Friday, December 30, 2016

But wait, Ethan. You only collect Michter's!

Has he branched outside of Michter's for his collection? Has he gone nuts? No. Yes. But that's a different story. Back to this strange decanter....

 Here's an odd little gem. Original Proof Rye. While all the modern day distillers are touting their single barrels and barrel proof offerings, again, a little distillery in the PA countryside beat them to it. Yup. You guessed it- Pennco/Michter's. Looking at this decanter, you'll first notice a striking similarity to the original batch of Michter's "crocks" that were released from ~1957 until 1970. You'll see it has green text, it's the same size, and has the same glaze. On the bottom, it even has the mysterious #153 on it (Only thing I can figure is that that was the part number from the maker of the decanters at that time.). The only difference is the text. Note that this was a bottling sold by M. Lehmann, Inc. Not much info exists about this company, but it was most likely one of a plethora of wholesale distributors that had proprietary brands made for them. Note too that this dandy of a whiskey was a straight rye whiskey, unlike Michter's, which was always simply a "Pot Still Whiskey." So we know for sure what resided in this bottle. Note too that the bottle is numbered and the cask number is listed, along with a proof of 101.1. Pretty cool, especially considering the era in which this would have been bottled and sold! It's also a solid 6 years old, which, in my opinion, is plenty for a good rye. But 101.1 as original proof? Indeed. Distillery distillation proofs, and more often, barrel entry proofs have risen over the years. Michter's and their predecessors would enter whiskey into the barrel at much lower proofs than most modern distillers today. Dick Stoll told me that they for many years put the white dog into the barrels at 109 proof, later they rose to 115 proof. So an ending proof of 101.1 is certainly feasible or at least not that far off what it would've entered the barrel at. A keen eye would note that on the decanter, there is no mention of Michter's or Pennco, but only a "Hammer Creek Distilling Company, Schaefferstown, Pennsylvania." During the time this would have been bottled, Michter's only existed as a brand and not a distillery. The distillery that became known as Michter's was still called Pennco. I've written before about this subject, so I won't go in depth here. But, during the Pennco era, they went under many names. Hammer Creek is just another one. I have a binder full of Pennco labels, and I'd bet there are at least a half dozen or more names the distillery was using at that time. I don't know why this was done, but there must've been some purpose. This practice still remains today. Look at the back of a bottle of Evan Williams or Old Grand Dad and it does not say Heaven Hill or Jim Beam. We can only guess at how good the rye was inside this bottle, but, as history has shown us, there was little, if any, whiskey that left that distillery that wasn't spectacular. Without further ado, the pictures:

Saturday, December 24, 2016

A Merry Michter's Christmas

From my files. Not sure about the date, but this mailing came with paperwork that would lead me to believe this was 1983-1985 era.

Saturday, October 1, 2016

What's old is, unfortunately, new again.

In the throes of an economic recession in the late 70's to early 80's, Michter's was feeling the pinch. Note the references to tightening budgets and bank issues. Sound familiar? Even the reference to problems with the car makers. This letter came out during a time of transition for Michter's. This is when Mr. Veru took control of the distillery. Reading the letter, it's not hard to understand what was going to happen over the next few years. It is obvious now in reading it that there were problems. No new decanters, a few-weeks-long closure, and no Christmas wreaths for the customers. Things were indeed tightening. Unfortunately for Michter's, their economic situation never got better. Attached is the full mailing from July of 1981. I would not consider reprinting this form and mailing it to the listed address with your check. The prices are probably no longer valid........

Saturday, April 16, 2016

A PA Distilling Legend And His Wife Are Back In The Game!

Folks, never say never. Erik and Avianna Wolfe won't be kicked down and defeated. After the folks at the current day Michter's in Kentucky forced them to give up their Bomberger's name, there was some regrouping. And through that, Stoll and Wolfe whiskey was born. Stoll? Yes! THAT Stoll. No other than Mr. Richard Stoll himself. 26 years after padlocking Michter's outside Schaefferstown one last time, he's back. I am honored to say I know all of them, Dick's wife included- Elaine was a tour guide at Michter's and that is where she met Dick. Right now Stoll and Wolfe has sourced some excellent barrels to blend as their first release- under the direction of Dick. They are currently having more product distilled for them and they've been actively involved with the distilling and barreling process. Even the mashbill is of their own creation. What's next? A still is on order and space is being readied for a small distillery. Rye whiskey is of course going to be the main spirit. But I have it on good word that there may be some brandy and other typical American spirits coming from the still too. Folks, look forward to these products. Rye whiskey coming from the historical birthplace of what we now know as American whiskey (PA, NOT KY!) being distilled by and under the expertise of Mr. Stoll.  It will be good. No. It will be great. I promise. Watch for the launch of Stoll and Wolfe in Lititz, PA.

Below is a Q&A with the Lancaster Newspaper as printed April 5th 2016 and written by staff writer Chad Umble. I've copied it here in case it expires on the website...

Direct link:

"Erik Wolfe has had to give up on his dream of distilling Bomberger’s Whiskey in Lititz.
But a year and a half after a trademark dispute forced him to pull the plug on reviving that historic distillery, Wolfe is still making a name for himself in the craft whiskey world: his own.
Having partnered with a former distiller Dick Stoll, the 38-year-old Warwick High School graduate is now blending Stoll & Wolfe whiskey and bottling it in Lancaster.
And, within six months, Wolfe expects to actually be distilling Stoll & Wolfe whiskey at a new distillery in the rear of 35 N. Cedar St. in Lititz. A tasting room is also planned at the site.
“If you would have told us it would have been this route when we started, I probably wouldn’t have believed you, but it’s worked out well,” Wolfe said.
Wolfe and his wife Avianna were initially drawn to the idea of reviving Bomberger’s Whiskey, which had been made in Shaefferstown from the 1860s until Prohibition. That distillery eventually reopened as Michter’s, where Stoll was the master distiller until it closed in 1989.
In October 2014, Wolf, Stoll and their respective wives, Elaine and Avianna, released Bomberger’s whiskey.
But their use of that name was challenged by a company that filed for unused trademarks of Michter’s.
After a six-month halt to the business during which they re-labeled all their bottles, the partners returned with a new label with their own names.
Stoll & Wolfe is now distributed in several states and can be ordered online in Pennsylvania through the state Liquor Control Board’s website.
Wolfe declined to estimate sales so far, but a first bottling of Stoll & Wolfe produced 1,150 bottles. The product is available in five states.
“Our names may be on the bottle, but the amount of support that’s gone in to getting that there, you almost feel guilty that it’s just two people’s names,” Wolfe said.
Why did you leave a good marketing job you had in New York City?
I was in New York working Internet stuff and then Sept. 11 happened. I saw the second tower come down a quarter mile away. I watched it with my eyes. A lot of people were like, “What am I doing with my life. If it all ended tomorrow, what would I have to show? What have I done?”
For me I wanted to do something I could point to, that I could touch, that I had left a presence in some way.
So what did you do?
I left all that stuff and started working in food and hospitality. I was a director of marketing for a digital agency. By the time I left I was doing Fortune 100 campaigns and I went to being a busboy in a night club.
I was in my early 20s when I started doing that and that’s how Avianna and I met. As I was in that world, the local food movement really started to grow in New York and so much of that was so evocative of what I’d been surrounded by growing up.
How do you turn the inspiration about making whiskey into a reality?
With Avianna, we were actually coming home from visiting family. after one Thanksgiving break and talking about it. Within that car ride it went from “Wouldn’t that be cool” to by the time we were getting back to NY, it was “OK, let’s figure out how to do this.”
What were some challenges about starting out?
The hardest thing about getting in the distilling business is you can’t legally practice being a distiller. As a brewer, I could homebrew all day, I could invite you over to try my homebrew. As a distiller, that’s illegal.
Whiskey is (also) different than brewing where if I brew in a week, I have beer to sell. With whiskey, by law, to have straight whiskey, it’s a two-year process.
Another joke in the industry is that if you want to make a small fortune in distilling, it’s really easy. You just have to start with a really large fortune.
We’re very fortunate in that my wife had a house in Brooklyn that she was able to sell. It is through the proceeds of that plus the whiskey sales that we have made thus far that are funding this.
For us, we had to self fund because it was the only way. Nobody believes in us as much as we do.
How is your whiskey produced now?
Right now we’re sourcing whiskey that’s made in both Indiana and Wisconsin. Blending is a very proud tradition pre-Prohibition and in Europe with cognac and wine. That said, in the U.S. there’s been some pushback in the industry because folks in the industry are tempted to make it seem as though they’ve distilled the things they’re sourcing.
Even though we initially wanted to produce ourselves right out of the gate, because of the time it took to realize we were going to have to fund it ourselves, it did enable us to have proof of concept with the blend and to also really start to get that story out into folks minds.
Did you consider fighting to keep the Bomberger’s name?
We were advised that we could win but it was a lot of money. The reason that we got into this was to make whiskey and do preservation through production. So for us it made more sense to change the name.
How did the trademark suit affect you?
We had to stop in our tracks. We had been going about eight months. We were just getting traction. We were on menus at Robert De Niro’s restaurants in New York. We had all these amazing things happening. It’s like you just get started on your dream, and then the rug gets pulled out from under you.
For us there was never a question of stop, it was just how do we best preserve what we’re trying to do and continue. So for us it was always preservation through production.
What’s your attitude toward all your obstacles?
For us we come from a restaurant and food world where there’s not a question of, is there going to be an emergency? Is something going to go wrong? It will. How do you react to it? And I think in life in general it works that way too."

Also, Sam Komlenic wrote on March 25th on the Whisky Advocate blog about Dick and Erik doing distillation runs in Virginia:

Direct link with picutures:

Sometimes life takes us down strange paths. And sometimes it's amazing where they lead. Who knew that Dick would get another shot at doing what he does best!

 Obligatory Michter's Picture:

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!