Friday, December 19, 2014

How's that math again?

In 1978, Michter's made a decanter to commemorate Penn State's 39 consecutive winning years. The only problem? They did the math wrong on the 3 prototypes. It was caught before production started. Since all of the promotional items showed the decanter displaying 38 years, the distillery got a lot of calls and letters noting the error. According to the November 1978 "The Michter's Collector" newsletter, they decided to raffle only one of the three. This is that one. In the February 1979 newsletter, they note that a Mrs. Florence Suchcicki of Reading was the winner.

Direct text from the Nov. 1978 newsletter:

"Big companies, small companies, wise men, not so wise men. . . . everyone makes mistakes from
time to time. And we do too. One mistake was the first samples we got of the Nittany Lion
Decanters. The inscription on the front of the bottle read, 'Penn State Nittany Lions NCAA
Record For Most Consecutive Seasons Without a Losing Season 1939-1977 38 Straight Non.
Losing Seasons.
Well, think about it. 1939-1977 isn't 38 seasons, it is 39. Luckily for us, someone had called this to
our attention before the final production sample was produced and the final issue piece correctly
read as 39 straight non-losing seasons. Anyway, there were three samples made reading 38
seasons and one of these is going to be awarded to one of our Society members.
To qualify, send us the postcard which we have enclosed in this mailing (don't forget a 10' stamp)
to Post Office Box 481, Schaefferstown, Pennsylvania 17088, with your Society number printed on
the card. On the day after New Year's we will have a special drawing and one of you will be sent
this "mistake" of ours. It should be a welcome and "fun" addition to your collection. So, we
expect to see hundreds of post cards coming our way soon. Remember, January 2 is the
deadline, and the holiday mails are notorious."

Direct text from the Feb. 1979 newsletter:

 "As you will remember, in the last issue of The Collector, we invited all
members of the Michter's National Collectors' Society to send in a
postcard if they were interested in becoming eligible to win one of the
three incorrect samples of the Michter's Nittany Lion Decanter. Instead
of the correct "39 straight non-losing seasons," it read "38 straight non'
losing seasons." As was explained, this error was discovered before the
bottle went into production, and we thought this would be a unique prize
for one of our members.
Well, on Thursday, January 4,1979, Dr. Charles Hughes, a noted oral
surgeon from Camp Hill, Pennsylvania, and his lovely wife, Dorothy, both
early members of the Michter's National Collectors' Society, were kind
enough to come to the distillery and draw the lucky winner.
Florence Suchcicki, Society Number 246, from Reading, PA., 

whose card was drawn from the more than 2,000 received
is now the proud owner of
our "mistake." Florence not only received the
"odd" Nittany Lion Decanter but also a Certificate
of Authenticity, complete with corporate seal,
which is reprinted to the right."

I did not receiver the paper with mine, so it must've been lost over the years. The whereabouts of the other two decanters is highly in doubt as well since they were not only prototypes, but also mistakes.

Good at whiskey, bad at math- Michter's, the whiskey that warmed the Revolution!

Sunday, September 7, 2014

The Private Single Barrel Programs Are Nothing New.

As much as Michter's liked to emulate what worked for the competition (101 proof, square bottles, etc.), they also sometimes blazed their own trail. Displayed below is a complete mailing discussing the single barrel program that Michter's was rolling out. I am unsure of the exact date, but my guess would be 1979-1981 since it is marked T.D. Veru. Notice too how comprehensive the program is- Not only are you buying the barrel, but you actually get to pick the date your whiskey is put in a barrel and how long you age it. Most contemporary single barrel programs only allow you to buy an already aged barrel. Private tours will be made so you can visit your barrel and your name will be displayed in the Bomberger Warehouse as well. Included with the other information is a very handy cases per barrel calculator that shows you how much whiskey to expect after leaving your barrel age for so many years. When the whiskey was bottled, it was to receive special labels with your name on it as well. A second option, "for the impatient" is that they had 300 barrels of whiskey available that were aging since 1976 (About 3-5 years by the time of this mailing) and could be purchased for single barrel bottling. A few other last notes of interest on this program:

1. It was only available to in-state residents. I figure this is because of the PLCB laws.
2. The whiskey would be bottled at 115 proof (Barrel entry proof).
3. They recommend at least 6 years of aging (That is what Michter's was generally bottled at).

I have no idea how many, if any, people took part in the program. If anyone did, I wonder if their barrels were still there when the distillery shut down in 1990. Talk about a huge loss of money!

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Enough About Me. What About You?

I know I'm not the only one out there that has Michter's stuff. I've seen pictures or heard of other collections. If you've got stories, photos, a collection, or anything Michter's related that you'd like to share, drop me a line and I'd love to hear or see it! It's all of our cumulative stories, information, and items that tell the history of Michter's!

Here's a great photo of the guys enjoying some Michter's around barrel number one! The whiskey was only half of the Michter's story. It was the people that made it great.

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 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.