Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Brother aganst brother, rye against rye. Wild Turkey and Rittenhouse make some changes.....

As many in the American whiskey world have already known, two popular rye whiskies have had some changes recently.
Wild Turkey had a shortage of their rye, so the famous 101 proof whiskey became an anemic, pathetic, foul-tasting 81 proof. But to the relief of many fans, the 101 is back! Even though it is only available in a liter size in only a few markets, it is available once again for purchase.
A competitor to Wild Turkey Rye, Rittenhouse Rye is produced by Heaven Hill at 100 proof. This rye was made for many years, under contract, by Brown-Forman. The reason for this arrangement was due to the massive fire at Heaven Hill's Bardstown distillery that had them purchasing the Bernheim distillery a few years later. Supply was tight and Heaven Hill called on other distillers to help them out. Brown-Forman started distilling the Rittenhouse Rye did so until a few years ago. When Brown-Forman stopped, Bernheim started- but whiskey must age a few years before being bottled. The new Bernheim-produced rye has finally hit the market and bottles of the Brown-Forman-produced product will disappear.

Wild Turkey 101 old versus new:

This one is an interesting comparison since it's product from the same distiller, just 2 years difference. Many people that have gotten the new 101 say it's younger and they don't like it. While I won't say they're wrong, there is honestly just not that much difference. If the new 101 is younger, it's by months and not years. My wife and I detected a little more grain and spice on the new 101 and a tiny bit more oak on the old 101, but honestly, I've seen more bottle-to-bottle variance in mass production whiskies than this. Here's the other thing- Wild Turkey 101 Rye has been 4-5 years old for years. The new product has no age statement on it (Neither did the old 101), so by federal labeling standards, it must still be at least 4 years old. Is it worse than the old 101? In my opinion, absolutely not! It's still my favorite whiskey of all time!

Rittenhouse old versus new:

So here's the one with the big flavor change. Being a Bottled-In-Bond product, and also a Straight Rye Whiskey, old and new batches of whiskey can't be blended together to smooth the transition from one distiller to the other. The Brown-Forman rye always tasted like "Old Forester Rye" to me. It had those same earthy, maple, leather flavors that are in Old Forester products. It was really an enjoyable rye! The new Rittenhouse from Heaven Hill's Bernheim distillery is very different. It's bolder, spicier, drier, and a bit more grainy. I actually prefer this new rendition as I lean towards bold, dry whiskies. But it's not to say one is better than the other, they will just appeal to different palates. A warning though to the people that like the Brown-Forman Rittenhouse- the new stuff is much different, so don't have expectations of it being the same profile!


Saturday, December 7, 2013

I've been remiss in my posting duties. Again.

There have been some changes in my life recently that have kept me quite busy. I apologize for this, but it has left few moments for me to sit down and blog. Anyway, I haven't forgotten about Michter's. Just recently I was able to get to a public sale and save some more rare Michter's pieces for preservation. And just yesterday I got a very nice Pennco bourbon barrel head from EBay. The collection grows and changes monthly. I have been able to add some Continental pieces courtesy of Dave Ziegler. As always, I will post a picture of Pennsylvania whiskey history.......

 Dave and I "loading barrels" into the elevator at Kinsey/Continental.
 The haul from the sale. Pure Pennco/Michter's bliss!
One of the companies that Michter's tried to emulate was Jack Daniel's. Unfortunately, that nasty rot-gut is still made and Michter's is not. I don't understand how people could like something that tastes like bananas and bitter char over something that had the character of Old Forester with added rye bite and herbal overtones. But hey, this is the same nation that thinks compact discs sound better than records.....

Sunday, July 21, 2013

It's not all bad.........

 Well look at this. The still house has been completely repainted and repaired by the Barrys (Current owners of the Michter's Distillery site). This is a great thing to see and should stop the rumors that the entire site is going to be bulldozed. Even the wooden pump houses have been restored into a very nice condition. Unfortunately the future of the fermentation building and labs doesn't look so bright. They've been largely stripped out and it would certainly take a lot of cash to rehabilitate them. We can only hope they are deemed good enough to save! Here are some pictures I took today of the distillery:






The fresh paint on the Still House makes the fermentation building look a bit run down....
It's summer of 1986 all over again- A Shadow Blue 86 Mercury Capri GS parked along the road in front of the distillery. If only the Jug House was still selling fifths of Michter's today!


Sunday, July 7, 2013

Michter's tax straps......

I've had the advantage of collecting hundreds of Michter's decanters and glass bottles, some of which are still full, most of which are empty but still with a readable tax strap. For those of you that don't know what a tax strap is, it was a paper strap, usually red or green in color that was affixed over the opening of a bottle to show that taxes were paid on it and it is sealed properly. The tax straps faded slowly from existence in the mid-1980's after it was no longer mandatory in 1984. Before 1984, each tax strap (or "strip") had a number printed on it proving its legitimacy. I've started to slowly track the numbers on these strips on my Michter's decanters and glass bottles and I've discovered a few things:
1. Early Michter's bottles and decanters must've had multiple bottling locations. I've observed several different numbers from the same era on several early decanters. I was told by Dave Ziegler, who worked at Continental Distillery's Linfield location that he remembers Michter's Liberty Bell decanters being bottled there in the late 60's, early 70's.
2. It seems there was no hard changeover between sets of tax strap numbers. There seems to be a 1-2 year overlap and phase-in of the new number sets. However, this could also be due to bottling times (One product is faster moving than another or the release of a decanter was delayed after bottling).
3. There were multiple runs of decanters or bottles to use up empty stock. I've found decanters from the late 70's and early 80's with mid 80's tax straps on them- thus indicating a second or third run of decanters at a later date.
4. As we all know, with Michter's, strange is often the normal. I've seen some other oddball numbers here and there that have no logical explanation. I doubt we'll ever know why this is as the paperwork is all long gone. Everything I am writing here is from my own basic research and is still fluid. I often find new information that changes bits of pieces of what we know now.

So, here's a basic, first edition guide as to when each tax strap number appears. I only list the first two numbers as it defines the era with just that:

20, 28, and 35 are from the Pennco era (1950's to 1974 , 75)
55 and 58 is 1976-1978, 79
74 is 1978,79-around 1980, 81, 82
03 is 1980,81,82 to about 1984 85

No number is 1984,85 and later. 


Keep in mind too that in 1980, liquor bottles went from Pints, Quarts, and Gallons to the metric Milliliter and Liter. Again, the changeover was no instant, but it happened basically from 1979-1981.

Another item to note is around 1980, there was a small change in labeling. Before 1980, all decanter and bottle labels read "Decanter and Jugged By Michter's Jug House"- Indicating the whiskey inside was distilled by Pennco, Continental, or another distillery (Michter's used bulk whiskey for many years, just like the current-day Michter's Distilling Company in Kentucky). After 1980, there was whiskey available for bottling that was distilled in 1976 or later (1976 was when Michter's bought the distillery from Pennco and started making whiskey for themselves and others). This being the case, the new label "Distilled and Bottled by Michter's Distillery, Inc." was phased in over several years. Most, if not all glass bottles continued to receive the old label until the end of production. Some decanters also continued to retain the old wording as well. 

I have several fraudulent bottles in my collection as well. ALL of these bottles have tax straps that start with "03" as these were the last numbered tax straps left at the distillery when they shut down and were stolen during the era before the place was cleaned out properly. These bottles are often easy to spot. Generally the labels are the wrong sizes, missing, applied with thick paste glue, or even upside down! The "whiskey" inside ranges from anything from dyed water, dyed rubbing alcohol, to other brands of cheap whiskey. Often, too, the bottles are of the wrong shape and/or construction.

If you have any questions about the legitimacy of a bottle or decanter, feel free to send me pictures at bluecapriethan@gmail.com and I will give you as much help as I can!

Below are some pictures of correct tax straps on Michter's decanters.......









Additional note here: These "straps" are also more commonly referred to as "strips" or "stamps." I used the term "straps" as I felt it was best descriptive as to what they looked like and functioned like.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

I'm still here!

Don't worry, the blog isn't dead! I've been quite busy this spring and summer with other activities that I have not had time to sit down and construct a new entry of any educational value- and for this I apologize. I promise within the next few weeks I'll have something new and interesting to post on here! For now, enjoy this photo.......

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Michter's Early Marketing....

Exact text from the back of a Michter's "green" jug from the 1950's:

"The Story of MICHTER'S
Cradled in the Blue Mountain Valley of the Pennsylvania Dutch Country lies a unique distillery where ancient art and modern methods meet in making MICHTER'S POT-STILL SMALL TUB WHISKEY. From distant times and far places come the elements which produce this superb liquor. From the Provinces of France and the Highlands of Scotland come the traditional techniques used in making the finest Cognacs and Scotch Whiskies. From the fertile farms of America come the carefully selected Number One quality grains: from lake-studded Michigan, the hearty dry flavor of Rosen Rye; from the rolling fields of Pennsylvania, the mellowness of Lebanon County Corn; from the sun-warmed prairies of Dakota's Red River Valley, the richness of Barley Malt. Slowly and naturally dried, these special grains receive two successive distillations under rigid supervision. With painstaking care all harsh and bitter impurities and inferior liquors are removed, leaving the exclusive natural grain flavor and gentleness of spirits that distinguish a truly great whiskey. Sealed in custom-made casks, MICHTER'S ages naturally and unhurriedly in the cool quiet of old country warehouses, finally to be decanted and jugged- a rare and perfect whiskey for the most discriminating taste. The best SIX YEAR OLD whiskey we know how to make. Sole U.S. Agents: Louis Forman & Company Philadelphia, Pennsylvania"

And you thought over-wordy, over-the-top descriptions by distillers were a new thing?

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Pennsylvania VS. Kentucky.

Yes, it finally happened. The modern day Michter's Distilling Company has supposedly re-created the original Michter's Sour Mash whiskey made in Schaefferstown. I know I've been critical of the company, as have many others in the whiskey world, but let's investigate before throwing stones.....

According to Straightbourbon and a few other places, this was introduced several months ago as being on the market again for the first time in 20 some years. True for the name, not for the whiskey. This is not whiskey from Michter's Distillery in Schaefferstown, PA- let's make that clear. This is sourced whiskey from Kentucky. It is true that nothing called Michter's "Sour Mash" has been on the market since the early 90's.

Let's take a look at labeling:

1. The Schaefferstown bottle:
"Michter's Pot Still Original Sour Mash Whiskey"
2. The new bottle:
"Michter's Small Batch Original Sour Mash Whiskey"

Not much difference really. Both are labeled at 86 proof, with the Schaefferstown bottle saying "Distilled and Bottled in Pennsylvania" and the new bottle being labeled as "Bottled By Michter's Whiskey Company Bardstown, Kentucky 40004." Neither label hints at age or mashbill.

So how do senior and junior stack up?

Let's examine the Schaefferstown whiskey first:

We know this is a 50% corn, 38% rye, 12% barley malt whiskey aged in new or used barrels for 6 or more years. It came from either the small barrel-a-day pot still in the still house or the column-and-doubler main equipment in the still tower. WE MUST KEEP IN MIND THAT TIME HAS MOST LIKELY ALTERED THE FLAVOR SOMEWHAT OF THIS PRODUCT. My sample was stored in a decanter, which means it was exposed to some air over the years and it may have changed the flavor profile to a degree. I've compared it to several samples i have from other decanters and chosen this sample as the best representation of what I have. Because of this, I use this sample for comparative purposes only due to the excellent integrity of the flavor.

Color- Amber honey- Like my Yuengling Lager beer, maybe a little lighter. A beautiful sight indeed.
Nose- Char, maple and rye. Complex and reminiscent of Old Forester Signature. It's like an old cabin in the woods.
 Palate- Bitter. Rye-forward and earthy. Like Sazerac and Old Grand Dad mixed together. In the background is some nice spice- probably a product of the rye and yeast. This whiskey makes no compromises and stands in well with Wild Turkey or Old Forester of yesteryear.
Finish- Not too long, but the char remains that was evident in the nose. Maple and pepper are players here. It's like downing Ridgemont Reserve and breathing out slowly. It's good!

All in all, a robust whiskey for 86 proof. Very good stuff that we'll never be able to have again. Proof Dick Stoll was THE MAN in case anyone had doubts.....

 Now the new kid on the block- will he be hangin' tough?

Color- Same as the Schaefferstown sample, maybe a hare darker. A good start....
Nose- A little more vibrant. Fruitier and more tea and herbal tones. Still has that nice rye smell....
Palate- Sweeter for sure, but not too much. More syrup and citrus, but still earthy and herbal enough. More spry and vibrant.
Finish- Light wood and light sweets and sugar. As that fades, the tea flavors come back again to close it out. Very nice.

This is a good whiskey. At almost $40, it's steep, but it's also something out of the mainstream and is a wonderful 86 proof whiskey. Not your average bourbon Or rye for sure. It does seem to have many Heaven Hill traits.....

My conclusion- A very good whiskey and one that, considering the change in location, change in process, and gap in time, lives up to its Alma Mater pretty well. This is a whiskey for the Old Grand Dad, Wild Turkey, 1792, Woodford Reserve, Old Forester, Eagle Rare type folks. If this bottle was $25, I'd buy it by the case. Hopefully after the newness of the product wears off, there will be a price drop.....

Feel free to email me with any further questions!

To follow the saga and so I divulge some of my sources:

Michter's Sour Mash Whiskey on Straightbourbon

Michter's review