Michter's Distillery

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Unread postby gillmang » Fri Jun 16, 2006 8:06 pm

Pennsylvania Rye deserves a better fate than to be remembered only in Kentucky-distilled whiskey with proud old Pennsylvania labels.

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Mike, truer words were never said. Well spoken!

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Unread postby bourbonv » Sat Jun 17, 2006 11:52 am

Thank you, Gary.
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Unread postby bunghole » Sun Jun 18, 2006 11:07 am

imahadadream.

ima dreamed that all good and wonderful Bourbon Enthusiasts all around the world met at Shafferstown and purchased the old Shenk's/Bomberger's/Michter's Distilery.

Then miricles occured! The old stillhouse was refurbished. Everyone became master distillers and all kinds of bourbon; corn, and rye whiskies were distilled and barreled.

Years passed as the whiskies slept until one day the barrels began to wake up one by one.

Bottles of whiskey with new and imaginative labels began to dance their way out of the bottling house arriving at liquor stores all over the planet where they sold quickly and were joyfully consumed thereby making the whiskey drinking people of the world happy.

:arrow: imahasadream :thumbup:
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Michter's Rye

Unread postby DocM » Wed Jun 21, 2006 12:07 am

Mike,
Thanks for your reply!
Our PA distillaries went out of business for a reason, and I had assumed that our Dear State Government was a large part of it. I can only imagine the awful sea of Red Tape facing someone attempting to open or reopen a distillary in PA. Yet, Fritz Maytag can make Rye Whiskey in California. Is it so much more difficult here in PA? Karen Overholt has gotten as far as securing a patent for her family's "Old Farm" label. Now, if she could just start production..... I have emailed her my best wishes and encouragment. Whoever resumes production of Rye Whiskey here in PA should do it on a small scale...not for the mass market. Make a small amount, and charge what they must. What does "Old Potrero" sell for at your local store? And when you can find it, how long does it stay on the shelf?

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Unread postby bourbonv » Wed Jun 21, 2006 10:24 am

I do believe that if the rye market picks up that you might start seeing the big distilleries getting involved with Pennsylvania distilling. If that happens then their lobbiest will push for better, more profitable liquor manufacture laws and lower state taxes. That in turn may help some smaller investors get into the game.

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Unread postby DocM » Wed Jul 19, 2006 12:11 am

Of the brands currently available, which Rye has the highest percentage of rye in its mashbill? I understand that Old Potrero is 100%, of course...but which brand is next? Old Overholt and Michter's are available here in PA, and I have been able to purchase Wild Turkey Rye in a neighboring state.

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Unread postby Bourbon Joe » Wed Jul 19, 2006 9:20 am

What part of PA are you from Dave?
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Unread postby DocM » Wed Jul 19, 2006 9:12 pm

DocM is a life-long resident of Bucks County. PA.
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Unread postby cowdery » Wed Jul 19, 2006 10:39 pm

Old Potrero is, indeed, 100 percent malted rye, which makes it quite unlike any traditional rye whiskey. Although Maytag likes to talk about duplicating 18th and 19th century styles, he's really created a style that probably never existed before he created it.

As for the other ryes made today, I'm pretty sure they are all "barely legal," i.e., exactly 51 percent rye. The balance is corn, with about 10 percent malt. I know this is true of the Heaven Hill ryes and I believe it to be true of the others.
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Unread postby EllenJ » Mon Aug 21, 2006 10:57 pm

Concerning the next few postings...
This started out as a letter of praise for Chuck Cowdery and his latest Bourbon Country Reader article on Michter's whiskey. Then, as more and more of what he brings up began to hit home, it grew way too large for even one of my or Gary's long-winded messages (and you can bet the Vatman will be contributing copiously to this thread as well :D ). Also, it tends to switch focus back and forth from being addressed to Chuck and being written about him. Sorry, no time left for grammer editing. Here goes...

Hey Chuck, I just read your latest edition of the Bourbon Country Reader. Nice work!
For those of you who don't already subscribe to Chuck Cowdery's excellent bi-monthly newsletter, a sort of pre-internet, hardcopy bourbon blog, you certainly should. Here's a link: http://home.netcom.com/~cowdery/page2.html

This quarter's issue is somewhat of a "single barrel" itself, being completely dedicated to a single story. Considering the subject, that's not surprising. Chuck presents, as best one can, considering the scareness of information and the unreliability of what is available, an interpretation of the Michter's story. And the A.H. Hirsch story as well, since without that tie-in to Kentucky Bourbon the Michter's story would be of no more interest to BCR readers than would be any of the hundreds of other defunct Pennsylvania and Maryland whiskey distilleries (nor would the many non-bourbon Kentucky ones, for that matter), each with its own equally murky history.

I commend Chuck on his work; I understand how difficult it is -- there is only so much information out there, and what there is can't be accepted at face value, no matter how adament may be its source (and they usually are with this particular icon). The best one can ever do with a mythical Holy Grail such as Michter's or Stitzel-Weller (or maybe both, in this case) is reasoned speculation, and the contribution of writers such as ourselves and Chuck is to bring some of our prior knowledge of whiskey-related things (pot stills and labeling laws, for example) to apply to stories told by marketers, family members, and newspaper reporters, so as to make some sense of it all.

Chuck's article, and the points he questions are strongly similar to those we published on our own website back in April of this year. Chuck, you can't believe how honored that makes me feel. Back when my idea of "bourbon" was that it was brown and two thirds of it came in a bottle with a black label (Jack Daniel and Evan Williams) and the other one had a white label, it was largely from articles written by you that I gained interest in the subject and later the inspiration to write about it. Beginning with "How Bourbon Really Got Its Name", you showed me a style of writing that dismisses the first two or three layers of marketing hype and popular myth and presents a far more believable and supportable view. Okay, nothing new about "exposes"; they're everywhere. But your writing does that while never failing to convey your love of the spirit and the industry, including the very institutions and icons whose myths you're currently debunking. Those have always been my feelings as well, and I've tried hard to capture and make that characteristic of the work on our website. Your version of the Michter's article makes me feel I've succeeded.

Back in April, we felt ourselves to be treading on thin ice, as we offered a view of a cult icon that ran counter to those commonly expressed by authoritive sources (including Chuck, then). Sure enough, within a few weeks we were deluged with new (and conflicting) information and "suggested" corrections to things we'd included. By July we felt we should put a temporary hold on the story until more could be learned. That's a luxury that a website affords over print media. Since then, we really haven't learned anything both new and reliable, until some intriguing notes that Chuck has brought up in his story. But the fact that he's gone ahead and published what pretty much amounts to our own findings has made me reconsider, so I've now restored the original Michter's page as it appeared from April to July of this year. Chuck, I'll be happy to refer any irate reader response to you ;:).Let 'em subscribe to BCR if they want corrobarative testimony.

What I AM likely to do with the existing page (besides correcting a couple of authentic errors) is to incorporate some of the additional points from the BCR story.

More on that in the following post...
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Unread postby EllenJ » Mon Aug 21, 2006 11:00 pm

Chuck, in your article, you mention that Louis Forman "lost full control of the distillery to Pennco Distillers" but retained ownership of the whiskey he and Everett Beam had produced from 1951 to 1956. Do you mean the entire production from those years, or rather the already bottled 5-year-old whiskey made in 1951 only? If Forman's arrangement with Pennco gave him ownership of specifically the entire '51-'56 production, then my interpretation is that the last of the only REAL Michter's (the upscale version that Forman/Beam were said to have produced at Schaefferstown) would have been bottled in 1961. I share with you the belief that the 1974 product Hirsch bought (or at least what was delivered to him) was not the same whiskey one would have found in a bottle labeled "Michter's". I think that Pennco produced some excellent whiskey, including excellent bourbon (which Michter's was not), mostly under contract for Continental (Publicker) in Philadelphia or Pennsylvania Distilling (Schenley) in Loganssport. Pennco sold the Schaefferstown distillery in 1979. At that time, any whiskey that was five years old (i.e., the current bottling stock) would have been 1974 whiskey. That's why I feel that what Hirsch bought may very well have been the last whiskey made at Pennco. It was, however, not Michter's whiskey, nor, I believe, was "Michter's" any other whiskey made at that distillery, perhaps since 1956.

Our page mentions the Schenley connection between Adolph Hirsch and Ted Veru, and that there was some connection with the Philadelphia Distilling Company (of Logansport, PA), and thus with Schenley, but until reading your article I didn't know that the "Logansport Distillery" (probably the same company) had bought the Schaefferstown site from Louis Forman. And who would ever guess that, in 1950, Forman re-purchased it from Schenley, and that Adolph Hirsch, described as "a Schenley executive", was the very man who sold it to him?. Why, isn't that the same gentleman who, over 40 years later, suddenly returned from seemingly nowhere to purchase the last remaining stock of barrels from it? That would have been in 1989. Or 1991. Why don't we know which? Wouldn't there have been records of such a sale? Did being made a National Shrine, or whatever, mean there were no taxes? I hardly think so.

In 1978, Publicker suddenly packed up its Philadelphia offices, moved to Connecticut, and began selling off all of its beverage alcohol business, mainly to Fleischmann's and Medley. The other major Owensboro distiller, Glenmore, then bought Schenley in 1987. After which it bought Medley in '88, and Fleischmann in '89. With both Publicker and Schenley having been involved with Michter's, it's not a far stretch to infer that some of the pre-1978 Michter's product ended up in Owensboro. And that could open up a whole NEW branch of connection discoveries, couldn't it?

And by the way, just who would Mr. Hirsch have purchased those barrels from in 1991? The distillery closed in 1989, and the impression I've gotten from people who were there at the time is that the only notice consisted of the doors being locked and a note taped to the inside of the glass on the visitor's center door, stating "Closed Until Further Notice". Whoever the last owners were (and that's shrouded in layers of falsified official documents), they abandoned the place without looking back. Or did they? Our friend Sam, who confirmed that closing notice, also notes that he was there in 1988 and watched barrels being dumped for bottling (although, unfortunately, he didn't see what brand was being bottled - he assumed it was Michter's). What he did notice, though, was that "The ricks were conspicuously empty". That hardly accounts for the 6,000 barrels supposedly there three years later. Of course, there is a possibilty that those barrels may have been ghosts. Perhaps ghosts of barrels whose investors were about to require delivery? Ghosts of barrels whose contents may have ended up in Owensboro, KY?

Still more in the following post...
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Unread postby EllenJ » Mon Aug 21, 2006 11:03 pm

Actually, not to step on any Beam tails, but the story about Forman and Beam teaming up to make a "premium niche" whiskey seems about as believable as any of the other marketing myths about the brand, including the pot-still business. I don't dispute that Everett Beam was listed as Master Distiller on Michters' records all the way up to 1988, but considering that he was 82 when he died the following year that would put him right up there with Elmer Lee. Of course, it might not have been so strenuous when one considers that (except for the tourist setup) no distilling was done there since 1978.

What I believe is that Louis Forman was not trying to create the first super-premium pot-distilled American whiskey (which would only be available at a single on-site location a hundred miles away from his offices across the street from the Philadelphia city hall). He was marketing whiskey in Pennsylvania Dutch jugs through a souvenir company, perhaps in Sheridan, which is the location printed on the earliest jugs. I believe he filled those jugs, as would any contract souvenir whiskey dealer, with 86 proof general-grade whiskey. It was probably made at Continental Distillers, as was nearly any "specialty label" whiskey in the Philadelphia area, and shipped to the original Michter's Jug House for sale at the site. And nowhere else. It wasn't sold to New York restaurants and hotels, nor placed on the first-class menus of ocean liners and passenger trains as were other premium brands such as Old Fitzgerald. So did Forman and Beam expect Joe and Martha Dutchcountrytourist to be connoisseurs of fine pot-distilled whiskey? Or just folks who thought a pretty jug would be cute? When the so-called "Michter's Distilling Company" was formed in 1979 and bought the distillery, they bottled for general distribution. That whiskey most likely continued to be purchased from Continental... and they promptly went bust - a much better assessment of the real Michter's quality than what is supported by myth and "perception based on the desire to believe". The whiskey produced by the mini-still, as Chuck's article points out, could in no way have been related to either the Hirsch whiskey nor to the commercial Michter's product. The main still at Schaefferstown was inoperative from 1979, and might not have been used since 1974 for all we know. We do know the plant continued to bottle Penn Esquire whiskey shipped to it from Continental Distilling Co. in Philadelphia, although I don't know for how long. Penn Esquire was a 7-year-old straight bourbon (Michter's was not bourbon, how would Hirsch have been permitted to label his product "bourbon" unless those 16-year-old barrels were marked as such?). Do you suppose that Penn Esquire could be what's really in A.H. Hirsch 16-, 19-, and 20-year Reserve Bourbon?

And finally there is the question of "who saved the whiskey?". Both our website and Chuck's article (as well as Jackson, Murray, Regan, and anyone else who writes about it) speak of the Hue family, Adolph Hirsch, and Preiss Imports. Chuck brings out a very good point, namely that there are laws that prohibit the sale of liquor by the distiller without going through a third-party distributor. As retailers, the Hues could not be the owners of record. Whether Hirsch could may be questionable as well, although appears to have sold the whiskey to the Hues (some people have it the other way around; more to verify... someday). Preiss Imports is usually given as the means of solving the dilemma; except that Preiss Imports, not the Hirsch family, owns the A. H. Hirsch brand. They market several products under it, including a 21-year-old rye and another bourbon (from Kentucky). What was Adolph's relationship to the Preiss company, and was it independent of the Michter's whiskey? If, as some suspect, that whiskey originated in Owensboro, would that connect it to Schenley?

And what about Bob?
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Unread postby EllenJ » Tue Aug 22, 2006 10:34 am

A question for those of us who are more familiar with "barrelhead code" than I...

This photo (which was NOT taken at Michter's) shows a barrel from Continental Distilling. For one thing, you'll note that it contained "whiskey distilled from bourbon mash", not "straight bourbon whiskey". My guess is that it wasn't a new barrel, and probably Early Times could be labeled the same if they chose to. But my main question is what is meant by the second date? If this barrel were filled in April 1968, what occured in May 1963? Is this how re-barreled whiskey is marked? I'm guessing the D.O.E. stands for Date of Entry; would that be a record of the first barreling (i.e., the whiskey was five years old when rebarreled)?

A second question then is, if it were rebarreled (and aged) in, say, Owensboro, Kentucky -- would it then become (legally) Kentucky whiskey? (remember this isn't covered by straight whiskey restrictions).
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Unread postby bourbonv » Tue Aug 22, 2006 12:12 pm

John,
Interesting arguments. I will have to read Chuck's Reader tonight (got it yesterday, but did not read it yet). There is one problem with your arguement - Glenmore never bought Schenley. Schenley never had an operation in Owensboro.

United Distillers was formed when the DLC was bbought by Guiness and they then bought Schenley. In 1981 United Distillers bought Glenmore. That was the first time Schenley was involved with Owensboro. Now Glenmore bought Fleischmann's and Medley, all three with ties to Owensboro.
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Unread postby gillmang » Tue Aug 22, 2006 4:51 pm

Okay I just read Chuck's newsletter. It is excellent, adding a lot of new and sometimes surprising information. I won't disclose any, people should subscribe to the newsletter to obtain it.

I'll say only that in terms of the 1974 date of distillation for the Hirsch bourbon, someone in my view must have contracted to buy production from that year years before delivery was taken. I don't know why it took so long to take delivery, there could be many reasons.

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