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Vintage Whiskey Ad of the Day

Via my old friend Chris, via the Vintage Ads LiveJournal:

Chris adds, “I’d read significance into this ad and the brand, were it not published three years before the Kinsey Report.” Doug adds, “So what’s that book concealing?” Heh. (Come to think of it, The Kinsey Report might be a great name for a cocktail. I’ll have to come up with something.)

I was curious about not only the advertising but the whiskey behind it, so I did some further digging. It seems that’s not the only Kinsey Whiskey ad I’ve come across that’s had an element of … er, camp to it. This ad is from Christian Montone‘s vintage ad collection on Flickr:

1950s Kinsey Whiskey Ad

One more:

Um …

The whiskey does indeed date back to 1892, and was produced at a quite lovely distillery on the banks of the Schuykill River near Linfield, Pennsylvania. Taking a break (of course) during Prohibition, the stuff was produced until the mid-1980s, although I don’t ever recall seeing it; it must have been primarily an East Coast brand.

Notice the fine print in the ads, which says that Kinsey Whiskey is “65% grain neutral spirits,” i.e. vodka. That’s even higher than the 55% grain neutral spirit content of the spectacularly uninteresting Seagram’s 7 Crown, which along with its slightly less dull sibling Seagram’s V.O. was quite accurately referred to by my friend Darcy O’Neil as “brown vodka.”  “Light whiskey … for pleasant taste” was one of their ad slogans, and I imagine it was fairly accurate.  This particular “Gold Label” blend was a fairly typical example of blended American whiskies produced after World War II, when supplies were limited and could be stretched by the addition of column still-produced grain neutral spirits. Of course I’ve never tasted Kinsey Gold Label, but I imagine the adjective I’d use to describe it would be the same ones I use to describe 7 Crown and V.O. — “bland.”

However, according to this excellent article they also made a bonded rye whiskey as well:

Now THAT would have been something to try.  Fortunately we have our beloved Rittenhouse bonded rye to cuddle and quaff these days, but sadly we don’t have much in the way of bonded ryes these days to compare it to.

Here are a couple more ads:

Oh sure, he’s showing them a football play, but had this ad been 1965 and not 1945 I’m sure he would have been showing his buddies how fabulously he can sing “Stop In The Name of Love.”

As you may have noticed, Kinsey (as did many if not most liquor producers of the time) put out a cocktail booklet. The whiskey itself might have been nothing to write home about, but they sure knew what to do with it still, even as late as circa 1950 when this booklet came out:

It’s sad to say that these days it would likely take what’s at the moment being called a “craft bartender” to even know what a Daisy, Flip or Sling is, and if you ordered a Whiskey Sour in most bars these days you probably wouldn’t get fresh squeezed lemon, but some artificial “sour mix” crap out of a jug. This is slowly but surely changing, especially in higher-end bars and restaurant, but please … can we at least get things back to 1950, if not 1920 and earlier just yet?

Flickr vintage ad collector alsis35 adds, “You have to wonder: Why did drunks need number puzzles to play with? Maybe they took away the darts after somebody lost an eye.”  Heh.

I think this one is my favorite Kinsey Whiskey ad of all, though. From the January 14, 1946 issue of LIFE Magazine:

That slogan speaks the truth. To accompany their regular meeting of the He-Man Woman Haters’ Club, at least these fellows know how to mix a cocktail. Perfect recipe, perfect glassware. Of course, I’m sure it’d be a much better Manhattan with Kinsey’s 100 proof bonded rye product — one made with such a blend containing so much grain neutral spirits would be limp and limpid at best, with barely a whisper of whiskey flavor — although I don’t know if Kinsey was still making it at this point.

Thanks to Chris Gaal for inspiring this post! Incidentally, Chris’ blog is well worth following, full of interesting tidbits of Los Angeles, Glendale and Pasadena history and photos. The Vintage Ads LJ is also a regular hoot too — the mind boggles at what admen used to think would sell products.

The Decemberists: Live performances

I regret that my music posting has been quite sporadic around these parts of late — sorry ’bout that. Here’s a brief (but content-rich) one, and prepare to spend some money on great music.

Perhaps my favorite album of the year so far has been the new one by The Decemberists, The King is Dead. I’ve been a big Decemberists fan for a while now; I love their big, complex, literate “folk-rock symphony” rock sound, including second most recent The Hazards of Love, which a lot of people seemed not to like — silly people, I think. (The record also includes “The Rake’s Song,” which is one of the most harrowing murder ballads I’ve ever heard.)

“Stripped down” is how they’re describing the new one, with much more of a folk and country tinge and with a strong R.E.M. influence; some songs even feature Peter Buck on guitar, which is probably the best way to lend an R.E.M. sound to your song. The stripped down aspect touched all my folk-country-roots music nerves in the best way, and I found it hugely appealing this time around. Interestingly enough, a good friend who’s a music critic cited that aspect of the record as the primary reason he didn’t like it at all. All I can do is encourage him and anyone else who was put off by this record’s style to listen to it again, because it’s wonderful.

Not only do you hear R.E.M. in this record’s sonic fabric, but one of my favorite songs on the record, “Rise to Me,” sounds to me as if it would be perfectly in place on an Uncle Tupelo (or perhaps Son Volt) record. It’s gorgeous from beginning to end. Can’t you just hear Jay Farrar singing this?

I also love the little instrumental snippet of “The Raggle Taggle Gypsy” that they throw into the song “Rox in the Box,” reinforcing the album’s traditional feel.

The amazing folk-country singer Gillian Welch is also a featured guest on the record — here’s herself performing the song “Down by the Water” with the band on Conan O’Brien a while back:

And here’s the entirety of a recent visit to KCRW, which I missed at the time. Fortunately, they’ve been archiving their live performances for years (and incidentally, I really wish I had some from the pre-web days — there’s been an astonishing amount of great music made at that radio station). Appropriately enough, they start the show with a perfect R.E.M. cover.

You can download an MP3 of “Cuyahoga” here.

If that’s not enough, you can watch and audio-stream a live performance of the album The King is Dead in its entirety, from Oregon Public Broadcasting in Portland.

Now, go out and buy that record!


The Negroni Variations, Part 2: Ransom Negroni

None of this is particularly rocket science, as I’m sure you’ve caught on to. Substitutions of spirits, bitter and aromatized wine that basically hew to the basic Negroni formula are often quite tasty, and great springboards for experimentation.

Last time I was at the venerable Vessel* in Seattle, bartender Jim Romdall made me a lovely, spicy, bracing Negroni variation using a very different style of gin, the aforementioned Gran Classico Bitter, and a different vermouth to kick up the spice and bitterness profile a notch.

Ransom Old Tom Gin comes from Ransom Spirits in Oregon, and is their recreation of one possible expression of the 18th and 19th Century style of gin known as “Old Tom.” It’s lightly sweetened, sweeter than a London dry style, where the juniper is not so forward as in the latter. I’m not sure of the botanicals that go into Ransom, but they provide a nice, peppery spice profile, and the color comes from an amount of barrel-aging roughly equivalent to what the gin might have picked up while being shipped over from the Old Country in barrels. They developed the spirit in collaboration with writer, historian and monarch of the Hereditary Principate of Drunkistan, David Wondrich. If you’re looking to recreate a spirit from the mid-1800s, he’s probably your man. Or prince. Or … well, you get the idea.

Ransom works wonderfully in a Negroni, and Jim kicked it up with the new bitter on the block as well as my second-favorite vermouth after Carpano Antica, most coincidentally made by the same folks.

Feel free to vary the proportions to adjust to your preferred level of sweetness; this is just a guideline.

I don’t remember what Jim called it, but it was probably something like this:

(as served by Jim Romdall at Vessel, Seattle)

1-1/4 ounce Ransom Old Tom Gin.
1 ounce Gran Classico Bitter.
1 ounce Punt E Mes.
Orange peel.

Stir with ice for 30 seconds, strain into a chilled coupe, garnish with the orange peel. You know the drill.

* – Vessel is currently closed, having lost their lease at the old location. They’re working hard to reopen in a new space (which I think will have parking, yay!) by late spring or early summer 2011. That’s a grand reopening party I don’t want to miss.


The Negroni Variations, Part 1: Negroni’s Loss

I do love me a Negroni.

The bitterness of Campari sometimes scares folks away, but it shouldn’t — it’s a bracing flavor that’s perfect for awakening your palate before a meal. It can be a bit much if the first time you try it is in a Campari and soda (wildly popular in Italy), but most places tend to serve it tall, in a highball or Collins glass. It works much better short, in nearly equal proportions with soda, to give the sugar in Campari a chance to balance out the bitterness. Too much dilution will tend to let the bitter element take over the sweet. Remember, it’s all about balance. (I prefer my Americanos short too.)

My first introduction to Campari was in the entertaining Combustible Edison cocktail, in which an ounce each of Campari and lemon juice are shaken and strained into a cocktail glass, and then two ounces of warmed Cognac are flamed and poured in a flaming stream into the glass. Entertaining indeed, but not my favorite. Many folks’ introduction to Campari is by mixing it with orange juice, about double juice to spirit, perhaps with a splash of soda or tonic. I’d have to pick the Negroni as my favorite, though, and if you haven’t tried it you should. As with most adult tastes, it’s one worth acquiring.

The drink we know as the Negroni has had various names; the Camparinette is perhaps the most well-known, and according to Andrew the Alchemist it was also called the Cardinale in Italy. It dates back to as early as 1919, although what the Italians were calling a “Negroni” then would seem more like an Americano with gin to us.

All this has evolved into the classic Negroni proportion we’ve come to know — equal parts gin, sweet vermouth and Campari. That can be a bit sweet for some people, and I’ve seen many variations on the proportion — typical is 1-1/2 gin, 1 Campari and 3/4 vermouth, to keep the sweetness at bay. I’ve also been fond of the Cinnabar Negroni, in which the Campari is doubled and orange bitters added.

The basic Negroni formula lends itself quite nicely to variation of spirits and even in the bitter element, despite Campari seeming quintessential to the drink. I’ve sampled many lovely versions that take the gin-Campari-vermouth formula to something more like spirit-bitter-aromatized wine. Aperol is a natural substitute for the Campari, but other interesting bitters outside the dark Italian amaro field have popped up recently. One of my favorites is the Swiss-made bitter called Gran Classico Bitter, based on a recipe from Turin from the 1860s. It contains bitter orange, gentian, rhubarb and wormwood among its botanicals. It’s got quite a bitter punch, not unlike Campari but with a less bright, rounder, deeper flavor. It’s being directly marketed as a Campari substitute, even recommending its use in cocktails like the Negroni, Americano or spritzer.

Jason Schiffer at 320 Main in Seal Beach, CA uses Gran Classico in one of my favorite recent twists on the Negroni, swapping the gin for its malty progenitor, Dutch genever, and bringing down the other two components. The maltiness of genever with the citrus oils accenting the citrus notes in the bitter work beautifully here; this one didn’t last long the last time we visited 320. They’ve just changed their menu and this cocktail isn’t on it anymore, but they’d still be happy to make you one. If you’re in Southern California, and especially if you’re in Orange County, you need to drink here — it’s the best place to get a drink for many miles. The food’s terrific, too. Duck mac ‘n cheese? Oh my.

(320 Main, Seal Beach, CA)

1 ounce Bols Genever.
3/4 ounce Carpano Antica sweet vermouth.
3/4 ounce Gran Classico bitter.
Lemon and orange peel & oils.

Combine with ice and stir for at least 30 seconds. Strain into an Old Fashioned glass. Express the oil from the lemon and orange peels onto the surface of the drink, and garnish with the peels.

Now, moving on from “Holland Gin” to another older style of gin for our next drink


American Trilogy

This morning I watched an amazing cocktail video, produced by Shlomo M. Godder at the bar Dutch Kills in New York City. It’s absolutely gorgeous — beautifully directed and photographed, entirely visual (no dialogue at all), nicely integrated graphics and lush music. It begins with a fascinating look at the unnamed bartender’s custom ice prep before shift, moving onto a cocktail that I had been making for quite a while and didn’t even know it.

As I’ve mentioned in the past, the Old Fashioned might just be my favorite cocktail ever. It’s certainly at the top of my “comfort cocktails” list, being the first one I ever learned to make — Dad taught me when I was a kid, and sometimes I’d get to make him one after he got home from work. That basic recipe, truly the first “cock-tail” ever, adheres to a very simple recipe — “spirits of any kind, sugar, water and bitters.” One of my favorite variations has been to make Old Fashioneds with half rye whiskey for spice, and half bonded applejack for the wonderful fruit flavors, along with a variety of different bitters. Turns out that for the last four years or so, head bartender Michael McIlroy of New York’s Milk & Honey has been making essentially the same drink for over three years now. I’m glad to know that my cocktailian brain is wired properly, at the very least!

His cocktail is called the American Trilogy, combining those two very American spirits with orange bitters. Whether he named his drink after Mickey Newbury’s song, an arrangement of 19th Century traditional songs that was a hit for Elvis Presley, I don’t know. It’s a decent guess, at least.

Make sure you use Laird’s Bonded Apple Brandy for this drink (and for all drinks containing apple brandy if you’re not using Calvados), a 100% brandy product not to be confused with Laird’s other product, called Laird’s Applejack. “Applejack” is the proper name for American apple brandy, but Laird’s Applejack brand is not all apple brandy; it’s 60% grain neutral spirits (i.e., vodka), with only 40% actual apple brandy by volume. It’s an inferior product to be avoided if the bonded product is available, so don’t be fooled by the prettier bottle. Laird’s Bonded Apple Brandy is an outstanding product, and an indispensable part of your bar. I really wish they’d ditch that blend and concentrate on the bonded product, which is one of the finest spirits produced in the country.

In the video the bartender is shown muddling a sugar cube with a splash of water. I’m down on the use of sugar cubes in cocktails unless you can be certain that every granule of sugar is dissolved; I don’t like grit in my cocktails, and it takes time to do it this way. I much prefer a 2:1 simple syrup — either brown or demerara sugar in this case.

Thanks to Garret Richard for sending me the video — he’s becoming our semi-official Looka! New York correspondent!

(adapted from Michael McIlroy, Milk & Honey, NYC, 2007)

1 ounce rye whiskey (we like Rittenhouse bonded rye).
1 ounce Laird’s Bonded Apple Brandy.
1 barspoon rich Demerara syrup.
2 dashes orange bitters.
Orange peel.

Combine with ice and stir for 20-30 seconds, strain over a large ice cube into a large Old Fashioned glass. Express the oil from the orange peel onto the drink and around the rim of the glass, and garnish with the peel.