View Full Version : S. C. Herbst

05-08-2000, 06:50
Anybody out there living in Milwaukee? If so, I'm interested in anything you can tell me about the S. C. Herbst Company, which was a liquor distributor and exporter in the pre-prohibition era, out of Milwaukee. They owned distilleries in Kentucky. Their most famous brand was Old Fitzgerald, which they sold to Stitzel-Weller near the end of Prohibition.

--Chuck Cowdery (http://cowdery.home.netcom.com)

Andy Traxel
05-08-2000, 19:05
There's no S.C. Herbst in the current Milwaukee phone book. I don't remember such a company in my 43 years here. My 79 year old father says he remembers the name but doesn't know anything about them.

How much of a hurry are you for info? Main branch of Milwaukee Public Library has lots of historical stuff. I may be able to do some digging there later this month. Also wonder if local Chamber of Commerce has any archival material. And State Historical Society in Madison.

This is interesting to me. I'm familiar with brewing history in the area. But I had no idea there was local involvement in the bourbon business. I wonder why they waited so long to bail out of the business.


05-11-2000, 12:51
No hurry. I'm interested in writing an article for a future issue of The Bourbon Country Reader (http://cowdery.home.netcom.com/page9.html), or for The Malt Advocate, if I can interest them in it. I got curious after reading about Herbst in Sally Campbell's book about her grandfather, Pappy Van Winkle, who owned Stitzel-Weller.

Here is what I know:

According to an article in the Wine and Spirits Bulletin, published in 1905, S. Charles Herbst, of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, was in business as a whiskey merchant as early as 1867, which seems impossible as I know he died in 1941. (The Wine and Spirits Bulletin was a trade journal published in Louisville between 1886 and 1918.) Herbst was certainly in business by 1901, when a listing in the Wine and Spirits Bulletin shows his brands as Benson Creek, Jno. E. Fitzgerald, and Old Judge. His first ad in that publication appears in 1904. By then, Herbst is selling Old Fitzgerald bourbon in Italy, Germany, France and England. He has offices in Chicago, New York, London, Paris, Berlin and Genoa. In 1913, a Herbst ad declares that his Old Fitzgerald and Old Judge are the last "Old Fashioned Copper Pot Distilled Whiskeys" being made in the United States.

In 1911, Mida's Financial Index shows Herbst as having his main office in Milwaukee and his principal distillery in Frankfort, Kentucky. The distillery is called Old Judge and its official designation is "Dy. No. 11, 7th Dist."

Apparently, he got out of the business because of Prohibition. Stitzel-Weller acquired the Old Fitzgerald brand, which was his leading seller.

The Milwaukee Public Library is probably your best first stop. Look for old business directories. Also check for references in newspapers and look for his 1941 obituary. He was probably a pretty prominent (i.e., rich) local citizen in his day, so you might even find a biography. FYI, my online search yielded nothing.

If you want to help me with this I'll be thrilled and grateful and will, of course, give you full credit.

--Chuck Cowdery (http://cowdery.home.netcom.com)

05-13-2000, 07:34
Chuck said...

According to an article in the Wine and Spirits Bulletin, published in 1905, S. Charles Herbst, of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, was in business as a whiskey merchant as early as 1867, which seems impossible as I know he died in 1941...
... Apparently, he got out of the business because of Prohibition. Stitzel-Weller acquired the Old Fitzgerald brand, which was his leading seller

In her book, "But Always Fine Bourbon", Sally Campbell credits Norman Hayden with a delightful story Pappy Van Winkle liked to tell about how the Old Fitzgerald label was acquired. Apparently Mr. Herbst had found himself in serious federal legal trouble as owner of a bonded warehouse where a government gauger and a security guard were caught removing whiskey from barrels and was ordered to bottle up the whole lot immediately. He sold it Stitzel-Weller and that's how Pappy came to own the brand. Since Old Fitz was the Herbst's major label at the time, I suspect that may be the point at which he left the business.

I thought it was interesting that the stories about how Old Fitzgerald got its name and how Pappy Van Winkle came to acquire the brand both revolve around employees in possession of the bonded warehouse keys.

I also checked Sam Cecil's new book, "Evolution of the Bourbon Industry in Kentucky" for further insight. Unfortunately, Sam's reference to the origins of the Old Fitzgerald name is the commonly held one, in which John Fitzgerald built the distillery, created the Old Fitzgerald, Old Judge, and Benson Springs brands, and then sold them to Herbst around 1900. Herbst had apparently been the distributor for the brands from the beginning. After selling to Herbst, Fitzgerald moved to Hammond, Indiana where he became superintendant of another distillery. Mr. Cecil doesn't specify which distillery that might have been. Herbst operated the plant until prohibition and then sold it to Stitzel-Weller (no mention is made of the circumstances). The history of the plant itself might be another fascinating BCR article. It went through a lot of changes, most of which involved various sons of Joe Beam.

-John Lipman-

05-18-2000, 06:45
Tell us more about Sam Cecil's book and how one might acquire it. I have great respect for Sam. Among other things, he is very knowledgable about the doings of the sons of Joe Beam.

--Chuck Cowdery (http://cowdery.home.netcom.com)

05-18-2000, 14:26
Sam's book is published by Turner Publishing in Paducah, Kentucky and is available at Amazon.com ( http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/search-handle-form/103-2627510-1580662 ("")), as well as at the Maker's Mark gift shop where I got my copy.

Of course you already know this but for others, Sam K. Cecil was the master distiller for Maker's Mark from when Elmo Beam died in 1955 until around 1980 when Sam retired, handing the reins to Steve Nally who's been at the helm ever since. Linda and I met Sam a couple years ago when this book was still "soon to be published". Sam knows everybody in the bourbon-making business and was especially close to Oscar Getz, who founded the Barton distillery and whose wonderful museum (now located at Spalding Hall in Bardstown) is probably the greatest repository of Kentucky Bourbonalia (is that really a word? Well it is now) in all the world. Getz wrote a heavily-illustrated scholarly book on the history of the bourbon industry prior to Prohibition, and Sam seems to have been greatly influenced by it's style. As I mentioned in my previous post, there is no index in this book, which I feel is nearly inexcusable in such a scholarly reference work, but it's still a wealth of information and no serious bourbon historian can afford not to have a copy.

-John Lipman-

05-19-2000, 12:36
Sam is also that rare individual who knows the industry inside and out, but who has no particular, ongoing connection to any one company, so he can and does talk honestly about all of them. I assume his book (which I just ordered from Amazon) is equally frank.

Early in his career, Sam worked at the J.W. Dant Distillery, and at T.W. Samuels, for Bill Samuels' father prior to the founding of Maker's Mark. Sam was the one who told me all about the sons of Joe Beam, whose collective influence on the industry was even greater than that of Jim Beam and his descendents.

--Chuck Cowdery (http://cowdery.home.netcom.com)

07-21-2000, 11:16
I have been meaning to send you this information for some time. While at United Distillers I found an old ledger from W.L. Weller abd Sons that shed some light on the acquisition of Old Fitzgerald from S. C. Herbst. I shared this information with Sally Campbell for her book and here it is for your article. In 1922 W. L. Weller and Sons gives a check to S. C. Herbst for $2,000 for the rights to Old Fitzgerald. They follow this with a second chek for $2,000 in 1925. The ledger ended in 1928 and no other listing for S. C. Herbst appears so they more than likely finished purchasing the brand in 1925.
Mike Veach