Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Remembering Old Hickory (The Whiskey).


Several people I know have recently come into possession of bottles of Old Hickory Bourbon, in one case a 10-year-old believed to have been purchased in 1965.

Old Hickory was a Publicker brand. I believe it was their primary bourbon. Publicker, based in Philadelphia, was one of the big American liquor companies post-Prohibition. The name 'Old Hickory' is a reference to Andrew Jackson, seventh president of the United States.

Many people from the Philadelphia area who are over age 50 can recall the distillery located on Packer and Delaware Ave, right by the Walt Whitman bridge. They say you could smell it as you crossed the river.

Whiskey distilleries smell pretty good, sort of like bakeries.

One of those people is Dave Ziegler, who worked there as a young man and keeps the company's memory alive. He holds court on straightbourbon.com, on the Discussion Board, where his threads about Publicker and Old Hickory dominate the History section. He refers to it as Kinsey Distillery, also sometimes as Continental, but it’s all the same company.

Publicker's whiskey maturation facility near Valley Forge was described in company literature in the 1950s as being the largest in the world, with a capacity of one million barrels.

Ziegler believes Old Hickory died in 1981 and I have no reason to doubt him.

Why did Publicker itself die? My sense is that they were mostly a commodity producer, more regional than national, didn’t have any really strong brands, and thus couldn’t survive the changes that occurred in the industry during the 1970s. Some of their brands, such as Rittenhouse Rye, were sold off and still exist today. Not Old Hickory.

It's also possible they couldn't survive the passing of their dynamic leader, Simon 'Si' Neuman, a son-in-law of company founder Harry Publicker, who ran Publicker during its most successful period.

Neuman, and thus Publicker, is best known today for having started Scotland’s Inver House Distillers, which they established in 1964 to provide a steady supply of Scotch whiskey for Publicker to sell in the USA. It later spun off Inver House, which is today a well-respected independent whiskey producer in Scotland.

In Scotland I think "independent" just means, "not owned by Diageo or Pernod." Inver House is owned by Thai Beverage.

Thanks to A. J. Rathbun for the creepy ad.

8 comments:

Ethan Smith said...

The more I'm researching this, it seems Continental/Kinsey/Publicker was pretty much Michter's big brother to the east. They met pretty much the same fate around the same time. I've read the threads on Straightbourbon and they have motivated me even more to keep up with Dave, only collecting Michter's items instead of Kinsey items. I want to find some Old Hickory sometime and try it out. I've heard it was excellent whiskey!

Bas said...

I have a seven YO bottle. There is also an eight YO around; never seen the 10 though.
They are sometimes offered on auctions and not very expensive. I tried the seven and it's still very good with a good taste of oak.

sam k said...

As with many distilleries, it got older because of back stock accumulating in their warehouses due to lessening demand. It wasn't originally intended to be that old, but fate intervened, and the result is some oddities that are few and far between.

I've seen this happen with other distilleries, notably Old Overholt in the 1950s, which became older as the years went on due to lack of demand, up to eight years old rather than the four originally intended.

Karie said...

Is it possible to date a bottle of Old Hickory by the US Internal Revenue stamp that is located on the top?

Chuck Cowdery said...

If there is no date printed on the tax stamp itself then I believe the answer is no, but you might want to check with the TTB.

Dave said...

I can still smell that powerful odor that came from the distillery as I crossed over the Walt Whitman Bridge heading to a Phillie's game in the early 70's.I miss seeing the old sign that lit up during the night.

Laura Jackson said...

My grandfather, David "Danny" Kanner, was a Philadelphia printer and helped design the labels for Old Hickory bourbon and Lord Calvert Canadian whiskey. I would love to see photos of any color labels from the 1930s-1950s!

Eric Wilden said...

Dave, I can remember that smell well, too. As a child, we used to drive over the Walt Whitman Bridge often after visiting cousins in south Jersey. I have such strong memories associated with that smell and the big lit-up sign as we pulled into the toll booths.