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  1. #1
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    Some help on AMS Special Reserve 1933

    A while back my brother and I purchased a few bottles of AMS / Special Old Reserve (BIB 1917/1933) distilled by Harry Wilken @ DSP 368. According to the bottle, this bourbon was specifically selected for the AMS shareholders. There is a similar bottle (not mine) on ebay right now
    http://cgi.ebay.com/ws/eBayISAPI.dll...%3AUS%3A1&rd=1

    I am curious to know a bit more about this and was wondering if anyone can help me better understand this bottling. Based on my own research, I've come up with quite a bit of conflicting information.

    For example, someone posted on this website about having a bottle of Sunny Brook from #368 -- but according to Sam Cecil's book -- Sunny Brook was #5/297.

    In same book, RD #368 is referenced as Elk Run, and Harry Wilkin (sic) is identified as manager and distiller (though in the next section Harry Wilken, "former distiller for Elk Run #368" had moved over to Mellwood by 1896). Cecil makes no mention of any affiliation to AMS (though he does note that
    the company sold out to KD&W -- which I assume is the Kentucky Distillers Association).

    So, can anyone put a bit more meat onto my bone of knowledge? FWIW, we did open a bottle and it wasn't bad. A bit woody, but definitely drinkable.

  2. #2
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    The thing to remember about prohibition is that when the distilleries closed in 1920, there was no distillation again until 1928. All barrels of whiskey were placed into "consolidation warehouses" chosen by the government for their ability to keep the whiskey safe from theft. There were just a few companies allowed at this time to sell the whiskey for "medicinal purpose" and those companies were:
    Brown-Forman (the only company still operating today as it was then)
    Frankfort Distillery
    Glenmore Distillery
    Stitzel Distillery (W.L.Weller and sons was able to piggy-back on Stitzel's license)
    And the two big ones
    Schenley Distilleries
    American Medicinal Spirits who became part of National Distillers in the mid 20's.

    Brands sold by these companies started out with their own whiskey, but by the late 20's whiskey was running short, thus in 1928 the government allowed some production to replenish dwindling stocks. Even so, many companies had to buy their whiskey from stocks of whiskey owned by people without a license to sell to keep the brand alive. That is what you have - a bottle of whiskey whose whiskey was bought from the stores of old whiskey and bottled as that brand because they did not have any of the original whiskey left after 13 years of non-production of the brand.

    The Wilken family was sort of Pennsylvania's version of the Beam Family in the 1930's. There were several members of the family that were distillers, just like their father's and grandfather's. Just after prohibition Schenley had a chance to purchase the Kessler name with the claim that he had sold more whiskey than any other person in the United States. Instead they opted to create the brand "Wilken Family" with the claim that why should they care about the person who sold the most whiskey when they had distillers in their Pennsylvania distillery that had made more whiskey than any other person in the United States. I think that if a distiller with a Beam master distiller had been large as Schenley at the time, they could have easily disputed the claim, but it soon became a moot point as the Wilkens retired and nobody in the family kept with the distilling business and the brand died to hardly nothing in the 1950's.

    Mike Veach

  3. #3
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    I'll supplement Mike's terrific answer with a couple of additional pieces of information.

    Distillers moved around a lot and in some cases were employed by several distilleries simultaneously, so don't be surprised if you see a distiller's name associated with several different plants.

    AMS was owned by the Wathen family, members of which had operated several distilleries. They are connected by marriage to the Medleys.

    Kentucky Distilleries & Warehouse Company (KD&W) was the Kentucky branch of the old Whiskey Trust that had bought up many distilleries throughout the U.S. beginning in the 19th century. During Prohibition, Seton Porter reorganized it as the National Distillers Products Company. He gradually bought into AMS, acquiring it completely in 1929. AMS was probably the largest single component of National, in terms both of whiskey stocks and brand names. Dick Wathen took a job with National and was the last of the Wathens to work in the liquor business.

  4. #4
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    Talking

    Chuck, do you know this stuff off the top of your head or do you have to refer to notes?

    BTW, I've been wondering this for a while!
    Tim

    I am going where streams of whiskey are flowing...

  5. #5
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    It seems that the "new" owners filled the post-prohibition whiskies (especially some old favorite brands from pre-prohibition) with remaining stocks from other distilleries that they owned. Many of these whiskies were distilled before the start of prohibition.

    By the way I do have some rye whiskey distilled at Gwynnbrook Distillery in the spring of 1921. Can this be correct? Were some distilleries allowed to produce at that time?
    Dave G.

  6. #6
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    Dave,
    The law was pretty clear - no distilling after 1920 I forget the exact date but it was like January 12th or 20th. Most distilleries were required to dismantle their distillery as well. That does not necessarily mean your bottle is wrong - it simply means the whiskey went into the barrel in 1921, not necessarily distilled on that date.

    Prohibition meant all whiskey hed to be put into consolidation warehouses. That does not mean all barrels were straight whiskey. The Bottled-in-Bond act was a moot point during prohibition. All whiskey got that tax stamp whether they met the requirements for Bonded whiskey or not. Remember, a large portion of America's whiskey was sold in the barrel before prohibition. This includes the blended whiskey and particularly Maryland rye which had many of its brands as blends and not straight whiskey. I suspect your bottle was blended and put into the barrel in 1921, probably by one of the companies that had the medicinal license to sell. It would still get the tax stamp during prohibition because the stamp was more of a paperwork trail of the whiskey for the government, than a bonded whiskey gaurantee.

    Mike Veach

  7. #7
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    Mike,

    This is a bottle of Mt Vernon Straight Rye Whiskey, The label reads...bottled in bond under the supervision of the U.S. Gov't.

    Distilled by Gwynnbrook Company

    American Medicinal Spirits Company

    The tax stamp clearly states..bottled-fall 1933.....made-spring 1921
    Dave G.

  8. #8
    Bourbonian of the Year 2002 and Guru
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    Quote Originally Posted by DrinkyBanjo
    Chuck, do you know this stuff off the top of your head or do you have to refer to notes?

    BTW, I've been wondering this for a while!
    Some of both. I remember the outlines of things but rarely remember exact dates and such. Sometimes a question will make me wonder and I'll research it real quick. One convenient thing is that my "research" frequently just means referencing my book or some article I have written, so I pretty much know exactly where to look.

  9. #9
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    Quote Originally Posted by dgonano
    .....made-spring 1921
    I agree with Mike, so that's a puzzler. A mis-print seems unlikely, though possible, considering that it was printed when it was bottled, obviously, and someone may just have been sloppy with the tumblers.

    Or, as Mike suggested and to paraphrase Bill Clinton, it depends on what your definition (or, rather, the government's definition) of "made" is. I doubt it sat in a tank from the time it was distilled until 1921, but someone could have "made" a blend in 1921 which, of course, would then have been rebarreled. It's certainly reasonable to assume that "made" meant "barreled" or, in this case perhaps, rebarreled.

  10. #10
    Bourbonian of the Year 2002 and Guru
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    Quote Originally Posted by bourbonv
    Prohibition meant all whiskey had to be put into consolidation warehouses.
    It should be noted that this did not happen immediately. In fact, the original Prohibition laws made no real provisions for what was to be done with all the whiskey that had been legally made. When you see old films of barrels being dumped and bottles being shattered those are, first, all staged photo ops and, second, all booze that was illegally produced or illegally obtained.

    So, what to do with whiskey, in barrels in warehouses, that had been legally made? The government couldn't seize it. The laws made no provision for doing that and didn't make any provision for buying it from the legal owners. It was private property. You weren't allowed to do anything with it although, interestingly enough, you could sell it, even though the person you sold it to couldn't legally do anything with it either, couldn't even take delivery because you couldn't transport it.

    Anyway, a lot of these warehouses were out in the country and not all that secure to begin with, considering how they're constructed, and the owners didn't have much incentive to provide security, so pilferage was rife, a big problem. People were very ingenious, with tunnels, pipes, hoses, pumps and such.

    So it was a couple years into the "noble experiment" before the consolidation warehouse idea was conceived and one of the stated purposes was to ensure that the whiskey would be kept safe so it would be available "for medicinal purposes." One requirement was that the consolidation warehouses had to be in urban areas where it would be easier to provide security.

    Talk about a world on its head. They didn't believe in the recreational use of alcohol but did believe in its medicinal use.
    Last edited by cowdery; 07-11-2006 at 21:55.

 

 

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