I noticed since some time that whiskey offered in offices of bosses in US movies or series often tend to be poured from anonymous glass bottles/decanters. I saw this often happen in House of Cards for example. I remember Frank saying once something about a blend in an early episode.

Is keeping whiskey in glass bottles an American culture thing or has this to do with some laws what type of alcohol can be "advertised"/plugged in movies?

If it is a culture thing. Why would you go through the trouble of pouring whiskey from one bottle into another one? Are people really mixing "home-made" blends?

  • 1
    When you say "plain glass" I find this odd, ideally the stopper at least would be ornamental. Some still use crystal. BTW, single malt can still be a "blend" providing it is within the rules. (same grain etc.) I imagine a bespoke blend would be available to select customers and may have hipster vanity value. This is very common for brandy outside of the US. It is easy enough to fake a label or obscure it with an actor's hand. I cannot imagine anyone in the White House pouring from a brown paper bag though.
    – mckenzm
    Commented Aug 2, 2015 at 23:20
  • Plus when the host is offering guest(s) a drink at home, they almost always have a bar area (maybe just a countertop or top of a chest) handy in the living room where they can step over to to pour drinks. No need to go into the kitchen. I can't remember the last time I was in a house that had a setup like that.
    – tcrosley
    Commented Aug 3, 2015 at 4:38

5 Answers 5


This isn't just a US thing, I think this was originally British.

When I was growing up serving guests liquor from decanters (the fancier crystal glass the better) was seen as classy, and serving from a labelled bottle was seen as a little crass. Another one of those creepy little British class system things old money folks use to spot new money folks.

I think it's also something to do with trusting your host's taste.

It doesn't just apply to whiskey - just about any strong liquor would have been decanted in this way.

I think anyone attempting to appropriate British style upper class mannerisms would do it, so it's appropriate for both 50/60's ad execs and modern politicians to affect it too.

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    For an British example: Yes (Prime) Minister
    – user45891
    Commented Aug 1, 2015 at 20:44
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    @user45891 or even the original House of Cards in a similar context.
    – Keith
    Commented Aug 2, 2015 at 12:28
  • very interesting. thanks. As I aid in another comment, I think this is probably a better answer than the advertisement related ones, as in other scenes of House of Cards Whiskey is poured from the original bottle.
    – P.R.
    Commented Aug 3, 2015 at 10:21
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    @P.R. - yeah, it's nothing to do with advertising. Serving expensive whiskey (scotch, probably single malt, it would never be bourbon) from a labelled bottle was seen as 'showing off' to some extent. Upper class Brits generally hide brand labels (or used to) and expected you to spot that the item was of a very high quality (showing that you were cultured too). If you don't spot it then that's your problem. Conspicuous use of brands would mark you out as nouveau riche. There are plenty of antique whiskey decanters about that are significantly older than celluloid.
    – Keith
    Commented Aug 3, 2015 at 12:28
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    One thing though. I also have watched the BBC version of House of Cards now and even though Francis Urquart (Frank Underwood equivalent) is introduced as being from a posh family (he has a dog for hunting birds, a country house, etc) he never serves Whiskey from a decanter. He always serves it from a labelled bottle (even though the labels are not readable). He is doing this in the office and at home.
    – P.R.
    Commented Aug 9, 2015 at 16:51

Decanting was originally used in Europe for drinks that might contain sediment (port, sherry) or wines which need to "breathe/oxidise" for a couple of hours before serving. Decanting for your guests was seen as being hospitable.

In more modern times, in the US the 4 largest tobacco companies signed up to the 1998 Master Settlement Agreement to avoid law suits and liabilities related to medical problems attributed to tobacco use. Under the agreement the companies are required to annually compensate 46 states for medical costs related to tobacco use. They also agreed to abandon many marketing practices including marketing to teens. They agreed to pay a minimum of $206 billion over the first 25 years.

To avoid similar liability issues and law suits around alcohol placement, the drinks industry has introduced self-regulation, but its not rigorously followed (eg. Ted, The hangover, 21 jump street etc)

My understanding is that currently the guidelines state, if an alcohol brand is promoted by a movie, at least 70% of the audience must be of legal drinking age, nobody in the film under 25 should be involved (drink/make) with the alcohol and the film should only promote responsible drinking (no drunken car chases, binge drinking etc)

  • The MSA is not legislation, it is self imposed rules and an immunity agreement. Pretty much like the Movie rating system or ESB video game system or any number of self imposed rules to prevent legislation from being created.
    – cde
    Commented Aug 15, 2016 at 20:38

Liquor advertising is legal in the U.S., but it is a contentious issue. It is pretty much guaranteed that if distilleries advertise too much in the wrong markets (i.e., much of the audience is under age 21) laws will be enacted probably to completely ban such advertising. Currently industry trade groups create and enforce the standards.

A show like House of Cards probably doesn't appeal to minors in any great measure, so showing a whiskey label would not present any problem.

However, should the series be shown on a television network, it could provide a issue. That and all the cigarette smoking.

However, using an anonymized container is something that many older people in my family did when entertaining at least in the 1960s through 1990s. Grandma once said it was to help keep the conversation on the people and not about the drink.

It seems realistic to me in Mad Men. I am sure they are (portraying the) drinking (of) top shelf stuff. And it looks nicer that way too.

I don't think anyone would mix it. But maybe vary the brand without calling notice to a change.

  • I should mention that HOC is actually pretty big in the 18-21 crowd (or, at least the crowd that I know). I'm a recent 21 and HOC has been popular among my various circles of friends for a couple years now. Commented Aug 2, 2015 at 21:49
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    As I just have watched further, there are scenes where Whiskey is portrait prominently, i.e. stonersjournal.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/03/… . So I dont think that advertisement issues are a real issue for the makers of House of Cards.
    – P.R.
    Commented Aug 3, 2015 at 10:19
  • @P.R. The label is displayed prominently, but is fictitious. There is no "Old Darby" brand whiskey. That might not be true of other scenes, but that case would probably still not run afoul of advertising regulations/agreements since there's no actual product being advertised.
    – blahdiblah
    Commented Aug 12, 2015 at 0:14

I believe the primary reason is to avoid the licensing and legal issues that would arise from using an actual branded alcohol.


There are the legal issues, but, often, the best spirits or fortified wines are from older vintages, especially with a vintage port. Original containers can get a bit dirty and dingy with time.

Quite often, with a vintage port, the bottles are so old that you can't get the cork out of the bottle without it disintegrating and getting pieces of cork in the port. Also, with something like that, you get quite a bit of settling of particles and sediments that get stirred up if you are picking up, tipping, pouring and putting bottles back down, repeatedly.

To properly open a bottle of vintage port, you take heated tongs, and grasp the upper part of the neck of the bottle with the hot tongs. Then you take a cloth that is whetted with cold water and wipe the hot neck of the bottle. The sudden thermal contraction causes the neck of the bottle to crack, cleanly, allowing the top to be removed with cork intact. You'll want to decant the port from your intentionally broken bottle, that you can't re-close. Generally, when I see that in movies, the drinks are in a fancy crystal bottle and serving set.

Just some trivial facts to add to the bigger picture laid out by other answerers.

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