In 2012, Chuck Cowdery shared the story of A.H. Hirsch Reserve and titled his book The Best Bourbon You’ll Never Taste. The story begins with the National Landmark “Schaefferstown Distillery” (also called “Bomberger’s”) in Newmanstown, Pennsylvania. Last Christmas, my favorite bourbon-buddy shared a copy of the book along with this delightful bottle of Hirsch Small Batch – named in honor of the historic spirits once made at what is often considered America’s first commercial distillery.
266 Years in the Making
The Schaefferstown Distillery, and its predecessors, has roots dating prior to the American Revolution. It was rumored that when Washington’s troops wintered at Valley Forge, whiskey was supplied from this nearby distillery. Over the years, numerous owners and brands came and went, including the Michter’s brand. As the brand fell on hard times in 1990. The Michter’s brand-name was resurrected in the mid-1990s. You can read more about this revolutionary bourbon here when I reviewed Michter’s Small Batch.
Before distilling operations came to a close in 1989, investment banker A.H. Hirsch purchased the last of the distillate what many consider “the finest bourbon ever made” – a 16 year-old bourbon he titled A.H. Reserve.
Ultimately, the Michters brand acquired the rights to the name and legacy of the Schaefferstown Distillery. Anchor Distilling, based in San Francisco, celebrates the Hirsch tradition by sourcing an 8-year-old high rye bourbon whiskey, produced by MGP Distillery in Lawrenceburg, Indiana.
While oftentimes the front of the bourbon bottle contains “the sizzle” with a colorful label or a fanciful story, it’s the back of the label that typically provides the “rest of the story” with the actual distiller of the product. Resurrected from the former Seagram’s plant in Lawrenceburg, today, MGP is a provider for a number of top brands and has developed a niche with rye whiskeys and high-rye bourbons – many of them quite good. A.H. Hirsch Small Batch 8-year Bourbon is a testament to MGP producing some high-quality spirits.
While this brand isn’t “craft” or “exclusive”, I’ve only seen it in a single midwestern grocery store, and not in the big box (or small box) beverage stores. Hirsch comes in a short, squat bottle with an antiqued label bearing “Aged 8 Years” and celebrates a “high rye” batch. A faux tax stamp covers the cork stopper indicating the same 8-year phrase.
Two mash bills from MGP are blended to produce this bourbon whiskey – one with 21% rye and another with a hefty 36% rye. The “8-year” label indicates that no whiskey younger than 8-years was used in the batching. Further research indicates that the barrel bodies are charred deeply to a #4 char, with the barrel heads receiving a #2 char. The finished product is bottled at 92 proof. With the high-rye recipe, I’m expecting a fair amount of spice. Let’s see what MGP has produced for us. Bottom’s up.
Eye: Deep caramel and copper with several long, thin legs lace my Glencairn glass.
Nose: Lots of vanilla and butterscotch with peppery spice, cherry and mint
Palate: The high rye is definitely present as the first splash coats my tongue with a spicy tingling. Subsequent sips and swirls and the spice subsides, allowing a sweet sensation of vanilla in a smooth delivery. It is actually a nice balance of corn sweetness and rye spiciness.
Finish: Medium in length and smooth for a higher-rye blend. There are more vanilla and cinnamon notes in a slightly dry and woodsy finish.
Overall: Hirsch is not a product you see every day. The high-rye expression – typical of some “northern-style” bourbons shares some similar notes as New Riff. – though with a few more years on it, the Hirsch is a little smoother and more refined. While the current brand bears no relation to the original historical landmark that produced the original Hirsch and ultimate Michter’s brands, this is a decent pour. The price is around $45. With an 8-year age statement a unique taste, and a great story, this is one certainly worthy of a small indulgence.
Others may pass up non-producers or overlook brands produced by MGP in Lawrenceburg, Indiana. The high-rye expression is relatively unique to many mainline brands. This is one to enjoy as the weather cools and we once again gather around a fire to celebrate family and another year.