.  Ultimately Stitzel-Weller went out of business because it was a niche distiller, undiversified and holding fast to an uncompromising notion of excellence at a time when Bourbon was fading in popularity.  It was truly excellent.  The new Rebel Yell is something of a parable for American whiskey's rebirth - with whiskey bought bulk from a distiller that isn't the brand's producer.  But the whiskey itself still tells an American story, high and thin like the rebel's yell itself.