History: Stitzel and the wheat recipe

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History: Stitzel and the wheat recipe

Unread postby bourbonv » Tue Nov 09, 2004 11:34 am

The other night at the Black Acre Tasting, I talked with a great, great grandson of Frederick Stitzel. What he was telling me is that when Frederick Stitzel came to Kentucky from the Alsace region, he brought his distilling knowledge with him. In Alsace he made whiskey from wheat and malt. Once in Kentucky he adapted that knowledge to American distilling practices and created a bourbon using wheat. I have been promised that he will send me some written information to back this up. If he does, I think we know now where the wheated bourbon recipe came from - Stitzel Bros. to A. Ph. Stitzel to Stitzel-Weller and then to Maker's Mark, Heaven Hill and Buffalo Trace.

Mike Veach

P.S. John, How far is the Alsace region (modern France) from the area of Switzerland that the Overholts and the Beams came from?
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Unread postby bunghole » Tue Nov 09, 2004 12:11 pm

What year did he start distilling in Kentucky, Mike? Any mention of charred barrels? Did he migrate upstream from New Orleans, or the usuall east-west route?

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Unread postby bourbonv » Tue Nov 09, 2004 2:34 pm

Frederick Stitzel came to America, I believe in 1848. Stitzel Bros. Distillery was founded at 26th and Broadway in Louisville in 1870. It was famous for its Old Fortuna and Glencoe brands. It was later sold to the Hollenbach family who named the company Glencoe but a Stitzel remained as their distiller until prohibition.
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Re: History: Stitzel and the wheat recipe

Unread postby The Whiskey Viking » Tue Nov 09, 2004 2:43 pm

bourbonv wrote:P.S. John, How far is the Alsace region (modern France) from the area of Switzerland that the Overholts and the Beams came from?


I thought the Beams came from Germany.
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Unread postby Strayed » Wed Nov 10, 2004 2:02 am

Thomas - The Beams did come to America from Germany. Actually, so did the Overholts. Specifically the part of south Germany around Munich, Heidelberg, and Mannheim known as the Rhineland/Palatinate region. The Thirty Year War in the late 1600s left the area pretty much desolate, and it came to re-settled by Protestant refugees (Zwingli, Anabaptist, Mennonite). They came there from a narrow band of northern Switzerland around Zurich, Bern, and Basel, and also from Austria, France, and Bohemia. In fact, the origin of the name Beam is Boehm, which means "Bohemian". Within a couple of decades they migrated again, this time to Pennsylvania.

Mike - Alsace is generally considered a part of that same area. The city of Basel is on the Swiss/French border, just across the Rhine from the lower end of Alsace. The upper end of Alsace becomes the Rhineland/Palatinate as one moves into Germany. The distance is 122 miles, or about the same as from your house to ours. From Basel to Zurich (the width of the area) is about 55 miles, or slightly less than the distance between Louisville and Lawrenceberg. This whole idea of common origins is getting more intriquing every time I look at it. I only wish I could get some idea of how they distilled spirits there in the 17th century, and what connection they might have with charred barrels and red liquor
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Unread postby The Whiskey Viking » Wed Nov 10, 2004 5:10 am

Strayed wrote:Thomas The Thirty Year War in the late 1600s left the area pretty much desolate, and it came to re-settled by Protestant refugees


John

The Thirty Year War meant that the grapes that had been the basis of distilling where in short supply. The vineyards had been neglected, so the distillers had to find alternative ingredients. They turned to barley and rye. I have found evidence of rye being a main ingredient in distilling. Also the slob was used to feed pigs.
As for the name Johannes Jacob Boehm, I’m not sure whether this is actually spelled correctly. The family name Boehm exists but I guess it’s derived from Böhm, which is more common. Although I haven’t researched this, I know there is a region in Tschecia called Böhmen. As you might know the whole region of southern Germany, Austria and Tschecia have been historically intertwined. My guess is, that Jacob Boehm ancestors came from Tschecia and migrated to the southern parts of what is now Germany.

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Unread postby Strayed » Wed Nov 10, 2004 8:53 am

Thomas

You're right about the name and place part. Böhmen is German for Bohemia and Tschecia (Cechy in Czech) refers to the same region of the Czech Republic, which borders Germany. In fact, the Czech language makes no distinction between the adjectives Bohemian and Czech (Cesky), although I've also read that "Bohemia" related to Poland.

"Historically intertwined" may be the understatement of the year :-)
Borders in this part of Europe seem to have been more a product of rumor than definition.

It seems common for political refugees to be somewhat vague about family names (at least in the public records). After all, there are usually others left behind and matters of ownership and maybe even criminal records to be suppressed. Boehm is more of a location-identifier than a true family name. So is Oberholtzer (the origin of Overholt), which refers to an area around Zurich where that family came from. Of course a name like Oberholtzer would have been pretty useless among the people actually living there -- it only made sense among those who migrated. So the Palatinate refugees called themselves Oberholtzers or Böhmen-ers in much the way that you might choose Thomas Dansk or we might call a Scotsman Robert Highlander (which is pretty much what "Oberholtzer" means).

So I think I also agree with you about the origin of the Beam (Boehm, Böhm) family. My point (and my current fascination) is that they, and an astonishing number of other pioneers of red whiskey making) all ended up farming and making spirits in a particular area of Germany and that became their "place of origin" in the immigration and ship's passenger records. Then many of them migrated again to Pennsylvania, and branched out from there, taking their distilling knowledge with them. And thank you for adding about how the same European war that opened the Palatine area to them also left them with no grapes to make brandy with. Let's see, now, suppose you were already used to making red brandy by charring the barrels, but now you were filling those barrels with distilled rye...

Things that make you go, "Hmmmmmm"? CAN I GET A WITNESS??
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Unread postby bunghole » Wed Nov 10, 2004 9:58 am

AMEN! Brother John!

What about Cognac? Were these Germanic distillers in any contact with the French distillers of Cognac? When did Cognac first come to be aged in toasted or lightly charred barrels?

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Unread postby bourbonv » Wed Nov 10, 2004 10:38 am

Linn and John,
My sources tell me that cognac was first aged in charred barrels in the late 1400's. It is possible that people in southern Germanic regions (Holy Roman Empire until the unification of Germany in the 1870's) were making a whiskey equivelent to Cognac after the 30 years war. If so there should be record of it and you would think that the product would have been known outside of the region.

I think the idea of aging whiskey in charred barrels came from the United States to Europe. I think the main reason for this is the fact there was no federal tax on whiskey from 1817 to 1861, thus Americans could afford to experiment with aging while the Europeans (particularly the Scots) had to deal with excise taxes.

John,
You are talking rye distilling, but Stitzel was evidently making a wheat whiskey. To me, if they are trying to imitate a cognac type product then rye would not be what they would use because of its more spicy characteristics. Wheat would be less complex and let the barrel have a bigger influence on the alcohol, making a more cognac like product. Are you sure that the Overholts did not adapt their distilling to American practices to make rye, using charred barrels instead of what they made in Europe which was wheat whiskey with charred barrels? I think you need to consider this if your theory is to be prooved. It sounds like to me you need a trip to southern Germany, Eastern France and Northern Germany to visit some local distilleries and historians. Tell Linda to start packing.

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Unread postby Strayed » Wed Nov 10, 2004 7:53 pm

Mike - I think the topic is drifting away from your original intent. Maybe Mark can help us out by packing some of this over to a new topic. Non-Bourbon? History?

The rye distillers of the Palatine began arriving in America in 1710, well over a century before the Stitzels. Distilling practices may have changed completely in Alsace by that time. Certainly the return of the wine & brandy industry would have made a difference. Wheat and malt are what beer is made of (I've heard rumors of beer being seen in the vicinity of Munich/Heidelberg) and it would only make sense that whiskey would be distilled from it, long after they'd stopped making "brandy" out of rye.

I think it's surprising that wheat, a much more prolific (and cheap) grain in the U.S. than rye, isn't used more than it is. The three brands most identified with its use, those from Stitzel-Weller, Old Rip Van Winkle, and Maker's Mark, are all very popular. And they also show what a wide flavor profile range can be developed from using wheat.

You've mentioned before that there were other bourbon distillers, pre-Prohibition, using wheat instead of rye. Do you know if these were contemporaries (in America or Alsace or both) of Frederick Stitzel? (please answer that one in whatever thread the Swiss Connection ends up in, and I'll promise to only converse about wheated recipes here)

Did Stitzel, or anyone you know of, ever market a 51+% wheat whiskey, using corn as the flavor ingredient?
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Unread postby cowdery » Thu Nov 11, 2004 1:31 am

Of the grains used to make whiskey in the U.S., I have always been of the opinion that wheat is the least used simply because it is preferred for making bread. I don't know if the commodity prices reflect this, but wheat is always in demand for bread, pasta, etc., while at times barley, rye and corn have gone begging.
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Unread postby bunghole » Thu Nov 11, 2004 9:25 am

"Mike, May I Have Some More Maker's Mark Please?" :roll: :lol:

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Unread postby bourbonv » Tue Dec 11, 2007 8:35 pm

While in the archive at United Distillers the other day I found more information that seems to lead to Stitzel as the creators of the wheat recipe bourbon at Stitzel-Weller. There are hundred of letters that were written after prohibtion ended by Julian Van Winkle. Most of them tell of the "New Formula" that they are using to make their bourbon because they think it taste better at a younger age. To quote from a 25 July 1934 letter:

"This whiskey was made by us on a special formula that has caused the whiskey to age very rapidly and we think it is the finest whiskey on the market today for the price. In fact we have never seen whiskey under a year old that can compare with it."

This "special formula" is the wheat recipe. But even better still is this quote from a 11 April 1934 letter:

"This KENTUCKY MOTTO is made on an entirely different formula from other Kentucky bourbons. This formula was used by the Stitzel family fifty years ago. Whiskey made on such a formula we knew would age in a natural way very much faster than Bourbon or Rye made on other formula's. In fact we think this five months old is a lot better that most whiskey that has been aging two years. You understand this whiskey has aged naturally, not having been subjected to any so-called pre-aging (or preambling) processing. We do not believe in this so-calleed pre-aging that is being indulged in by a lot of distillers. In fact, we think it hurts the whiskey. We have seen some whiskey that we know has simply been ruined by this so-called pre-aging process."

Kentucky Motto was the brand name they used for very young whiskey right after prohibition and was discontinued when they had plenty of aged stocks.

Once again here they talk of the "special formula" and date its origin to the Stitzel Family around 1884. It would be interesting to find some old pre-prohibition bottles of Glencoe and Old Fortuna to taste to see if they are wheated bourbons.
Last edited by bourbonv on Wed Dec 12, 2007 11:23 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Unread postby cowdery » Wed Dec 12, 2007 2:08 am

Sally Van Winkle has always said that her research led her to believe the wheated bourbon recipe came from the Stitzels, but she never said specifically why she believed that, i.e., she never produced any evidence. This, and the brief interview that started this thread, is some good substantiation for that contention.

Mike, did you ever get any more information from that Stitzel relative?

The reference to "fifty years ago" is interesting. 1934-50=1884. Was 1884 the last time wheated bourbon was made? That's right around the time of the first bottled-in-bond act, which is perhaps when recipes were becoming more standardized. Certainly distilleries were becoming large and more industrialized. Possibly they were experimenting with different mash bills to see what would work best in the new column stills everyone was getting. You could read that as implying that they made it until 50 years ago. Why did they stop?

As for the aging, Harlen Wheatley recently commented to me that, "wheated bourbons age more gracefully than rye-recipe bourbons."
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Unread postby bourbonv » Wed Dec 12, 2007 11:23 am

Chuck,
The Bottled-in-Bond Act was not passed for another 13 years after 1884. As far as I have seen, the act did not limit formula in any way.

I suspect that "50 years" may be a rounding of the number. If the information given me by the Stitzel decendant is correct, the basis of the formula came over from Alsace in the late 1860's and the formula may have been developed in the 1870 when the Stitzel Family first started distilling. That is why I wouls be interested in pre-prohibition bottles of Glencoe and Old Fortuna, since those where the original Stitzel brands that were sold to the Hollenbach family in the 1890's. i am not sure that they ever stopped making wheated bourbon.
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