Crofts v. Taylor, 1887

Double, double toil and trouble,
Fire burn and cauldron bubble….
Like a hell broth boil and bubble.
(from Macbeth)


Mixing of beer by publicans and other retailers has been a no-no for centuries in Britain and probably elsewhere. Yet, as late as 1887, they were still arguing the legal fine points, as this case, Crofts v. Taylor, shows, a decision of the English Queen’s Bench.

Here’s what happened. A public house in Brick Lane, London was shown to have mixed two beers. One from Barclay’s was – my calculation from gravity numbers in the case – 5.7% abv, the other, a “small beer” from a dealer, only 2.4% abv.*

The savvy publican mixed them in such a way to produce a blend of 4.6% abv, whose taste as well would be drier than the Barclay’s beer, 1010.4 FG vs. 1013 FG. It’s not clear how or if he had labeled or retailed the mixture, i.e., I think perhaps the revenue agent found the blend in the cellar before any tapping.

The mixing statute prohibited adulterating or diluting “beer” or adding anything to it except finings. The key issue was, did Crofts dilute beer by mixing a weaker beer with a stronger? The magistrate held yes; the appeal judges agreed, although not without some difficulty in the case of one judge.

He worried a bit over the habit to order “half and half” in the pub, and noted as did the other judge that the required revenue had been paid, so was it clear Crofts had really diluted “beer”? If he had added water, that would be different, but as each component in the mix was “beer” and only that, arguably nothing was being adulterated.

In the result though, these doubts were resolved in favour of upholding the trial decision. Both appeal judges considered that not just revenue collection was at play here, but also the need not to humbug the customer if I can put it that way.

I must say had I heard the case, I might have had trouble to convict, as proof in such matters must be beyond a reasonable doubt and I am not sure the statute, as drafted in that particular case, went quite so far as it might have to discharge that burden.

There is always I think a policy factor that plays into court decisions of this type, and the court didn’t want the pubs to mix and match the beers in bulk as commercially supplied, end of the story.

And so the court decided against Crofts. He traded at 40 Brick Lane. Although I couldn’t quite reconcile the civic numbers on the fascias, I think it is this building at the corner (possibly rebuilt), now a hair salon.

What do you think though, was Crofts hard done by?

Note re image: the image above was sourced from the clipart site, here, which has authorized use for the purposes hereof.


*Rather late I think to be selling small beer in London, but there we have it, plus useful, court-approved numbers for its alcohol content then.



Stitzel-Weller’s Distilling and Barrel Entry Proofs in 1954 (Part II)

More mid-1950s Columns by J.P. Van Winkle, Sr.

At the end of this post are links to further Old Fitzgerald column-ads I found recently in digitized newspapers on the Fulton History site. They were authored by J.P. Van Winkle, Sr., later known as Pappy, the long-time and long-lived President of Stitzel-Weller Distillery, the famed D.S.P. 16.

Six further columns of Pappy were reprinted in But Always Fine Bourbon: Pappy Van Winkle and the Story of Old Fitzgerald, by Sally Van Winkle Campbell, published in 1999. As stated in a note in my Part I, this book is a must read for its warm tone, the extensive information conveyed, and handsome illustrations.

Yet more columns by Pappy exist, some were reproduced on bourbon discussion forums years ago.

Of all those I have seen, none mentions wheat in the (single) bourbon mash bill of D.S.P. 16. Obviously wheat was an important part of the D.S.P. 16 taste, and it remains so for the current Van Winkle and W.L. Weller bourbons. (I have omitted discussion in these posts of the current Old Fitzgerald, including the Larceny brand, produced by Heaven Hill Distillery but may discuss that later).

This 1970 Old Fitzgerald advertisement mentions the “whisper of wheat”. Perhaps 1970 is the first year wheat is mentioned in company advertising, I am not sure. But in the Pappy era, his columns and other company ads did not mention wheat, to my knowledge.

Pappy’s columns mention many aspects of bourbon production at D.S.P. 16 that he felt were important to quality. These ranged from daily ventilation of warehouses, to sour mashing, to prolonged open small tub mashing and fermentation, to controlling proof in various stages of operation, and more. My own feeling is that Pappy, as a good marketer, emphasized production aspects that contributed to the final result but in many cases weren’t unique to D.S.P. 16, while probably omitting a key if not the most important aspect – the wheat element in the mash.

Wheat lends a certain softness to bourbon, especially when well-aged, and this surely was a key part of the D.S.P. 16 Old Fitzgerald and Weller palates, not just the wheat but the exact proportions of corn, wheat, and barley malt used. Indeed the 1970 ad above states that the wheat contributes the “mellow, nut-sweet” taste of Old Fitzgerald, versus that is “the rye commonly used in other bourbons”.

In terms now of aging, while Pappy vaunted his four to eight year old bourbon, Old Fitzgerald, and Old Weller, were sometimes released at older ages. There was a Very Old Fitzgerald and Very Very Old Fitzgerald, as well as a 10 or 12 year Old Weller. Not a great deal of it was available, but there was some and ages ranged from 10-15 years old. Obviously this appealed to those who liked a well-matured taste.

In my view, the current Van Winkle range of 10-23 year-old bourbon is a true heir to that tradition. I stated in my previous post what my favourite D.S.P. 16 bourbon was – Old Fitzgerald Prime, 86 proof. My favourite Van Winkle product is the 12-year old Lot B. There are superlative bottles among the full range, that’s the beauty of great whiskey, each bottle no matter the fine points of “vintage” or make-up tends to differ a bit, like a fine wine or beer, or for each annual release that is true I think.

In the current W.L. Weller line, some bottlings of the 107 proof Antique are particularly good, even reminiscent to my mind of Old Fitzgerald Prime ca. 1980. I have not had the chance to try the new W.L. Weller Full Proof, bottled at 114 proof and perhaps most importantly, not chill-filtered. This is yet a further variable to ponder when considering the palate of (most) modern bourbon versus bourbons from the 1950s and 60s.

Here now are the J.P. Van Winkle, Sr./Pappy columns from the mid-1950s I found in the Fulton History site. The first three are linked in my earlier post, but I mention them here for completeness. All are from 1954, in New York State newspapers, except the last which is from 1957. Of these columns, all were new to me except the last one.

What Size Bourbon Fits Your Taste

A Whisky Fact Few Men Know

Tale of the Calico Shirt

What Goes on in a Whisky Barrel

Can’t Let That Old Mule Stop!

What is Your “Whiskey I.Q.”?

How To Look a Sausage in the Eye

Lincoln’s Tale of the Greedy Farmer









World Gin and Vodka Awards Canadian Judging

This past Thursday I completed a four-hours stint judging gins and vodkas on the Canadian panel for the World Drinks Awards. In company with experienced hands, we took on a group of about 50 spirits overall (gins and vodkas together).

The gins covered categories such as London Dry, Old Tom, Contemporary, Flavoured, Matured, Genever. See the WDA website for further information how the Awards work for beer, gin, vodka, and whisky. Whisky was also judged that day at a separate table.

It sounds daunting, and good concentration is required, but one takes small drops and I doubt I consumed more than two drinks over the session. With regular sips of water and munching on the traditional crackers, each spirit got a fair assessment in both nose and taste. Of course taken into account was the fact that the spirits would often be consumed in a mixed drink or cocktail. A vodka infused with peppers would be ideal for a Bloody Mary or Caesar, say.

The overall quality was excellent. There were few dull or sub-par spirits in my opinion. I rated most as very decent and some superlative. There was a welcome variety of tastes and often some innovative approaches that left me frankly impressed.

Based on this tasting, even as compared to last year’s in which I also judged, craft distillers, who supplied the bulk of the entries, have a good future. Their main challenge, in my view again, is not what they make but how to bring the products to greater notice in an environment often characterized by high taxes and complex regulations.

This Round will be followed by Rounds to determine best of national class, then best in the class internationally, then best overall, gin and vodka separately of course.

Kudos to panel chair Steve Beaumont (the well-known drinks and travel author), to WDA staff, and Maitre D’ Joseph of Via Allegro that hosted the tasting. Via Allegro is a landmark Toronto restaurant known for its first-rate Italian kitchen and extensive cellar extending to whiskies and spirits of all kinds. The hospitality and service were non-pareil.

Stitzel-Weller’s Distilling and Barrel Entry Proofs in 1954 (Part I)

Proof Positive

The legendary Van Winkle bourbons, especially the Pappy line at 15, 20, and 23 years old, are highly regarded for rich, mature taste. I drank them regularly a dozen and more years ago when they were available for comparatively little money. Today they are hard to find, especially the Pappys, and much more expensive.

D.S.P. 16 in Louisville, KY, was built in 1935 by Julian Proctor Van Winkle, Sr. (1874-1965) and partners. In the 1920s Van Winkle, Sr. had merged his Weller whiskey wholesaling business with the Stitzel distillery, which had operated since the 1800s. The newly built operation was known as Stitzel-Weller Distillery.

The new plant made wheat-recipe bourbon, eschewing the more usual formula based on corn and rye. For more detail on these aspects, and the origins of the Old Fitzgerald branding, see Charles K. Cowdery’s engaging 2014 book, Bourbon, Strange.

The distillery’s brands were Old Fitzgerald, W.L. Weller, and Cabin Still. The plant was sold in 1972 to a conglomerate called Norton Simon Inc. but the family retained rights to the name Old Rip Van Winkle and used it to brand whiskey reserved from the sale, sold initially in decanters. Whiskey later was obtained for this purpose from the buyer of D.S.P. 16 and other sources. The Pappy branding started in about 1995.

Commercial distilling at D.S.P. 16 ended in 1992.* After that, Old Fitzgerald and W.L. Weller were produced by what is now Diageo at New Bernheim distillery, also in Louisville. In 1999 the Old Fitzgerald label was sold to Heaven Hill Distillery in Bardstown, KY, which bought New Bernheim (now Heaven Hill Bernheim), the same year. Also in 1999 the W.L. Weller label was sold to Buffalo Trace distillery in Frankfort, KY. The Old Rip Van Winkle website states:

Buffalo Trace bought the W.L. Weller label in 1999 and had been making the bourbon with nearly the same recipe as Pappy’s. The transition was easy. As of May 2002, Buffalo Trace has produced the Van Winkle bourbons, using Pappy’s exact recipe.

Hence, while there is reason to think the Weller and Van Winkle bourbons are quite similar, it seems there are some differences. Apart from age in specific cases, barrel selection likely is part of it. In terms of distilling-out proof – the proof off the stills of new-make whiskey, it seems from various sources that the number is the same for Weller and Van Winkle bourbons, 130 proof or between that and 140, possibly.

For entry proof – the proof of the new spirit when actually placed in the barrel – sources seem agreed it is 114, again whether for the Weller or Van Winkle bourbons. Buffalo Trace has issued some wheat-recipe bourbon, distilled out at 130 proof, entered at proof points other than 114 but this was experimental in nature. See this page for the details, from its website. That 130 number may well reflect the distilling-out both for Weller and Van Winkle bourbons; at any rate it is unlikely to be lower.

Michael Veach, who writes on bourbon history, states on his website that before its sale in 1972 Stitzel-Weller entered at 107 proof. See his (undated) blogpost, here. He adds that entry proof had risen to 114 by the time D.S.P. 16 closed in 1992.

If that 107 figure is accurate, entry proof must have risen some time after 1954 because in that year, Pappy stated a lower figure in a news ad. And Pappy’s distilling-out proof that year, also mentioned in the ad, was much lower than the 130-140 range likely applicable to Weller and Van Winkle bourbons today.

The ad was part of a “talking ads” series where Pappy directly addressed his market. The tone was folksy, downhome, intimate – a personalized form of selling that reflected Pappy’s unique personality. In a warm, fireside chat style he highlighted the traditional methods used by the company to make high grade sour mash whiskey, standards he felt explained its fine taste and repute in the market.

Pappy could charm with words, as befitted someone who started in sales and never forgot its importance. He may have gilded the lily sometimes, but as numbers are inherently technical in nature, what he stated had to be true.

You can read the advertisement here, in the May 28, 1954 issue of the Buffalo Courier-Express.

The series ran about 10 years, in magazines and (frequently) northeast newspapers. Some ads were later reproduced in various bourbon resources, but not this 1954 ad, as far as I know. I found it earlier this week when perusing Old Fitzgerald ads in the Fulton History website.

Pappy wrote that Old Fitzgerald came off the first (column) still at only 85 proof, and from the doubler still at a final 117 proof.**

In his words:

We distill at low proof to preserve the natural bourbon flavors. OLD FITZGERALD comes from the still at 85 proof and is further refined in our old-fashioned pot still doubler to 117 proof.

He also wrote:

Whiskey comes in sizes too, and the sole concern of our family-owned distillery through more than a century has been to provide a flavor ample enough to fit the man who knows how real Kentucky bourbon ought to taste.

How do we do this? Largely by controlling our proof through each stage of operation.

Finally, for barrel entry, he stated that the whiskey was reduced with water to 103 proof to maximize contact with the oak.

These are impressively low numbers. In another ad, Pappy said the new whiskey emerged as a “pretty rugged boy” but took to barrel aging like “a mule to pasture” due to at least four years aging in wood. That ad appeared in the same Courier-Express, on May 14 in the same 1954.

Hence, Pappy laid stress on the proof factor for the quality of his whiskey. The wheat content in the mash bill is not mentioned, in this period.

Whiskey at 117 proof off the doubler retains many congeners, the secondary constituents that give whiskey (or brandy, malt whisky, heavy rum, tequila, etc.) its body and character when aged. Bourbon author Fred Minnick gave the lowdown on modern bourbon industry barreling proofs in his 2017 article in Whisky Advocate, “The Secret Science of Proof and Barrels”, see here.

As may be seen, Michter’s enters its spirit for aging at Stitzel-Weller’s 1954 level – 103 proof. Interviewed in Minnick’s article, Michter’s head honcho uses reasoning similar to Pappy to justify that level. Of the distilleries included in the table, only Michter’s uses 103 proof today. The next highest are two craft distilleries at 105 proof and 107 proof. Weller/Van Winkle is stated at 114, consistent with other sources.

Many distilleries enter at the current legal maximum of 125 proof, see for example this table on the site Modern Thirst. Of course, each distillery has a reason for its practice, as Minnick discusses in his article. And to be sure not all distillers are agreed on the ideal entry proof for bourbon, and the same applies for distilling-out proof.

I tasted D.S.P. 16 bourbon many times, starting in the 1970s. My favourite iteration was 1970s-80s Old Fitzgerald Prime, not quite at the Pappy-ideal of 100 proof, but 86 proof, and plenty good. It was rich, full-flavoured and satisfying just like Pappy stated in this further 1954 ad, from the Kingston Daily Freeman in New York.

The current Weller and Van Winkle bourbons are very good too. Any bourbon fan is grateful to have them; at the same time, historical inquiry has its own reward, for many.***

Note re image: the source of the image above is the 1954 news advertisement described in the text and linked from the Fulton History website. All intellectual property therein belongs solely to the lawful owner, as applicable. All feedback welcomed.


*Today, the Stitzel-Weller Distillery hosts the Bulleit Frontier Whiskey Experience and a very small amount of whiskey is distilled there for experimental and demonstration purposes. The warehouses on site are still used to age various spirits produced by Diageo, including apparently Bulleit bourbon itself, which has been distilled under contract at Four Roses Distillery in Lawrenceburg, KY, owned by Kirin of Japan. Diageo has built as well a new distillery to produce Bulleit at Shelbyville, KY, now open for “Experience” tours.

**[Note added November 10, 2019]. I finally located my copy of But Always Fine Bourbon: Pappy Van Winkle and the Story of Old Fitzgerald, authored in 1999 by Sally Van Winkle Campbell. At pg. 148 she states, in relation to the late 1950s as I read it, that low wines from the beer still came off at a “low proof” of “85 to 90”, and the “new bourbon came from the pot still [doubler] … at 118-120 proof”. This aligns with Pappy’s numbers in the 1954 column, as there would be minor variations in daily yields especially in that period from the equipment used. Unless I missed it, I could not see any reference to barrel entry proof. I highly recommend her memoir, due to its engaging tone, considerable information conveyed, and the numerous handsome illustrations.

***For Part II of this post added November 11, 2019see here.

French Seafood Dishes Scattered by Neptune’s Sceptre

In France over the summer, at Boulogne-sur-Mer, we enjoyed a caudière (pictured), made with two types of ocean fish, onions, potatoes, beer, and cream. It is one form of a classic French coastal dish. Variants include all-crustacean or a mix with ocean fish, wine or poultry stock as the base, various herbal additions, garlic or scallion, and on it goes.

But the basic form combines potatoes, fish or seafood, and onion in a soup-stew format. I realized when ordering the dish that some of our chowders are likely connected. Chowder is said to derive from the French dish chaudrée, in turn from chaudière, a vessel to heat or boil, and chaudron for cauldron.

The word chaud, or hot, seems a link in these terms. So a heated mixture of ingredients that took its name from the container, just as tourtière in Quebec, the minced meat pie, took its name from the dish it was made in (in France the dish is generally called tourte, while tourtière is reserved for the cookware).

But the etymology might be otherwise, as this learned account in Wikipedia attests. Not surprisingly too, there is some disagreement if caudière derives from the above terms, but I think it must, and is a regional alternate form.

The dish must be very old as we have versions on the North American East Coast, which suggests French seafarers brought the dish here centuries ago. This one from Prince Edward Island is seafood-based, and cream and onion duly appear. It from a PEI tourist website that offers local recipes both in English and French, and the English one terms it “seafood chowder”.

Here is a variant using ham instead of fish with the beer, from the Recettes d’ici site, but many fish or seafood chaudrées can be found, even some with beer, very similar to the one I ate in France. In La Cuisine à la Bière, published in 1981 in Saint-Georges in the Beauce, Quebec by Productions Amérique Francaise (no author credited), there appears a Chaudrée des Maritimes virtually identical to the Boulogne dish, except evaporated milk substitutes for the cream.

It’s an understandable change, from times when remote regions did not always have access to dairy ingredients or if available, were for many unaffordable luxuries. Into the 1970s English food writers such as Jane Grigson reflected sensitivity to the cost of cream when proposing recipes requiring their use.

I plan to make the version known to Beaucerons that likely came from the Maritimes down the Gulf of St. Lawrence, and may stretch across the Atlantic finally to old France, even the beer part as beer was – is – ancestral on the further northern coast. But likely some versions use cider, this would make sense for dishes originating in Brittany and Normandy, or white wine, for versions hailing from further south.

Sometimes culinary heritage trumps local factors, though. In Boulogne, I saw moules marinières countless times on menus, but only once made with beer. Even in a proud beer region, the dish was almost always made with white wine. I asked a restaurateur if he would make it with beer, which featured in other dishes on his menu. His brow furrowed, and he said oui, but didn’t seem fully accepting of the notion.

Our soup forms of chowder, notably Manhattan and New England clam chowders, are yet another class of the chowder clan. I didn’t see those types in France. I am sure they are found there but considered in such case as foreign recipes. Perhaps these forms are of North American origin. After all too clams, the hundreds of species found in North and Central America and parts of Asia, are not native to France although cultivated there now.