The Iconic Spirits Blog

Hirsch Bourbon

August 7, 2013

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In the world of distilled spirits, there are many products and people that are difficult to pin down, but few are as elusive as Adolph H. Hirsch and his legendary Bourbon. Hereís what we know: Hirsch was born in Mannheim, Germany, in 1908, and came to the U.S. in 1926. On and off, he was a Schenley executive for most of his life. In 1942, Hirsch and three partners bought the Pennsylvania Distilling company (Pennco), which eventually became the Schaefferstown distillery. Pennco was a contract distiller with a spotty history that primarily produced Bourbon.

In 1974, Hirsch commissioned a run of 400 barrels of Bourbon at Pennco. The distillery went out of business shortly afterward, and was purchased and renamed Michterís. It stayed in business until 1989, when it closed for good; thereís no connection between that operation and another modern brand of whiskey also called Michterís (confused yet?). When Michterís folded, Hirschís 400 barrels of Bourbon---which he had forgotten about---were sold to Gordon Hue. Hue moved them to a distillery in Cincinnati, where he began bottling the contents and selling it as A. H. Hirsch Bourbon. Those remaining bottles of the 16 Year-Old are extremely rare; one is likely to set you back $1400, if you can find it.

To make matters even more confusing, a contemporary brand of whiskey is being bottled under the Hirsch Selections label. The available products include a Straight Corn Whiskey, a Three Year Old Canadian Rye, and a Small Batch Kentucky Reserve Bourbon. The Small Batch Bourbon is sourced for Anchor Distilling by the Kentucky Bourbon Distillers in Bardstown, KY, and bottled by them on a contract basis, as is the corn whiskey.

The tan-colored Kentucky Straight Corn Whiskey (90 proof/45% ABV, $31) exudes aromas of sweet grains, caramel and spice. It enters the mouth as sweetly as it smells, yielding a rich middle palate balanced by pepper and baking spices. More than four years of oak aging enhances the texture, and the finish is moderately long and tart. This would make a very, very interesting Martini.

The nose of the Three Year Canadian Rye (86 proof/43% ABV, $31) is lush and generous, perfumed with scents of spring flowers and fermented melon. It is delicate and high-toned in the mouth, bathing the palate with suggestions of citrus and stone fruits before morphing into a long and spicy finish. This is made for Hirsch at the Glenora Distillery in Nova Scotia. Double-distilled and aged in oak casks, itís likely to change some of your preconceptions about Canadian whiskey.

The Small Batch Reserve Kentucky Straight Bourbon (92 proof 46% ABV, $34) yields whiffs of sweet caramel, honey and menthol on the nose. The spirit is rich and soothing on entry; the sweetness comes to the forefront in the middle palate, balanced by a nice spicy edge, and the peppery quality becomes more pronounced on the long finish. This is a sipping Bourbon that will make you look forward to those long winter nights.

ABOUT THE BOOK: Iconic Spirits: An Intoxicating History, by Mark Spivak, is published by Lyons Press (Globe Pequot). Writing in an engaging and appealing style, Spivak chronicles the untold tales of twelve spirits that changed the world and forged the cocktail culture. While some are categories and others are specific brands, they are ďthe best kinds of stories---the type a writer could never make up.Ē

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  1. August 8, 2013 12:46 AM EDT
    That was a fascinating post as I have never heard of Hirsch bourbon and I can see why. But, I would absolutely love to have a shot or two...or...of it! :)
    - Mike
  2. August 8, 2013 6:40 AM EDT
    Thanks for your kind words. The Small Batch Reserve is fairly easy to find. The 16 Year-Old, sadly, is beyond the reach of most of us.
    - Mark Spivak