Saturday, July 9, 2016
A Little Bit More About David Nicholson 1843
Thursday's post about the revival of David Nicholson 1843 was mostly based on information from Luxco, the brand's current owner, but the connection of the Van Winkle family's Stitzel-Weller Distillery to this small St. Louis brand seemed interesting, so I reached out to family members with direct knowledge for the rest of the story.
The first thing that struck everyone as wrong was the year Luxco acquired the brand. Luxco says it was 2000. The family says it was more like 1984 or 1985 when they sold the brand to the David Sherman Company. (The David Sherman Company was renamed Luxco in 2006).
They also explained that while Nicholson may have started out as a grocery store in 1843, it eventually became a large grocery products wholesaler whose lines included whiskey. They were a major outfitter for the wagon trains heading west from St. Louis. As the advertisement above shows, they also did business in the east, including in New York City.
The St. Louis distributor of the David Nicholson 1843 bourbon brand was the Peter Hauptmann Company, whose chief executive was Roger Anderson. Initially, there was a different distributor in Illinois and, in fact, the brand did a lot of its business on the Illinois side of the river.
After Prohibition, Hauptmann was owned by McKesson. Roger Anderson served in the 82nd Airborne Division of the U.S. Army in World War II, then went to work for McKesson in sales. In 1968 he became General Manager of McKesson's Peter Hauptmann wholesale liquor division in St. Louis. He retired from that position in 1993 or 1994 and died in 2013.
Until 1967, the Hauptmann company owned the David Nicholson 1843 bourbon brand. In that year, Foremost Dairies acquired McKesson-Robbins and the Hauptmann division was forced to sell the Nicholson brand due to cross-ownership rules. Separate from their ownership of Stitzel-Weller, the Van Winkle/McClure family acquired it.
It was a somewhat complicated relationship. The family owned the label and leased the '1843' name and label design (Gold '1843' and green thistle design) back to Hauptmann so they could continue to sell it as one of their 'premium in-house brands.' It was popular in St. Louis, MO; East St. Louis, IL; and Alton, IL. Hauptmann bought the whiskey from Stitzel-Weller and paid Stitzel-Weller to warehouse and bottle it. When the whiskey was shipped, the Van Winkle/McClure family was paid a royalty for use of the brand on a per-case basis.
The contract had an annual renewal but since it was a seven-year-old product, that meant there would be seven more years of agreement so there would be seven more years of whiskey in the warehouses at Stitzel-Weller. If it was not renewed, then the contract would actually terminate after six years.
In the 1970s, they introduced a 'Black Label 1843' that was down-proofed to 92° to reach a lower price point. This was the period when bourbon, especially premium bourbon, was dying all over the country.
This arrangement continued after 1972, when the Van Winkle/McClure family sold the Stitzel-Weller Distillery and most of its brands to Norton-Simon. Old Fitzgerald was the distillery's leading brand so Norton-Simon changed the distillery's name to the Old Fitzgerald Distillery. That distillery stopped producing in 1992 and production of its wheated bourbon was shifted to the new Bernheim Distillery. When United Distillers (which became Diageo) sold Bernheim and the Old Fitzgerald brand to Heaven Hill in 1999, it retained the then-mothballed Old Fitzgerald Distillery, which became known as Stitzel-Weller again.
Although it never distilled again after 1992, Old Fitzgerald/Stitzel-Weller remained active as a maturation and bottling facility. Eventually the bottling house was closed and bottling was transferred to Owensboro and a large, modern bottling house United Distillers acquired when it bought Glenmore, also in 1992. The Owensboro facility, which also includes maturation warehouses, was sold to Barton and later acquired by Sazerac, which owns it today.
In the Glenmore acquisition, United Distillers also got the Medley Distillery, on the other side of Owensboro. When New Bernheim opened they stopped distilling at Medley too and sold the facility to its last Master Distiller, Charles Medley, who never reopened it. Last year, Terressentia bought that distillery and renamed it O. Z. Tyler.
Diageo stills owns the Stitzel-Weller facility, which it uses for maturation and blending, and as a 'homeplace' for its Bulleit Bourbon brand.
At its peak, David Nicholson 1843 sold about 40,000 cases a year. When the David Sherman Company bought it in 1984-85, volume had declined to about 6,500 cases a year. In 1999-2000, the David Sherman Company acquired the Rebel Yell brand and Heaven Hill bought the Bernheim Distillery, which is probably when Heaven Hill became supplier of the whiskey. (Which no one, of course, will confirm.)
Apparently, the David Sherman Company bought Hauptman about the time of Roger Anderson's retirement in 93-94. Anderson remained active in the business until his death and was the St. Louis broker for J. P. Van Winkle and Son.
This is all very inside, of interest to only a few people, but we work hard to get this stuff right and appreciate everyone who generously helps.