Personal Liberty and the Stimulating Cup

Following on my last three posts, here are some further references to give a sense of early pioneer days in central and eastern Pennsylvania and the strong Palatine German influence.

The extract below is from Pennsylvania Agriculture and Country Life, 1640-1840 by S. W. Fletcher (1950). Rye whiskey is called by a German word, “schnaps”. This reflects a regional usage even in English of a term from overseas brought evidently by Mennonite and other German settlers.

While the German communities were satisfied often to use the English word whiskey, sometimes it worked the other way around. At a minimum this suggests the familiarity of the German communities with rye spirit and perhaps their origination of it in America. Schnapps is a general term still used in Germany to mean a body of distilled spirits of which the korn group are derived from grain: wheat, rye, etc.

I should add as well that korn is said to have a less than neutral taste, which would liken it to North American white whiskey. I plan to test this soon with the single (unflavoured) variety available at LCBO.

See also pp 151 et seq in Fletcher’s book for the importance of rye as a crop in early “America” and its primary use in distilling. The exact same thing applied in Ontario, just north of Pennsylvania over Lake Erie, by my reading.

Next, these pages from Papers and Addresses of the Lebanon County Historical Society, v.5, 1909-1911, illustrate the high number of distillers of German extraction in early Stumptown, later Fredicksburg, PA, in Lebanon County. Note again the German terminology. Vorlauf means, not pure alcohol as the text might imply, but the foreshots of distillation.

I’d guess the vorlauf was higher in price due to a higher alcohol content than double-distilled high wines reduced to drinking proof for sale.

The foreshots was high in alcohol due to being the first run off the low wines at relatively low temperature. It also contained potentially dangerous methanol, especially in a fruit wine distillation. Presumably the distillers knew how to render a safe product as repeated casualties in their small communities would have been noticed.

Distillations from grain tend to produce lower methanol levels than from apples or other fruit, so perhaps the foreshots here was from rye or other grain distilling.


Finally, from the same Lebanon County Historical Society volume, here is a bit of doggerel verse in Pennsylvania German dialect with its presumed, um, wry reference to the “whiskey fass” (whiskey keg).

It’s an example of the frequent use in that tongue of the English term, whiskey. I offer a pint of craft ale midtown in Toronto to anyone who will translate it accurately. And no recourse to Google translate by non-German speakers, I can do that!
Note re images: the first image above, of Fredericksburg, PA, was sourced from the Library System of Lebanon County, here. The others shown are from the volumes cited and linked in the text. All intellectual property therein belongs solely to the lawful owners or authorized users, as applicable. Images are used for educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.