Today I got a call out of the blue from a guy looking for A. H. Hirsch Bourbon, specifically the 20-year-old. I couldn’t help him. No one can help him unless they have some of it in their bunker. I don’t. I’ve never owned a bottle of the 20 and only ever had a few tastes of it..
This got me reviewing some of the research I’ve done about Hirsch. Here are the highlights.
The bourbon was commissioned by Adolph Hirsch, a former Schenley executive. It was 400 barrels of bourbon made in the spring of 1974 at the Pennco Distillery in Schaefferstown, PA.
Pennco was a small, independent contract distiller, mostly of rye whiskey. That order represented about eight days of production.
It is unknown why Hirsch commissioned the whiskey. It may have been a way to infuse some capital into a struggling company, which he had once owned. He apparently had no use for the whiskey as he left it there to age for the next 15 years.
This batch of whiskey was not the “last pot still bourbon,” as has often been reported. It was a conventional double-distilled bourbon, but it did age out very nicely.
Pennco, which had history back to 1753, folded shortly after the Hirsch bourbon was distilled. The plant was purchased in foreclosure and renamed Michter’s. It soldiered on for another decade but never stabilized. By 1989 the owners had skipped town and the bank was ready to shut the place down. They told Hirsch to get his whiskey out of there or risk losing it in the chaos that was sure to follow.
Hirsch sold the lot to Gordon Hue, who moved the barrels to a distillery in Cincinnati and began to bottle the whiskey as A.H. Hirsch Bourbon, mostly for sale in Japan. The first release was a 15-year-old, followed the next year by a 16-year-old.
At that point most of the whiskey was dumped and held in stainless steel tanks for subsequent bottling as a 16-year-old. A few barrels were allowed to continue aging. That produced 37 cases of an 18-year-old in 1992, 121 cases of a 19-year-old in 1993, and 500 cases of a 20-year-old in 1994-95.
Then the Hue family sold the brand and remaining, tanked 16-year-old bourbon to Preiss Imports which in 2003 had the rest of it bottled, about 3,000 cases. In 2009, Preiss created a boxed set priced at $1,500. That's the end of it.
The boxed set is still around at retail as are a few bottles of the final 16-year-old (distinguished by its gold foil capsule), reportedly at prices north of $250. I don’t know where they are exactly, but sightings have been reported.