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View Full Version : Michter's pot stills, where are they now?



jinenjo
05-14-2008, 22:53
This is a question for Chuck, Bettye Jo, or others in the know or simply in Kentucky.

In Chuck Cowdery's book Bourbon, Straight he mentions the still that used to run at Michter's in Pennsylvania were now in the possession of members of the Beam family. Supposedly for use in a micro-distillery operation.

What ever came of that?

cowdery
05-15-2008, 11:36
As far as I know, it's still sitting in a couple of small buildings next to the My Old Kentucky Home Motel in Bardstown, across the street from the General Nelson. David Beam used to own the motel and one of his sons ran it. They sold it a couple of years ago but still own an adjacent piece of property. There's a building with a couple of apartments in it and, next to that, the distillery equipment.

It's set up as a display. It never has been "hooked up" since it came to Kentucky and probably never will be.

For the benefit of those who don't know the story, this is a small, one-barrel-a-day pot still distillery that Michter's installed in 1976, in conjunction with the U.S. bicentennial. The whiskey made in it was sold, un-aged, as a novelty. This is not the whiskey that was sold as A. H. Hirsch, which was not actually pot distilled, despite claims to the contrary.

David Beam bought it and moved it to Kentucky several years after Michter's closed and after David retired from Jim Beam. That was about ten years ago. It consists of two stills, a cooker, several fermenters and various holding tanks.

Tricky
05-15-2008, 19:05
As far as I know, it's still sitting in a couple of small buildings next to the My Old Kentucky Home Motel in Bardstown, across the street from the General Nelson. David Beam used to own the motel and one of his sons ran it. They sold it a couple of years ago but still own an adjacent piece of property. There's a building with a couple of apartments in it and, next to that, the distillery equipment.

It's set up as a display. It never has been "hooked up" since it came to Kentucky and probably never will be.


^ Thanks Chuck, I love these extra little tid-bits of information.

jinenjo
05-16-2008, 18:59
Yes, thank you Chuck. I wasn't aware the still was not part of Michter's commercial production.

doubleblank
05-17-2008, 08:22
There are pics here at SB of the still. A group of SB'ers went over and looked at it one evening while hanging out at the Gazebo. Someone took pics of us standing by it and posted them here. Probably three years ago at either the Sampler or the Fest.

Randy

bobbyc
05-18-2008, 13:47
Randy pointed out there are pictures of the stills on a Sampler thread. Turns out it was 2004.

http://www.straightbourbon.com/forums/showthread.php?t=2553&page=2

cowdery
05-18-2008, 16:44
John Ed Beam, David's son who participates here from time to time, was with us, as was Craig Beam. I remember that Craig's wife and some of her girlfriends arrived and busted him.

NorCalBoozer
08-28-2008, 12:40
I'm curious...and likely there may not be a solid answer....

Chuck had mentioned that Michters "pot still" whiskey actually used a column still with a pot still doubler. That is certainly validated by the links to press articles and pictures.

From the pictures it looks quite big, so the initial intent must've been to use it in production, don't you think?

What stumps me is why in the heck would they purchase a commercial grade pot still and then not use it? Doesn't seem they would just have it around for looks or to be part of the Michter's tour.

Did Michter's ever make true pot still whiskey?

Is so, why did they stop?

If not why?




Greg

cowdery
08-28-2008, 13:20
Michter's, which for most of its history was called Bombergers, was a conventional whiskey distillery. It had a continuous, column-type beer still and a conventional doubler, which is a type of pot still. The first distillation was done in the column then a second distillation was done in the doubler. This is exactly like every other whiskey distillery in Kentucky and Tennessee except Woodford Reserve, which uses alembics.

As far as I know, since they have little resale value, both the column and the doubler are still there.

But even though the whiskey Michter's sold as "pot still" whiskey wasn't, they did make pot still whiskey.

Michter's, especially after the American whiskey business started to tank in the late 1960s, struggled to stay in business. In imitation of Jack Daniel's it made a big effort to promote tourism. In 1976, as part of the U.S. bicentennial, they had Vendome make for them a complete one-barrel-a-day distillery, which included two alembic stills, a larger beer still and a smaller spirit still. It also had its own fermenters, cooker and everything else. It was a complete, self-contained, small scale distillery. They thought this would enhance their tourism appeal. They operated it, but since it only produced a barrel a day, they didn't get much out of it to sell. What they did get they sold as white dog, consistent with the historical nature of it, since whiskey in 1776 would not have been aged.

Today, that distillery sits across the street from the General Nelson in Bardstown. It is owned by David Beam, retired Jim Beam distiller and son of Carl Beam, who was the son of Park Beam, Jim Beam's younger brother.

NorCalBoozer
08-28-2008, 13:52
Thanks for the knowledge Chuck!

ahh, so basically the only true pot still whiskey Michter's made was through this small one barrel per day tourist distillery and none of it was ever aged and the pot still and equip David Beam has is from the small tourist distillery?

Also all of the retail aged "pot still" whiskey and bourbon (bottles, figurines) went through the conventional still process and Michter's never really made a true retail pot still whiskey for distribution?

BourbonJoe
08-28-2008, 17:14
As far as I know, since they have little resale value, both the column and the doubler are still there.



The column still and doubler are long gone. Probably sold for the copper scrap value.
Joe :usflag:

cowdery
08-29-2008, 12:14
Thanks for the knowledge Chuck!

ahh, so basically the only true pot still whiskey Michter's made was through this small one barrel per day tourist distillery and none of it was ever aged and the pot still and equip David Beam has is from the small tourist distillery?

Also all of the retail aged "pot still" whiskey and bourbon (bottles, figurines) went through the conventional still process and Michter's never really made a true retail pot still whiskey for distribution?

That's the gist of it, yes.

Although it is possible to make bourbon without doubling, and it has been done, any bourbon made with doubling, as most is, can technically be called "pot still" because the doubler is a pot. However, most people hearing pot still think alembic and assume the entire distillation was done using alembics, as is the case with single malts. That's why I object when anyone, such as most of the new craft distillers, says their product is "made in pot stills" when it's not made 100% in alembics. Most of the craft distillers, for example, are using a batch (i.e., pot) still with a rectification column like a column still. Technically, it's still a pot still but it's not an alembic and, therefore, not a pot still the way most people understand a pot still.

It is, for example, impossible to make vodka using only alembic stills, so "pot still vodka" is impossible, but you see plenty of people claiming to make it.

cowdery
08-29-2008, 12:18
The column still and doubler are long gone. Probably sold for the copper scrap value.
Joe :usflag:

I'm not surprised. Usually anything with copper content is salvaged.

doubleblank
09-03-2008, 08:07
Reading this thread triggered my memory of a flyer put out by Michter's related to their "one barrel a day" still. The attached is a scan of the cover page. Inside they offer to sell you an entire barrel. Michters would age it and bottle it on the date you selected. There is even a table showing how many bottles you could expect to be produced from ageing it xxx number of years. They get paid up front.....I don't have the mailer in front of me, but it was about $2,000. That's pretty expensive back in the '70's. It was to be bottled at the original barrel entry proof of 115 per the brochure. I have never seen or heard of any of this ever actually seeing the light of day.

Pretty cool idea from back then.......I believe BT is considering doing the same with their "experimental" still.

Randy

NorCalBoozer
09-03-2008, 11:44
Reading this thread triggered my memory of a flyer put out by Michter's related to their "one barrel a day" still. The attached is a scan of the cover page. Inside they offer to sell you an entire barrel. Michters would age it and bottle it on the date you selected. There is even a table showing how many bottles you could expect to be produced from ageing it xxx number of years. They get paid up front.....I don't have the mailer in front of me, but it was about $2,000. That's pretty expensive back in the '70's. It was to be bottled at the original barrel entry proof of 115 per the brochure. I have never seen or heard of any of this ever actually seeing the light of day.

Pretty cool idea from back then.......I believe BT is considering doing the same with their "experimental" still.

Randy

That's very cool Randy, and certainly a very important document in terms of Michter's history. Does it specifically talk about the whiskey coming from the one day a barrel still? Maybe that was the only still that was operating at the time, i'm guessing?

I find the Michter's story very interesting. Such good whiskey, then to hit bad times, then to go through the turmoil of several owners and ideas, then no owners, then basically waste away with whiskey just sitting there.

Regarding BT's experimental still....that would be cool if they do let people buy and age a barrel. Especially if they let you choose many of the different factors such as recipe, entry proofs, etc.

The pictures I've seen of the BT still show it as a hybrid pot still with a column on top. It does look like it could be changed out for a true pot still top though.

Greg

doubleblank
09-03-2008, 14:41
Yes Greg, the brochure said the whiskey would come form their "one barrel a day" still. You could even ask for a specific distillation date, ie your birthday and you'd get that days production. I'll look for the brochure tonight and see if there is anything else of interest to add to this post.

In various communications, Mark Brown has said that the experimental still would be available for customers to be involved in the process. Like selecting the mashbill, etc. I've not followed up and seen if BT has started this program. I'll ask some of the BT people at the Fest if I see them.

I also think the Kulsveens are going to offer a "custon distillation" program once they start distilling.

Randy

cowdery
09-05-2008, 00:11
Actually, Greg, it was the other way around. They stopped operating the barrel-a-day still when they abandoned tourism but they were running the "real" distillery to the end. That's why there were thousands of barrels in the warehouses when the owners skipped.

As anyone who has read my Reader (http://bourbonstraight.com) series on the Michter's story knows, most of the questions have been answered. Nobody, including the principals, has disputed any of my findings.

NorCalBoozer
09-05-2008, 10:47
Actually, Greg, it was the other way around. They stopped operating the barrel-a-day still when they abandoned tourism but they were running the "real" distillery to the end. That's why there were thousands of barrels in the warehouses when the owners skipped.

As anyone who has read my Reader (http://bourbonstraight.com) series on the Michter's story knows, most of the questions have been answered. Nobody, including the principals, has disputed any of my findings.

Chuck, I'm a little slow sometimes. :grin: There is a lot going on with this story and all the different owners,etc.

Thanks for mentioning your reader....I knew I had it somewhere but I'm not the best record keeper and figured I would never find it, but yesterday I did locate it and I'm looking forward to re-reading it over the weekend.

Thanks!

Greg

cowdery
09-05-2008, 12:18
It is complicated. That's what made researching it so difficult and why I decided to write it all down in the first place. What became a two-part (I think it was two) story in the Reader began as me trying to write everything down in one place just to keep it straight in my own mind.

BourbonJoe
09-05-2008, 18:02
It is complicated. That's what made researching it so difficult and why I decided to write it all down in the first place. What became a two-part (I think it was two) story in the Reader began as me trying to write everything down in one place just to keep it straight in my own mind.

An excellent treatice on the subject.
Joe :usflag: