Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Looking For A. H. Hirsch Bourbon? Good Luck.


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.

28 comments:

Chuck Cowdery said...

It should be noted that Preiss has only ever used the name A. H. Hirsch on the whiskey described above, but it has used Hirsch, without the initials, on a rye whiskey and some other products, none of which were made at Michters. If it doesn't say "A. H. Hirsch," it's not this whiskey.

John Hansell said...

Great post, Chuck.

I'm working my way through a bottle of the 18 year old. I bought it at Park Ave. Liquor in the early '90s. Just happened to be at the right place at the right time. I opened it last year on my 50th birthday. (I was born in the same county as Michters.

I also have enjoyed the 16 and 20 (and prefer the 16 generally speaking). It's interesting to read your note about export to Japan. An exporter gave me a bottle of 20 year old Barrel Proof bourbon that was sold in Japan, which he told me was from Michters. There's no mention of Michters or A. H. Hirsch. Rather, it's sold under the moniker "Society of bourbon connoissers" (or something like that). I'm still sitting on that one.

AdamH said...

Thanks for this great post, Chuck. The whiskey blogosphere was sorely in need of it!

M. Jack said...

The 16 is rare but stil available both retail and online. Every time I pass an old liquor store, I peep the top shelf. Maybe one time in twenty, I'll see a dusty old bottle of Hirsch 16. Have gotten some great deals this way.

JJ GONZALEZ II said...

Last evening in celebration of my 61st birthday i had several celebratory cocktails of hirsch 20 year old. i didnt realize when i bought the bottle 5 years ago how valuable it would be. i only have 1/3 of the bottle left, but i can attest it is great.

JJ Gonzalez II

Ted Wright said...

Thanks for your reportage Chuck. Good to have the details behind my favorite bourbon. Hope to see you at this year's Tales of the Cocktail. Next time you are in Atlanta please let me know. I'd be glad to share a dram or two of the Hirsch 20 with you. I still have seven bottles left.

Ed R. said...

I have 10 bottles of the 20 yr left. Bought that from a place in California about 8 years ago. - Ed R.

Chuck Cowdery said...

Clearly, you are a favorite of the Lord.

Chuck Cowdery said...

Want to know the whole A. H. Hirsch story? Read my ebook, The Best Bourbon You'll Never Taste. http://cowdery.home.netcom.com/smallbarrels.htm

iskch1 said...

Dear Chuck,

I saw a bottle of "Hirsch" 20 yrs. at a liquor store. I was a little bit surprise since I know they are no longer in business. So I did a research today and saw your clarification about the branding. It was not a A.H. Hirsch but just the "Hirsch 20 yr old Whiskey" (not bourbon). Good to know that you did that explanation. By the way, is any good? or pass?

Chuck Cowdery said...

Is it any good? I don't know. I just know it's not the same stuff.

Anonymous said...

Had a bottle of the 16 yr old that my wine rep. brother gave to me. Had a poker game one night, opened and killed the bottle amongst friends. It was the best I'd ever had. Don't know if I would do that today knowing how rare and valuable it is.

SVEN KOERPER said...

in the german bsed whiskyauction four different bottles found new owners today. the successful bids:

Hirsch 13y 97-1 47,8% black wax 750ml - 209 EUR
Hirsch 16y Spring 1974 45,8% gold cap 700ml - 302 EUR
Hirsch 16y Spring 1974 45,8% dumpy bottle black wax 750ml - 479 EUR
Hirsch 20y Spring 1974 45,8% red wax - 722 EUR

lucky guy(s)!

Anonymous said...

I also found my bottle of AH Hirsch at Park Ave Liquors in 2006. At the time, I think I paid north of $189, maybe as high as $229. Tt has lasted me for quite a while.

Jim Hamer said...

i agree as wonderfull as it is you only sip it after a great week, or after you finish making a realy great knife.
jim

Anonymous said...

Am setting on 7 bottles of the 16 year old gold foil 1 16 year old gold wax. Have 2 bottles of pappy 23 green glass from Lawrenceburg.eating for the right time to crack open!

Bryan Castle said...

Just let me know if you are looking for an excuse to share a drink with a random stranger on a message board :-)

Chuck Cowdery said...

I will no longer accept offers to buy or sell as comments to this thread, and I have removed all of the old ones. I suggest you try the Bourbon Exchange on Facebook.

SKOERPER said...

just a note: 1 bottle of the 19-years-old Hirsch was sold at an online auction for exactly 1514 EUR (= 2000 US-$) a few weeks ago. not a joke!

Anonymous said...

Chuck any idea how many cases of the 15 yr A.H. Hirsch were bottled? Thanks

Chuck Cowdery said...

Julian Van Winkle III, who did the bottling, provided these numbers.

December, 1989 - 134 cases
February, 1990 - 340 cases

So, in total, there were 474 cases of the 15 year old bottled. All, or virtually all, shipped to Japan.

Many thanks to Julian for being so generous with these records.

SKOERPER said...

Chuck, I think you know, that Anchor Distilling brought out a so called "HIRSCH RESERVE 16YO HUMIDOR COLLECTOR'S EDITION". Do you know anything about that?

http://www.anchordistilling.com/spirits/hirsch-reserve-16yo-humidor-collector-s-edition

Chuck Cowdery said...

Anchor bought the entire Preiss company, including everything called 'Hirsch.'

Sam Jamell said...

Chuck: where does the gold wax come in to play during this bottling time line?

Anonymous said...

Anchor's 16yo humidor edition sells for around $1,500 at some stores in Calif.

Chuck Cowdery said...

PLEASE DO NOT post comments offering to buy or sell Hirsch (or anything else) or asking how much they're worth, as they will be rejected. In the United States, it is illegal to sell alcoholic beverages without a license to do so.

david bookbinder said...

I was lucky enough to have Gordon Hue put me on to 16 year old gold foil AH Hirsch in his store at $52/ bottle...this after telling him that my wife was looking for a new bourbon, and describing her preferences. We've subsequently acquired another 14 bottles, 1 case of which we bought in New Orleans for about $750.

I'm wondering what it goes for today. It's our primary "sipping whiskey", and we're going thru it as fast as we can

Chuck Cowdery said...

Some stores still have the humidor set with the 16-year-old gold capsule for $1,300-$1,500. That's about all you'll find at retail. Auction prices range from $700 to $900 and it's generally only the 16-year-old gold capsule that appears. I won't comment on prices in the secondary market, since unlicensed sales are illegal.