Michter's Distillery

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Unread postby bunghole » Sat Sep 09, 2006 10:22 am

EllenJ wrote:P.S. Linn, thanks for the nice words. I also mentioned what you said about that "other" piece of equipment hiding behind the technician. Unfortunately there's a limit on the length of captions and it got cut off. I was going to correct it but never got a round tuit. Now I don't have to 'cause you did. Thanks!


You're quite welcome John! I do think that it is important to point out/stress various facets of posted information. While these types of things may be obvious to the knowledgable among us, they would simply be glossed over by other reader/viewers.

And now back to our program already in progress...

:arrow: ima :smilebox:
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Unread postby cowdery » Sat Sep 09, 2006 2:53 pm

Here are some of the questions I'm still working on, though I have no idea if any answers to them might reside in the UD archive.

Who was Pennco? Who were its officers and directors? Was the Schafferstown distillery its only business or did it have other operations? Did it own any brands or strictly perform contract distilling?

Specifically, did Louis Forman have a relationship with Pennco other than as a customer, i.e., was he also a shareholder? Same question re Hirsch and same question re Schenley.

How much of Pennco's output was rye whiskey, how much was bourbon and how much was "other" (e.g., the Michter's Original Sour Mash Whiskey)?

What was so special, if anything, about the 1974 "run" of bourbon that became A. H. Hirsch?

Where does the Hue family (the Cork n' Bottle folks) fit into this? How did they come to know about and decide to acquire the whiskey that became the A. H. Hirsch bourbons?

My overarching question at this point is why? Why, in the late 80s when the country was awash with whiskey no one wanted, and the specific distillery that produced this whiskey was closing because in particular no one wanted its whiskey, did someone decide it was a great idea to buy this particular batch, dump at least some of it into stainless steel, and start dribbling it out to the marketplace as a super-premium?

My best theory is that this was about the time that the Japanese market was starting to develop and the Japanese wanted extra-aged whiskey. While this may have been the original intention, I have never heard anything to suggest it ever happened that way.
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Unread postby gillmang » Sat Sep 09, 2006 4:34 pm

I think it would have been cool to meet Louis Forman who died in 2002 in his 90's.

Here is a guy who tried all his life to revive small-scale distilling (however you view the pot still issue). He and CE Beam worked on and finalised the recipe. Sure he tied it into his jug and decanter line but he made a fine whiskey in the early 50's and evidently that continued under the aegis of Pennco.

Just as he passed on, gazebos got going and in general connoisseur interest in fine U.S. whiskey shifted into high gear.

He was one of us I believe, sure it was a business for him, as e.g., for the Samuels' and Van Winkles, but he was interested, just as they are, in the traditions of quality whiskey. He could could have put any old thing in those containers but he chose a fine whiskey with considerable historical antecedent (with some modifications, Samuel M'Harry would have recognised it and certainly the mash bill). I know it was fine and I had the good fortune to taste some recently in Santa Rosa courtesy a collector who brought some to a party. While I have heard some say the decanter whiskey was not great, I think there may be two possible explanations for that view. First, whiskey kept 30 years in decanters often simply isn't good. It can absorb earthenware taste from the container and go off. Or, it can go off plain and simple, from oxidation. Also, some of what people refer to may have been true pot still distillate (from the '76 Vendome set-up operated in the 80's). As we see occasionally from WR, operating an all-pot still plant for whiskey results in a spirit with a more pungent taste than "normal' U.S. straight whiskey. But the column still + doubler Michter's Original Sour Mash I've had, and I only had it in really good condition twice or so, was fine stuff. It was somewhat like a cross between a soft-tasting Jack Daniels and, say, the current Michter's straight rye (the regular 4 year old rye). (Say, 2:1 the rye to the Jack).

Hats off to Louis Forman and CE Beam and at gazebo upcoming I believe there will be Hirsch '74 and 70's Michters to toast these gents.

Gary
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Unread postby Bourbon Joe » Sat Sep 09, 2006 7:51 pm

While we're on the subject of Michters, I gotta tell ya. I just decanted a Michters Ice Wagon Decanter from 1979. The entire room filled up with the most incredible fruity aroma. The closest thing I can come to is Juicy Fruit chewing gum. I could not resist and had a small pour. This may not strictly be bourbon (50 % corn mash bill) but it is one fine whiskey. Whether it is Michters, Pennco, midget pot still, or whatever, few whiskeys compare. This is just some really fine stuff.
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Unread postby gillmang » Sat Sep 09, 2006 10:55 pm

Well, good to know some decanters taste good but a reliable current source is Hirsch 16. Yes, it is much older than what was released as Michter's in its heyday. But it was made at Schaefferstown (of this I have no doubt) and has the maple/spearmint taste that seems characteristic of the straight whiskeys produced at Michter's. There is still quite a bit of the Hirsch 16 around although it has been a while since I have seen a Hirsch 20 anywhere!

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Unread postby EllenJ » Sat Sep 09, 2006 11:12 pm

cowdery wrote:.. . Who was Pennco? .. . Did it own any brands or strictly perform contract distilling?

Chuck, here are a few labels of Pennco brands...
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HappyHour.jpg
This is a 35/65 blended whiskey.
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UnionTown.jpg
This is exactly the same proportions. Why both brands? Was the "flavor whiskey" different?
UnionTown.jpg (146.19 KiB) Viewed 5852 times
86 Bourbon.jpg
1957. Could this have been the real Michter's? Notice that it WASN'T distilled by Pennco.
86 Bourbon.jpg (134.24 KiB) Viewed 5852 times
PennEsquire.jpg
I only have the back label of this one, but it tells a very interesting tale, doesn't it?
PennEsquire.jpg (67.92 KiB) Viewed 5851 times
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Unread postby cowdery » Sun Sep 10, 2006 12:01 am

One thing it suggests is that Continental did not have a bottling house and Pennco did. Either that, or both had bottling facilities but Pennco was a more desirable aging location. Obviously, it also show some sort of relationship between Pennco and Continental, though what that relation was would be speculation.
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Unread postby EllenJ » Sun Sep 10, 2006 3:10 pm

cowdery wrote:One thing it suggests is that Continental did not have a bottling house and Pennco did. Either that, or both had bottling facilities but Pennco was a more desirable aging location. Obviously, it also show some sort of relationship between Pennco and Continental, though what that relation was would be speculation.

Although I readily admit that many of my suggestions about Michter's are speculative (as are yours, Gary's, Michael Jackson's, or anyone's), the information on the Penn Esquire label about Pennco's relationship to Continental is not. On bonded whiskey bottled before the early '80s, that back label is a legally required statement by the marketer of the product, not just advertising hype. It makes it very clear that the bottler was Pennco Distillers, which could have been a fictitious "DBA"-type name, but we know it was not, because they were indeed the operators of bonded warehouse #17 in Schaefferstown. The label is also required to state that the bourbon was distilled by Continental at their Philadelphia distillery (DSP-1-PA) and not at Schaefferstown. Otherwise, as with the "86" brand, they would not have mentioned it.

Continental Distillers (for those who, apparently like Chuck, haven't read our page on that distillery) was the name used by the Publicker Corporation for their beverage alcohol operations. Publicker/Continental was perhaps the largest producer of ethyl alcohol on earth at the time we're speaking of, and they certainly had no need to contract with some tiny, insignificant firm out in Pennsylvania Dutch country to store or bottle their whiskey. They were bottling several brands in Philadelphia and Linfield; some of those were bottled-in-bond straight bourbon.

Pennco also were bottling several brands, but none of those appear to have been straight whiskey, let alone bonded. I have not seen real evidence that ANY straight whiskey was ever distilled at Schaefferstown, have you? Of course SPECULATION would indicate that all that equipment must have been used for SOMETHING (unless it was only for GNS?).

Continental Distillers was, in reality, similar to what some writers used to dismiss Heaven Hill as - a reputable company capable of producing really fine whiskey that would also gladly bottle their bulk whiskey for anyone's brand who'll pay for it. Pennco certainly could have contracted with Continental to provide whiskey that met BIB requirements for their Penn Esquire label (as I feel MIGHT have been the case with Michter's Jug House... except without the BIB requirements), but if they were an operating distillery that doesn't seem to be likely. It would be as if Four Roses, which owns the Henry McKenna distribution outside the United States, contracted with Heaven Hill to distill the whiskey for it (they don't, by the way; overseas H.McK., from Lawrenceburg, tastes quite different from domestic McKenna from Bardstown). No, I can't accept the logic of a claim that Continental was a vendor to Pennco.

And that leaves only one alternative. Namely that Pennco was, itself, a subsidiary of Continental, as was Linfield. As was Finch, Montebello, East Penn, Pennsylvania Distilling, Dickel, and Lord knows how many others for Schenley.

Speculation? Sure!

So's whether the sun's coming up tomorrow. :lol:
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Unread postby EllenJ » Mon Sep 11, 2006 5:05 am

Also, Rittenhouse Rye was another of Continental Distillers' brands. If it ever belonged to Medley or Glenmore as you posted on another forum, it would have had to have been after they purchased the label from Continental/Publicker in the '80s.

Pikesville Rye, a Maryland brand from Standard Distillers, of Baltimore, had a relationship with Medley/Glenmore.
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Unread postby gillmang » Mon Sep 11, 2006 8:08 am

John, the 1980's Michter's advertising brochures mentioned by Chuck in his newsletter, which have been reproduced in full on the SB forum (more than once) and I believe are from Yvonne Fowler's site, state clearly that straight whiskey was made at Schaefferstown. The brochure or contemporary news stories from her site included a photo, placed recently on this forum, which showed that the pot stills were doublers. The brochures stated that "corn and rye" are mixed (no proportions given) and that after being put through a column still and doubler the spirit came out in the 150's of proof. I don't recall the exact number mentioned, it was something like 156 proof. And it was mentioned that the spirit was aged in new charred oak.

This is straight whiskey but not of course (for the part of production that was Original Sour Mash) one of the types entitled to be called bourbon or rye since Original Sour Mash was 50% corn and the remainder small grains.

That said, I believe you are right to suggest that Pennco may have been a subsidiary of Continental Distilling/Publicker of Philadelphia.

Possibly L. Forman owned a minority stake in Pennco, and Continental the majority. Possibly Pennco was a joint venture between Continental and some other party or parties. I think it is more likely though that Pennco was a (wholly-owned) subsidiary of Continental. That company would have had the capital and expertise to continue operations at Schaefferstown after 1956. As for why Schaefferstown for Publicker, why not? It would have meant additional capacity and together with other smaller plant owned may have been more suited to straight whiskey production and maturation than the Philadelphia facilities. The scale of the Philadelphia plant shown on your website might have been best suited to beverage GNS and industrial alcohol production.

The equivalent of the 10k filings for a public company back in the 50's, 60's and 70's would have indicated I think whether Pennco was a sub of Continental but those records are probably not available online or easily accessed otherwise.

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Unread postby cowdery » Mon Sep 11, 2006 1:49 pm

There's no reason to get snippy, John, and I hope my comment about speculation didn't seem snippy to you. We all have access to essentially the same factual information (and, yes, I have read your Continental page) and may either come to slightly different conclusions about that information or hold those beliefs with more or less conviction.

I don't think Pennco would have employed a master distiller of C. E. Beam's stature for 40 years if they weren't making any whiskey in Schafferstown, nor would they have bothered to stage photographs of him with milestone barrels, and there are published interviews with him talking about the whiskey he made there, as well as numerous newspaper articles through the years, right up to and including 1989, talking about that distillery as a working distillery.

Obviously, the information on a BIB label is factual as far as it goes. While the names can be DBAs, the DSPs cannot be fudged. Clearly there was a relationship between Pennco and Continental, and I would guess it was more than a vendor/customer relationship, but that's where it become speculative.

"Vendor/customer" and "wholly-owned subsidiary" are not the only possibilities. For example, let's say a broker, like Louis Forman, for example, bought some distillate from Continental because they gave him a better price than another distiller he knew, say, Pennco, but Pennco...located in the lower-cost boonies...quoted a better price on warehousing, said broker might buy distillate from Continental and have it aged at Pennco, then bottled there. He might even have it shipped from Philly in a tanker and barreled in the country.

I'm not saying that is what happened. I am saying it is a possiblility that is consistent with the evidence and as likely as the conclusion you are pushing so aggressively.

I also would not dismiss out of hand the possibility that Continental made a determination that its straight whiskey would be better off aging in country warehouses rather than in downtown Philadelphia. I can think of a number of reasons why that determination might have been made, but don't necessarily think one is any more likely than another.

Both Heaven Hill and Medley were contract producers of rye whiskey when the original Pennsylvania and Maryland distilleries stopped producing it in the late 1980s, which I think is exactly what I said on the "other forum." All of the 20+ year old straight rye that is on the market right now is from one of those two sources. I'm not 100% sure which one went where when, although I believe HH initially had Pikesville and then subsequently got Rittenhouse. Also in the mix at Medley was Fleischmanns, which went to Barton.
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Unread postby EllenJ » Mon Sep 11, 2006 7:58 pm

Chuck,
For starters, I apologize for anything I wrote that may have offended you. But actually, yes, your comments did seem snippy to me. I had posted those Pennco labels because you asked whether Pennco marketed any brands of their own. The higher-res photos tell a more detailed story than was necessary to include on our web page (which I have no doubt that you've read), but I thought you'd appreciate having examples, and that's why I posted them.

Your response caught me by surprise. It was unexpected and uncomfortable to me. I felt you could not possibly have offered the absurd suggestion that perhaps "Continental did not have a bottling house and Pennco did" at face value, which made your response seem arrogant and dismissive. As did the closing comment, concerning speculation. I'll have to admit I was under the influence of those feelings when I responded.

So my response sorta focused on that, and probably carried a more bitter tone than it should have. Still, I need to re-emphasize here that WE ALL offer only speculation on this and many other subjects concerning whiskey's legend and lore. The fact is that neither I, nor you, nor even commercially-published writers with unkempt hair and British accents have any monopoly on the Real Story. And quite frankly, Chuck, your guess is as good as mine.

That said, please understand that the very last thing I want to do is behave negatively toward someone such as yourself, who have been friend and inspiration to me. I'm not a professional writer, and I haven't really mastered the skill of writing softly while still having anyone pay attention to what I'm saying. My contribution to the general knowledgebase is to offer (and illustrate) ideas which run alternative to whatever other suggestions are out there. Sometimes for no other reason than that they ARE alternative ideas. I don't ever think of them conclusively; my postings commonly return good reasons for changing my point of view. Often Mike or Gary or yourself will point out a fact that completely derails that particular train of reason. I have no problem with that. After all, it's only speculation.

I couldn't help but feel distressed at your implication that a request for NON-speculative evidence that Pennco produced straight whiskey suggested that photographs of their distiller were "staged". And offering a claim that "numerous newspaper articles through the years, right up to and including 1989" spoke of "...that distillery as a working distillery" would have been more convincing it not for the fact that nearly all of those articles refer only to the tourist demo still.
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Unread postby gillmang » Mon Sep 11, 2006 8:19 pm

There seems conflicting evidence about whether distilling occurred in a column still in Schaefferstown from 1980 on but clearly it occurred before that. This must have been the source - or a source - of Michter's Original Sour Mash whiskey. CE Beam devised the recipe (we have seen letters posted on the other board which show this). He worked for Forman and Pennco at Schaefferstown. The Fowler pamphlets from the distillery circa 1980 (maybe printed just before column distilling stopped) speak of column still + doubler whiskey aged in new charred wood, not of true pot still whiskey. I know I read in accompanying newspaper material that the whiskey was distilled to about 156 proof. (It is a 1989 news story). There can be no doubt, in my view, that Original Sour Mash was made from about 1950 to 1980 at Schaefferstown and probably after (i.e., in column + doubler). The 1989 story says it was made in the 80's - the later story, from '96 would seem less accurate in this regard possibly, because it was written some years later.

Also, on the other board a local KY news story was posted which interviewed CE Beam on his retirement. He says he made for Pennco rye whiskey and Original Sour Mash for which he originated (he said) the recipe, at Schaefferstown. The head office of Pennco was given incidentally as Newmanstown, PA, but Beam said he worked in Schaefferstowna nd described how the capacity of the site grew over the years.


Now, this does not mean Continental also did not make straight whiskey. We can see that they did from John's labels. I think probably it was aged at Schaefferstown, just as HH Louisville distillate is aged at Bardstown. Even if aged in Philadelphia, it may have been convenient (say due to size of the run) to bottle it in Schaefferstown. Why stop a high speed vodka or gin line to bottle a much smaller amount of straight bourbon? Maybe occasionally Continental distilled Michter's Original Sour Mash, which probably was aged at Schaefferstown, or some other whiskey that went into some of the decanters. This does not mean that some Original Sour Mash was not made at Schaefferstown and I believe it was the great bulk of it.

Speculation, yes, or rather deductions and inferences from various sources including John's research, M. Jackson's (who visited the site in the mid-80's I believe) and Chuck.

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Unread postby gillmang » Mon Sep 11, 2006 9:39 pm

The irony of this discussion is that there are probably lots of people living who know the full history. That doesn't make it easier for outsiders to find out what happened and it is hard to reconstruct dealings of so many years ago. Chuck and John have done great work to uncover what they have.

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Unread postby cowdery » Tue Sep 12, 2006 12:32 am

Come on, John. I was responding to this statement by you:

"I have not seen real evidence that ANY straight whiskey was ever distilled at Schaefferstown."

While I can't be sure what you mean by "real evidence," your use of the word "ever" covers a lot of time for a distillery that was established 253 years ago. Even if I assume, as I do, that by "ever" you mean post-prohibition, that is a rash and, frankly, ridiculous statement.

To then further offer a short 1996 article as evidence of ... well, what exactly? As evidence that straight whiskey wasn't being made there in, say, 1974? ... that's disengenuous. The evidence I have seen leads me to believe that Schafferstown operated as a conventional whiskey distillery from about 1942 until about 1989, though in the last decade or so probably only a few months out of the year, as was the practice of many distilleries during the 1980s.

One does not need to be a professional writer to write carefully and weigh your words.

I certainly meant no offense in my brief (okay, maybe "terse") comment after you posted the labels. I enjoyed the labels very much and marvelled, as I always do, at your wonderful collection and your willingness to share it so freely. I appreciate it and you very much.

But since we've gone down this road, I will say that I often think you jump to conclusions and while perhaps in your head you realize that what you have spelled out is merely one of many possible explanations for a set of inconclusive facts, you often present them as the at least most likely explanation, if not the one-and-only possible explanation.

It's possible, for example, that at the time that run of Penn Esquire was bottled, Continental's bottling plant was unavailable for some reason. Maybe they were reducing their whiskey production in favor of industrial alcohol or something else and didn't need a full time bottling facility any more or, conversely, maybe they were doing so damn much bottling, for themselves and others, that they needed to farm some of it out.

All I am saying is that the evidence does not support a conclusion that Pennco was owned by Publicker, nor does it foreclose that possibility.
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