Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Do You Have a National Distillers Dusty?

Jim Beam Brands Co. recommended Bourbon Section shelf set for 1989-90.
Start talking about old whiskeys and pretty soon someone will mention National Distillers, usually in the context of Old Grand-Dad Bourbon or Old Overholt Rye. But National had a lot of bourbon brands including Old Crow, Old Taylor, Bourbon DeLuxe, Bellows, and other regional cats-and-dogs.

In 1987, the James B. Beam Distilling Company, a subsidiary of American Brands Inc., acquired the spirits division of the National Distillers and Chemical Corporation for $545 million. Included were three Kentucky distilleries, two of which were still active, although Beam immediately shut them down. The sale also included a lot of aging whiskey stock, at a time when American whiskey sales were in the doldrums and everyone had too much, what we call today 'the glut era.'

Enthusiasts of National Distillers whiskeys distilled before 1987 are constantly trying to figure out if bottles they have are National-distilled or Beam-distilled. It isn't easy, but some context might help.

One of the costs in whiskey-making is the cost of moving whiskey around while it is in the barrel. In a perfect world whiskey is barreled at the distillery and the barrel is moved to a nearby warehouse where it remains undisturbed until it is withdrawn years later for bottling, also nearby.

The point is that Beam's determination as to what whiskey went into what bottle was based primarily on the location of the whiskey to be bottled and the location of the bottling plant to be used. After the National acquisition, Beam bottled whiskey at two locations, its existing Jim Beam Distillery at Clermont, Kentucky, and what had been National's Old Grand-Dad Distillery at Forks of the Elkorn just outside of Frankfort.

In those days, the same bottling crew spent a few days at Clermont, followed by a couple at Frankfort. They did that because it is cheaper to move people than whiskey. The whiskey distilled by National was aging at the distillery where it was made, either Old Grand-Dad or Old Crow, which was also in the Frankfort area. Some of the whiskey distilled at Old Crow was aging in warehouses at Old Taylor, right next door. Some Beam-distilled whiskey was sent to Frankfort to age, but little if any went in the other direction.

To this day, those are Beam Suntory's two bottling plants. Each one has been substantially upgraded over the years. They run full time now and have their own crews, but the fact remains that what is aged at Frankfort is bottled at Frankfort and what is aged at Clermont is bottled there. Beam Suntory's Maker's Mark has its own bottling plant at the distillery in Loretto. The company's largest Kentucky distillery, Booker Noe at Boston, has warehouses but no bottling. Whiskey aged there is bottled at Clermont.

For reference, the distance between the Clermont and Booker Noe plants is about ten miles. The distance from either of them to Frankfort is about 75 miles. Beam has several other maturation facilities but most of them are close to Clermont, not Frankfort. Consequently, most of the whiskey bottling happens at Clermont. Frankfort bottles other things, such as DeKuyper liqueurs.

After Beam stopped distilling at Frankfort, it started to make the high-rye Old Grand-Dad recipe at Clermont, so Old Grand-Dad would have been bottled at Frankfort until the Frankfort-distilled Grand-Dad ran out, and thereafter it was bottled at Clermont. For everything else, Beam used Frankfort-distilled and Clermont-distilled whiskey interchangeably, without regard to brand, depending on where it was being bottled. This was even true of Old Overholt, as Jim Beam has always made rye whiskey in addition to bourbon.

Nothing has been distilled in Frankfort since 1987 so everything in those warehouses now comes from either Booker Noe or Clermont, but if it is aging in Frankfort it will almost certainly be bottled there too.

I know more about the period following the National acquisition than most people because I was in the room for some of it. Two years after the acquisition, Beam was still struggling to integrate the two product portfolios. I was part of a team that developed the document above, a comprehensive manual for off-premise retail merchandising of the combined Beam-National line.

The manual explained the principles of effective merchandising and where to place each major Beam brand. It included advice like this:

"The Jim Beam shelf set should begin immediately to the right of the Jack Daniels set. Jim Beam White Label should be first, immediately to the right of Daniels. Place Jim Beam Black Label to the right of White Label. Place Beams Choice to the right of Black Label.

"The Old-Grand Dad set should be placed to the left of Daniels, with all three proofs on the shelf, from left to right: 86°, 100° and 114°. This is the ideal shelf position for Jim Beam's two most important bourbon brands."

That's right. In 1989-90, Old Grand-Dad was second only to Jim Beam in importance in Beam's portfolio. That is because Old Grand-Dad still commanded a premium price and was, therefore, one of the most profitable brands on the market.

No one then could have predicted how different the bourbon landscape would look 30 years later.


Ethan Smith said...

Old Grand Dad is still one of the most important brands- at least to me!

The Whiskey MD said...

Trying to find details about these whiskeys is hard, thanks for the insight. I have a bottle with a UPC, bottle stamp and date that all point to confusion when trying to ascertain ND liquid inside versus Beam. If only there were documents somewhere telling us which barrels went into which bottles - the whiskey glut Rosetta Stone!

Sam Komlenic said...

I'd like to see what was on that top shelf to the right of Booker's!

PL said...

Wish I had a time machine. I'd love me some OGD bowling balls and Cabin Still handles!

Chuck Cowdery said...

Sam, there was nothing there because it was a staged shot, but as for the top shelf in those days, about the only other thing we might have added would have been Blanton's. This was before Rare Breed or any other top shelfers.

mozilla said...

The National products were far superior to anything Beam was putting out, in my opinion. Still to this day....when I crack open an Old Taylor, Hill & Hill, Bellows Rare, Crow or OGD from National....I can't help but think how much worse off we are as consumers with National and other producers going by the way side.

What we are left with is...a one dimensional bourbon selection.

Back in the 80's....a top shelf tasting bourbon was basically the same price as the rest of the products on the shelf. Now, something that taste top shelf is 10 times the price of a regular bourbon.

It's too bad that many of the producers that had a unique flavor have been gobbled up by these other distilleries....such as: Seagrams and their four or five plants stretching from Maryland, Pa, Indiana and Kentucky; National Distillers and their Hill & Hill, OGD, Old Crow, Old Taylor and Old Overholt; Stitzel Weller; Schenley and their massive group of distilleries...Ancient Age, Old Charter, and many others; Yellowstone and Glenmore; Publicker and American Distilling; and Medley Distilling in Owensboro.....just to name a few.

I hope that with the rising number of new distilleries...we may get back to the days of....better taste at a regular another glut.

Erik Fish said...

And there is Jack Daniel's front and center right underneath the banner "BOURBON". Did anyone back then get hate mail because of that ? :)

mozilla said...

To the best of my knowledge...Jack meets all of the qualifications of a bourbon. Just because Jack chooses not to call themselves a bourbon doesn't disqualify them from being one.

And Chuck...isn't there a second half to that picture. I admit it has been several years since I have seen either of them, though.

Unknown said...

As you likely know Jim Beam is aging bourbon in some of the Old Crow warehouses they still own in Millville (Frankfort address). To the best of my knowledge it is primarily 2 year old Straight and is most likely being used in their "Apple, Maple, Honey" products that say "Infused with Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey" under the name. But with that label they are open to purchase from any KY distiller for that. Those products are bottled at OGD plant in Frankfort. The trucks coming and going say Beam on them but the barrels I am not sure.

mozilla said...

Who has been using the Hill & Hill site? Last time I was there it appeared to still be a functioning factory(2004). Did Beam make juice there or sell the site?

IMO, Hill & Hill had a superb flavor profile. What ever happened to that label? Is it still in Beams portfolio?

Chuck Cowdery said...

What 'Hill & Hill site' are you referring to? Can you be more specific?

mozilla said...

I wasn't aware that Hill&Hill had more than 1 site.

The site I am referring to is located directly behind the old Seagrams facility at 7th and Wathens....on the other side of the train tracks. It's the old Wathens plant.

If I remember correctly there were 4 different distilleries in that block between Bernheim ln and Wathens ln. ...Seagrams, Hill&Hill, Bernheim Brothers #9, and 1 other. The 'other' may have been a Dant facility, I can't remember or find info as of yet.

So, the question is....what did Beam do with the Hill&Hill site and labels after they acquired them from National?

Chuck Cowdery said...

I roughly know where you mean. I remember watching the last of the Wathen's warehouses being demolished. If Beam ever took possession of that property, I'm not aware of it. As for the labels, Beam sold or simply discontinued many of the acquired labels, either right away in 1987 or in the years that followed. That's all I know.

KristianMN said...

I have a friend who has a half-pint bottle from 1938 of Kenwood Straight Whiskey Bottled in Bond that says “This Whiskey is 24 Years Old” on the label and “Bottled by National Distillers Products Corporation” and some Indiana tax stickers from 1938. I’d assume it was one of the many labels they had following Prohibition. Perhaps a regional label?

mozilla said...

I'm sure Chuck will have some good info for you.
From my memory...Kenwood sounds like a Melwood, Meadowlawn or General Distillers brand....i can't remember which.

But, in those days...since just about every distillery was closed...they would concentrate bourbon storage at the few places that the Gov't would allow to be working. When that place bottled juice...they would bottle it under the owners labels(with some financial agreement). Or, they would just acquire the brands and incorporate them into their own labels. So, many individual labels were switching hands regularly.
Best place to find specific info is the Tax Strip or back label. Look for the DSP numbers for distillery or bottling plant.

Bjtsven said...

My first job out of college was to count the OGD barrel inventory. The Frankfort warehouse had it's Rik's & Rows for aging the bourbon inventory. Wearing sneakers and armed with my clipboard & flashlight I turned in my count sheets just in time for lunch.

Upon my return, the inventory manager asked to see me. He asked "Did you take a break during the inventory counts? Did you get any fresh air?" Oops! Apparently the alcohol fumes gave me a cheap buzz and my counts were off. We had to re-do my counts and endure some good natured kidding from the Kentucky staff.

Unknown said...

Any Idea's what an 82 Old Taylor 80 proof is worth? Just stumbled across a few.

mozilla said...

Hum....The easy answer is, It is worth whatever you paid for it.

Anonymous said...

Long story short, I have an empty bottle of Bourbon de Luxe (was my dads who passed away many years ago), that states the following on the label:
"Bottled under United States Government Supervision by the Bourbon de Luxe Distilling Co. Cincinnati, OH."

I can not find any information of this Bourbon being bottled in Cincinnati, OH.

Does anyone have any information concerning this?


mozilla said...

National Distilling, the owner of Bourbon DeLuxe and many other brands.....had facilities in many places.
If my memory serves me correctly....they had two in Ohio. They would use these facilities to bottle, package, distribute and blend products.
Your bottle was probably filled at one of these plants....Cincy and Cleveland were the two facilities, I believe. Cincy, I am certain about...but, may be stretching to remember the Cleveland plant.

The whisky made at one of their other facilities.
A quick trip through my memory can recall these distilling facilities:
Hill & Hill, Sunny Brook, Old Grand Dad, Old Taylor, Old Crow, Old Overholt.....I am certain there were others too.

ps....the Cincy facility is still standing....the last time I looked for it on google maps.

Chuck Cowdery said...

National's Cincinnati facility was an independent distillery originally. National stopped distilling there but continued to use the facility for bottling. Ultimately, its primary product was the DeKuyper line of liqueurs. When Jim Beam bought National in 1987, they continued to use it for that purpose. They closed it in 2010 and moved that production to an expanded Frankfort distillery.

Anonymous said...

if an old Taylo bottled in bond was distilled at registered distillery 53 and bottled at I R B W no. 14 Ky (says the label from 1959) where and what are those locations?

mozilla said...

Old Taylor...distilled at Old Taylor. Bottled at Old Grand Dad. Both sites were around Frankfort with Taylor being south and east along Glens Creek and OGD along the Elk Horn Creek on the east side of town. Try google maps....both can still be seen.