A Jigger of Common Sense

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A Jigger of Common Sense

Unread postby bourbonv » Sat Mar 05, 2005 8:56 pm

I am going to do something different here. In the late 50's and early 60's Pappy Van Winkle wrote a series of "articles" that were really advertisements for Old Fitzgerald. They are humorous and informative and were collected in a booklet published by the distillery in a pamphlet called "A Jigger of Common Sense" by Julian P. Van Winkle. I thought what I would do is simply keystroke in these articles one at a time and let you all read and enjoy them as well. Here is the first one:

"The Day The Rhino Came To Town"
By Julian P. Van Winkle

Three years after being called a "Rhinoceros", a field hand in our home county beat up his tormentor.

Asked by the judge why he waited so long, the boy explained he'd never seen a rhinoceros until the day of the beating when the circus came to town.

To some folks our term "sour mash" as applied to whiskey, are "rhinoceros words".

Few men know what they mean. Others have suspicion they can't promise anything good!

In spite of the unsavory implications, nothing could be farther from the truth.

Sour Mash Bourbon, made on a proven recipe, is the finest whiskey a man can pour - never sharp or sour, but rich, mellow, full-bodied, a delight to the tongue and solace to the soul!

In fact, "Sour Mash" is to bourbon what Sterling is to silver, a hallmark of quality recognized in Kentucky since the first corn was mashed.

More than sixty years ago when I started in this business, all the great Kentucky Bourbons were "sour mash". They were always in top demand even at twice the price of sweet mash distillations.

Part of the reason for the extra price was the patient way in which they were made. The original sour mash method called for extra grain, slower mashing, longer fermentation, more thorough aging.

But those old-time whiskeys brought more, not simply because they cost more, but because only the tedious sour mash method could imprt the rich full flavor of Kentucky bourbon as it ought to taste.

Today in our small family distillery Old Fitzgerald is still being made with the same lavish care that originally brought it great fame as one of the leaders among those original Kentucky sour mash bourbons.


Mike Veach
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Unread postby cowdery » Sun Mar 06, 2005 2:49 am

Gee, as much as I hate to disagree with Pappy Van Winkle, "sour mash" does not and never has had anything to do with "more thorough aging."

I also wonder, ultimately, what was the point of this essay, since I suspect that then, as now, every straight whiskey made in America was, and is, made using the sour mash process.

I know, I know, it's advertising.
- Chuck Cowdery

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Unread postby bourbonv » Sun Mar 06, 2005 10:59 am

How to Stayed Married for Life
by Julian P Van Winkle

At his Golden Wedding Anniversary Henry Ford was asked the secret of his long and trenquil married life.

"Stick to one model!" Henry advised.

For more than a century, our family distillery has stuck to one old-fashioned whiskey, made on the original sour mash recipe which first brought fame to Kentucky as the home of fine bourbon.

Ours is one product on which the maker isn't even trying to improve. We take pride in keeping Old Fitzgerald as good as it was three generations ago.

Truth is, in this day of scientific methods, our modest family operation is a business freak.

Like the contrary Vermonter whom Cal Coolidge once described, we saddle our horse backwards and sit facing one direction while the horse gallops in another.

Unprogressiveness such as ours is a puzzle to all but our customers - that inner circle of discriminating gentlemen who have made Old Fitzgerald the final choice of their mature tastes.

"Divorcements" between us are few and far between. Our compatibility rests on the fact that we've continued to make our customers want it without regard to cost.

Reflect a bit and you will see that our horse-and-buggy methods make good business sense.

As a family distillery with limited production, our facilities for winning customers are also limited. Through sheer quality, Old Fitzgerald must earn their continued loyalty, or we close our still.

Through my 63 active years I have found no surer way to stay happily "married" to customers than by sticking to our one and only model.

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Unread postby gillmang » Sun Mar 06, 2005 12:13 pm

This is an interesting style of promotion, where there is a personal appeal to the consumer, at least in this case the principal of the distillery was behind the message and I am sure he authored it himself (it has that ring). It has a nice gentlemanly tone. The Jack Daniel's advertising from the 1950's onward also adopts a warm easy tone but more folksy in their case. Was ever a downhome image more carefully crafted than in the case of Jack Daniel? And by the mid-1950's the distillery had been acquired by Brown-Forman so it wasn't even an appeal from the descendants of Jack himself. Still, it was successful and based on undeniable quality. This Old Fitzgerald promotion similarily was based on a high quality product even if the messages (probably intentionally) are a little short on production specifics (e.g., as Chuck says surely most distilleries used sour mash process at the time and many aged their whiskey longer than 4-6 years or offered some longer-aged products in their range). I think one thing that is clear is that the small scale of Stitzel-Weller allowed Old Fitzgerald and W.L. Weller to be as good as they could be. When you are small it is hard to adopt scale efficiencies (say, palletized warehousing, investment in stainless steel to replace cypress vats, etc.) so chances are you will get a more artisanal product. Taste notes in his book from Chuck confirm that (e.g. viz. Very Very Old Fitzgerald) and Mike has said similar things about the old Stitzel-Weller products.

Interesting too how the tone of ads have changed, you would see few if any written that way today.

Gary
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Unread postby bourbonv » Sun Mar 06, 2005 12:55 pm

Gary,
At the time these were written, very few bourbons were advertising the "sour mash" part of the process. The reason for that were actually as Pappy stated and that it did not sound like a good thing. I sometimes wonder which came first the chicken or the egg... Did Pappy's advertisements influence Jack Daniel advertisements or vice-versa? They are both faily close together in origin.

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Unread postby gillmang » Sun Mar 06, 2005 1:53 pm

Yes, Mike, but surely almost all distilleries then were using sour mash, so to claim it as something traditional and a value point seems a little, well, ad-oriented, which is Chuck's point I think.

This brings up something I have long wanted to ask on a bourbon board.

Do you Mike (with your inventory of interesting, often older, products) or does anyone have experience tasting a sweet mash bourbon?

I wonder if a sweet mash bourbon is really all that different from a sour mash bourbon. Is the point really only one of product consistency? This is something of interest to companies who want to sell a consistent product but perhaps less to connoisseurs (if that term doesn't sound too highfaluting) who appreciate differences in quality bourbons and recognise the process cannot (and should not) be completely standardised.

Now there's a coup: bring an authentic sweet mash bourbon to Gazebo!

Maybe it is more simple than I think: is it not possible some bourbons currently in the market are sweet mash? Surely some single barrel bourbons (anyway) aren't always made with sour mash. What happens when (some) companies start distilling again in a new season? The first mash means there isn't any back set to add to the fermenter, right? Some distilleries may borrow some from a friendly local company (i.e., a competitor) but I would doubt that possibility can always be relied on.

Can it be some of the variations noticed, say, from year to year in the EWSB bourbons result from some being sweet mash bourbons? (I don't recall if their label promises sour mash or not).

Shucks, I just love that phrase sweet mash, I wish someone would market (explicitly) a sweet mash bourbon, I'd buy it in a nonce. A bourbon sangaree made with sweet mash whiskey, why, I'd walk a spell (preferably in the Kentuck hollows) for that one. :)

Gary
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Unread postby bourbonv » Sun Mar 06, 2005 1:57 pm

Lincoln's Tale of the Greedy Farmer
by Julian P. Van Winkle

Lincoln opposed the Mexican War because he considered it a war of aggression.

Those who argued for it, Lincoln said, reminded him of the Illinois farmer who claimed he was not greedy for land.

All he wanted was the farms that "jined his'n!"

Over the past hundred years our modest family distillery has been content to remain small. We have made little effort to take business away from competition merely for the sake of getting big.

Our unconcern for the land that "jines" ours has brought us a unique position.

Having kept our heads out of the line-of-fire of the whiskey giants, we have safely weathered all consolidations and offers thereof, and have preserved our family independence for more than a century.

Fact is, these same competitors still have a good word to say for us and the continued excellence of our Old Fitzgerald.

Like the shoemaker who sticks to his last, we stick to one old fashioned bourbon made in the original, slow, costly sour mash manner. Nothing else has ever rolled out of our doors.

This disinterest in the land that "jines" ours goes back to wartime, when whiskey such as ours was scarce as hen's teeth.

Although our stocks then could have been stretched five-fold, nary a drop was ever blended with alcohol to give us five times the volume and more than five times the profit.

The customers we sacrificed then, by sticking to the straight whiskey principle, we are gaining back now.

Day after day we find our Old Fitzgerald gaining greater acceptance among a distinguished group of discriminating gentlemen who have made it the final choice of their mature taste.
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Unread postby bunghole » Sun Mar 06, 2005 2:43 pm

bourbonv wrote:Lincoln's Tale of the Greedy Farmer
by Julian P. Van Winkle


Having kept our heads out of the line-of-fire of the whiskey giants, we have safely weathered all consolidations and offers thereof, and have preserved our family independence for more than a century.



OOPS! Until Deagio came along and did their best to destroy Bourbon.

Professor Veach, could you please put a time stamp on these ads so we might better know when they were written?

I'm thinking 1950's, but I'd rather not guess.

:arrow: ima :scratch:
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Unread postby cowdery » Sun Mar 06, 2005 3:55 pm

Gillman wrote:Maybe it is more simple than I think: is it not possible some bourbons currently in the market are sweet mash?


All American whiskey is sour mash. However, I have been told by distillers that a sweet mash could be made today that would be just as consistent as sour mash, because of modern process controls. If we had a sweet mash whiskey you might be disappointed, since there is no reason to believe it would taste any different.
- Chuck Cowdery

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Unread postby bourbonv » Sun Mar 06, 2005 4:10 pm

Linn,
As I said at first they were 1950's and early 1960's. J P van Winkle joined W L Weller and Sons in 1893 so when he said he had been in the business for 63 years that would place it in 1956.
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Unread postby gillmang » Sun Mar 06, 2005 4:15 pm

What about the first mash of a season, Chuck? How does that get to be sour mash? And if it is by borrowing a cup of sugar from the neighbor, how do we know that is done every time?

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Unread postby bourbonv » Sun Mar 06, 2005 4:48 pm

Gary,
Someone told me, and I don't remember who, that Jim Beam was a firm believer in Sweet Mash Bourbon. If that is true then the pre-prohibition Jim Beam may be what you are looking for to try a Sweet Mash. I have never knowingly tried any, but I suspect Chuck is right and there would be very little difference.
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Unread postby TNbourbon » Sun Mar 06, 2005 5:07 pm

gillmang wrote:...Now there's a coup: bring an authentic sweet mash bourbon to Gazebo!...


Well, Gary, I took up the challenge and Googled "sweet mash whiskey", "mellow mash" and other synonymous terms, but the most germane I found was this one, by Parker Beam, in his Bardstown Bourbon Society website commentary in Fall 2002:
http://www.bardstownbourbonsociety.com/ ... dDEwMDk%3D

In it, he writes: "...he began noticing other labels that said things like "sweet mash" or "mellow mash" so he began to wonder if maybe those "other kinds" of mashes wouldn't taste better. He didn't know they were all sour mash, because that's what Bourbon is.

So, it seems there are no current "sweet mash" bourbons.

I do have a bottle of Yellowstown's old Mellow Mash 7yo Private Stock, which states on the back label that "We call it Mellow Mash, because it carries the art of bourbon making one step beyond Sour Mash."
I don't know exactly what that means, though.
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Unread postby gillmang » Sun Mar 06, 2005 5:18 pm

First, no one has (yet) answered my question about the first mash of the season. :)

Second, I interpret that "mellow mash" and explanation on the Yellowstone to mean it was a sweet mash whiskey unless elsewhere on the label (or of the regular Yellowstone of the time) it says, "sour mash".

Third, I don't follow that bit about a sweet mash is a ... sour mash. Does that mean, whenever people said "sweet mash" on labels years back they didn't mean what they said? I don't believe that.

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Unread postby bourbonv » Sun Mar 06, 2005 5:19 pm

Tim,
The column still at Yellowstone had a special designed head on it that made it sort of re-distill the alcohol before it passed to the double. That was the basis for "Mellow Mash".
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