Sunday, August 9, 2015

Collecting Michter's- The Basics For Beginners.

First are foremost, apologies for the long delay between posts. Spring and summer were busy, so certain things got neglected. This was, unfortunately, one of them.

Collecting Michter's. If you're going to collect Michter's items, you've got to start somewhere. And you've got to define what you want to collect and how much of it. Here are a few hints and things to contemplate when starting your Michter's collection. Some of these ideas can apply to collecting almost anything as well.

Starting the collection:
    Sometimes it can be hard to know where to start. First and foremost, define the depth and breadth of what you want to collect- just jugs, just decanters, paperwork, signage, barrels, just pot still decanters, or in my case- everything! Understand that collections take up money and space. If you don't have much space, I recommend concentrating on certain decanters like the jugs, hex items, or Tuts. Or even postcards and cups and ashtrays. Once you've got a groundwork down of what you want, plan a budget and also decide how much of each item you want. You can get carried away really quickly and tear through cash and end up with cases of Conestoga Wagons. Trust me. I know. Remember too that Michter's items vary widely in price and availability. Most common decanters can be picked up for $20 or less. Full glass bottles and rare decanters regularly exceed $100 each and are very uncommon. If you want to grow a small collection quickly into a nice display, I highly recommend pursuing common decanters. You can read my other posts to get a good idea of the rarity or commonality of most Michter's items. Another thing to think about is having good storage and display places for your collection. Dampness, sunlight, and extreme cold or heat will rapidly damage your items. Decanters crack or tarnish. Labels fade and peel, and paperwork can become moldy or bent. Don't use cheap shelves to display decanters. Even empty, they are heavy and can fall and smash and/or cause injury. Make sure your display/storage areas are safe and secure so your investment does not get destroyed. Keep in mind too that you will want to dust and clean your collection now and then to keep them looking mint. Dust can easily be removed with a Swiffer cloth or used dryer softener sheets. Unless you've got stubborn dirt on your decanters, I would not recommend Windex or other cleaners due to the possibility of them harming the paper labels. If you do have stains or dirt, use cleaning products sparingly and only on the dirty area so as not to harm the labels.

Where to buy Michter's items:
    Geography comes into play when trying to find Michter's items. I am fortunate to be close to the Schaefferstown site, so it's relatively easy to find stuff around here. Public sales can be an excellent source of all sorts of Michter's stuff if you're in eastern Pennsylvania. Craigslist sometimes yields results as well. For those that are not fortunate enough to be local to eastern PA, there is always EBay! You'll have to pay for shipping and risk damage in transit, but if items are packed properly, they should make it to you just fine. Even with the steady sources of Michter's around me, I still buy frequently on EBay as well. Prices are generally reasonable, and you just never know where in the USA items will show up. It's quite convenient! However, be prepared for bidding wars on uncommon and unusual items. I sometimes have surplus decanters. If you're looking for inexpensive, common decanters, contact me and I'll see what I've got.

So there's a crash course on collecting Michter's. Hopefully it gives you something to contemplate and a basic starting point for your collection. Good luck!

 You may wonder how I started my collection. It started with two jug decanters:

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

25 years ago....

This past Valentine's Day, amid all the love and happiness, there was one event that, outside the world of American whiskey, went unnoticed. On February 14th, it's been 25 years since Michter's was in operation. It was Valentine's Day 1990 when Dick Stoll and the crew locked the doors one last time. Much has changed in 25 years. Dick is still with us, as is his wife Elaine (Who was a tour guide.). So are a handful of other employees. And the myriad of decanters! And the cups, hats, trays, lighters, aprons, postcards, lamps, barrels, and other Jug House trinkets. Even the "Barrel-a-day" still is in use in Ohio by the Herbruck family at Tom's Foolery Distillery. The property, however, has vastly changed. Due to neglect over the last 25 years, most of the buildings had to be taken down. The Bomberger Warehouse, Warehouse B, Warehouse C, Warehouse D, the column still tower, the grain drying building, the Jug House, and the Grain and Fermentation buildings are all gone. Only the Still House, gauging building, Warehouse A/Rectifying and Bottling, and 2 of the pump houses stand. And I must say, they DO look the best they've looked in 25 years. The Barry family put the correct windows back in the Still House and everything still standing got a nice coat of paint. Even the hex signs were redone on the top of the Still House. I must commend them for doing that. While it is a shame that the other buildings were removed, they were a hazard and most likely in too bad of condition to save. So on Valentine's Day, I had to do one thing- go visit the distillery with a bottle of the finest Sour Mash ever made!

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.
I was asked to identify the men in the photo. I consulted Elaine Stoll and she was able to identify all of them. From left to right: George Shattls, Warren Wike, Dick Stoll, Bill Krause, and Paul Betz.

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.....