Last week I introduced United Distillers Ltd. of Vancouver. This week, it’s time for a collection of marketing materials, starting with this newspaper advertisement from The Cariboo Observer, December 7, 1940, featuring a little bit of London in Vancouver. This is timed perfectly, as we pass the Olympic torch from one host city to another this week:
So out we drove to Marpole, and into the UDL plant. We passed through a maze of buildings and into the Gin Distillery. A smiling gentleman made us welcome. “Meet Mr. Strange,” said Tom.
The advertisement could only be improved had they stated instead, “Meet Mr. Bean.” The ad goes on to prove how British expertise combined with Vancouver’s famous mountain water produce an unbeatable product. The ad features Silver Fizz Dry Gin, Mistletoe Dry Gin, and Silver Slipper Dry Gin. Here is the ad in its entirety:
A second ad from 1940 can be seen via Google News in The Calgary Herald, offering the conventional ‘east versus west’ argument including this dialogue:
That evening, we chatted by a friendly fire. “Great place, Vancouver” uncle mused, “fine climate, and your water—it’s the world’s best. I suppose that’s why your products are so good.” I was suddenly attentive.
I wanted to compile as many UDL products as possible in order to get a full picture of their branding and heritage. Using bottle collections, advertisements, and this price list I showed last week, I’ve put together a list which includes the following products:
Silver Fizz Dry Gin, Mistletoe Dry Gin, Silver Slipper Dry Gin, Old Dutch Geneva Gin, Golden Thistle Liqueur Whisky, Old Stonewall Bourbon, Glenmore Bourbon, Old Tucker Bourbon, Mountain Brook, Early Times American Pure Rye, Guggenheim’s American Rye Whiskey, Paul Revere Rye Whiskey, U.D.L. Thoroughbred Rye Whisky, U.D.L. Special Old Rye Whisky, U.D.L. Canadian Rye Whisky, Hospitality Rye, and Jockey Cap Canadian Rye Whisky. They also marketed a number of Scottish Highland malts which were blended and vatted in Scotland and shipped to Canada in sherry oak casks. These brands included McDonald’s Nightcap Scotch, John Dunbar Gold Label, Highland Sandy, and Wee McKay.
I should point out one small detail; the name United Distillers did make somewhat of a comeback. According to wikipedia, the name was adopted by “a Scottish company formed in 1987 from combining the businesses of Distillers Company [which dates back to 1877] and Arthur Bell & Sons, both owned by Guinness.” The name United Distillers evolved a few more times over the years until it was finally changed to Diageo Scotland in 2002. In case you don’t already know, Diageo is the world’s largest producer of spirits. I mention this to clarify that there is no relation between this United Distillers and our UDL.
I recently had the opportunity to meet with Vancouver collector Neil Whaley, who generously showed me these three fantastic UDL postcards. It’s a remarkable chance to see such early bottles in full colour. These appear to be hand-coloured; I don’t know if the colour would have been applied directly to black and white photographs by early photo retouching artists, or if the entire setup was painted from scratch, based on a photograph. Either way, I’m guessing they took many more hours to produce than today’s standard Photoshop fare.
UDL promotional postcard from Neil Whaley’s personal collection, postmarked in 1928.
UDL promotional postcard from Neil Whaley’s personal collection, postmarked in 1929.
This third UDL postcard from Neil Whaley’s collection had not been sent through the mail. Oh, if only I had a bottle of Wee McKay today! I wonder if these postcards date back as early as 1927 when UDL made it’s first appearance in the BC telephone directory.
I was able to buy the three glass bottles featured above on eBay and Etsy for just a few dollars each. Finding bottles with their paper labels still affixed is increasingly rare, so if you do find one, it’s definitely worth keeping! To prove these bottles actually came from Vancouver, I’ve shown their bottoms, with Vancouver, BC embossed on the glass. I can’t prove these were prohibition era bottles (1920s-1933), but I like to think that they could be. There may be someone else who is able to speak with greater authority on the subject.
I now know a little more about the demise of the company, thanks to this article in the Vancouver Sun from January 2, 1958. It seems by this point in time, United Distillers Ltd (USA) and United Distillers Ltd. of Canada were both in voluntary liquidation. Whether they had any assets worth acquiring by 1958, I don’t know. I also don’t know if any of their brands lived on—perhaps the competition did not mind seeing the entire UDL family eliminated from the shelves. And therein lies the end of UDL…unless of course, one of you manages to dig up some more great vintage bottles, labels, or ephemera from a Vancouver brewing and distilling legend!