Michter's Distillery

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Unread postby samkom » Thu Mar 29, 2007 8:27 am

Chuck, God bless you! A lone voice in the wilderness! I thought I had ruffled everybody's feathers here or something. Thanks for the reply, but my question was specifically directed to the longevity of the distillery building itself, not other structures. Do your observations extend to that specific structure elsewhere? Thanks again. I'm still really surprised that there has been no reaction or reply to my questions about post-Prohibition pot stills elsewhere than Ruffs Dale.
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Unread postby gillmang » Thu Mar 29, 2007 1:03 pm

Sam, as you may know, Gooderham & Worts' buildings in Toronto survive almost intact from how they looked 100 years ago. Also, they incorporate the oldest parts of the distillery including a stone-built structure that dates to the early 1800's. The distillery was used to process rum I understand until about 10 years ago after which it was converted into an urban renewal facility. (Probably domestic rum was made to be blended with imported rum, or just the blending took place there). Most of the insides were emptied of remaining plant and converted to restaurants, art galleries, etc. But the outside was preserved by government fiat and looks virtually as in photos from the 1800's.

As for pot stills being used post-1933 in whiskey production, I never heard of that elsewhere, i.e., to make an initial and (presumably) a subsequent distillation for whiskey, but this does not mean of course this did not occur. (I am excluding Woodford Reserve at Versailles, KY since we all know about that one).

Do you know for certain that the Ruffs Dale pot stills were used to make straight whiskey? Is it possible they were used e.g., to distill GNS with botanicals to make gin, or to make domestic brandy? Also, is it possible they were used in the same way a doubler for a whiskey mash would be, i.e., to refine high wines from a column still? I think the still at Smith-Bowman in Virginia was (and is) a regular pot still. But it is not, in any case, an example of what you asking since it completes, and does not initiate, a distillation process.

By the way, a quick Internet search shows that the warehouse is now owned by a company selling the wood and other materials in the building, see http://www.oldswoodsale.com. Cool photos of some of the planking in pre- and post-clean-up mode. Looks like beautiful stuff.

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Unread postby samkom » Thu Mar 29, 2007 7:45 pm

Thanks for your take on this topic, Gary. I have laid out all I know about Dillinger in my fist listing on the subject, and it contains what I consider to be virtually irrefutable evidence of post-Prohibition pot stills producing rye whiskey. In no particular order, they are:

Fully separate and independent facilities for column and two-stage pot distilling under one roof, in a distillery built after Prohibition primarily for the production of rye whiskey. In fact, the continuous side of the distillery contained both a rectifying column AND a doubler, already more than most might consider necessary at the time. The pot still side had its own fermenting house, mash tun, wash back tank, and low AND high wine tanks dedicated to this end of the operation.

A Federal Registry of Stills not only describing the pot stills themselves, but listing their use as being for production of "Whiskey or spirits." In addition, this document lists the 24 hour charging capacity of each still, and that they were, in 1947, registered "for use."

Blueprints dated 1946 showing two classic scotch-type coal-fired pot stills in place, fed by automatic stokers.

A cost differential of +50% over the average competing product upon the return of production after Prohibition.

Now, in answer to some previous speculation, there is indeed evidence that this facility produced both brandy and gin. In fact, there is listed on an earlier Registry of Stills a dedicated gin still, which must have been removed prior to the 1946 blueprints and 1947 Registry, as it does not show up in either. As for brandy, this was first and foremost a rye distillery. Why would a company incur the cost of perhaps the only two-stage batch distillery in the U.S. for an afterthought like brandy, especially when brandy production would seem to be possible with a single still? And I remind you that the still registry lists their use as for "Whiskey and spirits."

Does this mean that I am 100% certain that the scenario I have described dictates the two-stage production of straight whiskey in pot stills? No, but I'd bet next month's paycheck that this was the case.

Do I hope that this might be the only post-Prohibition pot distillery in the country? It certainly would be cool for this to have occurred only in the backwoods of my Western Pennsylvania. However, I put it to you all that if it could have happened under the radar in tiny Ruffs Dale (albeit in a substantial distillery), where else might it have occurred? I, too, was under the impression that whiskey was strictly column-distilled in the U.S. after 1933, until I purchased the Dillinger blueprints. I opened the pages showing pot stills and felt like I had been thrust into the Twilight Zone!

It took me months of research and analysis of their setup, and the acquisition of additional papers from the distillery proper to come to my conclusions. To my mind, this has changed the way I approach modern American distilling, and I look forward to hearing from someone else someday that they have found the same evidence elsewhere, as this would validate my findings.

Your finding the site listing the sale of the warehouse materials saddens me, but I'm glad that I got in there (barely) before this happened. Those warehouses were phenomenal buildings, and they will be missed, at least by me. I also look forward to the time when I will have a sip of legal, 21st century Pennsylvania rye whiskey. I am convinced it will happen, and Sam Dillinger would be pleased.
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Unread postby gillmang » Thu Mar 29, 2007 11:22 pm

Thanks, Sam, great information. Does any example of Ruffs Dale rye whiskey still exist (e.g., in John's incomparable collection)? A simple taste might confirm if it was pot distillation whiskey.

The information about the stills being registered for "whiskey or spirits" is intriguing but only suggestive at best. I come back to gin because the best way to make gin is to batch distill GNS with the botanicals and gin was very popular after Prohibition. I must confess though that this would not require two stills (unless double distillation of the GNS and botanicals was or is common for gin). The presence of scotch-type stills (i.e., wash and spirit stills) would suggest whiskey of some kind was made in them or that the stills had been intended for whiskey manufacture, I certainly agree.

Before WW I malt whiskey in the Irish style was made in America, the Duffy's brand (albeit apparently blended) from Rochester, NY was an example. Maybe in the early years after Prohibition it was thought such manufacture should be revived or might even extend to scotch-style whisky. If this was the plan (as a complement to the mainstay of rye whiskey), the column stills might have been intended to make grain whisky and the pot stills, Scottish-style malt.

I wonder if the 2 books on liquor manufacture referred to in John's page authored by one of the Rosenblooms would shed light on what the family thought a post-Pro distillery should manufacture.

I wonder too if there is any evidence of contemporary Maryland distilleries using pot stills.

By the way the site of the company selling salvage from the warehouse is http://www.oldwoodsale.com (I had misspelled it in my previous post). If I read the page right, the current owner intends to remove the top floors and the wooden parts of the building.

For a picture of a filled mini of Dillinger straight rye, enter "Dillinger+rye+asahi" in Yahoo and a Japanese mini site comes up showing the bottle (and many others of interest - the site is known to some here). The Dillinger rye bottle bears a green stamp with a distillation or bottling date of 1923 (1923? Yep) and looks genuine. The whiskey is stated as 100 proof. A similar label is reproduced on John's site under his Dillinger Distillery entry but sans bottle (John reproduces another photo which shows different label for Dillinger whiskey affixed in that case to a filled bottle). The photo of the mini is sharp and clear and the whiskey looks mighty good (rich amber and seemingly full-bodied).

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Unread postby bourbonv » Mon Apr 02, 2007 10:31 am

Gary,
Gin was indeed made in a pot still with a "gin head" to hold the botanicals. The Glenmore distillery in Owensboro had their pot still with a gin head still in place in the 1990's when U.D. owned the distillery. I don't know if it is still there or not. Barton may have removed it. A set of gin stills could explain the blueprints that Sam has found. I would look to see if they were producing a gin in the 1940's and how much they sold. If it was not a major product for them then Sam is probably right about whiskey being made in the pots, but if they were making and selling large amounts of gin, then maybe that is what those foundations were for.
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Unread postby cowdery » Mon Apr 02, 2007 5:57 pm

The old buildings at the various Kentucky and Tennessee distilleries I mentioned are, for the most part, the buildings that housed the stills, or parts thereof.

I don't think anyone has had their feathers ruffled. It's just that there isn't a lot of reliable information about the continued use of pot stills after the introduction of column stills. There were probably some older and smaller distillers who continued to use them. I find it hard to believe anyone was making straight whiskey in an all-pot-still operation after Prohibition, because I don't see how it could have been economically feasible.

You have to remember that for most of American distilling history, up until just recently, whiskey was a commodity and pricing was very competitive.

One thing about grain solids. Mashing for American whiskey was done by hand in small tubs into the 20th century and the large, mechanical cookers we have today probably didn't exist before prohibition. We can be certain that the mashes were thin--a much higher water-to-grain ratio than is common today. What seems reasonable is that the mash was allowed to rest before being moved to the fermenters, as is still done today, and most of the solids simply settled out, then settled out further in the fermenters, so that what went into the still was essentially a wash, even though there wasn't an active separation stage.

That's mostly a theory, but it seems to fit the facts.

As for gin, I'm not sure when U.S. producers stopped distilling gin and started to make it by adding a flavoring concentrate to GNS. I believe Seagram's Gin is still distilled but is probably the only major US brand that is.
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Unread postby samkom » Wed Apr 04, 2007 7:17 pm

Glad to hear from you all! Here's what else I can share in answer to some of the situations posed here. Dillinger had a 315 gallon copper gin still witha dedicated condenser in place, listed as "for use" in 1942. In the 1943 Registry, that designation is revised to "not for use." The next set of Registries I have is for 1947, when that particular still is no longer listed. They had a dedicated gin still in operation at the same time the double pots were in place, and I assume, being used.

In the 1937 edition of his book "The Liquor Industry," Morris Rosenbloom describes in detail the accepted technique for the distillation of rye whiskey. He states, not surprisingly, considering his affiliation with a rye distillery, that "As its production is of more general importance than that of Bourbon, its distillation must be taken up in somewhat more detail." His description goes on to mention only the column distillation and pot doubling of said whiskey. Not sure what that means for my theory, but he does not mention double pot distillation at all.

The Lipmans were gracious enough to present me with a pint of Prohibition-bottled Dillinger, ten summers old, for my 50th birthday. It was opened at the Baltimore tasting session this past summer, and was recognized by those in attendance as perhaps the best at the session. A very rich whiskey with great depth of flavor and texture. It, however, was distilled before Prohibition, and as such is unquestionably double pot distilled. Neither of us has a post-Prohibition Ruffs Dale distillation to compare to it.

That's all I have for now. Certainly more to chew on as we consider the possibilities! John, you're awfully quiet on this thread!
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Unread postby gillmang » Wed Apr 04, 2007 8:21 pm

Sam, did Rosenbloom give a mashbill for rye whiskey?

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Unread postby samkom » Thu Apr 05, 2007 6:56 pm

Gary, Mr. Rosenbloom claims that "Rye whiskey contains about 60 percent rye, 20 percent corn, and 20 percent malt." However, I know that in 1940, Baltimore Pure Rye (B-P-R), according to its back label, contained 98% rye, and as such is the driest tasting rye I have ever had. I assume the other 2% was barley malt. Sometime before Prohibition, the Moss Distillery Co. of Fitz Henry, PA, another rye manufacturer on the Youghiogheny River, used 85% rye and 15% barley malt.

It would seem that the proportions were all over the map!
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Unread postby gillmang » Fri Apr 06, 2007 5:53 pm

Very interesting, thanks Sam. Clearly mash bills varied throughout the history of rye whiskey. Samuel M'Harry in 1809 gave various formulas (100% rye; 2/3rds rye and 1/3rd corn; half rye and corn, etc.).

In the 1860's F.X. Byrn gave a recipe which sounds similar to Rosenbloom's, I will dig it out when I have a minute.

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Unread postby bourbonv » Tue Apr 17, 2007 12:23 pm

Gary,
Do you have any rye mash bills from the early 19th century from distillers? I wonder how they compare to whiskey recipes found here in Kentucky. I have a recipe for wheat whiskey from the Buckner family papers I will try to transcribe and post later.
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Re: Michter's Distillery

Unread postby Bourbon HQ » Tue Mar 10, 2009 1:59 pm

You should have drank bourbon instead.
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Re: Michter's Distillery

Unread postby samkom » Sat May 01, 2010 3:41 pm

This just in, from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 1948:

Pittsburghers Buy Distillery
Dillenger (sic) Plant At Ruffsdale Sold
From the Post-Gazette Correspondent

Mount Pleasant, Pa., Jan. 18 (1948)—"In a deal, reportedly involving between two and three million dollars, Samuel Leff of Pittsburgh and his sons, Marshall of Pittsburgh and Jay of Uniontown, have purchased the Dillinger distilling plant at Ruffsdale from Dillinger Distilleries, Incorporated.
"The plant, founded 66 years ago, is regarded as one of the most modernly constructed and equipped in the United States. Whisky manufacture at Ruffsdale started in 1882 when the Dillinger family secured a Government permit.
"The distillery was closed for about 15 years during the “dry” era but late in 1933 was renovated for resumption of production following repeal.
"Extensive remodeling again took place after fire caused heavy damage in 1945. The plant is equipped for manufacture of rye and bourbon whisky and commercial and beverage alcohol. It also has a complete unit for manufacture of Scotch whisky, said to be the only one of its kind in the United States. Leff said there will be further extensive remodeling at Ruffsdale. The family owns a distillery at Meadville."

Note the reference to "...a complete unit for manufacture of Scotch whisky..." Not gin, not liqueur, but whisky. Now, I have been collecting items from this distillery for nearly 40 years and have never found a label or any reference to Scotch whisky form this plant, but due to the lack of international regulation at that time, they certainly could have. i do have labels for rye, bourbon, corn, blended, and spirit whiskey, ansd plenty of them. Those new owners, by the way, were shysters who never put another penny into the plant, but drew down the stocks and sold the plant yet again to Seagram's later on (sound familiar?).

So, though I still don't have indisputable proof that those pot stills in Ruffs Dale were for rye, they sure seem to have been there for the production of some kind of whiskey, in a building built in 1933, and that operated at least until 1947.

For what it's worth. Happy Derby Day! Now go drink a whiskey1
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