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  1. #1
    Bourbonian of the Year 2002 and Guru
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    Michter\'s Mystery Solved

    In various previous threads, we have wondered about Michter's calling its product "pot still whiskey" when, except for the small still installed in 1976, they clearly were using a column still. Many had speculated that they were claiming their whiskey was "pot still whiskey" because they were using a pot still doubler--exactly like everybody else.

    Now it can be revealed. That is, in fact, the answer, as explained here in a Michter's tourist brochure. This brochure and a lot of other cool stuff can be found at this web site run by a descendant of the distillery's founder, Abe Bomberger.
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  2. #2
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    Re: Michter\'s Mystery Solved

    Why was Michter's not called bourbon, and what is the relation of Hirsch Bourbon to this distillery?

  3. #3
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    Re: Michter\'s Mystery Solved

    Hirsch bourbon was distilled at Michters distillery in PA.

  4. #4
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    Re: Michter\'s Mystery Solved

    My understanding is that Michter's American Whiskey couldn't be called bourbon because it was aged in used bourbon barrels. Bourbon must be aged in new, charred, white oak barrels. There's a Michter's 10 year bourbon on the market in addition to the American Whiskey label.

  5. #5
    Bourbonian of the Year 2002 and Guru
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    Re: Michter\'s Mystery Solved

    If you can make it through The Bomberger Legacy Web Site most questions will be answered. Hirsch is whisky made at Michter's in Pennsylvania. Micthers American Whiskey is not.

  6. #6
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    Re: Michter\'s Mystery Solved

    First, thanks, Chuck, for unearthing the important historical information on Michter's whiskey.

    This material answers questions some of us had; here are some not answered, however:

    Where did the Michter's name come from? Unless I missed it, there is no reference to that. My understanding was a Michter owned the distillery sometime before 1920 but whether this was before the Bomberger ownership, or is even true, is not clear.

    Second, the word rye is mentioned only once in these materials. The question whether, as I believe, Michter's was a rye whiskey (made predominantly from rye and a "straight" by today's standard) before 1920 is not addressed nor are the specific formulations which Bettye Jo's uncle developed in the 1950's. I believe, based on what Bettye Jo has written over the years, that these included a rye whiskey and other straight whiskeys including the "original sour mash" mentioned in these materials.

    Third, there is no mention of Louis Forman or his role in reviving the operation in the early 1950's (because it had not operated between 1920 and about 1954).

    Fourth, thousands of barrels (did I read 300,000?!) of whiskey were at the warehouse as late as 1994. Where did it all go to? The Hirsch bottlings have only been (relatively) a trickle and only from 1974 production..

    Clearly though an important question IS solved - Michter's evidently used a continuous and doubler method of distillation. Chuck has noted this is common in whiskey production yet these materials imply (I guess wrongly) that there was something special about pot distillation at Michter's. Bettye Jo has speculated the 1976 pilot plant pot still now lodged in Bardstown with members of the Beam family must have been made to mimic a true pot still actually used at Michter's. I think that is right but probably that original pot still (or stills if they used two, Scots-style) was used before 1920. That is, when the plant was set up again in the early 1950's I would think the continuous and doubler methods were adopted. The pre-1920 presumed original pot stills (wash and spirit stills) had been long gone by then, I would think.

    Also, note that Michter's was distilled at a rather high 156 proof which does not seem to have affected mid-1980's opinion of it as an article of high repute (which I'm sure it was as can be seen from the Hirsch 16 and 20 year olds).

    Low distillation proof in and of itself seems to be one factor in making good whiskey but so I would think are wooden fermenters and cold-cutting of grain used at the time at this plant, not to mention that historical Michter's yeast (although was it really brought direct from the home country...?).

    Great research, Chuck: we all who enjoy whiskey thank you for finding it and must feel sadness that such a venerable operation had an ignominious end.

    Oh and one more thing: note the casual statement in the materials that the Shenk who first made Michter's whiskey - a rye whiskey as it surely then was - was a Swiss Mennonite who brought the recipe with him from (presumably) Switzerland. And that the one place in Europe Michter's was sold in the 1980's was Germany. The latter-day Germans had a taste for it because, I think, they recognised an echo of their own korns and other whiskeys that are and used to be made from rye. This was the old unflavoured "straight" rye spirit, not flavoured with juniper as took favour especially in Holland (and of course Germany to a degree), not over-refined as happened to most vodka but essentially rye whiskey, transplanted arguably to America by German-speakers familiar with rye distillation. The Scots-Irish, English and Welsh (because spirits were made all over what is now Britain in the 1700's) clearly contributed their distillation skills to what became rye and bourbon whiskey in America but they left the barley behind - for whiskey. It wasn't that there was no barley in America - it was grown here even then and is used extensively in American beer production - but taste in whiskey shifted (I believe) to this new Germanic-type distillate. In time it became rye whiskey and then, in a further evolution, bourbon. Yes (I know some will remind me) rye likely grew better than barley in Pennsylvania, Maryland and Virginia so it was natural to select that grain instead of barley. But I think that is only part of the story.

    This material, sketchy as it is, suggests to me that American rye whiskey really is Germanic in origin. Bourbon is all-American because it was developed in America and is made mostly from Americas-originated corn. Yet, the rye in rye-recipe bourbon and its powerful influence on the taste testify to this day to a specific European influence on American whiskey - a Continental Germanic one, not a British one, IMO.

    Gary

  7. #7
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    Re: Michter\'s Mystery Solved

    Shoot...I deleted my previous post to add this to it. It's not there now so I will start over but not in length.

    I will restate that I think that there was a "Original" pot still. Why would they go through all the trouble of making one for the public to view the pot still method? The one in Bardstown is a "mimic" of the original one? Or could someone give the wrong information and it ended up in print as fact?

    The sign on that tank is clearly a "Add on"...It's not the original sign. That tank was used for something else and they painted over it. I know from experience how things change. I was trained as working foreman and tank change operator. Rules were inforced in your head that "this is the way it's done"---no exceptions---then---the rules were changed again . The rules governing the process have changed so much that I would not attempt the job unless they gave me a refresher course

    Uncle Everett, was Master Distiller there, 40+ years. It seems that my family of distiller's has been lost again.

    In Uncle Everett hand written note---QUOTE---I wrote this letter to Michters Inc. the oldest distillery in the U.S.A. established in 1753 and still in operation at the same site recently to the new owners who are unfamiliar with the industry. They verified all I have said and I am in the process of setting up a small operation for them. He is most famous for his "Rye Whiskey". I have posted a picture of him in front of a milestone barrel here somewhere on these forums.

    His children are still around. If I get time this week---I am off from work until Monday---I will call and add to this...

    They wrote this about him in the local paper in PA right after he retired.

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  8. #8
    Bourbonian of the Year 2004 and Guru
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    Re: Michter\'s Mystery Solved

    the rest of the story...
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  9. #9
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    Re: Michter\'s Mystery Solved

    Thanks Bettye Jo, and that's a great picture.

    Gary

  10. #10

    Re: Michter\'s Mystery Solved

    The current Michter's American whiskeys are distributed by Chatham Imports of NY, and the Michter's name, according to the KY Secretary of State's website, is registered to Kentucky Bourbon Distillers.
    Michter's KY Registration
    I have some of the original Michter's whiskey that I've poached off of Ebay over the last year or so (Gazebo fare, maybe? -- I'll give that some thought) -- otherwise, the only way to try it is the Hirsch bottlings.

 

 

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