Here is a book upon which I stumbled while doing some research for my first cocktail story. The bottomless treasures of the online digitalized libraries are there just a few clicks away and we don't pay enough attention most of the time. This gem of a book is a very insightful essay which was printed in the United States in the year 1857 and sold on the street for $ 1,5. In there, you find plenty of details on how the different spirits and wines are made. The author says that he spent time on both sides of the Atlantic (Bordeaux and New York) and acquired a good first-hand experience on the down-to-earth methods used by distillers and manufacturers in their trade. The title page of the book states the author is a Practical Liquor Manufacturer. This would already make this book worth to read, but the other, bewildering facet of this book is that it offers recipes on how to counterfeit these wines and spirits....
While probably many commercial books of this range were written along the 19th century, many of them mixing fantasy to reality to sell better, there are undoubtly some truths among the informations and data reported in this treatise.
It's also a good read because in 2011 when we come across stories of large-scale counterfeited wines and spirits (like in Russia or China), we may be easily induced into thinking that this is the way our modern times and greed go, while the past was all rosy with honest/artisan merchants and producers selling real products made the most artisanal way without tricks. In one of my mini-stories a few years ago I pointed to the incredible occurrences of wine doctoring that took place routinely in France in the 19th century Read this page in French about the common ways to enhance the wines or make more wine from a given volume of grapes in the late 19th-early 20th century. In 1907, fed up by dishonest practices, some vignerons had printed flyers praising natural wine (Vive le Vin Naturel)...
Generally speaking, you'll see by yourself how this book echoes many of the themes debated nowadays regarding the correction of wines through modern additives, it's like the reality had only shifted into a more blurred picture, but the stakes remain the same.
In this work, not one article, in the smallest degree approximating to a poison, is recommended. And yet the book teaches how every wine, liquor, &c., from the choicest to the commonest, can be imitated to that perfection that the best judges cannot detect the method of manufacture, even by chemical tests of the severest character ! All wines and liquors have been so thoroughly analyzed by the author of the "Guide", that he has defined their components in a style that may be understood by a child. After telling what each liquid is composed of, he furnishes a formula for making its exact counterpart--exact in everything ! The imitation is in every respect the twin of the real, possessing the same qualities, yielding the same pleasures, performing the same duties, and acquiring or reaching the same ends. Each formula is comprehensive--no one can misunderstand. The ingredients are specifically named, and the quantity required of each distinctly set forth. With this book in his hand, any dealer can manufacture his own liquors at a saving of 500 to 600 per cent., with little trouble, and in such a way that he would not hesitate to drink them himself, or give them to his family. He can produce Cognac, and all other brandies, Champagne, or still finer qualities or wine, with the same facility that he can make cider.
That what I'd call cheap salesman talk :
The imitation is in every respect the twin of the real, possessing the same qualities, yielding the same pleasures.
My answer is that either the original booze the adulterated mixture was supposed to imitate was already an industrial crap, or the taster is really inexperienced here...
We discover in this preface that adulteration was practiced on a grand scale on both sides of the Atlantic. The demand was so high in the mid-19th century in New York that the French production didn't suffice, and profit-avid producers in France or importers in the U.S. had found ways to duplicate (or more) relatively limited volumes of liquors and wines...
Remember this recent story where the U.S winery Gallo was sold Pinot Noir from Languedoc for its Red Bicyclette range, which wasn't Pinot Noir. The French wine merchants couldn't find enough available Pinot Noir in the Languedoc négoce and coops, and delivered in its place wines from other, cheaper red varieties...
Another wise remark found here, and which is still valid today for example for the distributor/importer who wants to be sure to sell wines made without tricks or additive corrections :
The only guarantee the American importer has of the genuineness of his imported wine [brandy], is in the character of the vigneron [exporter or distiller] from whom he receives his stock.
Note the last chapter (If we can induce...) where the author presents his adulteration formulas as being positive (not a "blessing to mankind", but almost...) because no poisonous compounds are used in the book recipes...
This work is the result of many years' experience of a practical distiller, manufacturer, and chemist in Bordeaux and New York. Its design is not only to present a concise and practical treatise on the subject on which it treats, but also to introduce an entirely new system of manufacturing and adulterating liquors, by which the use of poisons and poisonous compounds are avoided; and we wish it distinctly understood, that we do not in any case use in our imitations any material not found by chemical analysis to exist in the original spirit we seek to imitate. This is the basis of the theory on which this work is founded.
It is well known to the trade, and generally supposed by those not engaged in the sale of liquors, that adulteration is carried on to a very great extent in the United States, as well as in England. In France also, the source of more than three fourth of the liquor imported in this country, it is conducted on an extensive scale, though in a different and less objectionable manner. The systems in use in England and in the United States have been of a character to condemn the practice. Drugs of a deleterious nature and possessed of qualities poisonous in the extreme, have been, and are now more or less in use, though the system has been gradually undergoing a change for the better. The French have been the first to inaugurate, in the expensive products of their vineyards and distilleries, a system of adulteration that, if properly understood, would place imitation liquors in a new light altogether.
This system has been but little undertsood in this country, and the knowledge has been confined to a few individuals.
Although the adulteration of liquors has been generally condemned as pernicious in the effect produced, still it ever has been and will continue to, that the dealer may extend his profits; nor will any amount of legisletion or prohibition ever cause its discontinuance. That the system needs improvement all will admit; and that the principles laid down in this treatise do away with the objectionable part of adulteration, experience has fully demonstrated.
[.....]Were all liquors imported pure, and sold in the same state, the quantity sold would be a mere item compared with the amount now drank in this country. Indeed, France and the continental countries of Europe do not produce a sufficient quantity, if the entire products of their vineyards were exported, to supply the natural trade of New York City alone. So great is the demand for exportation beyond the supply, that the French are compelled to resort to imitations to supply the deficiency; and to such perfection has the system been brought, that by no test, chemical or otherwise, can these imitations be detected. The question is often asked, what becomes of the large quantities of whiskey that are shipped every month to France ? It is well known in the latter country that a good American corn spirit may be so amalgamated with the juice of the grape, after being deprived of its essential oil, that the distillation of the two in conjunction produces a spirit that cannot be detected. Also, after the brandy has been distilled in its pure state, so perfect a spirit may be produced by the re-distillation and rectification of corn whiskey, that its addition to the genuine, though in large quantities, is not apparent, except perhaps in a slight diminution of the rich flavor and odor pertaining to pure brandy. This is really remedied by the addition of the same materials that give to the original its taste and odor. By this principle the French have been enabled to supply the great and increasing demand for brandy, and likewise to give to the exporter an article in every respect as wholesome and as pure as the original brandy itself. From the extreme high price of French liquors, every inducement is held out to the distiller and exporter to adulterate, and the consequent result is that but few brandies or other liquors are exported to this country free from adulteration, at the hands of either the distiller or the exporter, or both. Not that we would include in one sweeping charge all French distillers and exporters. We know of some exceptions to the rule; but we will say, that the only guarantee the American importer has of the genuineness of his imported brandy, is in the character of the exporter or distiller from whom he receives his stock; for so perfect are these Bordeaux imitations, we again repeat, that their detection is utterly impossible by any test, chemical or otherwise.
One word in regard to the large quantities of whiskey shipped to France and the Continent. A small portion only is used for chemical, medicinal or mechanical puposes, perhaps one fourth of the entire amount, the larger portion being returned to this country in the form of brandy, cordials, liqueurs &c., at prices very much enhanced from its original cost of exportation from our ports.
As we have said before, France and the Continent could not supply the trade of New York alone, if every gallon of wine produced, and every gallon of brandy distilled, were exported to this port in its original state, as it is a well known fact, established on the most reliable data, that, notwithstanding the immense amount of imitation and adulterated liquors shipped from the French ports, far exeeding the genuine in quantity, she does but little towards supplying the retail trade of the United States. The city of New York alone sells three times as many "pure imported brandies", and four times as many "pure imported wines" annually, as all the wine-producing countries export. It is estimated that 12,000,000 bottles of champagne are sold in the United States annually, while France exports less than 10,000,000 bottles.
If we can induce the adoption of a system of manufacturing that is free from the objections now existing, that is, the free use of poisonous compounds, we shall have accomplished some good, and the object we sought in giving to the public the results of years of experience and close study.
That some imperfections may be found, we will not deny; but that is the most concise and practical work on the subject ever published in America, no one will deny after a careful perusal.
[...] in practice it has been found that sour and rough tasted apples produce the best cider. This arises because they contain less sugar and more malic acid, and the presence of the latter impedes the conversion of alcohol into vinegar. But cider for imitation wines made with such apples can never equal the quality that prepared at a low temperature from fruit abounding in sugar.
As the juice of apples contains less sugar in proportion to the amount of acid and nitrogenized matter than that of grapes, the addition of some of this article would render it more suitable for the production of a vinous liquor. Good West In dia Sugar is the best for this purpose for red wines; best white sugar or syrup must be used for white wines. I have tasted cider made in this way, and that had been stored in fresh emptied rum puncheons, that had all the pungency and vinosity of foreign wine.
The basis being thus prepared, care will be necessary to produce perfect imitations. And we would state, in this connexion, that not only is care necessary, but the operator must see that every part of the process is conducted strictly according to the rules as laid down in this treatise; [....]
On page 23, I was surprised to learn that already at that time (1850-1860, when the material for this book was gathered), harvest was very attentive and careful, at least in France :
The fruit is some countries is cut off with a knife; in France the scissors are used, by which the stems of the bunches are rapidly severed. In other countries the hand only is applied, a mode injurious to the grape, as well as to the vine. The most approved plan is to make three distinct gatherings of the fruit. The first includes all the finest and ripes bunches. The green, rotten grapes, or such as have been eaten into by insects, are cleared from the bunches, which are then carefully carried home. The second gathering implies, naturally, a second pressing. The grapes are not quite as ripe as the first. The last gathering and pressing consists of the inferior grapes. The gathered bunches are deposited as lightly as possible, to prevent the grapes from being bruised. All dry or spoiled grapes are cast aside, where proper care is used, if fine or delicate wine is intended to be made. Each laborer is gathering in an osier basket, or a sort of wooden dossier, carried with the least possible motion....
Read the rest, this guy certainly has spent some time in the French wineries circa 1850 and he gives many other insightful details on the pressing and the winemaking.
One of the recipes (the fourth) uses a native American wine in addition of the cider base, and the author added :
For Champagnes, the cider should be discolored. The finest imitation of Champagne may be made from the native wine of the West, the Catawba, Missouri, &c., mixed with prepared cider as follows :
On page 38 you can read :
Claret, or vin de Bordeaux, as it is called in France, is a red wine, and from its moderate strength is ranked as a light wine. It has a deep purple color, and, when good, a delicious taste, in which the vinous flavor is blended with acidity and astringency. The most esteemed kinds are the Medoc Clarets, called Chateau-Lafite, Chateau-Margaux, and Chateau Latour. Another celebrated variety is the Chateau Haut Brion of the Pays de Grave. Claret is the variety of French wines most consumed in the United States.
Further (page 45), in the alphabetical nomenclature of the management of wine, there was this interesting chapter on flavoring, where it's implied that both in the home country and in the U.S., the wines get flavoring additives to enhance their taste (they're the concoction tricks before the additives designed by the labs in the 1980s', you even have oak chips__oak sawdust) :
Various ingredients are added to inferior wines to give them the flavor of others more expensive, and to American wines to make them resemble those imported. Substances are also added in a similar manner to communicate the aroma of the highly-flavored grape vines. Among the first are bitter almonds, or the essential oil of almonds, or preferably its alcoholic solution, which are used to impart a sherry or nutty flavor to weak-flavored wines, as sherry, white cape, malt, raisin, parsnip, and other similar British wines; rhatany, kino, oak sawdust and bark, alum, etc., to convey astringency; and tincture of the seeds of raisins to impart a Port wine flavor. Among the substances employed to communicate the bouquet of finer wines, may be mentioned, orris root, eau de fleurs d'oranges, neroli, vanilla, violet petals, cedrat, sweetbrier, clary, elder flowers, quinces, cherry-laurel water, etc.
A few pages before that (page 41), there's this interesting info on how wines were routinely colored, presumably by wine dealer. That's amazing how close is the analogy with our modern industrial winemaking where all sort of lab products are used to correct the taste and color of the wines :
Coloring.-- Wines are as commonly doctored in their color as their flavor. A fawn yellow and golden sherry yellow are given by means of a tincture or an infusion of saffron, turmeric, or safflower, followed by a little spirit coloring to prevent the color being too lively. All shades of amber and faw to deep brown and brandy color, may be given by burnt sugar. Cochineal (either alone or with a little alum) gives a pink color; beet-root and logwood, and the juice of elder berries, bilberries, &c., a port wine color. A hogshead of inferior pale sherry or white cape is commonly converted into a full-flavored brown sherry by the "honest" wine dealer, by the addition of 1/4 pint of spirit coloring, a gallon of brandy, and a few drops of the essential oil of bitter almonds dissolved in spirits ; the whole being well mixed and fined down.
Read also the Decoloring chapter on page 42.
There are quite a few pages devoted to beer too, which might interest the modern reader.