Wednesday, July 30, 2014

John Lipman Explains Why There Is 107 Proof Whiskey


Weller's Original Barrel Proof
Stitzel-Weller's 107 Proof whisky before Old Weller Antique
Photo by John Lipman
A couple of weeks ago I wrote a post about an extensive tasting of Old Weller Antiques that Mike Jasinski set up:
http://www.cooperedtot.com/2014/07/a-large-scale-tasting-of-dusty-old.html
In it I took a stab at the origins of the brand:

Sally Van Winkle Campbell doesn't mention the "Old W.L. Weller" or "Old Weller Antique" brands by name in "But Always Fine Bourbon". Although she relates a story that "the reason that the distillery came out with 107 proof was because Pap's doctor said he could only have two drinks a day!"

Recently, I got a much better answer from a hero of mine: John Lipman - part of the married duo "Ellenjay" (from the initials "L" and "J", for "Linda" and "John").

If you are interested in the history of Bourbon and rye whiskey you must read http://www.ellenjaye.com/  

Not only do John and Linda know and tell the history of American whiskey in detail, they also get out and hunt up the bones of the lost distilleries, get the stories from old timers who remember.  They put boots on the ground.

John Lipman's story about why Stitzel Weller came out with a 107 proof version - Old Weller - is a much better and truer story.  Adapted from his words in our e-mail exchange - here is John Lipman (and all photos are John Lipman's too):
_________________________________________________________________________________


I'm not sure about that doctor story, though.  [Referring to Sally Van Winkle's story that Pappy's Doctor limited him to 2 drinks a day so Pappy made the whiskey stronger].   Of course, doctors might be scarce way out there on the wild Kentucky frontier and maybe there was only one, but I feel hard-pressed to believe that EVERY distiller got the same advice. I do know that Pappy would have been a lot younger and more fit back in the late forties and early fifties when Weller's Original Proof was being sold.


By the way, before those wonderful bottles of "Weller Antique Original 107 BRAND" came to market were several years' worth of "Weller Antique Original 107 PROOF", as in the other pictures. Since all of these actually were 107 proof, I don't know the reason for the changes. Maybe they had planned to dilute the "...Brand" version but never actually did. I dunno.

My conclusion about the ubiquity of 107 proof is that, until 1962, distillers weren't allowed to barrel whiskey at 125 proof the way they do today; the law permitted no higher than 110, and traditional barrelings were mostly at 100. Given the normal rise in proof over 4 years, 107 was probably the expected dumping proof, which was then cut to 100, 86, or 80 in bottling. 107 proof would be what we call "barrel proof" today.


Just about everyone bottled a 107-proof version of their whiskey. A partial list, most of which are currently available, would include:
  • Stitzel Weller Weller Original (Barrel) Proof (no longer produced, of course)
  • Jim Beam Baker's Bourbon
  • Heaven Hill Original Barrel Brand - very difficult to find, but possible. I've included a couple photos.
  • Willett/KBD Pure Kentucky XO (distillation source unknown)
  • Van Winkle Family Reserve 10 and 15 year old 107-proof. This came in a squat bottle similar to the Pure Kentucky from KBD. It predates the current Buffalo Trace version.
  • Buffalo Trace Elmer T. Lee 107 proof (in a black-painted version of the standard Ancient Age bottle; not single barrel)
  • Ancient Age Barrel 107 (not the same as ETL)

and then of course we have...

  • Wild Turkey Rare Breed (108 proof, naturally, because their version of 100 proof was 101; Does anyone recall Chesterfield cigarettes' "silly millimeter longer" ad campaign of about the same time?)


About the only major distillery NOT marketing a 107-proof brand has been Four Roses, and that's because Seagrams' idea of bourbon was 80-proof and available only overseas; the Four Roses sold in the U.S. was a blended abomination. When Jim Rutledge acquired the helm, the 107 fad was already over and besides, he had better things to do with his juice.

Maker's Mark may have had a 107-proof version; they sold (and still do) several varieties available only in Japan.

_________________________________________________________________________________


So, there you have it.  

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Reuven Weinstein's Warm House... And The Killer Blind.

Hanging out on the Internet Bourbon forums you meet and befriend a lot of interesting people.  I love meeting these people in real life.  I've met Reuven Weinstein - a master dusty hunter out of New York - a number of times, but recently I had the great pleasure of spending the whole afternoon with him and his lovely wife Ilana (who was his public face of Facebook for a long time) at his home in Rockaway Park / Belle Harbor.   Ostensibly a house warming - the house has a real story of destruction and rebuilding.  The Weinsteins just recently moved into it.  There was a ton of delicious home made salads, hot wings, and world class smoked BBQ brisket.  Just delicious.  And there was also whiskey - lots of it.  The very best stuff.  Because Reuven is a master whiskey hunter.  The pictures and tasting notes below speak for themselves - but they aren't the reason for the post.  Not at all - but that will come later.

FYI - a different take on this smorgasbord was written up by my friend (and partner in crime) Steven Zeller, The Smoky Beast here:
http://smokybeast.blogspot.com/2014/07/rock-rock-rockaway-beach-tasting.html

Reuven is well known in the American whiskey world.  He is a prodigy - a talent at entering neighborhoods that others wouldn't bother with and somehow coming out with a trunk full of absolute treasures from the liquor stores there.  As Reuven toured us through a small portion of the fabulous whiskies he has collected I was amazed time and again by both the fabulous range - from dusty bourbons and the rarest issues to fabulous single malt - with a focus on spectacular and hard to find silent distilleries - and also by our hosts tremendous generosity.  What we tasted that day is not to be forgotten.  And it was but a peek into his fantastic collection.  Which only underscores a curious and oft remarked on fact: Reuven doesn't drink whiskey.  Nope.  He enjoys nosing it.  He produced a 1984 vintage single cask Yamazaki which he particularly enjoyed nosing.  I must concur - it had the most remarkable nose:  a complex and evolving aroma that started with dark cocoa with a hint of anthracite coal combustion (just a hint) and then moving into rich fig pudding baking in rum, and then on to a rich earthiness made farmy by a bit of animal skins.  I could nose that thing all day too.  But ultimately I want to take a sip.  I suspect Reuven will too, someday soon.  I can see the curiosity burning in him.  Meanwhile, his personal code and clean habits keeps him holding back. After Reuven and Ilana served a killer spread of sweet smoky BBQ brisket and lovely home-made sauced hot wings, with homemade slaw, potato salad, green salad and all the fixings,  I made the fatal error of pouring an award-winning Cotswald village Sloe Gin as an after dinner apertif.  Wrong stuff for that crowd!
But, before that happened a lot of whisky got tasted

When I encountered the spread of whiskey on the table my eyes lit on two things right away.  One The Parker Heritage 27 year old legendary PHC2 which I had never tried before.  And right next to it was a 1980s vintage octagonal Wild Turkey 8 year old age statement 1.75 Liter handle.  NOW WE'RE TALKING!  Parker Heritage 2nd edition 27 year old is a legendary statement product from Heaven Hill.  2008 Malt Advocate Magazine's American Whiskey of the Year.  I had tried and enjoyed a Wild Turkey 101 8 yo octagonal handle from the early 90s with Mike Jasinski a little while back.   Lately I've been going deeper with Wild Turkey, and there's a strong argument for the 8 year old WT101 of the 70s-90s as being one my favorite primary expression (i.e. not barrel proof) bourbons.


Parker Heritage 27 48%

Color:  Dark amber
Nose:  Rich rancio malt, sweet sherry nutty rancio, mead honey, deep iterated bourbon vanilla pods: sweetness.  Then tempered by buttery notes and oak incense.
Palate:  Sweet honey malt opening. Waxing into acetone-citrus with ripe cantaloupe, salted caramel with tannin spiciness on the finish.
Light texture on the mouth feel but big spicy finish.  This stuff is a lot like really old cognac with its darkly vinously sugared and oake loaded luxury.  Among the darkest, richest, most indulgent Bourbons I've ever tasted.  A really memorable pour (tasted both at the event and with a 1oz sample tasted at time of writing).

*****

Wild Turkey 101 8 1987 - Octagonal handle 50.5%

This is excellent Bourbon that I've been tasting in a number of contexts.  Here, it's a clear object lesson in the dangers of drinking something you really like immediately after an epic, world class whiskey.  Let's just say, the right time to enjoy a WT101 8yo age statement dusty is NOT immediately after tasting PHC2 27 yo.  Sweet and spicy as decently complex as WT101 was back in the day, it can't hold a candle to the glory cask selected wonder of that PCH2.  It's an unfair juxtaposition.

Color: medium coppery amber
Sweet and comparatively gentle stuff.   Nose:  warm and malty with herbal wafts and a oak sandalwood essence undercurrent.
Palate:  malty juicyfruit opening with both magic marker and candy dish notes.  The mid palate expands into brown sugar, herbal rye spice, warm honey, and sweet alfalfa turning into rye herbal spiciness and then a gentle oak tannin grip with a moderately long finish. Decent density in the mouth.  A perennial favorite, but completely shown the door in that head to head.

****





Lombard Jewels of Scotland Brora 22 50%

Distilled 1982, Bottled 2004, 22 years old.

Color: Gold
Nose:  Heather, honey, waxy
Palate:  Intense honey, turkish delight (powdered sugar, fruity, nutty)., paraffin, heather florals, meadow grass.  Not peaty or farmy.  Lightly tannin spicy finish is the only hint of age.  A heathery honey highland beauty.  With the waxy floral notes this came off like a Clynelish.  Light and beautiful - but oddly not complex considering it's age and method of manufacture.   I could sip and enjoy this one all day.  A true "session Scotch".  This bottling is all about the sunny, floral, honeyed beautiful side of Brora.  Missing is the earthy farmy animal manure aspects, the peat, smoke, and darkness you often see with that distillery.  I greatly enjoyed it.

****
(borderline *****)

Highland Park 25 48.1% abv.

Color: light medium amber with coppery glints.

Nose: Heathery wild meadow florals open up for rich malty rancio riding on dusky animal farmy warmth and some underlying peat and sea coast.  Fig cake and old sherry and leather notes play in the middle where the rancio lives.  As it opens, safflower oil and then marigold yellow florals join the heather, sherry, coastal light peat aroma show.

Palate: Sweet and rich on opening with black raisins, stewed black figs and malt sugars tempered by a whiff of brine.  The expansion brings vinous dark sherry notes of purple fruits and leather and tobacco.  It waxes into rich dark oak a satisfying warmth of gentle well integrated coastal peat and tails into a long, sweet, spicy finish with wood and smoke wrapped around the herbal tail of the malt and the lingering sweet of sherry rancio.  This is a full bore beauty of significant complexity and fills your mouth with a tour of the wide gamut of Scotch Whisky flavors - all of them.  Floral, honeyed, sherried, peated, and coastal all combine to make this beautiful spirit.  Like the 12 and the 18 - but with the darkness and intensity cranked up with maturity.  What a beauty.  Impressively, this stood up to the competition on the table with aplomb.

*****

Hirsch Single Cask Canadian 12 53.1%


The rear label only says Candian Whiskey * Single Cask * 12 years old * Lot 98-1 Bottled by Hirsch Distilleries Lawrenceburg, KY for Priess Imports, Ramona CA and bears a sticker in Japanese for sale in the Japanese market.  Rare and interesting as the odd-man-out bottling in the brief but now legendary association of Julian Van Winkle III's bottling operation with Priess Imports which had taken over the A.H. Hirsch lot of 1974 Bourbon from Michters and had started picking up odd lots and bottling those without the "A.H.".

Steve Zeller toasts w PHC2. Anthony Colasacco, right.

Color: light gold.
Nose: honey, herbal cedar with pencil shavings and mineral flint.
Palate, sweet and lean and honey-floral on entry.  Light and clean on the expansion where herbal spice, light clean mineral, and  a bit of grapefruit fruit and also pith astringency take over.  It tastes like a good Canadian blend of a corn base and rye flavoring whiskey.  I wonder what it actually is and which of Canada's distilleries it came from.  My guess would be Alberta distillery.  It has some of those Alberta Premium whiskey flavors.  Very refined for what it is.  Nicely balanced.

****

This somewhat legendary odd-ball bottling was a housewarming gift of Anthony Colosacco who is best known for his utterly fantastic whiskey bar in Mt, Kisco:  Pour Mt. Kisco.  It's the kind of bar where you can get a flight of Pappy Van Winkle Family Reserve - or all 3 Rittenhouse 21, 23, and 25.
http://www.pourmtkisco.com/


Pappy was well represented on the table with a bottle of Pappy Van Winkle Family Reserve 15 from 2006 and also a 2006 or prior (pre-laser stamped) bottle of Van Winkle 12 Lot B that Ari Susskind had been involved in locating.  Great guys and a great whiskey.  Soft and gentle Stitzel-Weller wheater flavors: mellow cherry root beer sandalwood incensed oaky loveliness.

Ari Susskind (left) Reuven Weinstein (right)




As the party was winding down, our host brought out nicely full glencairns with a mystery blind.  The aroma and flavor were clearly in the lightly sherried highland Scottish malt category.  Steve and I bothed initially guessed a  Macallan dusty.  I had to pull a chair aside and really focus.  My quick notes read:

http://img2.thewhiskyexchange.com/l/cvlob.1977v1.jpg
http://img2.thewhiskyexchange.com/l/cvlob.1977v1.jpg
Color:  amber
Nose, floral incense, hard candy, fig cake, sherry, leather

Palate. Intense (50+% abv) Honeyed, minted fig melon candy black plum with some apple skin waxes into big oak and spicy heat.  Hint of clean highland peat or just big oak tannins.  Maybe some active Spanish or French oak going on?  Inchgower?

That intense perfumed floral candy aspect of front, combined with a some of that unripe apple tartness put me in the mind of Inchgower - but also An Cnoc, Balblair, and Tomatin.  Yet this particular whisky clearly wasn't any of those.  I was purely stumped.  Later that evening Reuven texted the reveal:  It was

Convalmore 36 - 1977 Diageo office 2013 realease 58% abv.

(notes above) *****
A retail listing of this whisky at TWE (where the picture is linked from):
http://www.thewhiskyexchange.com/P-22036.aspx

Convalmore is one of the legendary silent stills of Scotland, founded in 1893 and closed in the glut days of 1985.  The story is well told on Malt Madness:
http://www.maltmadness.com/whisky/convalmore.html

When I got home I had to put it up against  this 10 cl sample of Connoisseur's Choice Convalmore 17 40% Gordon & MacPhail 1981-1998 (bottled by Van Der Boog, Holland - and brought to a recent tasting by my friend Bram Hoogendijk - thanks Bram!)



Convalmore 17 40% Gordon & MacPhail Connoisseur's Choice 1981-1998

Color: Gold
Nose:  Honey and floral heather with a hint of white white tartness, chalk mineral, and yellow grass in the Sun.
Palate: Sweet and gently honeyed on the opening with an immediate tart crisp apple skin quality.  Floral and tart fruit on the expansion with a dry perfume aspect on top of a rich barley-malt chassis.  The turn is all perfume and young sawn dried oak planks.  Beautiful - and very much in the Inchgower/AnCnoc wheelhouse - yet totally unique.  (Serge Valentin noted a touch of peat on the way to giving it a 76).
****

An amazing opportunity to taste a rare and special bottling of the rare Convalmore distillate in its very mature state.  In conversations on-line I speculated about the spicy heat on the back end of the 36 year old 1977 Diageo bottling.  Was it peat or spicy oak?  Rubin Luyten of Whiskynotes.be thought it might be a bit of peat (his excellent review is here):

Angus MacRaild (Angus MacWhisky) - expert on ancient Scotch par excellence e.g.:
http://www.whisky-online.com/blog/ - thought it was the wood:

" I'd say it is most likely from the wood given that it's a mix of european and american oak aged for over 36 years. At that sort of age you can definitely get a certain amount of phenolic extraction from the wood which can come through as medicinal/spicy/smoky/menthol in varying degrees. I doubt that Convalmore had any regular or meaningful peating level during the mid-late 70s. The ones I've tried from that time reveal it to have a spicy/herbaceous quality which I feel is very much part of the house style and derives more from the distillate. Anyway, I'm very much in agreement about the 36yo, it's an absolutely stonking dram!"

Stonking dram indeed.  I can't believe it was just handed out as a blind tasting as the post dessert apertif.  That's class.  Thanks, Reuven, for a wonderful time and a fabulous education!




Sunday, July 20, 2014

A Large Scale Tasting Of Dusty Old Weller Antiques 1998-2008 Tasted Blind & Compared With The Current Stuff.

11 Years of Old Weller Antique from 1998 (left) to 2008 (right).
The invitation came a couple of months ago.  Mike Jasinski - master dusty hunter and a great lover of old bourbons - had assembled a flight of Old Weller Antique paper labels bottles from 1998 to 2008: a full 11 years that chart the brands movement from Stitzel-Weller to Buffalo Trace.  These dusty bottles have become extremely popular these days and hard to find.  In the past few years the 7 year old age statement was dropped and the bottle design was changed from a stock cylinder with an antique looking paper label to a rounded ball shaped bottle with the ink printed right on the bottle (pictures of the current bottle are at the bottom).   Mike wanted a group of whiskey people to come out and taste them all blind - reporting our findings with numerical scores on the 100 point scale.  
We, however, tasted them blind - self poured from these flasks marked only by a number.

1940 BIB
(photo from Bonham's)
The brand, "Old Weller" harkens back to Pappy Van Winkle's original employer, William LaRue Weller who started his famous whiskey company in Louisville, KY in 1849.  The legendary inventor of the wheated whiskey mash bill (where wheat is used instead of rye as the flavoring grain, above a corn base and bit of malt to add enzymes).  Stitzel-Weller sold the wheated mash bill in a number of expressions, notably Rebel Yell, Cabin Still, and Old Fitzgerald.  Sam Cecil (in The Evolution of Kentucky Whiskey) reports that "Old W.L. Weller" (along with Mammoth Cave and Cabin Still) were brands that Pappy Van Winkle bottled after W. L. Weller's death in 1899 and before partnering with A. Ph. Stitzel during Prohibition using whiskey sourced from the Stitzel Bros.distillery in Louisville and the Old Joe distillery in Anderson.  Looking over old auction records I see the Old W. L Weller Special Reserve expression at 100 proof (as a Bottled In Bond expression) in the Repeal era (see photo at left taken from the October 2013 Bonham's NY Whiskey sale).  The "Old Weller" brand name doesn't seem to appear until the gold veined paper label incarnation apparently born in the early 1970s.  The earliest ad I could find showing it is from 1979 (below):
Ad from 1979 talks about the gold veining.
The word "Antique", however, is absent.
Chuck Cowdery lauds Old Weller Antique as a great value at $16 for a 7 year old in the back of his essential book Straight Bourbon (highly recommended) without reference to the brand's history. Sally Van Winkle Campbell doesn't mention the "Old W.L. Weller" or "Old Weller Antique" brands by name in "But Always Fine Bourbon".  Although she relates a story that "the reason that the distillery came out with 107 proof was because Pap's doctor said he could only have two drinks a day!"  If that's true then the Old Weller Antique expression dates to the mid-1960s (Pappy died in 1966), which jibes pretty well with the fact that I can't find a bottle or mention until 1970 or so.
(Update.  John Lipman (of http://www.ellenjaye.com/) has a much better explanation.  I posted it here:)
http://www.cooperedtot.com/2014/07/john-lipman-explains-why-there-is-107.html

That said, the expression existed through some very solid glory years of Stitzel-Weller (S-W) and then through a transition to production at Ancient Age / Buffalo Trace.  Experience tasting the Pappy Van Winkle Family Reserve bottlings from 2009-2013 have shown me that Buffalo Trace has a good handle on the Stitzel-Weller wheated mash bill flavor component.  The first in the series we'd be tasting at Mike's house would be a 1998 Stitzel-Weller Old Weller Antique (abbreviated "OWA" henceforth) - labeled "Louisville".  The rest would be labelled "Frankfort" but, presumably there would be a transition period where Stitzel-Weller stocks would still be used until Buffalo Trace's Frankfort stocks took over.  The Old Weller brand was sold by United Distillers to Sazerac in 1999 (which renamed the Frankfort, KY Ancient Age distillery  Buffalo Trace (BT)  in that same year, 1999).

Update: I'm wrong here.  I left out the period of time the Old Weller wheater recipe was made at New Bernheim where United Distillers (later to become Diageo) had consolidated Bourbon production - leading to the closing of Stitzel-Weller.  Thanks, Mike Jasinski, for setting it straight, in the comments on this post.  Also, in the comments below, Mike adds tasting notes: "The noses are dead giveaways as to which bottle is which. 98-01 had the typical green apple SW nose it is very muted but it is there. The 02-05 have they typical cherried sweet nose that Bernheim distilled wheated bourbons have. The 06-08 bottlings are very typical of the BT wet cardboard nose."

Mike (right center) and Claire Doorden,
(left center), welcome guests
Could we pick out the S-W 1998 stuff blind?  Could we taste a clear demarcation to BT?  Because Mike asked everyone to use a 100 point numerical scale I will be using that grading system for these.  Mike could swear he could identify BT by an aroma that I was classifying as "linseed oil" but which Mike called "cardboard".  Once he used that word I couldn't help but use it myself.  Cardboard - like sniffing the inside of a brown cardboard box is a good description of the aroma.  You'll see it mentioned in my nosing notes quite a bit below.  It's not as bad as it sounds. It's earthy and woody and sits among the floral and deep sugar notes.  As you can see by the scores below, all this stuff ranges from very good to excellent.

Josh Camerote pours himself a blind.
Jo

Old Weller Antique 7 yo. 53.5% abv. 1998 Stitzel-Weller.  Blind #4

Color:  medium amber
Nose:  Honeyed, fruity, oily, mossy, flinty.  Hint of tobacco.
Palate:  Sweet, fruity honeyed.  Maple, treacle shoo fly pie.  Cherry, citrus.
My score:  87  Mike's composite score:  87.

Old Weller Antique 7 yo. 53.5% abv. 1999 Buffalo Trace.  Blind #9

Color: dark medium amber
Nose:  honey toffee, cherry, cola, juicyfruit, oil, sandalwood.
Palate:  Intense sweet sandalwood and rancio.  Chewy mouth feel and long sweet oaky finish
My score: 91  Mike's composite Score: 92

Old Weller Antique 7 yo. 53.5% abv. 2000 Buffalo Trace.  Blind #1

Color: Dark amber
Nose: maple syrup juicyfruit.  Brown sugar toffee
Palate:  honey, malty toffee.  Cornflower, apricot bark.  Cherry, root beer
My score:  92  Mike's composite score: 92

Old Weller Antique 7 yo. 53.5% abv. 2001 Buffalo Trace.  Blind #8

Color:  dark amber (darkest yet)
Nose: Beautiful nose, floral cardboard
Palate: Honey, ripe cantaloupe, Turkish delight. Candy oak perfume
My score: 89  Mike's composite score: 88

Old Weller Antique 7 yo. 53.5% abv. 2002 Buffalo Trace.  Blind #2

Color:  dark amber (a shade darker than blind #1).
Nose light dusty musty oaky malt cherry cocoa.  Trace of iodine.
Palate, sweet cherry cola, char, tannin bitterness.
My score: 87  Mike's composite score:  87


Old Weller Antique 7 yo. 53.5% abv. 2003 Buffalo Trace.  Blind #11

Color:  dark medium amber
Nose:  Cardboard, malt toffee rancio brown sugar
Palate: Candied, toffeed, sandalwood perfumed glory.
My score: 91  Mike's composite score: 91

Old Weller Antique 7 yo. 53.5% abv. 2004 Buffalo Trace.  Blind #6

Color:  dark amber like 3
Nose: floral sandalwood, cherry, cardboard
Palate: Sweet, cherry, toffee, char and oak tannin.  Longer oaky maple finish with a bitter edge.
 My score 86 (bitter finish knocked it down)  Mike's composite score:  87

Old Weller Antique 7 yo. 53.5% abv. 2005 Buffalo Trace.  Blind #3

Color: dark amber, shade darker than 2 and 1
Nose: Oily, char. A little meaty
Palate: Fruity.  Tiny bit sour
My score: 88  Mike's Composite score: 88

Old Weller Antique 7 yo. 53.5% abv. 2006 Buffalo Trace.  Blind #7

Color: dark medium amber
Nose: Cardboard cherry juicyfruit
Palate:  honey, cherry toffee juicyfruit.  Oak tannin
My score: 88  Mike's composite score: 87

Old Weller Antique 7 yo. 53.5% abv. 2007 Buffalo Trace.  Blind #10

Color: almost as dark as 8/3
Nose: Cardboard, dark, sweet toffee, char, a hint of mildew
Palate: Sweet, cherry, cocoa, dark malt, cocoa, root beer.  Fruity, dark brown and delicious.  Char & edge of bitter char on finish.
My score: 90  Mike's composite score: 89

Old Weller Antique 7 yo. 53.5% abv. 2008 Buffalo Trace.  Blind #5

Color: light medium amber
Nose: Linseed nose, honey, yellow flowers
Palate:  honey, treacle, mint notes, honeysuckle,
My score: 88  Mike's composite score 87


Conclusion:  The Stitzel-Weller in the group wasn't the highest rated and it wasn't apparent to me at the time that it was the Stitzel-Weller one.  I like to think I can see some of the tell tale signs in my tasting notes and that if I were really paying attention I might have caught it.  Coulda Woulda Shoulda.  The bottom line is that it's all delicious Bourbon - with some significant variation between a dark and malty rich variety and a lighter amber more floral and fruity variety.  These varieties don't seem to correlate with year at all.  I suspect it's about barrel variation and rickhouse location.  While my 3 top rated ones were all dark and rich, the lighter ones were excellent drinking in their own right.  And notice that the Stitzel-Weller one was one of the lightest ones.

It makes a lot of sense to compare these experiences of tasting an extensive group of dusty Old Weller Antiques against the stuff you can buy today.  It's extremely popular and lauded.  So popular, however, that it has gone on allocation (i.e. a rationed limited supply to distributes).  It can still be readily found - particularly earlier in each month.  It's the same Buffalo Trace stuff, just now without an age statement.  Does that matter?  I tasted the bottle of Old Weller Antique that I have open at the moment (purchased late 2013) the following day at home - in the open (i.e. not blind).  This was a completely different tasting.  But just one day later the flavors of the paper label OWAs were fresh in my mind.



New Old Weller Antique 107 - no age statement.  53.5% abv. Bottle purchased 2013


Color: Medium light amber
Nose:  Vanilla, floral, hints of mint and lilac.  Light linseed oil/cardboard note.
Palate:  Opening is hotter and less malty than any of the examples tasted at Mike's.  It is grassy sweet with corn and apricot-citrus and cherry fruity notes along with some acetone notes.  The mid palate turns to oak and char, but with a more bitter presentation.
My score: 82

Conclusion.  It's still a wonderful Bourbon for the money, but it has lost a measure of depth of flavor, malty richness, and candied intensity.  With youth it has gained floral, herbal, and fruity notes - but the overall balance is thinner and less lush.

Phil Simon checks Mike's treasures
Phil Simon brought treasures
of his own too. 


The after party to this event was epic.  Major events included Phil Simon bringing a bottle of the legendary Hirsch Rye 13.  This epic bottle will be the topic of it's own post soon, but for the moment here are quick tasting notes taken at the event (when my palate was, admittedly, a bit toasted):

Hirsch 13 rye 47.8 % Medley bottled for Priess by Julian Van Winkle

Color: Dark coppery amber
Nose: caramel toffee, soft lanolin, cut daisy, cilantro flower
Palate;  Gentle, effervescent, malty, caramel, brown sugar, rum rancio, herbal, cinnamon.  Complex, rich, and superb.

Mike then opened a Louisville bottling of W. L Weller Centennial
Then people started getting goofy.
Other highlights included Mike's Louisville bottling of W. L. Weller Centennial, the last of his open bottle of 1916-1922 Old Bridgeport Mongahela PA rye (the topic of an upcoming post), the excellent Diageo bottling of Rosebank 21, and an amazing 1940s Old Taylor (that also needs its own post).  What a wonderful evening!  Thanks Mike and Claire!  Looking forward to our next 2am drive to Waffle House!

Sunday, June 15, 2014

A note to my father...

Left to right: the author, his father, Robert, his sister, Rhea, and his son, Ben.
I was raised by my father, Robert. My mother, Baila, died of cancer a few days after my 8th birthday and my sister, Rhea, six years older than I graduated from high school within a couple of years and left for college. My father taught me to cook, and to use tools to build. He taught me to love art and culture and history and beautiful things. My father taught me to love beauty. He also taught me to love science and learning and to put things to empirical test. That's because my father is a scientist.

My father is a technically a medical doctor, and actively saw patients through his professional life - but that was always on the side of his first love: research. He researched diabetes, but much of his life was dominated by researching medical methods themselves - how hospitals run and how this impacted the HMO model. He started doing this research in the 1960s with the father of the HMO concept itself: Sidney Garfield; the man who invented the concept of opt-in prepaid health care on the LA Aqueduct and Grand Coolee dam projects in the 1930s.

Robert Feldman, MD and Sidney Garfield, MD in 1972
My father brought this love of experimentation into the home and into our culinary life together. We made pickles in the refrigerator, cooked together inventions of our own. These were often amalgams of traditional Eastern European Jewish foods that my father learned from his father, Jacob. Jacob's wife, Rose had become sick and was in a hospital for years when my father was a boy. My father lived and cooked with his father - without a mother as I did.

My father married a my mother, a woman who became an artist and a painter, and they built a beautiful home in the Berkeley, CA hills. They filled it with luminous art and beautiful rugs and plants. They traveled and explored, both physically and intellectually, the cultures of the world. Later, my father and I continued this sense of aesthetics and appreciation. We had trips to France, to Italy, to Spain and Canada, Austria, Switzerland, Germany and more. We went to cathedrals and monasteries, castles and museums. We went on the pilgrimage of Santiago de Compostela. Along the way we had fantastic food, wine and spirits. We ate at 3 star restaurants on occasion. At home we participated in the Berkeley born nouvelle cuisine revolution. I was taken to Alice Waters' restaurant and given a salad of baby greens and warm goat cheese while still an adolescent - a formative experience.

My father and I collected together. We purchased, loved, and shared Persian rugs, Japanese Imari porcelains, and coins. Coins and medals, numismatic lore and passionate shared study, research, investment and labor dominated years of our time. Another pathway into cultural appreciation and tangible connection with the wider world.

Thanks, Dad. You have taught me love and lust for life! On this Father's Day I raise my glass to you with the finest drams. You took the raw new make that was me and aged it lovingly in a series of well seasoned casks and made of me a spirit worth drinking.

(originally posted June 17, 2012).

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Women in American Whiskey Advertising: Goddesses, Whores, Class Symbols, And Then Emerging Equality Which Fades Rapidly Away


Given the arc of the historical reviews of how stigmatized minorities appear in whiskey advertising in the USA on this blog over the past week, it's probably no surprise that my topic now is women.  It's a rich vein and I've decided to address the major themes in whiskey advertising about women spanning over a century - so this will be a long post.  In it you'll see reflected the major historical trends affecting women like a mirror in ads for whiskey that were primarily aimed at men (except fascinatingly, the few times they weren't).  It will probably come as no surprise that women were objectified through much of America's whiskey history and that they emerged as loci of power with the rise of the women's movement.  You might be surprised, however, to find that the return of whiskey's popularity is associated with advertising themes that are about pretending the women's movement never happened.

19th Century part 1: Women as Goddesses and Nurturers


In the 19th century women in public art tended to be depicted as classical allegorical figures (i.e. women who represented an embodied ideal).  As such women were depicted everywhere, often in classical dress (or nakedness) representing abstract ideas.  For example we had women on coins (and the iconic Statue of Liberty) as Liberty herself.  In front of the courthouse a woman wore a blindfold and held the scales of justice.  Given the agricultural roots of whiskey production it should come as no surprise that some early whiskey labels depict a a female who evokes the classical representation of Ceres or Demeter, goddess of grain:

Bininger's Bourbon circa 1860
Library of Congress
Roman Goddess Ceres 1852



Roman carving of Ceres - Goddess of Grain.

In the Clark's Pure Rye advertisement depicted at left the assembled drinkers hail a Gibson-girl dressed respectable woman who is labelled "Miss Peoria".  She is an allegorical depiction of the city of Peoria, Illinois (the city where the popular brand "Clark's Pure Rye" was made in the 19th century up until Prohibition shut it down and ended Peoria's run as one of the biggest whiskey producing cities in the world.  Another clue to her allegorical status is that, like the Statue of Liberty, she towers over the men.

Such allegorical depictions could be salacious too (and often were).  Allegorical figures were often depicted in the nude - as the image of naked female bathers here in this ad for Old Sunny Brook (shows below).  The nude bathers are depicted in a way that evokes the classical and Renaissance depictions of the 3 graces:






Other, more chaste depictions of women in the 19th century whiskey advertising centered on the perception of whiskey as medicinal and women as the mothering, nursing, care givers who administered whiskey as a domestic curative:

 

On the left, Mom administers Duffy's Pure Malt Whiskey as medicine to Grandpa.  Duffy's was a famous case of snake-oil like lie-filled advertising.  Malt whiskey was presented a nutritional powerhouse cure-all of disease.  Food and drug legislation got its start in the outcry against such exaggerated claims.  On the right, Deep Springs Whiskey makes a huge Confederate patriotic play.  General Robert E. Lee salutes astride his famous white charger "Traveller" while being hailed by Grey-coat Confederate troops waving the stars and bars.  In the foreground a field nurse administers a libation of Deep Springs Bourbon from a freshly opened case to a felled soldier with a bloody bandage on his leg.  These depictions show women in the classic role of nurturing care giver.

19th Century part 2: The Saloon Culture of Prostitution


However, in a Madonna/Whore dichotomy, women were also depicted as sexually loose seductresses in 19th century whiskey advertising as well.  As Fred Minnick makes clear in his masterful history of the subject, "Whiskey Women", a growing synergy between prostitution and whiskey drinking in the exploding saloon culture of the Wild West and later 19th Century culture of the East was becoming both culturally and economically ascendant:

"During the Gold Rush, taverns, brothels, and casinos popped up all over California, New Mexico, Colorado, and Wyoming, and they all employed women to “please” men and sell whiskey. In what Wild West historian Cy Martin called the “Great Whore Invasion” of 1850– 51, 3 California bar owners ordered prostitutes from Chile, China, Mexico, and France. More than 2,000 women arrived in San Francisco in 1850... Once they arrived at their employer, depending on the establishment, the women became waitresses to serve prospectors working the streams and mines with gold to burn. The average waitress/ prostitute earned $ 15 to $ 25 a week, but she also made a commission on selling whiskey. At San Francisco’s Bella Union, thirty “pretty waiter girls” worked in the upper and lower sections of the casino and encouraged men to buy liquor, while arousing them. The more they drank, the more she earned. One French prostitute earned $ 50,000 in a year, likely thanks to her ability to keep men drinking. Collectively , the income of these women probably exceeded many states’ gross revenue. ... In 1857 New York, sex-hungry men spent more than $ 7 million at brothels or “nearly as much as the annual municipal expenditure of New York City.” Visitors spent nearly as much on wine and liquor, $ 2.08 million, as they did on the prostitutes, $ 3.1 million. 5 The liquor and prostitution business rivaled any moneymaking venture of its time. If a tavern did not offer sexual services, it stood to lose customers."

Minnick, Fred (2013-10-01). Whiskey Women Potomac Books Inc..

Whiskey advertising of the period showed this aspect of the relationship between whiskey and women:
Old Crow Ad card depicting prostitutes smoking - 1870.  Library of Congress

This ad (left) for Belle of Nelson Bourbon (1870s), depicts women in an oriental harem.  Such depictions were extremely popular in the orientalist artistic traditions of the latter half of the 19th century.  An example of a late 19th century orientalist painting by Hungarian popular artist Gyula Tornai is shown below.  Such images represented an immoral sybaritic sexual free for all - code for the saloon brothel culture referenced by Fred Minnick in "Whiskey Women".  However, by placing this in a cultural reference to a remote region referenced by art and literature it, like allegorical art, could bypass the prudish prohibitions against the exhibition of the female body and be acceptably publicly displayed.

"In The Harem" - Gyula Tornai late 19th century
Evoking both the harem and the saloon bordello, this tin painted sign "A Nightcap of Wilson" "'That's All'" (left) depicts two women partaking of shots of Wilson's Rye Whiskey (in the era before it became a blend).  The standing figure is wearing a gauzy nightgown that makes it clear she is virtually naked.  In the late 19th century the meaning of such a depiction would have been clearly sexual.

The 1903 advertisement for Red Top Rye - a Kentucky rye distributed through Cincinnati OH (right across the Ohio River) shows a pair of free spirited women apparently dressed as Can Can dancers.  Their wild spinning dance evokes the head spinning drunk of imbibing alcohol.  Their red flowers, exposed legs and wild abandon clearly communicate the sexual abandon of the saloon culture as well:


However the wild abandon of the saloon culture would become its undoing and would usher in the cultural backlash that culminated in Prohibition.  Fred Minnick, in "Whiskey Women" describes this movement thus:

"... towns across the country were filled with wives losing husbands to liquor and brothels. The country’s mood toward the saloon became a “social evil” where wild women forced men into intoxication and adultery.  ... it was much easier for society to blame the women, often forced sex slaves, and the whiskey than to hold the men accountable for their actions. When answering to their wives for their infidelity , the men would say, “The whiskey made me do it.” This growing concern led to cities cracking down on prostitution and passing prohibitive liquor laws. In 1892 time, it was much easier for society to blame the women, often forced sex slaves, and the whiskey than to hold the men accountable for their actions. When answering to their wives for their infidelity , the men would say, “The whiskey made me do it.” This growing concern led to cities cracking down on prostitution and passing prohibitive liquor laws. In 1892 the San Francisco City Council passed a law prohibiting liquor sales in theaters, effectively destroying Bella Union’s ability to attract clientele . Newspapers ran front-page editorials, calling prostitution a “parent of evil . It is not only a social evil, it is a sanitary evil, and is even becoming a political evil.”

"The best governmental fight against prostitution was temperance. Stopping the saloons and the ladies of the night became the battle cry for the temperance movement. It was also a marketing point for the suffrage movement, with the Woman’s Journal calling woman suffrage a cure for prostitution."

Minnick, Fred (2013-10-01). Whiskey Women (p. 61). Potomac Books Inc.. Kindle Edition.

Repeal - Women As Evidence of Class, Not Objects of Sex


In the aftermath of Prohibition, advertisers were careful to steer clear of any representation of sexuality.  Women generally hardly appear on any adverting for whiskey from Repeal until the advent of the sexual revolution in the early 1960s.  Men are depicted drinking, either alone or in clubby groups.  The few exceptions show women as chaste respectable companions in party or dinner environs that emphasize high class and good manners.   View a large gallery of ads from the Repeal era through WWII and see how many men appear on ads vs women during this period.

 The classy Manhattan cocktail - as presented in this National Distiller's advertisement of 1934, the year immediately following Repeal:  "At the fashionable places today, the Manhattan cocktail is again the correct apertif, just as it was in the days of Martin's Sherry's, and the old Beaux Arts when it was made with authentic Spring Garden Rye.  Aging for you through all the slow years in charred white oak barrels, this fine whiskey now comes to you in a mellow blend which has taken on added character and distinction.  Penn-Maryland Company, Inc. William Street, New York"
The women are shown as classy accompaniment for the handsome well dressed men.  This is also the case in the 1930 English ad for Dewar's White Label shown below.  The tag line hints give us their conversation - turgid and snobby as it is, given their extreme high class and well-dressed for dinner-ness (white tie for him).

 

The pair of ads for Rittenhouse Rye directly above date from late 1934- the year the brand was introduced (along with Dixe Belle Gin) by Continental Distilling.  On the left we see a nostalgic theme of a 19th century sleigh.  Uniquely the woman is seen as holding the reins and doing the driving.  This is the first time a woman is the primary actor in a whiskey ad that is neither allegorical or salacious.  On the right three people ring in the new year 1935 at the stroke of midnight.  Two men are disembodied hands.  The self possessed woman in the middle of the image is in control - feted by multiple men she presumably gets to choose between.  It seems likely that these ads were aimed at women.

The 1950s Fleischmann's Blended Whiskey Campaign: Early Signs of a Coming Sexual Thaw.

In a foreshadowing of the sexual revolution, a rare appearance by women in whiskey ads during this period (outside of populating party pictures or holding a serving tray) is in this famous late 1950s campaign.  In each ad a man carries an enormous bottle of cheap Fleischmann's blended whiskey home and elicits appreciative delighted glances and attention from pretty, well dressed (i.e. high status), ladies on the street.  Presumably they can't resist the inherent humor of the big bottles.  The barely hidden subliminal subtext is that he is hugely endowed with a titanic erect phallus which is what garners the female attention.  The women here are to provide the approving gaze - within a subliminal sexual context.  That edge of sexuality was new - and about to become a tidal wave.   But the women in these transitional ads are chastely fully dressed and at a physical distance.  

The 60s and 70s: rise of the Feminist Movement and the Sexual Revolution.

The 60s begin with much of the flavor and style of the 1950s but this 1960 Four Roses advertisement shows something new.  At first glance it looks a lot like the Repeal era ads showing men and women at a table having whiskey in a way that emphasizes class.  And there is some of that going on here too - they are at an airport, about to go jet setting across the globe which was still a new, glamorous, and classy thing to be doing in 1960.  But look at their faces and body English.  These people are flirting.  The obvious prelude to sexual activity seen in the blonde's open mouth and the clear attention that this draws from the three other people in the scene is completely new in whiskey advertising.  It will become, as we will see below - completely dominating almost right away.  


With the advent of birth control ("The Pill" was licensed by the FDA in 1960) social norms about sexuality transformed extremely rapidly.  Old notions about saving one's virginity for marriage quickly seemed outdated.  Advancing notions of women's liberation became conflated with sexual freedom.  This movement ended up represented in film, literature, and advertising.  Ads began to show men and women in close proximity with clear and present sexual tension.  Women were now sexually available, which was awesome - but they were empowered - which was confusing.  And, increasingly, they didn't want to be drinking whiskey at all.  The huge demographic shift away from whiskey towards white spirits which proved so devastating to the whiskey business world-wide began, seemingly, as soon as women became empowered.

This 1965 Calvert Canadian Whiskey ad shows the ancient and enduring cultural gender bias about whiskey: that whiskey is for men because it's "too hard" for women.  This is the manifesto of doom to the whiskey industry that an empowered woman-centric market implies.  Feminine women, the thinking goes, don't like whiskey because it's mannish.  They prefer softer fruiter white spirits fare.  But feminist empowered women, thus, should love whiskey because they embrace the mannish attributes of being empowered.  But, of course, this ad isn't about empowered feminist women.  It's about the lovely long stemmed "lady" you, as a Mad-Men era man, want to bed.  Even this kind of lady will drink this particular whiskey, the ad argues, because it's so soft - the essential feminine attribute.  The main point being that she's drinking - that's good because YOU, the reader of the ad (a man) want to get her drunk to take advantage of her sexually.  The text reads:  "Many women don't find whiskey very likable.  In fact they find it hard to take.  So you usually find them with gin or vodka, or one of those lady drinks.  But we've changed all that.  We've given whiskey more appeal.  A lady can even drink Soft Whiskey straight.  Without batting an eyelash.  Soft Whiskey swallows nice and easy, treating her ever so tenderly.  But don't get the wrong idea.  Soft Whiskey is no softie.  It's 86 proof.  And does exactly what any 86 proof does.  It just does it softer...." (and what it does is lower her inhibitions - i.e. get her inebriated - right?).

This ad explicitly states the attitude about whiskey that brought about the massive decline in whiskey consumption in the from the 70s through the 90s.  If whiskey is harsh and women prefer "lady drinks", vodka and gin, then as a considerate man reading this ad I would reasonably conclude that rather than try to get her to drink some half-@$$'ed "Soft Whiskey" I should just stock up on vodka and gin and fixings for "lady drinks".  And, you know what?  That's exactly what America did - dropping whiskey like a hot potato for decades.

This Canada Dry Bourbon advertisement from 1965 shows the sexual context that whiskey was trying to position itself in (whiskey as social lubricant and prelude to sex).  It adds the very modern wrinkle of showing couples of mixed race.  This gives it a progressive Civil Rights feel.  Sadly for Canada Dry Bourbon their product was atrocious and disappeared from the market shortly thereafter - the subject of a recent blog post here on The Tot.   

The sexual subtext of whiskey advertising in this period is made textually explicit in this 1968 ad for Old Bernheim's I.W. Harper (left - with the DSP-KY-1 designation proudly shouted out right below the product's name on the ad).  The ad features a photo of a delighted attractive woman looking straight into the camera.  The tag line screams "Make It With Harper".  Presumably the girl's name is Harper and "Make It" refers to the sexual act.  Or am I just reading too much into it?  Overt and inappropriate sexuality was the centerpiece of the Imperial blended whiskey "Imp" ad campaign too.  The tag line was the text "it brings out the imp in all of us" at the bottom of each ad in the series' block of text.  But the photo, with the woman wearing a choker with a devilish imp medallion, shows that the imp is the sexually available woman herself.  The clear implication is that plying the modern sexually liberated woman with whiskey will produce some kind of love slave that "he can call his own".  It's an inversion of feminism's appropriation of sexual liberation into a kind of sexual slavery or ownership on the part of the male reader who, presumably was feeling a little defensive about this feminism stuff.  It's worth noting that this was the last national ad campaign for Imperial - a venerable Schenley brand - before it disappeared into the world of ultra-bottom shelf well whiskey where it has languished ever since.

Late 1960s-Early 70s - White Horse Pretends To Be Feminist to Get Men Laid.  But Empowered Women Might Not Be Whiskey Drinkers.

Old White Horse was some very good drinking back in the 70s and prior with its old-school flavors of Lagavulin and honeyed highland blended in.  But in the late 60s and early 70s White Horse was losing sales volume - like most other whisky brands - and was struggling to stay relevant.  Clearly the rise of the women's liberation movement and the sexual revolution was the right topic to make whisky seem young and hip again, right?  In this ad we learn that "Today, the one who wears the pants chooses the Scotch".  "Comes the 'look-alike' generation - they dress alike, work alike, play alike.  Now meet the Scotch they like alike:  White Horse..."  The message is clear:   women are empowered. See?  She's wearing pants - and that connects the cliche about "who wears the pants in the family?"  You can see her power is ascendant over his because her legs are open in a power posture.  Her hips cocked in a sassy angle emphasize her sexual control.  Meanwhile, the man's are crossed in an emasculated way.  She's driving things here.  The ad copy says that she likes Scotch - presumably because Feminism has made her a clone of the man and HE likes Scotch.  But that was wishful thinking.  The fact was that she actually was driving those drinking decisions and she had her own ideas.  Indeed, she was increasingly choosing vodka with fruit juice - white rum, gin, and tequila - preferably with lime.


Empowered feminist women are shown in these ads.  To the left we see a woman dressed in state-of-the-art Go Go mod clothes literally blindfolded looking for "the good guy".  The ads all say "The Good Guys are always on the White Horse".  It was meant to evoke an amusing party game but clearly represented the search for a mate.  She is doing the choosing.  The fact that the button she is using to "pin the tail on the donkey" is the slogan "be a good guy" implies that only through fulfilling her wants can you (the man) be sexually worthy of being selected.  This is the opposite of "The Imp" ad above where she docilely sips the drink the man gave her.  Here she is actively (if blindly) searching for Mr. Goodbar to give her what she wants.  The ad is telling you it's Scotch but you might choose to be more empirical about it.  The tough women on the right are ganged up against you, the hapless male, telling you that if you want to make it with them you better be one of "the Good Guys".  But the clear modernity of these women dictates the rejection of an old traditional brand of Scotch like White Horse.  Secretly you know you had better bring her a Cosmo, Sex on the Beach, or a Margarita, right?  In any case - the point is obvious.  These women are the ones in control.

More White Horse advertising goodness.  On the left we have a young Ali McGraw as part of the crew of women who will judge you harshly if you show up "alone" (i.e. not bearing a bottle of White Horse).  Meanwhile, just look a these women.  They aren't Scotch drinkers.  Who are they kidding?  Ditto on the right.  This bandy legged fox in the hot red dress wants something.  The ad's text says "Wade in straight on.  Hug the hostess.  Give her a bottle of White Horse and you rate..."  It's the same misplaced message attached to an image of the kind of woman you desperately want to sleep with but deep down you know is doing tequila shots.  Notice that she's forcefully filling the doorway.  The man attending her is sideways, almost invisible.  
By the early 70s we have a return to the White Horse - the actual animal -  crashing the party (a staple of the advertising of the 50s).  But here the party is the babe naked in the tub.  The ad might be talking to "you" again (i.e. the male whisky buyer).  You can take that White Horse anywhere - i.e. into the tub with that woman. The White Horse is the symbol of male sexual power after all.  But this white horse looks like a unicorn and the woman in the image is supremely self possessed and independent.  The white lilies symbolize chastity and virtue - the sign of the Virgin Mary's annunciation.  This is a feminist ad aimed at the empowered woman herself.  It seeks to equate having a Scotch with blissful, almost spiritual, hedonistic retreat.

But, as it turned out in the end, she didn't really want that old Scotch anyway.   Yes - White Horse, too, has become a bottom of the shelf cheap blend.  All these advertising dollars couldn't stop the juggernaut of changing tastes and the rise of cocktail culture.

Does Being Feminist Mean Drinking Like a Man?


White Horse wasn't the only brand pretending that  empowered newly feminist women would mirror the traditional male alcohol preference for Scotch whisky.  Ballantine's did it too.  On the left we have the guy asking if she's ever tasted  Ballantine's before.  She answers with an extensive dossier of experience -  many more than he has.  She has full mastery of the situation - and rears up taller than him.  Her depth of experience is a sign that she has beat him at his own male game of being all about Scotch.  Ballantines was hoping that empowered women would choose the same reward as men did (Scotch whisky).  It was wishful thinking and it was out of touch.

This ad (right) is even more overtly pseudo-feminist.  These women are "Liberated" as the ad copy explicitly says.  The one on the left asks "Why should men get all the Ballantine's Scotch?"  This is the outright statement of the whole line of thought:  'if women are empowered; then they have become men.  And men drink Scotch.  Thus liberated women drink Scotch too.'
The middle one says "Talk it up".  The one on the right says "Liberty. Equality. Ballentines".  i.e. be feminist and liberated by being a brand loyal Scotch drinker like a man.  This ad is aimed at women and attempted to shoehorn them into the view that empowered means 'Scotch drinking'.

But feminism had empowered women and allowed them to have to upper hand in the mating narrative and also in the drinks selection.  Now, with the hindsight of history we know what happened.  Whisky bit the dust for a whole generation.

These empowered women speak in this 1970 Cutty Sark ad.  "To a man they say Cutty Sark".   If this ad is read by a woman the story is that 'as a man, you'll choose to drink Scotch'.  I.e. if you're an empowered feminist you will be mannish and will have to pick a man's drink.  Of, if read by a man that the newly empowered women wants a man to buy them old fashioned white man whisky.  That, obviously feminism is some kind of a sham and men still need to be the ones to bring the whisky - 'and you ARE a man, aren't you?'  "To a man" - i.e. when speaking to you - the man - the potential sexual partner - they tell YOU they want that whiskey.  I.e. you should buy it.  Except, of course, they (these women of 1970 demographically) didn't actually want whisky at all.  As the Calvert ad told us years before "Many women don't find whiskey very likable.  In fact they find it hard to take.  So you usually find them with gin or vodka, or one of those lady drinks."

Hyper-futuristic 70s whiskey?  Yes Seagrams attempted to deal with the rampant turn to white spirits by attempting to float the early Repeal era category of light whiskey.  It was a rapid failure.  We can see the feminist subtext in the body English here as well.  They are unisex - in identical jump suits.  But she sits in poise and power - appreciating the majesty of the Universe.  He is a dork with his back to the show, nervously attending her.

All of these women's liberation period whisky ads reek of the stink of failure.  The whisky industry attempted to equate feminine power with the masculine choice of drinking brown but it didn't work at all.  Women led the charge towards white spirits and utterly crushed the whisky industry... like a bug.

But this inversion of sexual power dynamics didn't last for long.

(Update - these last two sections have been re-written to incorporate the perceptive analysis Susanna Skiver Barton provided in the comments.  Thanks to Susanna for taking the time to engage.)

The 80s through today - Women As Sexual Prizes To Be Won.  And finally just disposable faceless aspects of male self-affirmation. 


Male sexual power in whiskey advertising quickly played the anti-feminist trump card: objectification.  A barrage of ads quickly surfaced that just showed beautiful women adorning the product.  The most famous example of this aesthetic were the Black Velvet ads of the late 70s and early 80s:
Cherlyl Tiegs' iconic 1975 Black Velvet ad really set the tone.  She sizzled in a dress that was more not there than there.  By 1980 we have amped the sexuality with text that conflates "touch" with drinking the whisky.  By 1990 we now have text which makes it explicit that the dress is be taken off:  But, ultimately, as objectification of women go, these ads are fairly tame.  The women appear classy and beautiful - self possessed and composed.  They don't have a thing to do with the whisky, but at least they appear to be in charge of their own destinies.  


As we saw last week, in the world of advertising aimed at black men, men clearly have the dominant position.  This 1977 Canadian Club ad makes it clear that the man is in charge.  The text is explicit:  "The CC man is back.  He's young.  He's confident.  He's looking good.  Drinking good.  Canadian Club Whisky.  Look who's drinking Canadian Club now".  She isn't even mentioned.  The woman's approval is like jewelry for the man: an attractive attribute of him.  She has no autonomous reality at all.  She is in full retreat into the background while he focuses fully on his whisky.  His focus is squarely away from her.  It's all about him.

Into the late 1990s we get the Evan Williams "the longer you wait the better it gets" ads.  The point here is that ... ahem... whiskey gets better with some maturation.  By 100% conflating sexually hot women with the whiskey these ads take whiskey advertising where the Black Velvet ads only hinted.  You could still imagine that the Black Velvet babes maybe just drank the stuff.  Now, Evan Williams tells you clearly that the babes ARE the stuff.  The before and after images of women here imply a history - but that's not the point.  The point is that they have become sexually awesome with some "time in the barrel" - just like the whiskey.  You aren't meant to consider them as human beings; solely as objects of desire and then associate that feeling with the whiskey.  We are squarely back in the oriental harem here in terms of gender dynamics.


In an odd way it's like a full circle.  The Evan Williams beauties are like allegorical figures - beautiful embodiment of the whiskey itself like the farm girl reaper of 1860 was the embodiment of Ceres - goddess of grain.  But it's just another step away from women being depicted as real people.  It, thus, wouldn't be long until we dispense with any shred of personhood for the woman at all.  With this late 2000s ad campaign from Jim Beam we have faceless tight cropped image of female sexuality posing with the whiskey.  Sexuality accents the product like it would in a fashion ad.

A fashion ad?  Yes - like this notorious Dolce & Gabbana pseudo rape ad.  It's all about male power and the woman is a silent victim - robbed even of her power to shock or evoke pity because she so damned fashionable and immaculately put together.  Male power is hot and female submission is a style decision - like whether to wear leather.


In this cultural environment it's not hard to see how we might end up here (on a recent Dewar's spot)... on a dark road late at night with our protagonist being saved by the Baron.  Then ending up in a bar where this lady comes walking up:
Oh NO!  It's an overweight, and thus horribly unattractive woman!  She is clearly not at all a part of the century long narrative of female beauty so carefully constructed over decades.  That's unacceptable!  Who will save our poor male protagonist now?

Oh, yay!  It's the Baron!  Here he has diverted the overweight woman away from our protagonist; "fallen on the grenade" in the parlance.  This grotesque: the cruelty to depict the potential affections of a an otherwise attractive person who who happens to be overweight is what drove this ad over the line as politically incorrect discrimination.

The controversy over this spot was well documented on Grub Street:
 http://www.grubstreet.com/2013/12/dewars-meet-the-baron-ad.html


Later we get to see that the Baron and the protagonist share the reward: a date with the "Swedish bikini team" of ultra-hot blondes.


The whole campaign is "hosted" by the lingerie and fur clad woman you see at right.  In a series of object lessons (the spots), this lingerie-clad hottie is going to teach you to be a real man.  Hint: it involves disrespecting women and embracing some very antique notions of behavior.  That socialization lesson is underscored by fashion and facial hair cues taken from the Victorian period.  (For more on this pulled campaign read this fawning piece:  http://www.theruggedmale.com/dewars-the-drinking-mans-scotch-claire-forlani/).

Now, thanks to Johanne McInnis (The Whisky Lassie) that particularly offensive ad campaign from Dewars was pulled - but that it was even produced and then released shows that our Zeitgeist is at least partially here:  Feminism took whiskey away; whiskey's return means feminism's negation.  Women in this ad campaign have no autonomous reality.  They are just affirmation for the men in these ads.  Meanwhile, in the real world,  women are becoming an important market for whiskey.  Yet, much of the whiskey marketing feels like it's giving life lessons to sadly clueless men.  Significantly, women in these recent ads are not about - as they were in the 30s-50s - class, or - as they were in the 60s-70s - immediate sex potential.  Now they have become accessories to male empowerment.  The point here isn't that women will have sex with you if you give them whisky.  It's that women will let you be in the dominant position - as if the women's movement of the 60s and 70s had never happened.  Whiskey is presented as a cultural vestige of a time before feminism - and a magical way to transport you there.

We end with this 1998 Jim Beam ad: "Get In Touch With Your Masculine Side".  I.e., as a man, connect with lust, objectify women, and drink your Bourbon as if feminism had never happened.  Viewed from  a woman's perspective, drinking Bourbon is being like a man.  I.e. a woman drinking Bourbon is like a woman wearing a man's shirt or his underwear.  Sexy cross-gender dress up.  Bottom line, whisky is still depicted as utterly male.  A woman drinking it is surrendering her sex and choosing to subjugate herself to maleness.

Socially, "we've come a long way, Baby" but we still have far to go when it comes to depicting women in a mature way in whiskey advertising.  The last century and a half has seen tremendous advances, from suffrage through the women's rights movement.  But women are still paid pennies on the dollar compared to men and women are still depicted as objects and accessories and symbols of sex, rather than actual people.  They are still shown as feminine visitors to an exclusive male enclave of whisky which ignores the fact that women are a real and important growing market for whiskey.  In real life, women are empowered in the whiskey world - but they have not found a voice in the way whiskey is advertised yet at all.  Whisky, of course, isn't a magical elixir that puts women in a traditional role.  It's actually a tasty drink that women largely invented (at least according to Fred Minnick's Whiskey Women).  I wonder when it will start to be sold that way?