WATERGATE

“The British are watering our whiskey,” warned American diplomat in 1973

Henry Kissinger shares a possibly watered down drink with West German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt  in 1974.
Henry Kissinger shares a possibly watered down drink with West German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt in 1974.
Image: AP Photo/Endlicher
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This is where Paul Revere’s midnight ride and the recent Maker’s Mark dilution row meet: In June 1973, without Twitter or Facebook to fuel grassroots outrage, the US mission to the European Communities in Brussels sent a cable to Washington titled simply, “THE BRITISH ARE WATERING OUR WHISKEY.”

According to the correspondence, London’s Red Lion Blending Co. was buying US bourbon, distilled to 55% alcohol by volume, watering it down to 43%, and then exporting it to Germany. A source with European Communities, the precursor to the European Union, was apparently concerned this was fraudulent activity, even though customs documents certified by British authorities made no secret of the dilution. (And, frankly, 55% alcohol is a bit strong for most tastes.)

The cable surfaced as part of an American diplomatic archive published this weekend by Wikileaks. (However, the document has been declassified since June 30, 2005, and is also available on the US National Archives website.) The cable was attributed to Joseph Greenwald, then the US ambassador to the European Common Market.

See the cable on Wikileaks, at the National Archives, or read the full text below.

PAGE 01 EC BRU 02505 081005 Z 15 ACTION EUR-25 INFO OCT-01 IO-12 ADP-00 AID-20 CEA-02 CIAE-00 COME-00 EB-11 FRB-02 INR-10 NSAE-00 RSC-01 CIEP-02 STR-08 TRSE-00 LAB-06 SIL-01 OMB-01 AGR-20 RSR-01 /123 W ——————— 002611 R 080935 Z MAY 73 FM USMISSION EC BRUSSELS TO SECSTATE WASHDC 5165 INFO AMEMBASSY BONN AMEMBASSY LONDON USMISSION GENEVA LIMITED OFFICIAL USE EC BRUSSELS 2505 E. O. 11652 NA TAGS: ETRD, EEC, US, UK SUB: THE BRITISH ARE WATERING OUR WHISKEY 1. EC CUSTOMS OFFICIALS HAVE INFORMED THE MISSION PRIVATELY THAT THEY HAVE JUST LEARNED THATTHE BRITISH ARE WATERING OUR WHISKEY AND SELLING IT TO THE GERMANS. 2. GERMAN CUSTOMS HAVE NOTIFIED EC CUSTOMS OFFICIALS THAT THEY HAVE JUST RECEIVED A SHIPMENT OF QUOTE FINEST FOUR YEAR OLD BOURBON WHISKEY UNQUOTE FROM THE RED LION BLENDING CO., LTD., 1 ST THE VILLAGE, NORTH END WAY, LONDON N. W. 3, ACCOMPANIED BY A CERTIFICATED ISSUED BY H. M CUSTOMS GLASGOW. THE CERTIFICATE STATES THAT THE PRODUCT CONSISTS OF 15756 LITERS OF BOURBON WHISKEY PRODUCED IN THE UNITED STATES TO WHICH 935 GALLONS OF WATER HAVE BEEN ADDED PRODUCING A TOTAL QUANTITY OF 20352.4 LITERS OF QUOTE FINEST FOUR YEAR OLD UNQUOTE. THE ORIGINAL US PRODUCT HAD AN ALCOHOLIC CONTENT OF 55.1 DEGREES GAY LUSSAC, BUT THE ADDITIONAL WATER HAS REDUCED THE FINAL PRODUCTS TO 43.3 DEGREES GAY LUSSAC. LIMITED OFFICIAL USE LIMITED OFFICIAL USE PAGE 02 EC BRU 02505 081005 Z 3. THE COMMISSION OFFICIAL STATED THAT HE WISHED TO BRING THIS TO OUR ATTENTION IN CASE THERE IS FRAUD INVOLVED. THE MISSION OFFICER THANKED HIM AND STATED THAT HE WOULD SEND THE INFORMATION TO THE OFFICIALS IN CHARGE OF MAINTAINING THE GOOD NAME AND HIGH ALCOHOLIC CONTENT OF US BOURBON WHISKEY. GREENWALD LIMITED OFFICIAL USE NMAFVVZCZ