Monday, December 10, 2012

The Gook and the Duke and a Black Velvet Too

I'm currently reading The Good Son: The Life of Ray "Boom Boom" Mancini by Mark Kriegel (which I highly recommend) and in the book they make reference to two different alcohol brands that I am not familiar with and decided to look into it. One term used was "The Gook and the Duke" and "Black Velvet with 7up Chasers".

The Gook and the Duke

Apparently The Gook and the Duke was how people in Youngstown, Ohio (among other places) ordered a shot of Guckenheimer Rye with a Duquense Beer. Now I've never heard of either brand so here is what I found out about them.

According to the American Whiskey: John & Linda Lipman's Adventure in Bourbon Country website, Guckenheimer Rye aka Good Old Guckenheimer, was perhaps the most prestigious of the so-called "Monongahela" whiskeys. What is a Monongahela whiskey you may ask? Here is how John and Linda describe it:
Why "so-called"? Well, the name Monongahela comes from the Monongahela River Valley, which came to be identified with a specific type of whiskey. Made from rye grain, with little or no corn (maize), it featured a deep, reddish-brown color and a distinctive flavor. East Coast rye whiskey, sometimes called Maryland rye (although also including rye from Pennsylvania east of the Appalachian Mountains) was not really the same kind of spirit, often being unaged or very young, and usually being made from both rye and corn grains. Bourbon, a whiskey also said to be named for the location of its origins, is made mostly from corn and has a distinctive flavor of its own.
As you can see, the type of rye whiskey that Guckenheimer is (was?) differs from those made in Bourbon County, Kentucky:
Monongahela rye isn't a whiskey for the debonair. It's pretty rough 'n' tumble stuff, the character of which was shaped by it's long and arduous journey from where it was distilled to where it was consumed. Locally, the whiskey was probably drunk unaged, the same as any other whiskey was at that time. The product that made its way to Baltimore, New York, Boston, and Philadelphia, though, had developed a character more similar to what we, today, expect whiskey to have... except a bit less genteel. But then, the big-city tavern patrons who bought it weren't drinkers of "whiskey" anyway. That was a drink for country-bumpkins and the unsophisticated. Fashionable tavern patrons who bought Monongahela most likely thought it was a type of rum. Later, when the product began to be recognized for what it was, Monongahela began to lose some of its social appeal. But not all brands. Guckenheimer Pure Rye Whiskey held a reputation as an award-winning liquor and was sold as top-shelf liquor throughout its entire pre-prohibition existence.

Photo Credit American Whiskey: John & Linda Lipman's Adventure in Bourbon Country website 

So the origins of Guckenheimer Rye Whiskey lays in the pre-Prohibition era, in the year 1857 to be exact as per the above listed picture. Something interesting stands out in the picture: Bottled in Bond. What does Bottled in Bond mean? According to the Bourbon Observer blogpage:
Bourbons that are "bottled in bond" are those that comply with the Bottled-In-Bond Act of 1897. This Act was created to ensure the authenticity and purity of bourbon, and mandates that to be considered bonded and be labeled as such, bottled whiskey must be at least 4 years old, at least 100 proof, be the product of one distillery and one distiller, in one season. Bondeds are thus distinct from straight bourbon because straights commonly are combinations of different bourbons made at different times and places.To make sure these requirements were met, bonded bourbon was aged in Federally bonded and supervised warehouses, the keys to which were held by the goverment supervisors (these "government men" were agents of the Treasury Department, and up until the early 1980's, they physically unlocked the doors each morning and locked them each night).
So Guckenheimer Rye Whiskey was not made in Bourbon County rather in the East Coast near the Alleghenies in Pennsylvania. So what happened to Guckenheimer brand since the period of the late 1940's that the quote refers to? Here is how John and Linda mention it:
At any rate, by the end of the forties, the Pennsylvania Distilling Company was sold to Schenley. The Guckenheimer brand itself was eventually sold to the American Distilling Company in Pekin, Illinois. They used it for several years, along with it's trademark "Good Old Guckenheimer" slogan, to market a straight bourbon whiskey which they made for awhile  (quite an insult for a brand once considered to be among America's premier rye whiskeys) in Illinois, then bottled using commercial-grade bourbon from Kentucky, and then they even further degraded it to a blended whiskey. American Distilling itself eventually pooped out, its brands being acquired by Heaven Hill in Bardstown, Kentucky. "Good Old Guckenheimer" remains available today as an 80ยบ proof blended whiskey, and may be found on the bottom shelf of liquor stores in some areas.
Obviously, I am condensing their massive amount of information and research for the sake of my post. I would highly recommend that you go to their website and not only access the page with the information on Guckenheimer Rye Whiskey but the rest of their site. It is quite informative. Now that takes care of the "Gook" part. Now on to the "Duke".

The Duke refers to the Duquense Pilsener Beer that according to the Duquense Beer website:
Duquesne Pilsener is a straw yellow pilsener made with two-row barley that provides a very gentle bite and is brewed with extra malt for a bright white head. It possesses a clean aroma that is slightly hoppy and balanced with mild maltiness. The use of premium two-row malt gives Duquesne Pilsener more body than the typical American brew. The beer’s strongest seasoning is a blend of three premium hops — Hallertau hops from Germany, Saaz hops from the Czech Republic and Magnum hops from Washington State.
The website is also quite in depth in the timeline for the Duquense brand name. Here is where it is said the origins of the beer lay:
Back in the day, the leading brand of beer in Pennsylvania was Duquesne Pilsener. Its roots went back to the days of the Pittsburgh region’s burgeoning industrial age and immigrant influx. Where there are hard-working people, there has to be beer!

Photo Credit: The USBeerstuff website
The Duquesne Brewing Company was incorporated in April 1899 and became a regional beer powerhouse. Obviously, Duquense like all other beer companies in the United States faced dire times during the Prohibition years of 1920-1933 but Duquense was able to stay afloat making products like "near-beer" which is described as being "a malt tonic with one-half percent alcohol".

In the post-Prohibition era, Duquense rebounded by producing a 325,000 barrel per year capacity, with a total of 690,000 barrels per year by 1940, making it the largest brewery in Pennsylvania and the eighth largest in America. The good times for Duquense was coming to an end in the post-World War II era from the rise to prominence of larger breweries, profit losses and to increased labor struggles. By 1972 the Duquense beer brand as mentioned in the book was no longer in business. For a more in-depth explanation plus a description of the Duquense brand being brought back to life, click here: Duquense Beer: Our Story

Black Velvet
Black Velvet is a blended Canadian Whisky. The Black Velvet website describes it as such:
In 1951, Jack Napier introduced a painstaking process to the art of whisky making. By blending his whisky at distillation, rather than at bottling, he achieved a taste so smooth that it had to be named Black Velvet. With a subtly sweet taste profile and clean finish, Black Velvet Whisky has become the preferred pour of discriminating whisky drinkers around the world.
So as per the book, the Black Velvet Whisky is done straight up as a shot with a 7-up chaser or back-up. I can't say that I have ever seen it here in New York City, but I did recently see it on a shelf in a bar during one of the episodes of Zane Lamprey's Drinking Made Easy. Here is a poster that I found online with Telly Savalas of the TV show Kojak as a spokesperson for the Black Velvet brand in 1978.


You can't go wrong with Telly Savalas. Who loves ya baby. Any of you out there every had any of the three products I mention in this post? Whatcha think. Let me know.

Until Then, Happy Drinking,
Sisco Vanilla