April 26th, 2013
Now for something a little different. If you know anything about the history of American whiskey, you probably know that for about four decades, from the Forties through the Eighties, it went through a dark period in which the most popular brands were blended whiskeys. It’s not unfair to say that most of these blends tasted like whiskey-flavored vodka because that, in essence, is what they were — mainly grain alcohol with a small amount of straight whiskey added for flavor.
The American palate wanted a smooth, unchallenging spirit, and that’s what the blends provided.
But the trend toward blends started with Prohibition, when some of the only whiskeys available were blends imported illegally from Canada and Scotland. Marketers of straight bourbons and ryes tried to regain a foothold post-Repeal, but the Second World War put the kibosh on that, as most distilleries were repurposed for making grain alcohol for the war effort.
Today’s ads feature two straights and two blends, and it’s interesting to look at how they’re marketed. But enough talk.
April 19th, 2013
[LIFE; April 18, 1938]
Yes, this is the entirety of the ad. I love its simple elegance. You wanna see it in context of its original page? Sure you do.
April 12th, 2013
In modern times, Four Roses does indeed make a helluva great old-fashioned. Too bad the blasphemy pictured here isn’t an old-fashioned.
[LIFE, of course; April 11, 1938]
March 29th, 2013
I wouldn’t normally return to a subject this soon, but this ad is funny. I’m amused by the idea that the wifey would be embarrassed by a husband who can’t mix a cocktail to save his own damn life. (I don’t have a larger size than this, but go look at it on the Google Books site, and you can blow it up as big as you please.)
Here’s a list of their bottled cocktail range:
March 22nd, 2013
Damon Runyan, newspaperman, author. Covered baseball for many years, and entered the writers wing of the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1967. Wikipedia lists 20 of his stories that became motion pictures; the most famous of these is probably Guys and Dolls.
My favorite lyric from the title song of that film, incidentally, is found in only certain recordings, such as at 1:24 in the Bobby Darin rendition:
When you see a mouse
Hurry, scurry out of the house
And she runs 20 blocks for cigars and rye
Oddly, Runyan’s Wikipedia entry indicates that he quit drinking altogether by 1920, some 18 years before this ad ran. I wonder what the truth of it is.
[LIFE; March 21, 1938]
March 15th, 2013
The secret to good bourbon? Breeding and artificial selection. [From LIFE; March 14, 1938]
March 8th, 2013
(“The Mandarin.” Iron Man villain, or sign of the times? This was 1938, after all.)
A detail from Mr. Crockett’s letter:
To learn more about Mister A. S. Crockett, here’s a great piece on Diffordsguide.
February 22nd, 2013
Life; February 21, 1938.
Love all the detail about the botanicals in the gin. A quick Google search isn’t turning up anything on Jimmy Corosu. The Peoria distillery closed in 1981; it now makes ethanol for ADM. Peoria, incidentally, was apparently once a powerhouse in whiskeymaking, with access to abundant crops of corn and barley. (This, incidentally, is why I keep up this ad project. I never know when a bit of research into a brand will uncover nuggets of cool booze history.)
February 15th, 2013
Life; February 14, 1938.
Calvert is still around, still a blended whiskey. It’s reportedly 70% neutral grain spirit, and 30% straight whiskey — or as some folk like to say, it’s a whiskey-flavored vodka.
February 8th, 2013
The whiskey that made Kentucky whiskies famous. Wait, that sounds familiar.
Life; February 7, 1938.
Early Times has a history dating back to 1860, when the first whiskey under this name was produced. Brown-Forman acquired it in 1923 and still owns the today. During Prohibition, BF marketed Early Times as a medicinal whiskey.
Today, the product is known as a “Kentucky whisky” (why they drop the e that’s traditional when describing American whiskeys is a question I can’t answer). It’s made the way bourbon is made, except that Early Times, today, is aged in used oak barrels. Straight bourbon, by law, must be aged in new oak barrels. New barrels impart more woody flavors into a distillate than do used barrels, and thus Early Times doesn’t taste as bourbony as bourbon should.
Early Times continued as a straight bourbon until the 1980s, and as of two years ago, a bourbon version is again marketed by Brown-Forman. The two products are now sold side-by-side; the bourbon is called Early Times 354.