Saturday, February 13, 2016

Booze and Bullets: Mixing Whiskey and Hunting

When I was a cub reporter in the Wisconsin North Woods years ago, my boss Dan, a jokester, loved to hit the crowds in local bars just as deer season began.  He would tell the outsiders, “I never go out in the field without a few belts of whiskey in me to keep warm.”  Then he would watch with amusement at the looks of alarm on the faces of those planning to hunt the next day.
Although Dan was only kidding, I think, the juxtaposition of whiskey with hunting was a familiar theme in liquor ads both before and after National Prohibition.   Whiskey advertising frequently extolled the value of strong drink for hunters or found other ways of identifying their product with the nimrod’s sport.   In the saloon sign above, advertising Kinsey Pure Rye Whiskey, we see a story unfolding.  The hunter and his dog have intruded on posted “No Trespassing” land, only to confront an angry farmer with rod in his hand.  The hunter is offering a flask — obviously of Kinsey Rye — and the farmer seems about to take it.  Moral:  Whiskey is handy to have on a hunt.
The pre-Prohibition Angelo Myers Co. of Philadelphia was not the only liquor wholesaler to make use of this “Field and Stream” fantasy.  The Old Overholt, a long-produced Pennsylvania Rye Whiskey, founded as early as 1810, used a similar theme on one of its advertising signs given to saloons. The “No Trespassing” sign is absent here, but the farmer carries a stick.  He seems pleased, however, at being offered a swig from a flask of Old Overholf.  In the distance a second bearded yokel is climbing a fence to get his share.   Given the angled posture of the hunter, he may have been imbibing earlier.

“A Stag Party” is a saloon sign meant to be humorous, issued by the George Stagg Company of Frankfort, Kentucky.  Here two hunters are resting from their labors, toasting each other with whiskey from a bottle of Stagg’s trademarked “O.F.C. Straight Bourbon.”  Both are unaware that a large male deer with a huge antler rack has appeared out of the forest behind them.  That buck was the emblem of the O.F.C. distillery that Stagg operated.  The younger hunter also seems unaware that his rifle, resting as it is on his arm, might go off and damage more than his snazzy jacket.
A scene of gunners resting and enjoying a drink, guns close by, also decorated the labels of “Kamp’s Rye Whiskey.”  In this scene the two hunters apparently have spent the day in the field and shot something tough and stringy — perhaps a wild boar — since they seem to be making dinner by boiling what they bagged over a blazing wood fire.  The only camper who seems to be paying attention is their dog.  The author of this whiskey, Kamp Distilling of St. Louis was not a distiller, but a wholesaler who “rectified” whiskey purchased elsewhere, mixing and blending it, sometimes with other ingredients, to achieve taste and color, then bottling it under a proprietary label.
This theme of two hunters relaxing in camp with their dog and guns was replicated in a saloon sign issued by the company.  Calling this brand of whiskey “The Sportman’s Choice,”  Kamp indicated by this illustration that the hunters were well supplied with whiskey, a full case of quart bottles being evident in the foreground.  It is a wonder these gents could find time between snorts to do any hunting at all.

“Rod and Gun Club Rye,” ads and labels, unlike those above, do not show any overt drinking.  Here the hunter and his dogs seemingly have flush a pair of snipes and a covey of quail.  The nimrod seems in a quandary, as do his dogs, about which birds to shoot.  With the first shot, all will be in flight.  Miller & Mooney began business about 1884 in Philadelphia as liquor wholesalers.  They likely experienced frustration in getting adequate whiskey supplies and so bought their own distillery in nearby Berks County, Pennsylvania.  It was the Wheatland Distillery, operating under the “bottled in bonding” legislation and known in Federal annals as Registered Distillery #75 in the 1st District of Pennsylvania.

The label of the “Off & On” whiskey appears to show a hunter who is in no quandary about what to aim at.  Crouched on the forest floor, he is intently banging away at his unseen quarry.  This was one of many brands from the Herman Myer Company of New York City.   Like other wholesalers Myer was rectifying and bottling whiskey under his own labels.  One of my favorite Myer brand names is “Naked Mermaid.”   Herman apparently was getting supplies from a relative with a distillery in Covington, Kentucky.

The preceding seven whiskey-and-drinking examples were all issued pre-Prohibition.  The distilleries or wholesalers behind those brands all were forced to shut down their operations by 1920 with the imposition of the national ban on making or selling strong drink.  With Repeal fourteen years later, the liquor trade went right back to identifying gun sports with their products, as the ensuing four ads indicate.

Paul Jones began as a whiskey salesman in the late 1800s but soon branched out into distilling.  He bought the famous Four Roses brand and his Frankfort Distillery was one of the few companies allowed to sell liquor for medicinal purposes during Prohibition.  After Repeal, the major brand became “Paul Jones” whiskey.  In this 1940 ad, a hunter with a smoking gun is shown hauling out a large dead bear and exclaiming:  “And to think I went out after rabbits!”

Hunting bears, however, could be problematic, as in the following ad for Canadian Hunter whiskey.  Here a hunter with two dogs seems to be distinctly “over his head” in hunting bears.  The moral here seems to be that in order to “live to tell the tale,” the man with the gun needs to be well fortified on Hunter Whiskey.  

The Sunny Brook hunters have their shotguns sighted on quarry that never fight back, waterfowl.  Dressed in the traditional plaid shirts, the men seem to have one hapless goose in their range.  Printed in magazines during the 1940s, this ad was from the Sunny Brook Distillery Co., owned and run by Rosenfield Bros. & Co. of Chicago.  They established the brand in 1891 and quickly achieved a national audience.  They sold their their properties during Prohibition.  The brand was revived after Repeal.

The final post-Prohibition ad shown here provided two contrasting scenes of hunting.  On the left is an 1890s hunter and the ad suggests that his gun was the “the kind that killed at both ends.”  Like the weighty blunderbuss, the ad suggested:  “The end of the day drink meant a whisky that was plenty heavy too….”  The modern hunter, in the picture on the right, by contrast carried a light weapon and preferred a lighter whiskey.  The Hiram Walker Distillery of Peoria, Illinois, was glad to accommodate with its Signet Straight Rye — four years old and 100 proof.

After the 1940s, the idea of juxtaposing hunting and drinking as an advertising theme seemed to wane significantly.  It was an age of radio comedians who often joked about the combination.  “What are your hobbies,” someone asked Phil Harris.  “I hunt and drink,” he replied.  “What do you hunt?”  “Drink,” said Harris.  More important, serious stories abounded of drunken hunters in the woods shooting themselves or others.   The idea of mixing booze and bullets in advertising waned until today when it is virtually unthinkable.

Note:  In a post forthcoming soon I will review the use of hunting themes in beer merchandising, both before and after National Prohibition.

Labels:  whiskey and hunting, Kinsey Rye, Old Overholt, Kamp's Rye Whiskey, Rod and Gun Club Rye, On and Off Whiskey, Paul Jones, Hunter Whiskey, Sunny Brook Whiskey, Signet Whiskey

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