Thursday, July 17, 2014

A.H. Hirsch and The Original Michter's Distillery

I first had A.H. Hirsch about 7 years ago when I was but a babe in the woods of the bourbon forest. To be honest I knew it was special but I had yet developed my whiskey palate. I was a bourbon/whiskey neophyte and frankly I am probably still a neophyte by comparisons. However, it did not diminish my appreciation of that fine bourbon and my fascination with its origin's began.

My quest for all things A.H. Hirsch began with countless internet search which lead me to the first and one of the most comprehensive articles about the Michter's Distillery its origin and its whiskey. Yvonne Bomberger Fowler also had a blog of her own and the pictures on both sites helped guide me to the old distillery site. One of the best books on this whiskey is "The Best Bourbon You'll Never Taste - The True Story of A. H. Hirsch Reserve Straight Bourbon Whiskey.  Distilled in the Spring 1974.  Made and Bottled in Kentucky" by Chuck Cowdery and all bourbon lovers should read it. 

I promised myself that if my travels took me anywhere near Harrisburg, Pa I would pull out the maps and try and find the site of the Old Michter's Distillery (DSP-PA-17). This post is not about the history of the distillery near Schafferstown, Pa, others have done a better job. This is about my trip that brought A.H. Hirsch and my love of bourbon full circle for me.

First, let me start off by saying that in all of the writings about Michter's Distillery no one has ever given an address. I plan to remedy that here 215 Michters Road, Schafferstown, Pa. So as I started out my morning from Grantville, Pa I only had a vague sense where it was. So imagine my glee when I was greeted this street sign.
Rout 501 and Michter's Rd south of Schafferstown
 However, my new found joy in my orienteering skills soon turned to disappointment when I rounded the turn and was confronted by this vision. Was I in the right place? I must have miscalculated? Did someone just move buildings here? What's going on?

I don't know what I was expecting. I had read many stories and posts on forums discussing the deteriorating nature of the old distillery but surely I had not succumb to the wrecking ball? But after checking Google Earth, Google Maps, and comparing photos from various websites I was indeed in the right place.

I was saddened by obvious fact that the main distillery building was torn down and the distillation column house, a tall standing structure marking the presence of a distillery, was also now gone. The only thing remaining from the column is the rectifying cap that has been saved and placed out back.

If you look closely you can see the footprint of the old distillation building. I parked my car on the concrete pad of one of the old rickhouses and walked down the road for a closer look. It is sad to think that with the still now gone the possibility ever resurrect the Old Mitcher's is gone forever.

As I walked around the former grounds of Michter's Distillery you could hear cows mooing from the buildings in back. If you walked up on the ridge next to the old rickhouse locations you could see corn growing shoulder high.

Water still flows in a small stream right through the center of the complex. This is farm country with its rolling hills, flowing water and fields filled with corn and other grain. However, this is also bourbon country with everything right here to make that great farm commodity whiskey!

So A.H.Hirsch is the dodo bird, its a dinosaur doomed to extinction though consumption. Sure a few collectors will have bottles that they will pet and put on display but one day it will be gone.

As I strolled about the remains of the now deceased distillery the words of whiskey writer Chuck Cowdery started to circulate in my thoughts. We should not lament that the gold age of bourbon may have passed us by and fear not because good whiskey is being made everyday somewhere by somebody we just have to discover it.

And as a strange twist of fate or perhaps a salute to the ties that bind I got to thinking of Tom Herbruck, a friend, a distiller and a bourbon enthusiast. Tom and Lianne Herbruck bought the demonstration still once used at the Old Michter's from David Beam.

 Over two years ago David Beam and Dick Stoll (the man responsible for setting the mash bill that would become A.H. Hirsch) helped the Herbruck's install the still and set up a mash bill. As of the writing of this article those whiskies are straight so indeed someone will make the whiskey. . .