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.

A Festhalle at K-W Oktoberfest, 2019

A news story in Kitchener, Ontario summed up one view of the 51st edition of the nine-day K-W Oktoberfest that ended earlier this month. Taking place in Kitchener, Waterloo, and Cambridge some 60-70 miles west of Toronto, a non-profit corporation has run the event since the early ’70s.

Organizers like to emphasize that K-W Oktoberfest is more than about beer, German food, folk dancing, and oom-pah. There are family breakfasts, various sports competitions, a Kitchener food walking tour, a new citizen welcoming event, a PRIDEtoberfest, the famous Thanksgiving Day Parade, and much more. The official 2019 FestGuide gives a good overview.

Some new elements featured this year – an open, daytime Bavarian marketplace was one. This story from the Waterloo Chronicle lists other new elements.

For many though, the Festhallen remain a key attraction. This year we attended an evening at the Alpine Club. The club, founded in the early 1950s, is a German cultural touchstone in K-W. It’s not the biggest festhall – Concordia Club with its huge tent has always held that honour – but offers a pleasing mix of intimacy and spaciousness.

Not as many German clubs and other venues participated this year as officially-approved Festhallen. There was a total of nine, versus perhaps two dozen in past decades. Still, the K-W Oktoberfest draws some 600,000 annually. It’s still a potent regional attraction in the Province and will remain so for many years.

Bingemans, the large recreation and event centre outside Kitchener, was an approved Festhalle from Day 1 but two years ago, went its own way, setting up tents for its own event. Beers from Paulaner in Munich and Waterloo Brewery, founded in K-W over 30 years ago, could be purchased.

International beer giant Molson-Coors is an important sponsor of K-W Oktoberfest and hence its beers have been dominant at participating clubs. Due in part to this restriction, Bingemans disengaged from the official event, allowing it to offer beers of its own choosing. Probably for this reason the 2019 event permitted sale of various German brands at the venues (see the Chronicle story above).

A further option for craft beer fans is Craftoberfest, held over a weekend in early October. It features German and other foods as well as harvest-themed craft beer and cider from across Ontario.

People who appreciate craft beer and good imports, especially a younger demographic, expect a broader choice today. It looks like it’s coming at K-W Oktoberfest, but it’s taken some time. As a result, the event has less traction (IMO) among craft beer fans than it otherwise might.

The Alpine Club is about the size of a high-school gymnasium and was comfortably full the night we attended, I’d estimate 200-250 people. The demographic was weighted to an older crowd but there were younger people too, considering also it was a Thursday.

On the beer side, there was (very fresh) bottled Hofbrauhaus Original from Munich, German Erdinger wheat beer, California’s Lagunitas IPA, Dutch Heineken, Molson Canadian, Ontario’s Creemore Lager, and Coors Light among others. Pilsner Urquell was also listed but none was at the bar that night. Plus, there were local and German wines and a few traditional German spirits.

Craft beer central? Not at all, but preferable to earlier years. I’d like to see a Festhalle at future K-W Oktoberfests that’s dedicated to craft beer and quality imports. It’s a logical next step.

At bottom, Festallen offer a German cultural experience for a time to a larger community. The Alpine’s version served excellent food – I had cabbage rolls and sausage – great live music, German-themed but with early rock and roll and pop favourites, non-stop folk dancing, and dazzling costumes.

K-W Octoberfest is on the original “beer calendar” of this Province, and is still there. Hopefully the festival will find ways to attract greater numbers from the GTA and beyond, and in particular the craft beer segment. So much of craft beer culture derives one way or another from Germany, that closer ties between the two communities makes perfect sense.

Some GTA brewers and other Metro groups host their own Octoberfest – Amsterdam and Steam Whistle have in Toronto. These are always fun, and the beer of course prima. But K-W Oktoberfest has a unique character, not just via the world-famous Munich inspiration but also the longstanding German cultural presence in K-W.

It began in the late 1700s when Mennonite communities from Pennsylvania and New York came north to the area. Due to this initial presence, German-speaking immigrants later arrived from various lands, an influx that probably peaked in the ’60s and ’70s. Today, many more ethnic communities and nationalities are represented in the area, all contributing to its growth and future.

Staying the same and being relevant for the future is never an easy path to negotiate, but I hope K-W Oktoberfest finds a way. Meanwhile, I’m planning to attend next year.




How Irish Whiskey Became Blended (Part III)

Between 1955 and 1959 in the Irish Dáil, numerous exchanges attest to the growth of blended Irish whisky, as an item of export, to America. Yet as we shall see, some of that blended whiskey was already being sold in Ireland. From 1955 the blended category was being increasingly produced by the major distillers left in the country. There were three by my count still operating in the south ca. 1960. Bushmills, plus the affiliate Coleraine, were left in the north.

There must have been enough aged Irish grain whisky for this purpose. There could be multiple uses for it earlier – to fortify sherry or port-type wine, for gin, for bulk sale to other countries – but anyway it seems the component was available. I have not found any discussion that an aging period had to expire before bottling and sale of blended whiskey could proceed. This 1955 debate, and this 1959 one, are useful bookends to understand the shift that occurred from ca. 1950 when an obdurate group of Irish distillers – admirable in their way – cavilled from blending their rich, waxy, fruity wine of the grain.

As this account on the Gapwines site confirms, British retail magnate Isaac Wolfson bought Bushmills Distillery after WW II but it continued to be managed by its former owner, the Belfast-based Boyd family who started as wine and spirits retailers. Wolfson quickly expanded sales to the U.S. What was he selling? U.S. ads we have been able to check between, say, 1937 and 1957 refer simply to Bushmills whisky eight or nine years old, type not specified. If it wasn’t blended whiskey from the outset, that must have changed by the late 1950s, we think.

However, this 1997 issue of the trade magazine Night Club and Bar states (snippet view but clear) that Black Bush, the premium blended version of Bushmills, was developed at Antrim, home of Bushmills, in 1934. It recites the well-known specification, 80% malt, 20% grain whisky. Hence, the Bushmills sent post-Prohibition to America even before grain whisky was produced at Antrim may have been Black Bush, or some of it, vs. an all-malt Bushmills.*

Two indices presage Bushmills’ later ramp-up, including internationally, of blended whiskey: a 1944 American news story from Belfast, which reported “Irish” distillers intended to send blended whisky after the war to meet American tastes as determined from U.S. soldiers’ requests for “Scotch”, and this April 1954 story in the Advocate which stated Bushmills was building a grain whisky plant. It was the first grain whisky, the Irish-American organ reported, since Dunville in Ulster ceased that business 20 years earlier.

The same story states blending firms in the north – non-distilling independents, surely, but likely also Bushmills itself – had previously obtained supplies “outside”. That probably meant the Republic where two plants were producing it or Scotland (what labelling issues may have ensued, I cannot say). 

Hence, Bushmills might have supplied America from the mid-1930s with Black Bush, but in any case had in-house capacity by the late 1950s. As is well known, both a Black and less costly White Bush were heavily marketed in North America once the whisky renaissance got underway.

To access the 1944 story, use this Fulton search interface, and insert GI Calls for Scotch in search box. It is the second citation, from a Schenectady, NY newspaper. The first citation, from North Tonawanda, is the same story but edited to take out the most important part. The full report ends with an eloge for pot still whiskey, rather contradictory to the earlier paragraph that calls for a milder, blended article to be exported to Americans, but this is journalists not fully understanding what they were reporting.

The 1944 story is interesting as coming from Belfast. As we know, the Irish Pot Still Distillers Association did not initially want to adopt blending; so who were the Irish distillers so anxious to blend after WW II apart Bushmills, clearly? We think it possible the idea was northern initially, with the south signing on under pressure finally from the Irish government via Coras Trachtala Teoranta (CTT); see my Parts I and II in that regard.

The important thing is that some Irish distillers wanted to get on the blended bandwagon again, i.e., after the 19th century experience with it that withered especially in the south by WW I. And this was years before the CTT got going. The CTT didn’t reinvent the wheel, the concept was always there in Irish distilling circles, Republic or Six Counties. The return to it was perhaps inevitable given the evident, global appeal of non-single malt Scotch, even in distant America, but still CTT’s role was vital, hence my drawing attention to it.

Irish whiskey enthusiast and memorabilia collector Charlie Roche wrote us after our first two Parts appeared to send some useful items, for which we thank him here as well. The first is from October 12, 1954, a story in the Maryborough Chronicle of Queensland. It appeared to all evidence only in Australia, but confirms that Gilbey’s Crock o’ Gold, a blended Irish whiskey, was being marketed that year in New York and further, had been available for some years at the bar of “Shannon [airport]” where Americans had taken to it.

Gilbey was the British gin distiller and blender with 19th century roots in England, and had an Irish branch. Gilbey was famous for gin but also had produced blended Scotch whisky successfully and clearly now Irish as well. Gilbey, today part of Diageo, originated as well the all-pot still Redbreast, name and formula now owned by Irish Distillers at Midleton.

It may be noted Riley was a blender, not a distiller of Irish whiskey or at least pot still Irish, to our knowledge, but helped get the ball rolling, surely. It sounds like CTT was campaigning to blenders too, as the Australian story notes briefly that it encouraged development of this brand.

The part about Shannon is interesting, in particular. The received story on Irish Coffee is that Irish chef and bartender Joe Sheridan developed the concoction at Foynes Seaplane base on the other side of the estuary from Shannon, during the war. He was engaged at Shannon International Airport after the war, served it to San Francisco journalist Stanton Delaplane in 1951, who brought it to America and thence to national fame and beyond.

The Australian press story suggests to me Irish blended whiskey was in the coffee as made famous in America from Day One, even though in 1942-43 when Sheridan devised the mix, he would have used pure pot still whisky. As I speculated earlier, the comparative lightness of a blend may have contributed to the drink’s ultimate wide appeal.

What about introduction of Gilbey’s new Irish whiskey in the Free State itself? Good Cooking was an early Irish food journal edited by a husband and wife team, the O’Caseys. Their magazine, of excellent quality, lasted only a year – in 1958 – but contains much information of interest to food and drink historians. The Dublin Institute of Technology, which has a long-running culinary branch, has placed digitized copies on their site with the kind permission of the O’Casey heirs.

In the March 1958 issue appears what sounds like an advertorial for Gilbey’s Crock o’ Gold. Part of it, with pardonable Irish blarney, reads:

A great deal of thought and experiment by this very experienced firm [Gilbey] has gone into the creation of Crock of Gold. It is a lightly blended whiskey, partly liqueur [i.e., pure pot still], which the Americans especially have gone for in a big way, and big orders continue to pour in particularly from the area along the Western Seaboard. This blend has also made a ready appeal in Ireland. Most people here do not drink wine with their lunch because of its soperific effect, and the ordinary type of whiskey has the same result. More and more business executives and others who have to keep wide awake during the afternoon are finding this lighter blend a real blessing.

And so modern blended whiskey was being sold in Ireland before the 1960s or 1970s, periods sometimes cited for first introduction at home. The full-page piece, presumably originating with Gilbey, also states that sales were better on the Western than Eastern American Coasts, but this is not surprising. The big Irish-American communities in New York and Boston et al. knew the older form of Irish whiskey well – pure pot still. It makes sense it took time for the new blended form to make headway with them, vs. the more heterogeneous marketplace out West.

(Yet as I’ve discussed earlier, something as exotic as Manx Oyster Stout had a niche market in that same California – the State can be a surprising mass of contradiction!).

Finally, in the very first issue, January 1958, of Good Cooking, a recipe for Irish Coffee was included. It reads:

Heat stemmed goblet. Pour in jigger of whiskey or Irish Mist. Add sugar. Fill goblet with strong black coffee to within one inch of brim. Stir to dissolve sugar. Top off to the brim with whipped cream. Do not stir after adding cream.

Hence, only some five years after Stan Delaplane launched the craze in America, the recipe rebounds to the old sod for distribution locally, without irony or raised eyebrow, I might add. This may be the first published recipe for Irish Coffee in Ireland in a drinks- or cookery book, versus possibly publicity materials from the enterprising Gilbey. I’d think it likely Gilbey gave it to the O’Caseys, but can’t be certain.

What a pity Good Cooking did not continue! It was written with a warm spirit and evident high degree of intelligence. Maura O’Casey appears to have authored the text, her husband Ian did layout, design, and solicited advertising: see the first PDF listed (“2017”) for background on the couple.

There is much of interest in the journal. Maura clearly appreciated fish cookery, then overlooked as a datum of Irish cookery (“Fish are as good as a new product as far as many towns are concerned” – March 1958 issue). There are recipes from the Continent, from Ireland, from America, and beyond. Menus current and past are included as well, e.g., a dinner given to Ernest Shackleton (from Kildare) at the Savage Club, London in 1909. Numerous menus are reproduced from the Irish branch of the International Food and Wine Society, of which we have written considerable earlier.

Like many pioneers, the O’Caseys were ahead of their time.


*For what it is worth, a 1959 Practical Encyclopedia of Alcoholic Beverages, ed. Frank Haring, characterized whiskey from the Republic of Ireland as pure pot still, while describing the whisky of Northern Ireland as a mix of malt whisky and grain whisky. See here. There is always a time lag when such works are issued, especially at the time. One can see that this broadly described the position since Prohibition, and, we apprehend, probably since the 1908 Royal Commission on Whisky in the U.K. if not earlier.  This does not mean some blended whiskey wasn’t sold in southern Ireland in the 19th century and up to 1908 at least: the testimony of various witnesses at the Royal Commission including William Jameson makes clear it was, at the wholesale level (i.e., blenders would mix the two forms and supply it to the retail trade).

But at production level – what the distilleries themselves branded and sold – this basic distinction seemed correct, e.g., Jameson and Power’s did not sell at the time a branded blended whiskey. This is consistent with my findings. However, the distinction in Haring’s book was breaking down when it was published, due to the important work of the CTT, development of Crock O Gold by Gilbey, and export by the late 1950s of numerous other blended whiskeys to America from the Republic. That is the story in these posts: how that process occurred, and why.







How Irish Whiskey Became Blended (Part II)

Irish Whiskey, Irish wit

For those interested to follow this question of how modern Irish blended whiskey originated, this link to a debate in 1954 in the Dáil, or Irish Parliament, will illuminate many aspects. A private member’s bill, finally withdrawn, was introduced to favour the creation of a State-sponsored corporation to produce patent or grain whisky to blend with pot still Irish for export, especially to America.

The members discuss many aspects raised or alluded to in my Part I and add further useful perspectives, addressing notably:

  • the history of the main Irish distillers’ antipathy to blended whisky
  • the reality that American and world markets wanted a lighter, blended article
  • difficulties faced by Irish distillers during the war when barley was short and whisky exports were in the main disallowed by law
  • pros and cons of changing the minimum age then required for sale of Irish whisky in Ireland (five years)
  • the advisability of altering existing industrial alcohol facilities in Ireland to produce potable patent whisky

In the result, the distilling industry in Ireland adopted blended whisky after 1954 through its own efforts, initially for export to North America and finally for home use.

For those who read an early version of my Part I mentioned, it now includes additional hyperlinked sources, further discussion on Irish coffee, and a more nuanced reference to pre-WW II blending of Irish whiskey.

Most members participating in the 1954 debate accepted the commercial utility of creating blended whisky production while trying to promote sales where possible of the traditional pot still article. I infer from the article that some blended whisky was already being sold in America by a small distiller or blender (not named), but it is also clear that the main distillers – Jameson and Powers – were traditionalists only slowly being wooed to the desirability of introducing a blended form of their famous whiskey (as they ultimately did).

There was also an interesting Dáil debate in 1950 when a law was passed to legislate a definition of Irish whiskey, commendable in its brevity. You may read it here. That law clearly allows blended whisky to be called “whiskey” in Ireland as indeed Great Britain, America and Canada had determined earlier for their whisky. Method of distillation was not material, in other words.

The definition of Irish pot still whiskey was more limited, but without any attempt to specify percentage or type of cereals used except for malted barley being necessary for saccharification:

… spirits described as Irish Pot Still Whiskey shall not be deemed to correspond to that description unless they have been obtained by distillation solely in pot stills in the State from a mash of cereal grains such as are ordinarily grown in the State saccharified by the diastase of malted barley.

I suspect “ordinarily grown” was meant to exclude corn, or maize in other words. It is interesting to compare this flexible definition to the current EU technical standard for the use of the term single pot still whiskey, which is rather more specific. See this summary of the current rules by legendary distiller Barry Crockett on the site of Irish Distillers (Pernod Ricard), owner of Midleton distillery in the town of the same name.

There is some controversy in Ireland whether this definition is at odds with the historical record and too restrictive, in particular viz. the emerging group of craft distillers. We are aware of it and it is an interesting issue, but beyond our scope here.

At the end of the day, good whiskey, as good beer, wine, or cider, should raise a beneficent smile. Indeed a sharp wit can do the same, even without ethanol’s spur.

An example is provided in the 1954 Dáil debate mentioned above.  In a verbal peregrination on the true Irish whiskey, Seán Francis Lemass (1899-1971), today regarded as a founding father of Ireland, stated:

Many years ago I tried to do some trade promotional efforts for Irish whiskey in Canada. I thought it might be easier there because there was a Government monopoly in whiskey in some of the Canadian States, but we found there was a very bad whiskey exported from Belfast with more shamrocks, round towers and greyhounds on the label than you would see in the whole of Connemara. It had so prejudiced public opinion against Irish whiskey that you just could not get them to look at Irish whiskey.

As they say, ouch – on a couple of scores.

Note re image: Image above, sourced from the Wellcome Collection, is entitled “An Irish greyhound standing in a mountainous landscape. Etching by J. Scott after P. Reinagle”. Credit: Wellcome Collection. CC BY

(See our Part III to this post which immediately follows).


How Irish Whiskey Became Blended (Part I)

The main objection raised to Irish whiskey in America is that it is not blended. The Irish distillers have made it clear that they consider their product the best in the world, and refuse to change from the traditional pot still method of distilling.

(From The Advocate, January 23, 1954).

1953 and all That

Most Irish whiskey today is blended. This means, a light-flavoured grain whisky, distilled to a high-proof in a column still, is blended with a smaller (often) amount of single pot still or single malt whiskey distilled to a lower proof, or both. Single pot still, formerly known as pure pot still whiskey, is a traditional Irish triple distilled whiskey using a mash of malted and unmalted barley and in the past, other grains (wheat, oats, rye) in varying, generally smaller percentages.

The main exponent of single pot still Irish today is Midleton Distillery owned by Irish Distillers (Pernod Ricard). Single malt is produced classically by Bushmills distillery in Northern Ireland, along Scots lines but is also made by numerous other distilleries in Ireland, Cooley’s is an example.

The Irish blended style is an analogue to Scotch blended whisky, Canadian blended whiskey, and broadly, American blended whiskey. For a good overview of Irish distilling today that focuses on whiskey types, this Forbes article from May 28 this year by Joseph V. Micallef serves well.

Now, if pure pot still aka single pot still Irish was the inherited form, whence the blended form? Blending in Scotland originated in the 19th century. Did the same occur in Ireland? Not in any way that, contrary to Scotch, became emblamatic, as all or most Irish whiskey by the early 20th century was pure pot still. Everyone is agreed on this, I believe.

What is less clear is how it became blended, or rather why. The answer lies in a series of news articles in the Irish-American press in 1953-1955. See my sources below in nos. 1-7, all from the Advocate, published in New York, which chronicled the tale.

In a nutshell, in 1953 Coras Trachtala Teoranta (CTT) commissioned a market study to determine how better to market Irish whiskey to Americans. Alan C. Russell, a marketing expert in New York, performed the study, delivering a report of 100 pages. (Now that would make fascinating reading, but we were not successful to locate a copy).

CTT was the (Irish) Dollar Export Promotion Board, a government body set up in 1951 and tasked with increasing Irish exports. See further details in this U.S. Bureau of Foreign Commerce publication from 1959.

What the Advocate records is that Irish distillers, there were five still in business then, were committed for quality reasons to pot still whiskey – they did not want to blend. But pressed by CTT and Irish legislators, soon they did. They sent initially the produce to America, introducing it later at home apparently in the 1960s.

The first export for the new blended form was contracted in 1955 (see no. 7), a satisfyingly large order that pointed to the future for Irish distilling. The first shipments appear to have gone over the following year, according to a trade publication of January 7, 1957 issued by the U.S. Department of Commerce.

CTT convinced the distillers to do this to increase their export business, to try to catch up with Scotch exports which were far ahead in the U.S. market. Indeed Advocate stories stated, sometimes ruefully, that blended Scotch had a respectable sale in the Republic of Ireland itself.

In the story below by Sean Cronin (no. 5), he states:

Irish domestic consumption takes most of the production—some 700,000 gallons. Scotch, of course, has been Britain’s greatest dollar-earner and only a relatively small percentage of total production stays at home. Why does Scotch control the whisky market of the world? Is it a better product? What’s wrong with Irish whisky?

Cronin then added:

Experts of the Irish distilling industry have traipsed across the United States and into Canada to find the answers. They think that as between the pure pot still Irish and the blended variety the latter is what the American whisky drinker wants. The reason they insist is because large numbers of Americans like ginger ale in their whisky. To the connoisseur this sounds like sacrilege but you don’t shake a fact by swearing at it. And whereas the blend and the ginger mix favorably the pure stuff wouldn’t deign to sit still in the same glass (or stomach) as the mineral.*

So, Irish pot still didn’t work well for mixed drinks; blended Scotch, by then the main form sent to the U.S., did. A further story in the series states Irish distillers hadn’t the capital to invest massively in advertising to switch American preferences to pure pot still. Ergo, turn Irish whiskey into a blend, to meet American tastes. That is the story these Advocate pieces tell if you read each one.

None of the stories, interestingly, refers to price. If a low pricing strategy played any role, we are unaware of it, although we suspect there was something about pricing in Alan Russell’s report to CTT. On the face of it, the decision to blend was a function of two factors: a) American taste, b) lack of distillers’ capital to market pure pot still nationally in America.

This ad in an Ossinning, NY newspaper in 1956 shows a Murphy “blended whiskey” that is clearly the new type, choc-a-bloc with a seven year old Jameson that appears the old type. The price for the eight-year-old Murphy was slightly more than for the seemingly pot still Three Star Jameson. This suggests price was not a factor in deciding to send blended whiskey to America. That said, we have not undertaken a systematic price investigation based on late 1950s and 1960s trade ads.

Much of the Irish coffee craze in the U.S. in 1950s-60s appears to have relied on the new blended whiskey. A blend of Irish whiskey amusingly termed Royal Irish – a reflection on the insouciance of the American consumer? – was touted in California in 1958 as ideal for Irish coffee.** See, for example, this example in San Bernadino, CA.

Whether the outsize success of Irish coffee was reliant on this form vs. the more vigorous pot still is impossible to answer at this point. Certainly Irish coffee was publicised in America before the new blended whiskey was imported, but we suspect the lighter form made the mixture more palatable to more people.

All the above said, a review of 1930s-early 40s trade ads in the U.S. shows that considerable Irish whiskey was described as blended, see e.g., in nos. 8 and 9 below. I believe, however, this whiskey was not pot still or single malt blended with grain whisky, but rather a mix of Irish straight whiskeys, perhaps in some cases single malt and pure pot still.

One reason is, some ads state the advertised blended whiskey, Jameson, for example, was the same as that sold in Ireland. Another reason is that contemporary American standards of identity for whiskey required that Irish whiskey be described as a blend if it was a mixture of whiskeys.*** Say, for example, Jameson had mingled some of its own seven year pot still with similar whiskey purchased from another, or an out-of-business, distiller.

Jameson’s Irish American Whiskey, well-known to historians of Irish whiskey, was a combination of a young American straight whiskey and old Irish pot still first marketed in 1936, i.e., in the post-Repeal period. It was abandoned by WW II, probably due to the widespread availability by then of properly aged American straight whiskey. This 1936 ad for the product in Buffalo, New York shows the great hopes invested, vainly, in its future.

Clearly however, some Irish whiskey before the landmark decisions in 1953-54 was blended in the sense of containing column still grain whisky. Numerous references in literature on both sides of the Atlantic in the 19th and early 20th centuries are to this effect especially in regard to exports, at least to England. This fed into the “what is whiskey” controversy and the pre-WW I Royal Commission inquiry that resulted in important regulatory decisions in Britain and North America including on how to label column still grain distillate where mixed with pot still. In a word if all made from grain it was entitled to the appellation whisky.

At the same time, from our survey, blending in this sense was in Ireland disfavoured in time and from ca. 1900 so-called “self” whisky (pure pot still in southern Ireland) became the main form produced and sold. All or nearly all of what was exported to America after Prohibition must have been 100% pot still, otherwise the tone of the Advocate series is inexplicable.

Yet we can’t rule out that some truly blended whiskey – grain whisky + single pot still and/or single malt – was sent to America in the 1930s. If so it was a progenitor of the CTT-inspired blended whisky that became popular in America and ultimately Ireland.

CTT was later absorbed into Ireland’s current Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. In the 1950s certainly, CTT had an office in Manhattan and did a fine job promoting Irish exports of all kinds, including whiskey.

It is my conclusion that indirectly, a trade decision viz. the American market ultimately influenced the main form Irish whiskey would take in its homeland.

N.B. My purpose here is not to outline Irish distilling history over the period discussed or beyond, as such. I do wish to show, based on my research, that modern Irish blended whiskey has its origins in a plan to export a blended article to America hatched by the CTT and Irish legislators, one to which initially reluctant but finally compliant distillers of pure pot still whiskey signed on. I found this of note as normally, product innovation arises from business dynamics such as competition, or the introduction of new technology. The group of reluctant distillers was John Jameson and Powers in Dublin, and Cork Distillers, Locke, and Tullamore outside. Bushmills distillery in Northern Ireland stood in a somewhat different position as a single malt producer – no mashing of raw grains – but did share the pot still. In fact Bushmills would enhance its blending capability in about the same period, as I will discuss before long.

(See our Parts II and III to this post which immediately follow).


* “Mineral” in Ireland means, or used to mean, what we call pop. See as well our comment added to this post.
*It is possible though the brand originated somehow with Dunville Distillery in Ulster, known at one time as Royal Irish Distilleries. The distillery closed in 1936, but the name may have been picked up later, perhaps by a blending firm. Dunville had an extensive export business in the U.S., in fact.
*** We thank Irish whiskey maven Charlie Roche who after reading this post, sent us an early-1930s Jameson print ad stating that blended meant Jameson pot still whiskey older than 7 years was combined with its 7 year pot still – what is called in bourbon speak today mingling. The ad stated U.S. laws on whiskey description required the blended indication. Hence, at least in Jameson’s case, its prewar exports in this period, and likely always before, were pure pot still. A hyperlink (source) wasn’t given, but this ad, while not as detailed as the one Charlie sent, is to similar effect.



4) (Oct.2, 1954)
7) (Sept. 3, 1955)
8) (1936, so-called blended Irish whiskey before WW II).
9) (Jan. 7, 1942, so-called blended Irish prior to the mid-1950s)




A BBC Documentary on Problem Drinking

Periodically we examine, as part of a general study of beer and alcohol history, textual and film treatments on temperance/Prohibition, alcohol control, and alcohol abuse.

This essay is one of many, dealing with the fate of pre-Prohibition saloon premises in the new dry era. Here is another, looking at alcohol in the university and a recent scholarly study.

Examining 1970s French film studies on alcohol abuse, we noted recently on YouTube’s sidebar a 2018 British Broadcasting Corporation documentary, written by and featuring Adrian Chiles. Birmingham-born Chiles is a well-known public figure in Britain through his broadcasting and other media work.

It runs a full hour and can be viewed here. The film looks at his own relationship to alcohol, but in a way to provide food for thought to many viewers.

We thought the production well-conceived, written, and filmed. It has to a non-Briton that uniquely British documentary film style: the stately pacing, the friendly but authoritative narration, the absence (largely) of background music, and, well, you know it when you see it.

Whatever view one takes on the issues – the recommended maximum number alcohol units per week, the medical and other risks of this or that degree of consumption – the film provides a public service by examining an area not typically front and centre in public consciousness.

Chiles should be commended for his searching honesty viz. a dependance he viewed finally as pronounced, but the film has good value beyond that. The interviews with a doctor and other professionals who deal with alcohol abuse are salutary, as are numerous interviews with citizens about their drinking and the steps some took to control or eliminate it.