What was Monongahela whisky?

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Unread postby cowdery » Wed May 16, 2007 4:22 pm

Gary's tolerance for tasting something he's never had before is pretty high.
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Unread postby gillmang » Wed May 16, 2007 4:57 pm

Well, that's how I discovered straight rye.

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Unread postby bourbonv » Wed May 16, 2007 7:01 pm

Gary,
Every bottle had the same off color and black sediment (iron) in the bottom of the bottle. Like I said Mike Wright (whose opinion on quality control I respect more than anybody I ever met in the industry and I respect a lot of them - he is knowledgable to nth degree) said that it was the water that the rum was made with that had iron in it and over the years it began to settle out. It was not harmfull, just tasted horrible. Iron in the water is just bad for distilled spirits.
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Unread postby afisher » Wed May 16, 2007 9:20 pm

Hmm, seems like you could distill it off the iron...
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Unread postby EllenJ » Wed May 16, 2007 11:02 pm

gillmang wrote:Interesting. I would love to try some sometime since New England rum is kind of a legendary American drink, stretching back (with applejack) to the origins of domestic beverage alcohol production.

bourbonv wrote:Gary, Trust me in this case - you do not want to try this rum.

cowdery wrote:Gary's tolerance for tasting something he's never had before is pretty high.

gillmang wrote:Well, that's how I discovered straight rye.


I loved this conversation!!
I mean, isn't that just like all of us? :rofl2: :rofl2: :clapthumbsup: :rofl2: :rofl2:

"New England Rum" shares with "Monongahela" and "Bourbon" a strong, if vaguely defined, sense of character (or is it regionality?)(no, style)(no, wait, location)(well... SOMETHING, anyway). The generic roots of all three extend deep into the misty past before there were bottles and labels and such. Anyone with any experience of whiskeys made in the 1930s through the 70s will readily confirm that whatever similiarity they might happen to share with brands using those names today, is either imaginary or completely accidental. A sampling of whiskeys bearing names such as "J. W. Dant" or "Old Taylor" today will provide not the slightest clue as to what those brands of whiskeys tasted like forty years ago. The same is true of "Old Fitzgerald" and "Old Crow". It's certainly true of brands such as Beam's Old Overholt (which at least emulates the National Distillers product of the late 1980s) or Heaven Hill's Pikesville, which isn't even close to what Baltimore's Majestic Distillers was producing in the '60s.

And all of the whiskeys I mentioned above were, themselves, only post-repeal "imitations" of fine old brands that had earned a reputation for excellence a half-century earlier, in another era. Some of us have had the pleasure (in many cases; in others, at least the satisfaction of curiosity) of sampling the products of the 1880s-19teens whiskeys bearing those names (and others). Some were called "Bourbon"; some were called "Monongahela". There were "New England Rums", then, too, but we've never had the opportunity to try any. The examples Mike mentions would probably have been from this period, or at least the very later years of it.

But those samples of Monongahela, and the Bourbon, and the New England Rum weren't The Real Thing, either. Like the later ones, they were just contemporary brands using a familiar name to make themselves seem as though they were revered products from their own past. The origins of Bourbon and Monongahela date back a hundred years before Prohibition, and there are no examples of bottles from that time, since spirits were shipped and sold in barrels only. It was a LONG hundred years, too. Absolutely everything about distilling, about storage, transportation, marketing, and probably even grain agriculture, changed dramatically during that time. And the last true New England rum barrel was filled even further back than that. The triangle trade, upon which the once thriving New England rum industry was based, was dealt a mortal blow with its legal collapse in the late 1770s and practical dissolution by about 1810. New England Rum has been an object of fantasy ever since, although whether that fantasy was about how wonderful it was or how horrible is open to discussion. A LOT of discussion. Monongahela shares much of that same nature, as does Bourbon for those willing to give up the silly notion that it once resembled, in any way, the product we call "bourbon" today.
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Unread postby gillmang » Thu May 17, 2007 6:42 am

Very well put, John.

Certainly I agree about ND Crow and OT and such from 30-40 years ago because we know those tastings have to be reliable. The whiskeys in those bottles couldn't have changed that much, that is. But when tasting from, say, 1930's bottles or even 1950's, I sometimes wonder if we can rely on those tastes, or did they change too much in the bottle? But I take your overall point.

Regarding rum, I believe rum was made in New England into the 1900's and that at least one small company lasted into the 1960's.

There is also Laird's applejack, still made and a very old company. I have seen its products in the stores, including a luxury version (not cut with GNS I believe), this too stretches back to the origins of beverage alcohol consumption in the States. I plan to buy this soon to satisfy this historical curiosity. And even admitting things change in all these various ways, still, one can learn from these tastings.

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Unread postby bourbonv » Thu May 17, 2007 6:34 pm

For the record here I never said it was "New England Rum" but that it was "Rum" distilled in New England - Boston I think. There is nothing on the bottle making claims to be anything other than "Rum". It was aged rum with a reddish color with a slight tinge of yellow-green. Now that I think about it maybe the color came from the iron in the water!
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Unread postby Bourbon HQ » Thu May 17, 2007 7:56 pm



Why don't you guys get over this rum thing debate and go buy some good stuff, like "Don Q Gold". I lived in Puerto Rico for three years and Bacardi and Don Q was made about 3 miles from where I lived. The people of Puerto Rico say " Bacardi if for the world, Don Q is for us!" Sorry, I had to vent!

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Unread postby gillmang » Thu May 17, 2007 8:05 pm

I can testify to the Don Q, Gayle was kind enough to offer a dram on my visit to his house a few months ago.

I recall it being a smooth, flavorful golden rum.

The New England style was different, I think: richer and dark with reddish highlights, as Mike described.

Mike, why would rum distilled in Boston, MA not be New England rum? :scratch:

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Unread postby timdellinger » Sun May 20, 2007 2:29 pm

gillmang wrote:Interesting. I would love to try some sometime since New England rum is kind of a legendary American drink, stretching back (with applejack) to the origins of domestic beverage alcohol production.

Gary



Well, legendary perhaps, but according to a recent book on Rum
(http://www.rumspiritof1776.com/), American rum was cheap hooch, and
anyone with any taste drank the stuff imported from the Carribbean which
was of much higher quality.

As a side note, the earliest reference to distilling on American soil that I
have come across is a New York City law prohibiting the burning of oyster
shells to make lime and the distillation of rum, within city limits. I think
the year was 1701 (I'd have to check my notes), but that would imply
distilling in the late 1600s in America. (I saw it in Mark Kurlansky's
"The Big Oyster", a must read for anyone who has a passing interest
in the history of New York City and the history of oyster consumption,
or historic American food in general. I liked it better than "Salt", one
of his other books.)

As to applejack: we really needs to bring back american fruit
distillates aged in oak. It's another of those big wide open areas where
we literally have to re-create our own history.

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Unread postby cowdery » Mon May 21, 2007 12:25 am

Mark Edward Lender in Drinking In America: A History cites an "uncorroborated report" that a distillery in New Amsterdam made spirits from Indian corn in 1640.
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Unread postby EllenJ » Mon May 21, 2007 12:49 am

timdellinger wrote:Well, legendary perhaps, but according to a recent book on Rum... .. American rum was cheap hooch, and anyone with any taste drank the stuff imported from the Carribbean which was of much higher quality.

I think it was both, Tim. The original New England rum was made from molasses imported from British Caribbean colonies, such as Barbados and Jamaica. Rum, as a finished product, was also imported from there. The type of rum, which is still the favored type among Bajans and Jamaicans, is unaged white overproof, and that's also what they exported. It's probably also the type of rum originally made in New England. White overproof (which is better than Cachaca, but only barely), is somewhat reminiscent of Old Potrero.

But the British ended the slave trade in 1774, and in 1776 we filed for divorce from the Crown. At that point, trade (at least dependable, legitimate trade) with the British Caribbean colonies came to an abrupt halt. It was, however, quickly replaced by trade with our new allies, the French. The French Caribbean colonies, such as Martinique, Trinidad, and Haiti, were happy to sell us their molasses, all the more so because they didn't use any of it for making rum. The French style of rum, called Rhum Agricole, is made from sugar cane juice, not molasses. And, because it was made to sell to French people who already appreciated barrel-aged brandy, they aged it. It was this rum that became the favorite of the new American rich and famous, and was probably the basis for the general disdain given to what was once perfectly acceptable New England rum from about that time ("Yechh! It tastes so... British"). Especially as the New England rum continued to be made from molasses and that available from the French colonies was less suited for the purpose.

The relationship between France and the United States changed with the French revolution and the subsequent wars with Britain. The Caribbean sources of both molasses and rum were becoming less and less dependable. In 1803 France sold New Orleans to the United States and tossed in the rest of the Mississippi river valley as well. Trade (which included whiskey) immediately began flowing from Pittsburgh to the French-speaking markets of New Orleans, and from there on to the rest of the world. The whiskey that sold the best was whiskey that most resembled cognac or rhum agricole. They called that whiskey Monongahela after its origin, and it was soon followed by the even more attractively-named Bourbon from Louisville. I'm not sure the end customers were entirely aware that it even WAS whiskey. I have a copy of an 1875 business directory ad in our collection of Abe Bomberger stuff that boasts the "lowest market price" for "pure rye rum", so the distinction was vague even as late as then. By 1813 there were no more New England rum distilleries. Those that appeared later bore no relationship to the original style, and in fact I suspect (since by then we'd fallen back in love with England) the rum they produced was similar to what you'd find in a bottle of Mount Gay or Cockspur today.
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Unread postby timdellinger » Fri May 25, 2007 9:13 pm

EllenJ wrote: The French Caribbean colonies, such as Martinique, Trinidad, and Haiti, were happy to sell us their molasses, all the more so because they didn't use any of it for making rum. The French style of rum, called Rhum Agricole, is made from sugar cane juice, not molasses. And, because it was made to sell to French people who already appreciated barrel-aged brandy, they aged it.


My understanding is that French colonies in the Caribbean were prohibited by law from distilling rum for export, for fear that the rum would compete with French brandy and wine. Thus the French colonies were swimming in molasses and sold it all to New England.

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Unread postby gillmang » Sat May 26, 2007 8:47 am

Well, I haven't read the rum book (I'd like to of course), I have another rum history though which I'll get out shortly. My evidence for the quality of 1800's New England rum is from a quick web search of Medford rum and related styles. Names like Crawford and Lawrence existed and were (per these reports) well-appreciated by the local populations. One such story indicates that a company in Boston thought not long ago of trying to recreate the style but felt it wasn't able to (presumably it had access to historical bottles). Whether production was continuous or not in the 1800's, I believe dark rum was available from earliest times in America because the first rums were shipped in wood and would have taken color. I have myself drunk rums from cane and from molasses, young and "vieux", and there is not a huge difference between cane sugar and molasses rums. Rum is rum I think, and there was always a range of qualities available. The best would have been aged dark rum and the distilleries of New England that survived into the 1900's (there was one at least that did making the Medford style but it closed in the 1910's, called Lawrence I think) would have made their name with that style. The bottle of Medford I saw at the Getz looked like a Navy rum style (a dark rich Demerara-type of rum).

While it is true white overproof has always been favoured in the Caribbean locally, amber and dark rums were always available there and I was told not long ago in St. Martin that some locals have always preferred dark rum for the 'ti punch (classic rum, sugar lime drink).

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Unread postby gillmang » Sat May 26, 2007 10:25 am

I consulted a couple of sources. Ian Williams' recent Rum - A Social and Sociable History of the Real Spirit of 1776, and the 1970's-era Whiskey, Brandy & All Other Spirits by the late E. Frank Henriques.

Williams states that when first made New England rum was "like whiskey" and did not have the colour or aroma of imported Caribbean rum, but it had the virtue of cheapness.

This I do not doubt. The same was true of whiskey, also just finding its legs in terms of showing an improved palate from aging. However just as local distillers of whiskey found ways to improve their product (ultimately resulting in bourbon and straight rye), I believe local rum producers quickly would have figured out similar techniques. Every company makes a range of quality. Some rum, and clearly the style that Medford rum became, would have been long stored and rivalled and competed with British and any French imports that came later.

When I said I want to taste the classic Medford taste, I meant, I wanted to taste Medford rum at its apogee of development, which occurred no doubt over a long period but would have been reached relatively early in the history of the American rum industry (at least as early, I surmise, as when Crow was working).

Here is Father Henriques (he was an Episcopal priest) writing in the 1970's, which suggests too that this type of rum endured into his era:

"Most New England rum is consumed right there in New England. It's native born, bred ... except [for] the molasses from which it is made... New England rum is heavy-bodied, dark-colored, pungent, and hearty. It is of good quality, yet economical. It even comes in a bonded version, at 100 proof".

I'll take a dram, but where to find some..?

Gary

N.B. There is a clue in Samuel M'Harry's Practical Distiller (1810) as to what "rye rum" is. M'Harry states that to make rum, make clarified (rectified) whiskey and add 1/4 or 1/3 genuine rum to it. This was a way to stretch a costly import, in other words. What Bomberger was selling was probably such a domestic version of rum, he probably took a very pungent (maybe New England) dark rum and cut it with a rectified, young version of his rye whiskey to make a good, domestic amber "rum".

N.B. #2. In Williams' book, states a company called Felton made rum in Massachussets until sometime in the 70's and when it closed, the last New England distillery was gone.

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