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.