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View Full Version : Michter's in Schaefferstown, PA. New photos and info.



ethangsmith
11-30-2009, 10:31
Yes, it's been closed since 1990 and the Beam family has the mini pot still, but that doesn't mean you can't take a tour of the place! I met up with the current owner of the site yesterday and spent about 5 hours taking pictures and talking with him. The site is in great danger of being taken by the township and I am going to do what I can to stop it. Through research (and some good connections!) I have found that the thought that the site was taken off the national register is totally false. Michter's is still not only on the National Register of Historic Places, it is still a National Historic Landmark- a very high designation. I am local to the distillery and will be hoping the owner clean and fix the place up- a once in a lifetime opportunity!

Also, some other myths, questions, and legends I may be able to answer:

Sheridan, PA appears on marketing material until 1975 because that area was the Sheridan PO area before that.

Michter's first jugs appeared in 1957.

Gene Wilson did not totally strip the place out. Only the small pot still and small items were removed.

The distillery closed on Valentine's Day 1990, not in 1989, 1988, 1991, 1980, or 1981 as are listed various places.

The A.H. Hirsch bottlings are not the whiskey that was left in 1990. That whiskey left the premises in 1974.

The whiskey that was left in 1990 was obtained by the ATF in 1993 and sent to New Jersey where it was re-distilled into antifreeze and race fuel.

The main distilling equipment was shut down around 1978 and the small pot still was used from then until closing.

The site is not abandoned. Though there has been vandalism, most of the people have been caught and arrested. The site is under 24 hour surveillance and the locals have guns. Don't trespass.

The current owner is open to giving people tours, but due to poor health, cannot be out in the weather or on his feet for extended periods of time.

Hope this solves a few mysteries and a few questions!

Here are the highlights of my trip:

http://forgottenpa.blogspot.com/2009/11/inside-michters.html

ethangsmith
11-30-2009, 11:15
It was late and I had my captions on the photos mislabeled. Thanks to BOONE on here, they are fixed!

Josh
11-30-2009, 11:23
It was late and I had my captions on the photos mislabeled. Thanks to BOONE on here, they are fixed!

Very cool stuff, Ethan. Thanks for sharing! I'm sure you've been around long enough to see Dave Z's threads about the Kinsey/Continental distillery he used to work at but if you haven't, you should check them out.

These defunct PA distilleries are in need of heroes to keep their memories alive. Dave is Kinsey's hero. I nominate you for Mitcher's!
:grin:

ethangsmith
11-30-2009, 11:40
Haha. Thank you. I haven't seen the other threads. Was he able to preserve a distillery? My wife is currently digging through some of her links she has with the PA historical and museum commission and some other sources. So far we have found some really good information just in the past 24 hours on Michter's. I am not necessarily pushing to reopen the place as a distillery. I want it preserved as it was when it was operating. If someone were to buy it to operate it, all the better!!! Let's just say that right now if no one does anything, by this time next year the lot will be subdivided for houses.

Gillman
11-30-2009, 14:49
Very interesting. I am surprised one (at least) of the column stills is still there, one would think the item had - has - significant value.

If the AH Hirsch bourbon white dog was removed in 1974, where was it aged, KentuckyÉ

Gary

ethangsmith
11-30-2009, 15:21
Not sure really, but I have had several people tell me that the Hirsch left in '74. The whiskey that was left when the place closed was not it. It was all destroyed.

Gillman
11-30-2009, 18:13
Thanks for that, can I ask another question? How was the whiskey packaged after 1978 (cessation of use of column stills)? Did they put out the small crocks and bottles too? The main product was apparently Michter's Original Sour Mash, which according to the 1978 World Guide To Whiskey (from the famed M. Jackson) was neither a bourbon nor a rye but a hybrid, a straight whiskey though to be sure.

Gary

ethangsmith
12-01-2009, 06:17
That I'm not sure about. I asked the owner if he knew how the mini pot still whiskey was packaged and he said he thought it was packaged the same way as the mass produced stuff, but he had some people tell him it wasn't and it was sold separately. I am constantly doing internet searches for Michter's bottles and decanters and I have yet to see any that are different than the standard stuff.

BourbonJoe
12-01-2009, 08:36
Great photos Ethan. The last time I was up there it looked like it was in ruins. Hard to believe that inside pretty much everything looks to be intact.
Joe :usflag:

ethangsmith
12-01-2009, 09:16
Yes, the outside needs work. 2 of the 4 warehouses have collapsed. But, everything else is pretty much still in place. Unfortunately, some items have been slightly damaged by vandalism, which is a BIG problem at the site.

doubleblank
12-01-2009, 09:37
There was a small production run of 2000 gold plated decanters in the shape of a pot still that were sold in 1980. They were produced to commemorate the distillery's designation as a National Historic Landmark. Only about 900 were sold and the rest were destroyed to "protect" the uniqueness of these "collectible" decanters. They all contained whiskey distilled in 1976.....making it 4yo. It has been rumored that about 8 or 9 barrels of whiskey produced from the mini pot still were used to fill the decanters, but I've never seen or read such in anything that could be called a reliable source.

Randy

ethangsmith
12-01-2009, 10:42
I have one of those decanters (#43) with its original display. It has the usual label on it and I think it was filled with the usual stuff, but you never know. I'll have to see if anybody knows what they were filled with.

BourbonJoe
12-01-2009, 10:55
There was a small production run of 2000 gold plated decanters in the shape of a pot still that were sold in 1980. They were produced to commemorate the distillery's designation as a National Historic Landmark. Only about 900 were sold and the rest were destroyed to "protect" the uniqueness of these "collectible" decanters. They all contained whiskey distilled in 1976.....making it 4yo. It has been rumored that about 8 or 9 barrels of whiskey produced from the mini pot still were used to fill the decanters, but I've never seen or read such in anything that could be called a reliable source.

Randy

Randy,
I had one of these. It contained 101 proof whiskey. The whiskey was super. I donated the empty decanter to the Getz. It is displayed in their Michters Room.
Joe :usflag:

ethangsmith
12-01-2009, 11:01
Joe,

Was it gold? Or was it copper? They mass produced a copper version in 101 proof (I have one of those as well). My gold one reads 86 proof. I'm wondering if there were several proofs, but I wonder how they would do that with the gold ones since they were numbered.

BourbonJoe
12-01-2009, 20:44
Ethan,
It was kind of a burnished copper color, not too unlike tarnished gold. Thinking about your post, it probably was not the gold one (mine was not numbered).
Joe :usflag:

Gillman
12-02-2009, 00:31
I would think aging whiskey from the last runs up to 1978 (from the column still) were used for the various packages after 1978 until whiskey was used up. Original Sour Mash was nominally 6 years old, which would take it to about 1984 but probably barrels remained that were aged longer and perhaps mingled with some from the pot still.

It sounds like whatever remained was re-distilled when the ATF had the last stocks removed - a sad ending indeed but perhaps this was necessary to safely dispose of it or find a quick market.

Gary

ethangsmith
12-02-2009, 06:14
No one that I've talked to seems to know why the ATF did what they did with the stuff. Apparently when they came through, they were pretty ruthless with stuff on the premises that was already bottled. The current owner of the site said that hundreds of full bottles and decanters remained on the site and the ATF came in and smashed them all. There were several offers on the whiskey from other companies, which would have netted the government several million dollars by the time it was all said and done. But, for an unknown reason, the whiskey was sent by them to, from what the owner said, Publicker in Philly and turned into antifreeze and other alcohol products. Another interesting little side story- in the few years between closure and the ATF coming in, there was a MAJOR problem with people breaking in and stealing whiskey. The owner was told of one account where a cop in Delaware was following a car that was swerving a good deal. At a red light, the cop saw the driver toss a Michter's decanter out the window. The cop pulls the drunk over and proceeds to search the car and finds over 70 more decanters in the car! Apparently the problem was so bad that most roads around the area had broken decanters along them from people drinking them and tossing them out the window. Even today, with all the whiskey long gone, people are breaking in and stealing stuff or looking for whiskey. Recently the owner did nab a few people and the site is watched constantly now.

funknik
12-02-2009, 06:57
Aside from the drinking and driving, at least the stolen whiskey was put to good use . . . far better than anti-freeze fodder.

ethangsmith
12-02-2009, 07:33
True. But just imaging being that guy that got pulled over- A DUI and then being fined for a carload of untaxed, stolen whiskey!

cowdery
12-02-2009, 14:46
No offense to Ethan or to the unnamed current owner of the property intended, but I would caution everyone that reliable information about Michter's, especially the history of its final years, is hard to come by. One of the many problems is that some of the characters involved in those final years were beyond shady.

One person I consider very credible as a direct source is Dick Stoll (http://www.straightbourbon.com/forums/showthread.php?t=12436), because he was there and has no incentive to tell anything other than the truth as he knows it.

What one does in trying to tell a story like this is assemble all of the information available, try to evaluate the credibility of the sources, and try to put together the story that makes the most sense. Even with those best efforts one can still get things wrong.

So I read with interest the post with which Ethan started this thread. He made a number of statements that he has presented as unassailable facts. A few of them don't comport with what I believe to be true based on my research. For example, "The A.H. Hirsch bottlings are not the whiskey that was left in 1990. That whiskey left the premises in 1974." The "left the premises" claim is doubtful. We have, for example, good documentary evidence that those barrels were purchased from Hirsch by Gordon Hue and "left the premises" in 1988. That evidence includes a Michter's warehouse receipt, dated June 6, 1988, and a handwritten note signed by Mrs. Hirsch dated September 12, 1989.

This is consistent with what I learned from Julian Van Winkle III, who did the first bottlings of A. H. Hirsch for Hue in September of 1989. Those barrels were therefore gone before the final closure in 1990, which may have been Ethan's primary point, but it is almost inconceivable that they departed in 1974, the same year the whiskey was distilled.

I'm wording this carefully because I and most of us here are supportive of any effort to preserve the memory of this important American whiskey distillery.

ethangsmith
12-02-2009, 18:41
Chuck,
You may very well be right. I was going off of what I was told, but it could be incorrect as the "whisper down the lane" has been going on for almost 20 years now with Michter's information. What the current owner was 100% sure of is that the whiskey left behind in 1990 at its closure was not the A.H. Hirsch. I forget where I read it, but I had read somewhere that Adolph Hirsch saw instability in the distillery in 1974 and had them distill one last batch and yanked it all out in fear of losing it. Maybe I misinterpreted that or maybe that was just hearsay though. I have heard quite a few other tall stories that I didn't even believe about the distillery from locals and I have not repeated them as they did not check out with other known facts about the place. If any of my statements in the above posts are not true, PLEASE do not be afraid to correct them. I want to compile the FULL truth and correct timelines about Michters. I also plan on getting in touch with Dick Stoll sometime. The current owner of the Michter's site was friends with him but lost contact with him. When I find Mr. Stoll, I plan on doing an interview with him, just like Chuck did. I'll see if I can get more difinitive answers about the place and bust more myths.

cowdery
12-02-2009, 19:01
Like a lot of things you hear, there are always elements of truth and I don't claim to have all the facts. What appears to have happened, based on what I know, is that Hirsch, who had a long association with the distillery, bought some new make bourbon in 1974, possibly as a way to infuse some much needed capital into the faltering operation. He didn't buy it with any other purpose in mind, which is why it sat there for the next 14 years. By 1988, he probably did see that the end was near and the whiskey might be lost. He also had a buyer for it in Gordon Hue, who believed there was a market for it in Japan.

Hue would be another good person to talk to, which I have never done. He lives in the Cincinnati area and his family still owns the Cork & Barrel liquor stores in Covington, KY, although he personally is no longer involved with that.

I have talked to Julian Van Winkle. He says that, beginning in 1989, Hue would from time to time send him barrels to be dumped and bottled. All I know about where Hue was keeping them is at "a winery in Cincinnati."

Getting Hue's story would be a great addition to this tale.

Attached are the warehouse receipt and handwritten note from Mrs. Hirsch. I received both of these from Preiss Imports, the California company that bought the Hirsch inventory from Hue.

ethangsmith
12-02-2009, 19:05
My wife just got 100% confirmation from the State of Pennsylvania that the de-listing attempt on Michter's failed and never passed. In fact, they can't even find record of the attempt. Michter's is still a National Historic Place and a National Historic Landmark. She also has been offered a meeting to discuss possible funding options since confirming that it is still registered opens more avenues of help. Michter's may get saved!

cowdery
12-02-2009, 19:12
My wife just got 100% confirmation from the State of Pennsylvania that the de-listing attempt on Michter's failed and never passed. In fact, they can't even find record of the attempt. Michter's is still a National Historic Place and a National Historic Landmark. She also has been offered a meeting to discuss possible funding options since confirming that it is still registered opens more avenues of help. Michter's may get saved!

You can confirm that it's still listed on the National Parks Service web site.

ethangsmith
12-02-2009, 19:16
Awesome info Chuck! I do stand corrected as the Hirsch was obviously still there until 1988! This is just amazing how much hearsay is out there about this place. So Gordon Hue was the person that received the Hirsch from Michters and then sold it later to Preiss?? If that's the case, then I certainly do have another person to try and track down. I forgot if I asked already, but do you have any contact info for Dick Stoll. I found a phone directory listing for a Richard Stoll in Lebanon, PA but that's it.

ethangsmith
12-02-2009, 19:19
You can confirm that it's still listed on the National Parks Service web site.

We just wanted to hear it from the government itself. We were unsure if the site was correct and up to date. This way too we have names of people we spoke to in case we run into more people that say it was de-listed. I'd love to know why people are so sure it was.

ethangsmith
12-02-2009, 19:31
Just bought Vol. 9 from you via PayPal. I know you've done a lot of awesome research on this and I'd love to read it.

cowdery
12-02-2009, 23:37
I'm kicking myself for it but I can't seem to find Dick Stoll's number, though Lebanon sounds right. Give them a call. He and his wife are very nice folks.

As for the hearsay, you have to be skeptical, ask questions, ask for sources, and be prepared to piss some people off, because folks can grow very attached to their myths.

ethangsmith
12-03-2009, 06:12
I'll have to do that. I was told by the owner of the Michter's site that Mr. Stoll was one of a handful of people that knew the exact recipe for the whiskey.

ethangsmith
12-03-2009, 15:11
Did work there for 3 hours today and will be doing much more tomorrow and the next few days. I was able to finish the trimming of the shrubs in from of the jug house and still house. I started stacking the broken block from the pump house out front. I also unclogged a storm drain out front the still house so road debris will no longer accumulate out front on the paved area. I had to re-dig about 5 feet of trench and unclog the metal grate. I also did some other brush cutting along the creek and around the pump house. Tomorrow will most likely start warehouse cleanup and other repair work as I will be working with the owner of the site and he will have his front end loader and other gas powered tools available. I can't say much now, because I don't know all the details, but Michter's will not be reduced to rubble anytime soon. My wife has also been busy making phone calls and sending out emails and has gotten some VERY positive responses now from different agencies and societies.

A quick side note: If anyone on here was a member of the Michter's Collector's Society back in the day and has ANY information on it, please let me know. I know there were newsletters and also special release decanters for the members. The owner of the site also wants more information on it. We found out the one lady that lives near the distillery was a tour hostess/worker in the jug house and the owner and I are going to try and arrange an interview with her as well. Again, if ANYONE has ANY Michter's information or literature, even photos, I would love to hear about them or get copies of them!

ethangsmith
12-04-2009, 17:22
Cleanup has started on the collapsed Bonded warehouse C. We started stacking block and cutting up collapsed roofing and barrel racks. Also, I cleaned 2-4" of road grime and gravel off the walk along the side of the Jug House that faces Michter's Rd. If anyone else would like to help out with the cleanup efforts, even for just a day, please let me know. We have much work to do!

As I was checking out the one other warehouse, I came across this:


http://hphotos-snc3.fbcdn.net/hs114.snc3/16138_190019343354_779928354_3120724_2917704_n.jpg

ethangsmith
12-04-2009, 17:27
Here are some pictures of the cleaned up front side:

http://hphotos-snc3.fbcdn.net/hs114.snc3/16138_189180383354_779928354_3115048_8065691_n.jpg

http://photos-h.ak.fbcdn.net/hphotos-ak-snc3/hs114.snc3/16138_189171363354_779928354_3115009_7729491_n.jpg

http://hphotos-snc3.fbcdn.net/hs094.snc3/16138_189171373354_779928354_3115010_1583390_n.jpg

ethangsmith
12-17-2009, 09:19
I was at the distillery again yesterday and delivered some of our (my wife and my) research to the owner and other interested parties that were present. If the right people were to get their hands on the place and make some initial investments, there are good amounts of money available in the form of tax credits and grants. The owner has been doing work on the property again as the weather and his health permit- mostly removing garbage and securing the place. Once the weather warms up a little, we plan on doing much more work on the distillery. I have also stepped up my research on the distillery. I will be traveling to Delaware later this month to go through the business records of the late Louis Forman. I also plan on contacting Mr. Stoll after the holiday season. I am trying to find contact information on Yvonne Bomberger Fowler to get information from her. Her websites were recently discontinued and I can't get in contact with her. If anyone has any contact information from her, please let me know! Also, if anyone else on here has Michter's or Pennco documents they would like to share with me, send me a message!

ethangsmith
12-31-2009, 15:25
Today my wife and I went to Wilmington, DE to the Hagley Museum to look at the Louis Forman collection they have. I found lots of great Michter's info there about the plant, sales, advertising, product development, and the distillery. Included in the documents were business plans, business projections, and lists of bulk customers and competing distilleries. I scanned many of the images and papers (I accidentally cut off a few and can't read the bottoms). And to answer one burning question once and for all: Michter's was only a brand, created by Mr. Forman from 1950-1974. During that period, Mr. Forman was buying his whiskey for his brand from Pennco, operator and owner of the distillery. In 1975, Pennco folded and Mr. Forman and a group of local businessmen bought the distillery at sheriff sale. From 1975 until 1979, Michter's Distillery, Inc. was operating the distillery and bottling their product. In 1979, Michter's Distillery, Inc. was sold to Ted Veru.