Bottle #13: Mr Boston Peppermint Schnapps

Apr 12, 2023

Bottle #13 is a half-empty plastic bottle of Mr. Boston Peppermint Schnapps. Definitely not something I’m excited to taste, but pretty interesting from a cocktail and liquor history perspective!

The Mr. Boston name has been a big part of the US drinking scene since just after Prohibition, when H.C. Berkowitz and Irwin Benjamin bought a distillery in Boston and started making Old Mr. Boston Dry Gin. From there they quickly expanded to create a range of other products, including a lot of sweet liqueurs. But the thing that made Old Mr. Boston into something of a household name was not a bottle, but a book.

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In 1935, the company published the first Old Mr. Boston DeLuxe Official Bartender’s Guide. The forward of the book described the problem: Prohibition had wiped out the bartending profession in the US, and while cocktail books were flooding the market post-repeal, most of them weren’t very good. The Old Mr. Boston company set out to remedy this issue by recruiting “four old time Boston Bartenders whose background and experience make them authorities on the correct ingredients to be used and the proper manner of serving cocktails.” And while all of this is true, it was also a clever marketing move that the book called for Old Mr. Boston products by name in many of the recipes!

The products and the bartender’s guide have continued to this day, through many ownership changes over the years. After World War II the company has a period of rapid expansion, including purchasing the Viking Distillery in Albany, GA in 1962. Then, in 1969 Glenmore Distilling in Kentucky purchased the company – books and brands and all. I touched on this a little in my post about Hot Shot Tropical Fruit Schnapps, which was also produced by Glenmore.

In terms of dating this bottle, it probably comes from around the same time as the Hot Shot, which is the mid-to-late 1980s. In 1975 Glenmore dropped the “Old” part of the name and gave the newly abbreviated Mr. Boston brand a more modern look, so it’s definitely after that. And it’s in a plastic bottle, which puts it after 1981. I found an ad from 1986 promoting a different schnapps flavor from the company, but it has very similar bottle style. So I’m guessing mine is from around the same time.

Things got a little dicey with the brand in the 1990s. It was bought by United Distillers in 1991, and then sold to Barton Brands in 1995 — who had themselves just been recently acquired by the Canandaigua Wine Company. That company is notable because they also sold the Italian Swiss Colony wines that I talk about in Bottle #8. I found all this out in a 1993 financial press article that expresses some confusion about why Canandaigua would bother to purchase Barton given the weakness of “a spirits segment that’s been hurt by moderation and declining consumer interest.” Which is kind of amazing given the huge growth and consumer interest in the spirits segment since! That certainly worked out well for them.

So well that they were purchased by Sazerac in 2009. Sazerac continued to publish the print edition of the Old Mr Boston guide up until 2012, when the 68th and final edition of the book was published. But in 2016 they created https://mrbostondrinks.com/ as an online searchable repository, including not just the recipes from the final 2012 edition, but many earlier editions, so you can see how their version of the recipes has been updated through time. One of the major differences is that – even though a wide range of Mr Boston spirits and liqueurs are still in production – the most recent recipes no longer mandate that you use them!

Watch me taste this bottle with Fred Yarm.

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Bottle #13: Mr Boston Peppermint Schnapps

Apr 12, 2023 |

Bottle #13 is a half-empty plastic bottle of Mr. Boston Peppermint Schnapps. Definitely not something I’m excited to taste, but pretty interesting from a cocktail and liquor history perspective!

The Mr. Boston name has been a big part of the US drinking scene since just after Prohibition, when H.C. Berkowitz and Irwin Benjamin bought a distillery in Boston and started making Old Mr. Boston Dry Gin. From there they quickly expanded to create a range of other products, including a lot of sweet liqueurs. But the thing that made Old Mr. Boston into something of a household name was not a bottle, but a book.

In 1935, the company published the first Old Mr. Boston DeLuxe Official Bartender’s Guide. The forward of the book described the problem: Prohibition had wiped out the bartending profession in the US, and while cocktail books were flooding the market post-repeal, most of them weren’t very good. The Old Mr. Boston company set out to remedy this issue by recruiting “four old time Boston Bartenders whose background and experience make them authorities on the correct ingredients to be used and the proper manner of serving cocktails.” And while all of this is true, it was also a clever marketing move that the book called for Old Mr. Boston products by name in many of the recipes!

The products and the bartender’s guide have continued to this day, through many ownership changes over the years. After World War II the company has a period of rapid expansion, including purchasing the Viking Distillery in Albany, GA in 1962. Then, in 1969 Glenmore Distilling in Kentucky purchased the company – books and brands and all. I touched on this a little in my post about Hot Shot Tropical Fruit Schnapps, which was also produced by Glenmore.

In terms of dating this bottle, it probably comes from around the same time as the Hot Shot, which is the mid-to-late 1980s. In 1975 Glenmore dropped the “Old” part of the name and gave the newly abbreviated Mr. Boston brand a more modern look, so it’s definitely after that. And it’s in a plastic bottle, which puts it after 1981. I found an ad from 1986 promoting a different schnapps flavor from the company, but it has very similar bottle style. So I’m guessing mine is from around the same time.

Things got a little dicey with the brand in the 1990s. It was bought by United Distillers in 1991, and then sold to Barton Brands in 1995 — who had themselves just been recently acquired by the Canandaigua Wine Company. That company is notable because they also sold the Italian Swiss Colony wines that I talk about in Bottle #8. I found all this out in a 1993 financial press article that expresses some confusion about why Canandaigua would bother to purchase Barton given the weakness of “a spirits segment that’s been hurt by moderation and declining consumer interest.” Which is kind of amazing given the huge growth and consumer interest in the spirits segment since! That certainly worked out well for them.

So well that they were purchased by Sazerac in 2009. Sazerac continued to publish the print edition of the Old Mr Boston guide up until 2012, when the 68th and final edition of the book was published. But in 2016 they created https://mrbostondrinks.com/ as an online searchable repository, including not just the recipes from the final 2012 edition, but many earlier editions, so you can see how their version of the recipes has been updated through time. One of the major differences is that – even though a wide range of Mr Boston spirits and liqueurs are still in production – the most recent recipes no longer mandate that you use them! 

Watch me taste this bottle with Fred Yarm.

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