Saturday, February 17, 2018

Gimme a bourbon and soda!

Uggh; what a waste of Kentucky Bourbon...

After all, soda is just water with carbonation. I've long subscribed to the fact that it's the water, not the whiskey, that gives one a headache after one too many. After all, what do fish swim in? And what do fish do in the water while they're swimming in it? And that, friends, is why I never add water (or soda) to my whiskey.

However, I must be in the minority because people have been mixing "stuff" with whiskey forever. Someone, years ago, came up with the grand idea of mixing soda water and or "seltzer" with whiskey and by the 1860's, this became standard practice as is evidenced by western whiskey fifths often dug alongside soda, and seltzer bottles.


The firm of Cartan, McCarthy & Co. is well known to collectors of western whiskies. They started up in San Francisco ca. 1873, survived the great earthquake and fire, and remained a key player in the western liquor trade until forced out of business by prohibition in 1919. Their bottles span the decades and range from crude amber glop top cylinders on through the end of the tool top era, when their product was delivered in both full quart tankers and short necked cylinder fifths. The latter bottles were blown in amber, clear and aqua glass.  



Their flagship brand was Castlewood. It was advertised extensively and the firm went so far as to have an acid etched pre-pro glass designed to help push the product.

I grew up in a small town named Campbell, in the Bay Area of California. What was once a sleepy orchard community of a couple of thousand people is now just part of San Jose in the Silicon Valley. Sixty some years ago, it was a great place for a kid to grow up (and dig bottles)! And dig we did! 

I recall one particular dig in SE San Jose around 1970. The underground gasoline storage tanks at a Texaco Station had rusted out and had to be dug up and replaced. Turned out that the land on which the gas station had been built was previously a large dump dating to the 1860's - 1890's. Back in the 1960's, no one cared about a bunch of teenagers digging for old bottles. Heck, construction sites weren't even fenced. The bottles in this particular dump were stacked like cordwood. On the final day, we were wrapping up our digging activities as the new tanks were going to be installed the next morning. The last bottle out of the excavation was unlike anything I'd seen before. It was screaming fire aqua (almost sapphire blue), had a gigantic oversized applied blob top, and more bubbles than glass. On one side was a grizzly bear that stood off the surface of the bottle by at least a third of an inch.

On the other side it was embossed, simply, "Azule Seltzer Springs". 

Hmm, a soda I guessed, and a cool one at that. A friend of mine got it in the first round of the pick but I knew nothing about it so blew it off and on we went to round two. Old too soon, smart too late...


My next door neighbors owned Dorsa Construction. They were a large heavy construction firm specializing in huge demo projects, road building etc. Pacific Congress Springs had been located just outside of Saratoga, just down the road from our place, and had been a going concern in the 1870's and 1880's. It was a palatial resort that catered to the elite who wished to "take in the waters". One could enjoy hot or cold baths, as well as consume the product by the bottle or glass full, which promised to cure all ailments.
The San Jose Water Works "SJWW" had purchased the property in 1942 and closed it off to the public at that time. Armed guards patrolled the area and it was well known to be totally off limits. Dorsa had contracted with the SJWW around 1962, to level the few remaining buildings, bottling sheds, etc. etc. in order to prepare the site for additional watershed development. I got to tag along the day that they started the project and I'll never forget the site of the dozers flattening the few remaining sheds and seeing old bottles of every imaginable color, with a running deer on them, being crushed by the case loads. So much for history...

What I didn't know back then, is that Pacific Congress Springs wasn't the only company bottling and selling "the waters" before the turn of the century. A couple of miles away, another soda water spring had been located. It too, was reputed to have curative properties. Here is an interesting excerpt from a recently published book written by author Tobin Gilman. 


"The Mills Seltzer Springs, later named Azule Seltzer Springs, was located in a ravine on Mount Eden Road in the Saratoga foothills about twelve miles west of downtown San Jose, not far from the Pacific Congress Springs. They were originally called Caldwell Springs, named after Arthur Caldwell who accidentally discovered the soda spring running from a sandstone crevice on his sixteen acre ranch in the 1870s. Caldwell later sold the ranch to Luther R. Mills, a San Francisco grocery and liquor wholesaler who formed a company called Mills Pacific Seltzer Spring Company. Mills initially sold the water under the trade name “Mills Seltzer Springs.” Inspired by the blue tint in the surrounding mountains, he later marketed it as "Azule Seltzer Springs,” based on the word azul, which means blue in Spanish. The carbonated mineral contained high levels of magnesia, effective for calming upset stomachs, and was advertised to be beneficial for “diseases of the liver, kidney, and stomach.” The product was bottled and supplied to grocers and drug stores in the San Jose area by the distribution firm of Wood and Pfister. Mills died in San Jose in 1888. Probate records indicate that the property had been sold prior to his death, as the Azule Springs property was not listed among the assets in his estate. Santa Clara County Assessor Lewis Amiss Spitzer acquired the spring in the early years of the twentieth century and organized retreats for weekend visitors at his palatial home on the property. Aside from these small scale weekend getaways at the Spitzer residence, the Azule Seltzer Springs never achieved the level of popularity and acclaim as the nearby Saratoga Pacific Congress Springs. The bottling and advertising of Azule Seltzer Springs water terminated sometime around the turn of the century."


What Gilman failed to note, was that none other than Cartan McCarthy & Co., starting in 1884, also had a hand in a failed attempt to capitalize on the Azule Seltzer Springs. A trademark recorded with the State of California dated December 16, 1884, clearly shows the liquor firm registering both the name Azule, and a logo of a California Grizzly Bear. The graphics leave no doubt as to the firms ownership of the brand.

Advertising must have been done on a shoestring budget. I could find nothing in terms of classified ads. In fact, only two trade cards are known to exist; one with a beautiful young woman and another with a vaquero on horseback.


Try as I might, I could find no published advertising by Cartan McCarthy promoting a mix of Azule Mineral Springs water, and Castlewood Whiskey. Perhaps, just maybe, someone early on at Cartan McCarthy & Co. tried mixing the two together, and came to the same conclusion as I.

Uggh; what a waste of good whiskey!

Thanks go to GWA for the photo of the Pacific Congress Water, Tobin Gilman for the article on Azule Springs, ABA for the Azule bottle photos and Robin P for the Castlewood shot photo.

1 comment:

Rick Simi said...

As usual quality work Bruce

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