Monday, February 2, 2009

Is Ten High No Longer A Bourbon?

First Blagojevich, now this. How much humiliation can Illinois take?

Ten High Straight Bourbon Whiskey has been demoted to a blend, at least in some markets.

Hiram Walker’s Ten High Bourbon was, in its heyday, a proud product of Peoria, Illinois. It was made there at the largest whiskey distillery in the world. Peoria, Pekin and other Illinois towns had significant whiskey industries on both sides of Prohibition.

Ten High was popular as one of the better cheap bourbons. The name refers to a barrel storage location at least ten ricks high, as barrels in the upper part of the aging warehouse mature faster. It was always just a name, never an actual barrel location promise, but it was meant to communicate quality.

Hiram Walker was the Detroit grocer who created Canadian Club whiskey in the 19th century, at his distillery across the border in Canada. When Prohibition ended in 1933, Hiram Walker and Sons, Inc., then owned by a guy named Harry Hatch, decided to reenter the newly-legal U.S. market in a big way. Their Peoria distillery made Walker’s DeLuxe and Ten High, both straight bourbons; Imperial Whiskey, a popular blend; and other Hiram Walker products.

Peoria paid off for about 35 years, until the American whiskey market suddenly tanked in the late 60s. The distillery closed in 1981. (Today it makes ethanol for ADM.)

They had actually stopped distilling there several years before and then slowly emptied the warehouses as the whiskey in them matured. Ten High production then shifted to Kentucky. Eventually, Hiram Walker was sold for parts and Ten High was acquired by Chicago’s Barton Brands, whose obituary I wrote a few weeks ago.

Recently a friend of mine in upstate New York bought a bottle of Ten High and, when he got it home, discovered that instead of "Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey," the label said, "Bourbon Whiskey - a Blend."

Straight bourbon is all whiskey. A bourbon blend is about half whiskey, half vodka.

Some people like that sort of thing, but since vodka isn’t aged, blends are much cheaper to make.

My friend was told by his whiskey monger that the straight has been discontinued. He wondered if this was some depredation by the brand's new owner, but I assured him it can't be Sazerac's fault, as that deal won't even close for another month or so.

The Constellation Spirits web site still shows the only available expression of Ten High as being the 80-proof straight bourbon. So does the Binny’s web site.

The bourbon is still one of your better cheap whiskeys. I can’t speak for the new blend.

19 comments:

Peter said...

The "new" Ten High is like the "New Coke" - crap. It tastes musty, and I'm bummed... Ten High was my ace-in-the-hole everyday bourbon. My "treat" bourbon is Jack Daniels - which technically isn't really a bourbon, but'll pass in my house.
Puleeez, fellow bourbon drinkers, write to Barton Brands or their successors. It's a crime to make Ten High just a bourbon-flavored "Barton Reserve" [their cheapo brand of rye].

Chuck said...

I used to drink this when I was working for a friend in the late seventies and early eighties. I bought a liter today and am very sorry I had to pay for this crap. I will continue to pay a premium for the new favorite "Jameson" even though it is an import. Chuck

ehmdubya said...

I just bought my first bottle of Ten High last week. 1.75l for under $14. Label says 'Straight Sour Mash - Bourbon Whiskey'. I'm going back for more, but I'll look at the label more closely before I throw it in the cart.

Dennis T said...

I thought only Canadians made this kind of swill!I switched to Evan Williams straight BOURBON whiskey.

Anonymous said...

I was a Ten High drinker for years in the late 70's to 1990. At one point I drank a liter of Ten High a day. OK, I know that was wrong. For reasons that I care not to mention other than to say I am medically at the point where it matters not anymore I decided to resume drinking. A friend bought me-after much looking on her part-a bottle of Ten High. I would rather have drank Pine Sol. A sad day it is indeed. Like the great Ozymandias, an old and grand institution has fallen. Not only is Ten High no longer a bourbon, it is so vile so as to not even qualify for a decent paint thinner. Shame on those responsible!

Toetapper said...

Well, I have good & bad news; guess I'll start with the bad: As I was reading this blog, it occurred to me that my drink was tasting "funny" and I looked at the Ten High label to discover that it read, "A Blend". I had experienced this a couple of times before but attributed it to having changed mixers. The good news: I went to the Pa. L.C.B site to find that Ten High is still listed as a straight Bourbon. Further, I checked the label on the other bottles I have in the que to and they all read that they are a "Straight Sour Mash Bourbon Whiskey". Those of you in Pa. must start checking your labels; someone is sneaking some knock-off dreck onto our shelves.

Chuck Cowdery said...

Interesting. It's up to the distributor which Ten High they will distribute in their area but they're not supposed to have both. In theory, then, you should never see both types in the same store or, for that matter, the same market. But things happen.

Bill said...

Ten High USED to one of the premier bourbons I enjoyed. No longer. It just tastes like a knock off of some cheap whiskey. There are fine true straight bourbons on the market at a very good price that I now enjoy.

Anonymous said...

So, is the original TEN HIGH still available?

Chuck Cowdery said...

It depends on where you are. In some states it's still straight bourbon, in others it's blended bourbon.

Anonymous said...

Bought my first bottle of ten high the night before last,because it was a buck cheaper than early times, and came in a glass bottle instead of the el cheapo plastic that swill is normally sold in. Save yourselves much anguish and remorse, don't buy it, stick to evan williams, my usual staple, this was not the straight bourbon ten high, but the blend, which sent red flags up, but i bought it anyway. It tastes like celery seed- infused vodka. $8.99 but still not worth it for a fifth.

Tim-mon said...

Over the last several years I've enjoyed Early Times when visiting my Father. So much so, in fact, that I had recently taken to drinking Costco's Small Batch and Maker's Mark in my own home. My father does not drink any longer due to health issues, and on my most recent visit there I found a bottle of Ten High (noticed it was the blend, but at the time that meant nothing to me) in his cabinet, instead. He's 85 and I don't think he realized he bought the blend.
The first word that came to my mind when I tasted the Ten was, kerosene.

Anonymous said...

I have been a ten high drinker for over 15 years..my prefferd drink is jack....I like a sour mash. they will most defenetly lose money on this disgracful manuever. I would have paid more,,, but now I will pay nothing....very bad buisness,,,,,and lack of respect for a fine sour mash wiskey........

Anonymous said...

After reading this blog and a visit to Bartons Distillery to confirm that it still exists, I was able to find some Straight Ten High in my local drug store in Illinois. Our market is almost exclusively Ten High blend, but if you look carefully, you can find some Straight Ten High (try the chain stores, they have national distribution). Delicious bourbon! By the way, the Bartons distillery tour was wonderful. Thanks to Chuck for the great info.

Anonymous said...

I found an old bottle of Ten High straight Bourbon Whiskey 86 proof, I believe its pre 1970 since the Uncle that had it left Oklahoma in the 60's, the price on the seal shows 3.38 for a 4/5 quart bottle. My question is should i keep this, drink this or try to sell this?

Chuck Cowdery said...

What you have is interesting because it was likely made at the Hiram Walker Distillery in Peoria, Illinois, which stopped distilling in the late 70s. I can't really offer an opinion about what should should do with it, but that's what it is.

Anonymous said...

My grandfather is 90 and still loves his bourbon. My family recently went through his house which he no longer lives in and I came accross various older bottles, one of them was hiram walkers ten high with the ATF seal on the cap with a price tag of $6.35. Is there a way to tell the age of the contents??

Chuck Cowdery said...

Unless the age is on the bottle, the whiskey inside is probably four to five years old.

Chas said...

I just bought 2, 1.75 liter bottles of Ten High. Why? Partly because that's what I buy - it's good stuff, and partly because there was a $7 rebate on it. Now, $16.99 a bottle, plus a $7 rebate on two bottles, plus it's what you like? Yeah, I was there, and bought some.
I've read some of the worst reviews ever on Ten High. It's been trashed as "strained through a used sneaker" and "tastes like it has mold in it it". Pure bunkum! I'm not going to compare it to others, you can easily do that for yourself, but this is a great, smooth, and tasty American Bourbon, that will not let you down. I drink it as I speak, and I love it; it satisfies me and leaves money in the bank. Not as harsh as Buffalo Trace, White Dog, not as boringly mellow as Jack Daniels. This one hits the right spot between harshness and flavor. Ten High - love it!!!