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Wednesday, October 30, 2013

A Very Very Dusty Whiskey Monday Night: Ye Olde Americans

Focusing on the middle four bottles today.  See yesterday's post for more photos!
These six lovely old bottles greeted the tasters upon our entrance into Seven Grand's back room.  To make sure everyone was comfortable with the authenticity of the bottles, Chris waited to open them until the tasting began.  It's difficult to open very old dusties without breaking the cork, so Chris also brought along coffee filters to strain out any crumbles that dropped into the whiskey.  He actually only had to use them twice.  I think the guy has opened his share of old bottles.

Three of the four American whiskies were quart-sized, as opposed to 750mL.  They all had reasonable neck/shoulder fill levels.  For lower proof whiskies (80-86 proof), low neck fills are more of a concern than they are for higher proofs, as the creeping oxygen will make quicker work of the weaker ones.  Just something to keep in mind for those of us eyeing the markets for an oldie.  It is of my personal estimation that none of these were negatively oxidized.  But they were definitely old.

I kept two Glencairns going at once, switching back and forth between glasses, seeing if a little breathing time changed the whiskies.  Because a couple of the whiskies required cork filtering, we had the opportunity to take our time (and/or socialize) if we chose to.

The first one up:
Old Sunny Brook 4 year old Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whisky; bottled in 1941 -- thus distilled in 1937 or earlier; 93 proof.  One quart.  Fill level - 3/4 up the shoulder.

Old Sunny Brook distillery was likely built in the early 1880s but went by a number of different names during its first half century (Associated Distilleries of Kentucky, Old Kentucky Distilling Company, Old Times Distilling Company, Willow Creek Distillery, etc.).  The Rosenfield family bought it in 1892, then in 1914 it became Sunny Brook Distillery.  The Rosenfields sold the distillery in 1933 to American Medicinal Spirits (which itself was owned by National Distillers), just in time for post-prohibition distilling to start.  Though National Distillers closed the distillery in 1975, bourbon under the brand's name was still being bottled long after that, distilled elsewhere.  In fact Beam, who bought National twenty-five years ago, may still be producing a blended whiskey under the Old Sunny Brook brand name.

(Sources: http://www.pre-pro.com/midacore/view_distillery.php?did=DST357http://www.bourbonenthusiast.com/forum/viewtopic.php?f=17&t=1716)

What we had here was from the National Distillers era.

True to the back label's quip, the nose was indeed the most cheerful of all the whiskies sampled.  It started with hazelnuts, maple syrup, milk chocolate, dark cherries, walnuts, and vanilla beans.  With some air, notes of tree bark, chocolate eclairs, and peanut brittle emerged.  The palate was less expressive.  There were sugary candied notes, a little bit of the peanut brittle, some toffee, and a bit of alcohol bite.  Its finish was mild.  Toffee and ethyl burn.

I really enjoyed the nose.  Whether it's due to time, oxygen, storage, mashbill, or changes in production processes, the sniffer far exceeded that of any four year-old bourbon I've ever tried.  If oxidation did have any negative affect on the Sunny Brook, it would have been on the palate.  But perhaps that's how it tasted back in the day.

The second whiskey:
Old Hillsboro Reserve 5 year old Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey; bottled in 1942 -- thus distilled in 1937 or earlier; 100 proof.  One quart.  Neck-fill low shoulder.

This was distilled by Bernheim Distillers Company (which was actually sold to Schenley Distilleries Inc in '37), but as you'll see in the picture below it is listed as Registered Distillery #1.  Bernheim Distillery was #9 in its region at this point.  But Warwick Distillery, formerly Old Times Distillery, was RD #1 in its region, and was bought by Bernheim in 1906.  Today, American distilleries use DSP (distilled spirits plant) numbers instead of RDs; Heaven Hill's Bernheim distillery is DSP #1.  I'm not sure how much that info helps, but on an interesting note take a look at the bottom of the front label.  This batch of Old Hillsboro was specifically bottled for an individual or family in North Hollywood, CA.  So we drank it close to home.

(Sources: http://www.pre-pro.com/midacore/view_distillery.php?did=DST298http://www.pre-pro.com/midacore/view_distillery.php?did=DST405http://www.bourbonenthusiast.com/forum/viewtopic.php?f=17&t=1660http://www.bourbondrinker.com/index.php?topic=1501.0)

The nose was strikingly similar to a contemporary mid-shelf wheated (or very low-rye) bourbon.  Caramel, vanilla, orange peel, and cinnamon were the main notes.  Only the hints of peanut butter and clay made it feel somewhat different.  The palate was bright yet light for a 50% ABV.  And it was chock full of corn and soft vanillin.  Its finish was very brief and oaky.

Though I don't have a lot of notes for the palate, I did enjoy it more than Old Sunny Brook's flavor.  Perhaps the softness was brought on by oxidation, as this bottle did have the lowest fill level.  But again, the smoothness may have been the style, as bourbon is usually made for drinking.

The third whiskey was a fun one:

G.R. Sharpe 4 year old Old Style Whiskey; bottled in 1917 -- thus bottled in 1913 or earlier; 100 proof.  One quart.  Neck-fill 3/4 up the shoulder.

Yeah, you're reading that right.  1913.  And it had one of the better fill levels on it too.

Chris did some research into this whiskey and found out its juice was from Elk Run Distillers (click here for a distillery photo from 1913).  My snooping turned up very little, other than the fact that Elk Run Distillers Co. was shortlived, 1906-1919.  You'll notice no mention of "Bourbon" on the bottle.  This may have been blended whiskey or bourbon.  Chris mentioned that as the reality of impending national prohibition was gaining steam, and as individual states went dry, many companies rushed to bottle as much whiskey as possible as long as it was legal to do so.  This very bottle may have been one of the results.

(Source: http://www.pre-pro.com/midacore/view_vendor.php?vid=SDF18525)

Mothballs!  Mothballs on the nose.  Furniture stain, old lady perfume, definitely grandma's closet.  Some chlorine in there.  Maybe some slightly stinky cheese.  But with some air (like 20-30 minutes worth), a big rich caramel candy note bursts forth.  And also mothballs.  Mothballs again on the palate, followed by a lighter floral perfume than was on the nose.  A smidgen of caramel.  The finish held the light perfume and caramel.  A little bit of palatable bitterness.  No mothballs.

This one caused all sorts of negative exclamations, hyperbole, and outcries from much of the crowd.  All of which seemed very goofy to me.  I'm not sure why everyone was being so sensitive.  This is whiskey, damn it, and ancient stuff at that.  I enjoyed this one.  I even snuck a second pour.  This was different from the rest.  It felt old.  I'm thankful for the opportunity to have tried an American spirit distilled 100 years ago.

The fourth whiskey, and last of the Americans:

Old Forester Bourbon Bottled-in-Bond; distilled Spring 1952, bottled Fall 1957; 100 proof.  4/5 Quart.  High neck fill level.

Ah yes, the lava rocket sex toy.  The Fifties of The Future!

Before 1890, Brown-Forman was JTS Brown & Brother.  Their first brand, back in 1870, was Old Forester.  It's been theirs ever since.  Right around 1959, they lowered the proof of OF to 86 for a little while, so this was one of the last of the 100 proofs for a while.

(Source: http://www.bourbonenthusiast.com/forum/viewtopic.php?f=17&t=1758)

The nose was full of maple syrup and black pepper.  Lots of warm baking spices too -- possibly from the rye content -- like cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves.  Also some walnut cookies and raisins in the mix.  There was more corn than rye on the palate.  A mild easy drinker, another one that seems contemporary.  The finish became much more fragrant and warm with the baking goodies returning.

When I reference the "contemporary" thing, I mean that I'd bet most folks would never know that this was distilled over sixty years ago if they weren't told so.  I count myself among those folks.  To me it would fit in with Old Forester's current range, though maybe a little better.  :)

As you'll note, I'm not dishing out ratings for any of these four.  The atmosphere was not suited for grading, it was suited for the group experience.  Of these four noses, I enjoyed the Old Sunny Brook best.  The palates were mostly even.  But overall, the G.R. Sharpe is the unforgettable one.

Next up, the two Scotch blends...


  1. The current Bernheim Distillery owned by Heaven Hill is actually a fairly new distillery built on the site of the old Bernheim Distillery (DSP-1). Apparently the new distillery also inherited the old DSP number. In a way it's like Brora and Clynelish.

    1. Yeah, I think there's some old school rule that as long as the old stills are transferred into the new distillery, they can keep their DSP number. I'm not 100% sure of that, but I think that's the case.