Michter's Distillery

Talk about Tennessee, American and Rye Whiskey here.

Moderators: Brewer, brendaj

Unread postby cowdery » Tue Aug 22, 2006 9:24 pm

I tried to limit the Reader story to credible facts (I consider the Forman material largely credible) and reasonable surmises from those facts. I also had to limit it to the available space. But I'll take this opportunity to share some of my more speculative opinions.

Let me say first off that I made inquiries to Henry Preiss and one other individual with personal knowledge of some of the facts. Neither replied before I went to press, but both did subsequently, not with answers but with acknowledgement of my inquiry and a promise to reply.

Regarding what Louis Forman retained when he lost control of the distillery in 1956, his papers say he "kept the formula and stock." I interpreted "stock" to mean the whiskey produced between 1951 and 1956. This makes logical sense because Pennco, as a contract distiller, might not have had an immediate market for what had already been made. A "contract distiller," at least if the term is being properly used, receives a contract to distill something that usually includes storage for aging purposes, but that is a different business from the "spot market" sale of bulk whiskey.

That is why I believe Pennco wanted the distillery but not the existing stock.

I think it's fair to assume that what they made between 1951 and 1956 was the Michter's Original Sour Mash Whiskey developed by Everett Beam, and that Pennco never made that recipe thereafter unless under contract from Louis Forman to replenish his stocks. It's also possible Forman made Michter's Original and did contract distilling during his tenure as well, so Pennco was essentially buying the contract distilling business along with the distillery, and Forman was remaining in the business, as a producer of Michter's Original, but was getting some of his capital out of the distilling part of the business.

Furthermore, I believe that Logansport restored the distillery after 1942. Perhaps Forman started it, but I think that would be mentioned if he had. The account from his records makes it sound like he did nothing with it during the brief time that he owned it in 1942.

I believe Logansport restored it to a typical whiskey distillery of the period, with a column-type beer still and a pot-type doubler (probably a conventional doubler and not a thumper). Forman and Beam apparently did something to it in 1950, since there seems to have been a gap of several months between their acquisition of the plant and their resuming operations, though there could be other explanations for that.

It seems well established to me that Everett Beam was employed continuously at the distillery in Schaefferstown from 1950 until the actual closing in 1989, regardless of the owner. He talked, after his retirement, primarily about making rye whiskey, but did mention that he was proud of developing the Michter's Original Sour Mash Whiskey recipe. He never said a word about making no bourbon, but that doesn't mean he didn't. I have no doubt that he did, but what Pennco mostly made was straight rye and also some of the Michter's Original.

So part of the question here is, who was Pennco? Who were the principal shareholders? Who were the officers and directors? What was their business model? All we know is who their distiller was.

There is no evidence that there was ever a true pot still distillery there until the bicentennial distillery was installed in 1976. All relevant evidence is to the contrary.

John, as I said in my note to you earlier today, I believe Jackson is wrong and Michter's continued to produce on a limited basis until 1989, not just from the bicentennial distillery but the primary distillery as well and that there was still whiskey from the primary distillery in the warehouses in 1991.

Whatever the significance of 1974 was, it was not the last year of anything. I suspect that Louis Forman was either the original contractor for a batch of bourbon made in 1974, or he acquired that contract at some point, only taking delivery when he was forced to by the collapse of the business. Imagine how you would feel if you owned, say, 1,000 barrels of whiskey that was sitting in a warehouse where all of the warehouse men had just been let go?

Why had he, or the previous owner, not taken delivery during any of the previous 15 years? That gets even more speculative, but the possible scenarios are not delusional.

As for the 1950 contract between Hirsch and Forman, I only know that a contract existed between them. It shows Hirsch had an interest in that distillery as early as 1950. It's possible this is the sale itself, or perhaps Hirsch was running the distillery for Schenley and this is a personal services contract, or a buyout of his employment contract. There are many possibilities. Someone would need to go to Delaware and make a copy of it for us to know more. Any volunteers?

As for the chain of ownership, I am pretty sure it went Bomberger (1861-1920), Sechrist (1920-1942), Forman (1942), Logansport/Schenley (1942-1950), Forman (1950-1956), Pennco (1956-1975), Forman, et. al. (1975-1979), Ted Veru (1979-???).

I believe it is likely that there are other names in there between 1975 and 1989, but we don't know what they are except the mysterious Acquarii that was there or, rather, not there at the end.

Either way, 1974 is clearly within the Pennco regime, though near the end of it, when the company was a contract distiller.

Thank you, John, for kicking off the discussion and for your kind words about me and my quixotic enterprise.
Last edited by cowdery on Tue Aug 22, 2006 10:36 pm, edited 2 times in total.
- Chuck Cowdery

Author of Bourbon, Straight
User avatar
cowdery
Registered User
 
Posts: 1586
Joined: Tue Oct 19, 2004 1:07 pm
Location: Chicago

Unread postby bourbonv » Tue Aug 22, 2006 9:58 pm

Chuck,
Just read your very interesting article. I think I can answer some your questions about Schenley's involvement in the distillery. Rosenstiel was a person who supported the war against Facism in Europe and wanted the United States to get involved in the war as early as 1939. He was prepared to use the distilleries that Schenley owned to support this war and had a plan prepared for making industrial alcohol for the war drawn up in 1939. By 1942 America's distilleries were making alcohol for the government. At the same time Schenley was purchasing every little distillery it could to produce war alcohol. Bromberg was one of them.

The reasons for this purchase and investment in the distillery were as follows:
1) The distillery had to be made functional to receive grain allotments from the war department. Investing in the distillery, making it functional allowed train loads of grain to be shipped to the distillery.

2) Every distillery made alcohol even if they could not produce it at high proof, they would ship their product to a distillery who could then distill it to the required proof. The government paid for the alcohol based upon price of production plus a small profit. Schenley would hire people to simply sweep the same room all day because they could add this to production cost and bill the government. Operating small distilleries for at least part of the year fit into their plan.

3) The government did not distinguish closely between distilleries when allocating grains for distilling purposes. Schenley wanted a lot of small distilleries so they could feed excess grain to their larger ones, thus keeping production going longer at the larger distilleries.

After the war, Schenley lost interest in these small distilleries and began to close them down or selling them off. They may have even purchased the distillery with the understanding to sell it baack to Forman after the war.

I recall the name Hirsch from the Schenley papers at U.D. He was a vice President of some type and for some reason, Law Department comes to mind. I will have to try to get in at the U.D. archive some Saturday and see what I can find.

John,
If you are looking for a Kentucky connection I would be more inclined to look at the Schenley people that bought the Blanton Distillery and went independent in the early 1980's. I don't recall who all that was, but I will have to check and see if Hirsch was one of them.
Mike Veach
"Our people live almost exclusively on whiskey" - E H Taylor, Jr. 25 April 1873
User avatar
bourbonv
Registered User
 
Posts: 4086
Joined: Thu Oct 14, 2004 7:17 pm
Location: Louisville, Ky.

Unread postby cowdery » Tue Aug 22, 2006 10:19 pm

So how much whiskey did Hirsch take possession of in 1989 or whenever? My SWAG estimate is about 1,000 barrels. This is based on speculation and one piece of pretty good information. Tim Sousley corresponded with Preiss in March, 2004. Preiss told him the final bottling of Hirsch was 2,500 cases. That's about 120 barrels. Let's say that was the last 20 percent of the total stock. That would be 600 barrels. Let's say it was less than that, 12-13 percent, that would mean they started with 1,000 barrels. Like I said, very speculative, but not delusional.

I think it is very odd that while there was a lot of press coverage of the sale of the distillery property itself in 1994, there is no mention of the 300,000 gallons of whiskey after the 1991 story. The explanation would have to be that the disposition of that whiskey was something none of the parties to it saw any benefit in publicizing.

After the default, the assets were controlled by a receiver. I found some references to involvement by the Resolution Trust Corporation (RTC), which was set up to liquidate failed savings and loans in the wake of that scandal. RTC's involvement suggests that a failed S&L made a loan collateralized by some or all assets of the distillery. Perhaps because the whiskey was fungible it was sold, quietly, between 1991 and 1994, but the revenue wasn't enough to settle the debts, and the taxing authorities got a vote about disposition of the real estate, but not the fungible assets, so the real estate sale was public, but the whiskey sale was not.

Anyone wanting to buy and resell the real estate would need to do so unencumbered by property taxes, hence they had to have a negotiated settlement with the taxing authorities. Yes, the whiskey was "property" too, but real property is different. That's about all I can say with certainty about that.

When David Beam was there in 1996, the primary distillery was intact, as if it had been closed yesterday. I've seen video he took. There had to have been recyclable copper there, so the distillery was being kept deliberately intact until the 1996 liquidation.

My theory about what C. E. Beam did and what Michter's Original was is a little different from yours, but they are both speculative and we're both working from the same known facts. I believe Beam developed a special mash bill and yeast, the one Jackson describes, in 1950 and made that formula (albeit in a conventional distillery) between 1950-51 and 1956, and that is part of the reason Pennco didn't want it, because it was neither bourbon nor rye and Pennco couldn't see a market for it, but Forman could, and had in fact been preparing one since 1950. Remember that Forman's brokerage business continued throughout this period. He had a lot of different products, including this little novelty "heirloom" whiskey in a milk glass jug, which he probably sold all over Pennsylvania.

In other words, he had no doubt many distributor relationships, selling a lot more than Michter's. He was, for example, the first to import Japanese whiskey into the United States and was, I believe, the exclusive US importer of all Suntory whiskies.

Here is why I think Hirsch (or perhaps it was the Hues) took possession of the Hirsch bourbon in 1989 and that it was no part of the whiskey reportedly still around in 1991. I believe that because the Hirsch is bourbon and I believe what was still there in 1991 was not, it was Michter's Original, which by then was being sold both in jugs and conventional 750 ml bottles. Since that whiskey couldn't be sold as bourbon or rye, it could only be used in blends or redistilled into GNS, which is why I think its fate was ignominious.
Last edited by cowdery on Tue Aug 22, 2006 10:50 pm, edited 1 time in total.
- Chuck Cowdery

Author of Bourbon, Straight
User avatar
cowdery
Registered User
 
Posts: 1586
Joined: Tue Oct 19, 2004 1:07 pm
Location: Chicago

Unread postby cowdery » Tue Aug 22, 2006 10:43 pm

Thanks for great additional material, Mike. It was obvious to me that Schenley acquired Logansport and, thus, Bomberger for wartime distilling, but I didn't know all those details.

I couldn't find out much reliable about Hirsch's Schenley career, although he was on the Schenley board by the late 50s, so he obviously was a major honcho there. Anything you can discover to flesh out Hirsch's career in the post-prohibition industry will be very useful.

The Hirsch surname shows up in some whiskey brokerages and distributorships in the Cincinnati area pre-prohibition, which is enticing because of the Hue connection. That element of this story is frustrating because although the Hue name comes up in all of the "legends," it's absent in anything credibly factual.
- Chuck Cowdery

Author of Bourbon, Straight
User avatar
cowdery
Registered User
 
Posts: 1586
Joined: Tue Oct 19, 2004 1:07 pm
Location: Chicago

Unread postby cowdery » Tue Aug 22, 2006 10:56 pm

Schenley sold its Franklin County plant (i.e., Buffalo Trace), along with the Ancient Age Bourbon Whiskey inventory, to Ferdie A. Falk and Robert C. Baranaskas in January 1983.
- Chuck Cowdery

Author of Bourbon, Straight
User avatar
cowdery
Registered User
 
Posts: 1586
Joined: Tue Oct 19, 2004 1:07 pm
Location: Chicago

Unread postby EllenJ » Wed Aug 23, 2006 4:57 am

Oh, it is SO COOL to be in instigator (with due credit given to my own source of inspiration, Chuck) of such a flurry of discussion! I have a great idea for the forum... How about none of us egomaniac talkers say another word (despite what we privately learn and assemble, of course) for awhile and let some of the readers who don't normally participate pick up on some stuff, use their imaginations and whatever facts they dig up, and make some posts. This is your chance, guys and dolls. I'm not going to post another word on this fascinating subject until I see a similar conversation among folks who aren't Chuck and Mike and me and Gary. And thanks again, Chuck, for starting this with your article (if any of you haven't subscribed to the Bourbon Country Reader by now, shame on you!)

Okay, my last comments on this subject (for now, anyway)...

bourbonv wrote: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

Well, I guess that moves Schenley's involvement back to about six years earlier, doesn't it?

cowdery wrote:I think it's fair to assume that what they made between 1951 and 1956 was the Michter's Original Sour Mash Whiskey developed by Everett Beam

I think I'm inclined to agree with your postition that the original (at least after Forman discovered the authenticity of what he'd purchased) idea, and it's execution (which may have been at Beam's suggestion) could have been to produce a significant, premium whiskey that was more than just a souvenir.

cowdery wrote:Furthermore, I believe that Logansport restored the distillery after 1942. Perhaps Forman started it, but I think that would be mentioned if he had. The account from his records makes it sound like he did nothing with it during the brief time that he owned it in 1942.. .I believe Logansport restored it to a typical whiskey distillery of the period


Perhaps the avenue to explore would be Adolph Hirsch's relationship to Logansport Distillery. It could be that the Philadelphia Distillery (of Logansport) was his assignment and it's relationship with Pennco was his connection. It could also be that he discovered the historical significance of Bomberger's during the process of purchasing it for Schenley and made some private arrangements on his own.

cowdery wrote:The Hirsch surname shows up in some whiskey brokerages and distributorships in the Cincinnati area pre-prohibition


... which would have been during the time that Fleischmann was the biggest whiskey producer in Cincinnati.

Folks, please don't misconstrue the fact that I'm not going to participate in this thread any longer as a statement of my not caring. You can be sure I'll be reading anything and everything posted here. And I'll probably even answer posts... from newbies! I feel this is the perfect subject for getting folks who don't normally contribute to put their fingers on the keyboard and let those wild-ass thoughts fly!!
=JOHN=
(the "Jaye" part of "L 'n' J dot com")
http://www.ellenjaye.com
User avatar
EllenJ
Registered User
 
Posts: 866
Joined: Sun Feb 26, 2006 11:00 pm
Location: Ohio-occupied Northern Kentucky (Cincinnati)

Unread postby gillmang » Wed Aug 23, 2006 6:20 am

Excellent additional information.

Hopefully the promised disclosures from the people mentioned by Chuck will clear up the remaining issues.

Gary
User avatar
gillmang
Vatman
 
Posts: 2140
Joined: Mon Jan 24, 2005 4:44 pm

Unread postby gillmang » Wed Aug 23, 2006 8:30 am

A further thought: I think Chuck is probably right that the key to the 1974 Hirsch bourbon is that it is bourbon. Whether its purchase was contracted for in the 1970's or not, the person that first bought it wanted to sell a bourbon whiskey. An aged, luxury product, commanding a high price, clearly (would go the argument) had to be a bourbon. Only that identity would ensure the consumer perception needed to win enough sales. Straight rye would not do it (not in the 70's or even 1989). Michter's Original Sour Mash Whiskey wouldn't either, not because it wasn't as good as bourbon, but the nuances of its production (a straight-type whiskey of a proprietary nature, etc.) just wouldn't have been understood by consumers. That would - or might - be different today, but that was then, this is now. Bourbon in bulk was thus obtained from the source in question (possibly because the cost was low, or maybe again because its purchase had been contracted for years earlier). The 1974 bourbon was selected because (again in the hypothesis) it was the only bourbon that was there, that was the last year Pennco made any. This may have fit in with a plan in 1989 to sell a 16-20 year old whiskey. Single malt was taking off then and that might have been the model, hence also the emphasis on the pot still aspect.

I think Chuck has likely put his finger on it, at least until more information becomes available.

Gary
User avatar
gillmang
Vatman
 
Posts: 2140
Joined: Mon Jan 24, 2005 4:44 pm

Unread postby bourbonv » Wed Aug 23, 2006 9:36 am

Chuck,
You do realise that Rosenstiel started Schenley in Cincy? I do believe a Hirsch was one of his original partners. Schenley would have been using the whiskey produced at Bomberger to feed into their Finch distillery in Schenley, Pa. to produce war alcohol. They have the corperate seals and minute books of several smaller Pennsylvania distilleries in the U D Archive. most were bought for the same reason.

You have the two main people involved, but there were about 6 former Schenley people involved in buying the Blanton distillery. I will have to see about getting a look at the sales agreement. It is in the Archive in two fairly large bound volumes. There are also bound volumes of correspondence from Schenley seperated by inter-office and outside correspondence. Any particular dates? There is about 120 cubic feet of correspondence so narrowing the date will help a search.
Mike Veach
"Our people live almost exclusively on whiskey" - E H Taylor, Jr. 25 April 1873
User avatar
bourbonv
Registered User
 
Posts: 4086
Joined: Thu Oct 14, 2004 7:17 pm
Location: Louisville, Ky.

Unread postby cowdery » Wed Aug 23, 2006 2:54 pm

January of 1983 is as close as I can get. That date, and the names of the two principals, is from a biography of Elmer Lee put out by Buffalo Trace.
- Chuck Cowdery

Author of Bourbon, Straight
User avatar
cowdery
Registered User
 
Posts: 1586
Joined: Tue Oct 19, 2004 1:07 pm
Location: Chicago

Unread postby cowdery » Wed Aug 23, 2006 6:26 pm

I want to talk about two things I believe and why I believe them.

The first thing I believe is that there is, or rather was, a distinctive, one-of-a-kind whiskey known as Michter's Original Sour Mash Whiskey, that has a mash bill of 38 percent rye, 50 percent corn and 12 percent malt, as reported by Michael Jackson in his World Guide. I believe this whiskey was first made in 1951 and made periodically thereafter until 1989.

Assuming the mash bill above is correct, they deliberately wanted to make this not bourbon. Why? What follows is speculative, but I think it makes sense. Here is their thinking: Pennsylvania doesn't make bourbon, that's a Kentucky thing. Pennsylvania makes rye, but people don't like rye anymore. Let's make something that's closer to bourbon, so more people will like it, that's still close enough to straight rye to satisfy our traditional Pennsylvania consumers. Thus was Michter's Original Sour Mash Whiskey born. To further appeal to Pennsylvania heritage fans, they would bottle it in a crock rather than a bottle, and give it a Pennsylvania Dutch aura.

They may, too, have been looking at Jack Daniel's which managed to thrive without being either from Kentucky or being bourbon. Bourbon was "me too." Better to be distinctive.

The second thing I believe is that pot still distillation was something Forman and Beam always wanted to do but never did until the bicentennial distillery came along, and that wasn't a production system. It was a scale model.

I believe these two things because making a distinctive mash bill is fairly easy. A typical modern (i.e., post-1933) American whiskey plant can easily make different recipes. The term "continuous still" can be misleading. This may sound contradictory, but continuous still production is done in batches, just like pot still production.

Column stills are typically run for a week to ten days. During that period they truly run continuously, 24-hours-a-day. Remember that to run the stills you need a continuous supply of beer, which means you have fermenters going, cookers going, all in a choreographed ballet. The front end of the process is two to three days ahead of the back end of the process. After a run of 7 to 10 days, the pipeline is allowed to run dry, the still is shut down, allowed to cool down, and is cleaned out. Work never really stops, because while the still is being cleaned the next batch of mash is being cooked.

Between runs is when you change recipes. You can do many runs with the same recipe, or change the recipe with every run. It's not a big deal. A run can be no more than, say, ten days, but it can be of any length up to ten days, with the smallest run being probably the contents of one fermenter.

That is why contract distiller, as I believe the Schaefferstown distillery was, could be a reasonable business model. Michter's Original was, in effect, a periodic run, another contract. That's why, to John's point, it may have been made from time to time at distilleries other than Schaefferstown. For that matter, since for most of the brand's life there was no Michter's distillery, it was only made "at Michter's" before 1956 or after 1975, even if it was made at the Schaefferstown distillery.

I believe Forman had a pretty good run with Michter's, the brand. You can think of the brand and the distillery as two separate businesses. The distillery seems to have struggled more than the brand, though the brand too seems to have been dead by the end, though not for long. Nor did it stay dead for long, only about ten years.

Like I said, that's easy, making a proprietary recipe. Making it in an all pot still operation, that isn't easy. That's hard. As we know from Woodford Reserve, making American whiskey in a pot still requires a lot of adaptation. Pot stills didn't go out in the early 20th century, right before prohibition, they went out when column stills were intoduced in the middle of the 19th century. Everett Beam knew, I'm sure, as much as anyone, but no one in America had operated a production scale pot still operation for several generations.

Yet despite the fact that a true pot still distillery in the post-prohibition era would have been quite a novelty, there appears to be zero information about any details of this supposed pot still operation. What we have is a slogan, a name, and I believe that is all there ever was. I imagine a conversation like this:

Beam: It's just not practical today to make American Straight whiskey in pot stills.

Forman: But it would sure sound good, "Michter's Original Old-Fashioned Pot Still Whiskey."

Beam: Well, the doubler is technically a pot still.

Forman: Close enough! "Michter's Original Old-Fashioned Pot Still Whiskey" it is.

And thus was a legend born.
- Chuck Cowdery

Author of Bourbon, Straight
User avatar
cowdery
Registered User
 
Posts: 1586
Joined: Tue Oct 19, 2004 1:07 pm
Location: Chicago

Unread postby bourbonv » Wed Aug 23, 2006 8:24 pm

Chuck,
The pot still did not die out completely with the pot still. E H Taylor, Jr. believed in the pot still and the original OFC was a pot still distillery. When he was forced out of that distillery (one of the reasons was they (Gregory and Stagg) wanted quanity, not quality putting in column stills and such), Taylor took his knowledge of pot stills to the J Swigert Taylor and rebuilt it with pot stills and called it Old Taylor. As late as 1913 S C Herbst was contracting with Taylor to make pot still whiskey - both bourbon and rye - at Taylor's distillery. This whiskey was to be bottled as Old Fitzgerald bourbon and rye whiskeys. There were a few other distillers who held on to the pot stills through the 1880's and 90's but most of them switched to columns by the end of the century or simply went out of business.

Still even with this additional information, what Chuck says is true - the knowledge to make pot still whiskey was pretty much dead by the end of prohibition. This is a loss of heritage that Americans are only now trying to regain. The Mount Vernon distillery has been a real learning process for those involved. Kentucky and Pensylvania need to build their equivilent to George Washington's Distillery and bring the old knowledge back to the states where it was born.
Mike Veach
"Our people live almost exclusively on whiskey" - E H Taylor, Jr. 25 April 1873
User avatar
bourbonv
Registered User
 
Posts: 4086
Joined: Thu Oct 14, 2004 7:17 pm
Location: Louisville, Ky.

Unread postby gillmang » Wed Aug 23, 2006 9:47 pm

Again, I find myself completely in tune with Chuck's thinking. The only cavil I have is I doubt the production of Michter's Original Sour Mash whiskey ceased between '56 and '75 at Schaefferstown. In fact, at a party at a SB honcho's place recently, a kind soul brought out a squarish clear bottle of Michter's that seemed clearly 1960's vintage. The taste was similar to decanter Original Sour Mash from the 70's and 80's. That taste was kind of a cross between Jack Daniels and Wild Turkey rye, say, especially if you had just chewed some spearmint gum. :) That is what the Hirsch bourbon tastes like, too, but with a patina of barrel age.

I don't rule out that production of this run, to use Chuck's word, was intermittent and it could have occurred at times in different places, no question.

Gary
User avatar
gillmang
Vatman
 
Posts: 2140
Joined: Mon Jan 24, 2005 4:44 pm

Unread postby cowdery » Wed Aug 23, 2006 11:53 pm

I meant what Mike said, that there were a few pot still holdouts, but for the most part large scale pot still operations were gone way before Prohibition. Remember too that Charles Everett Beam was the second-youngest of Joe Beam's boys. He was 13 when prohibition began. Surely his father and uncle knew about pot stills, but he sure didn't. At any rate, there's nothing whatsoever pointing to a pot-type beer still being at Schaefferstown in 1950 or thereafter and that would have been terribly unusual at that time.

About the Pennco period, I did not mean to suggest Michter's wasn't made there between 1956 and 1975. I believe it was, though it may have been made elsewhere at some point too. Wherever it was made it wasn't made at a distillery called Michter's, because there was no distillery called Michter's between 1956 and 1975.

Even though C. E. Beam worked at the distillery after it became Michter's in 1975, he always called it Pennco. We don't really know what it was called between 1942 and 1956. Maybe Bomberger.

I suspect that the distillery's bourbon recipe, at least the one from which the Hirsch was made, was just a slight modification of the Michter's original formula, enough to make it legally bourbon, which was a very small change.
- Chuck Cowdery

Author of Bourbon, Straight
User avatar
cowdery
Registered User
 
Posts: 1586
Joined: Tue Oct 19, 2004 1:07 pm
Location: Chicago

Unread postby gillmang » Thu Aug 24, 2006 2:46 am

One of the things I find interesting about Jackson's account is how he focuses on straight rye as the typical traditional product of Pennsylvania (which it was), and the authenticity of a related pot still production. The latter aspect did exist before 1919 in PA (and KY) but was in serious decline even by the time Volstead drew the curtain as Chuck and Mike have explained.

Moreover there seems no evidence as Chuck has explained that a true pot still was used at Bomberger's/Michter's/Pennco between 1951 (when Michter's-label whiskey was first made at Schaefferstown) and the 1980's when the pilot plant built in 1976 was first put to use. Jackson speaks in his account of a column still having been used at Schaefferstown - this is clearly the one in the tallish brick building in the photos in his book - but also of a recent return to pot still production which would have been a reference to the Vendome still. Jackson knew that a thumper and doubler attached to a column still are not a traditional pot still set-up. This is evident from other parts of his book, The World Guide To Whisky, written in 1987.

The explanation in the book is a little unclear on this aspect of a return to a pot still tradition. From him and other sources, it seems a plan was afoot in the 80's for a time to distill whiskey in the Vendome still as part of a tourism attraction. That whiskey however was only upwards of one barrel per day, very little that is. I think some decanters were filled with this whiskey including probably ones I have seen shaped like a pot still. The bottlings at the time may have been filled also with this whiskey. But it seems too whiskey was being made in the column still in the 80's until the end although I had previously thought this was not the case.

Anyway obviously in circa-1987 Jackson was trying to ferret out the full story but had difficulty getting all the facts - no easy task as we see and the intervening years have not made it easier. Chuck's work and John's work before are the first whiskey writing I know since Jackson's pioneering account to reveal new information.

Yes, Michter's/Bomberger did continue the rye tradition, not just in the modified form represented by Michter's Original Sour Mash whiskey, but by making straight rye whiskey proper. Jackson noted that this rye whiskey was sold under names such as Kirk's Rye and Old Overholt. This aspect of being a bulk producer is, therefore, disclosed in Jackson's account, but I wonder too if Jackson thought there had been at some point after 1951 a Michter's-branded straight rye. He seems to have regarded Original Sour Mash, which he liked and called "gingery", as somewhat lesser than or a diversion from a true rye product. He states or implies that before 1919 straight rye was made in a true pot still at Schaefferstown and this is undoubtedly true. As Chuck suggests above, possibly L. Forman always wanted to make this as a restoration but the closest he got was making the Michter's Original Sour Mash for the consumer market and maybe bulk straight rye too (and bourbon), i.e., during the times of his ownership. It seems pretty certain all this whiskey was column-stilled. Then too, a pot still is part of a column still in American straight whiskey practice so even if all bourbon makers use the joined apparatus it is not wrong in my view to claim pot still usage, a bit of a stretch perhaps but justifiable from a marketing standpoint.

Maybe if industrial alcohol was made at Schaefferstown during WW II (this is not clear though as yet) that resulted in a large column still being installed at the time and therefore that was used later for all other production rather than trying to put in a true pot still. Or maybe Forman always wanted the column still to ensure a commercial, sustainable level of production. Maybe there was a separate, true pot still at Schaefferstown between 1951 and 1976 (or 1956) although I think this unlikely.

Anyway, Jackson did pioneering work but the information uncovered and synthesized since then has answered a number of interesting questions even as some remain still to be solved. Jackson was right about straight rye being at the heart of the Pennsylvania tradition and that Original Sour Mash Whiskey was a legitimate extension of that tradition. At the same time (I am trying to say) he couldn't in the '87 book quite conceal his disappointment that the Vendome still wasn't being used to make a straight rye whiskey called Michter's. There had been Pennco (and maybe Forman-made) straight rye but it went into bottles with different names and not the Michter's name. We see now why that did not happen since Michter's Original Sour Mash was designed evidently from the beginning as a consumer-friendly variation on a traditional rye recipe. The distilling out of the whiskey over 150 proof but under 160 was in my view another aspect of making this kind of product (and a fine one it was). I should add that I don't rule out that some decanters were filled with straight rye, i.e., either not identified as such or possibly so identified. Thousands of decanters were filled, of different proofs, some bottlings were done too at various times. Maybe they did sell a little straight rye as Michter's.

There is some irony perhaps in the point that mixed corn and rye bills in varying proportions were part of early Pennsylvania tradition as appears from Samuel M'Harry's distilling book of the very early 1800's. Possibly this lore was handed down in some distilling families as private knowledge.

Kudos again to Chuck and John who each in a unique way has added much to our understanding of the background to Michter's Original Sour Mash Whiskey and the Schaefferstown distillery.

Gary

N.B. Further thought: maybe the column still was always part of the plan because it plus a doubler - especially the doubler - got the spirit to the mid-150's, which was the distilling out proof at Michter's for Original Sour Mash (and maybe other straight whiskeys). The combination of a high rye mash (regardless of which identity type or non-type was being made) together with a high distilling proof would have produced what the column still sour mash was: an approachable, balanced yet well-flavoured whiskey. This was C.E. Beam's work and we must tip our hat to him, it is evident he was highly regarded because as Chuck said he stayed with the distillery through all the changes of ownership until retirement. It may not have been a "true" pot still whiskey but the claim of pot still was justifiable in my view particularly since the doubler gave the whiskey its final finish and finesse. If others could have claimed something similar, well, that's fine, but few if any other producers did.
User avatar
gillmang
Vatman
 
Posts: 2140
Joined: Mon Jan 24, 2005 4:44 pm

PreviousNext

Return to Non-Bourbon Whiskey

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 5 guests