This Canadian whisky advertisement is from 1871, in Guelph, ON. It has a striking elegance which results from both skill in design and economy of expression.
Perhaps the native practicality of the Scottish-born distiller and miller, David Allan, led to such pleasing results.
David Allan’s father, William, bought a small mill on the Speed river in Guelph as a rude, wood-frame building, in the 1830s. Father and son were builders and architects with European experience. They expanded the operation to include a distillery, fulling, and furniture business.
The Allans were connected to Sir Hugh Allan (shipping, finance, and more) in Montreal who is well-known to anyone versed in Canadian business history. The Allans were among the elite capitalists of their day.
The Guelph distillery of David Allan sold thousands of barrels of whisky and other liquors per year, a good example of a distillery that resisted the growth of the Big 5 in Ontario. These were Gooderham & Worts in Toronto, Hiram Walker in Windsor, Seagram in Waterloo, Wiser in Prescott, and Corby in Belleville.
David Allan became ill in 1877 and this apparently foretold the end of the operation, but c. 1870 it was doing well. The product line is interesting to parse.
The “old rye” was probably pure spirits, perhaps blended with a straight rye (whisky mash) component, aged a year or two in barrels. Malt whisky was a Canadian version of Scottish malt whisky. Not all Canadian distilleries made a malt whisky, and in this case perhaps it was a nod to Allan’s Scottish origins.
“Com. whiskey”, that is, common whiskey, was perhaps unaged rye whiskey mash, or maybe alcohol (see below) proofed for drinking strength.
Alcohol was probably distilled at 94% abv, sold for industrial purposes, while pure spirit (95% abv or almost) was alcohol further treated with charcoal or re-distillation to remove all residual secondary constituents. The percentages of alcohol in these types may have been lower though, depending on the type of still used by Allan in 1871.
Old Tom gin was the pure spirits or alcohol flavoured with juniper, sugar, and citrus or other things to make a sweetened gin. There was no dry gin offered, which perhaps meant the local market hadn’t yet developed the taste for London Dry.
Toddy was probably one of the whiskeys sweetened with sugar, ready for hot water to make the now-disappeared 19th century staple, whisky toddy.
It is hard to know for certain though on the composition of these without recourse to distillery records. Each distillery probably made something different anyway, especially smaller ones, and the trade terms mentioned had no legal definition at the time.
It’s nice to know a distillery will once again operate in the old Allan milling complex: see this report out of Guelph a few months ago. It states that a development called Metalworks will build a new distillery and restaurant in the old Allan mill complex. Some of Allan’s original buildings are pictured in the account, looking spruce as ever. They built well, those Scottish engineers…
Note: The above image was sourced from the Gazetteer And Directory Of The County Of Wellington for 1871-1872, published by A.O. Loomis & Company in Hamilton, ON. This volume was reprinted by the Wellington County Museum in the 1970s. All intellectual property therein belongs solely to its lawful owner, as applicable. Image used for educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.