A.H. Hirsch 16 Year Old Bourbon Humidor Edition


SPIRIT: Bourbon

VOLUME: 750ml

ABV/PROOF: 45.8/91.2

AGE: 16 years

The legendary line of A.H. Hirsch bourbons began humbly, with a single 400-barrel production run at a struggling Pennsylvania distillery in February 1974. Its namesake, an executive at the Schenley Distillers Corporation named Adolph H. Hirsch had ordered it from Pennco, a distillery located about an hour west of Philadelphia. It’s unclear why Hirsch ordered the whiskey; once it went into the rickhouse, he did nothing with it save for paying for it to take up space. Some speculate that he simply wanted to pump some revenue into Pennco, which had been hit hard by the decline in bourbon consumption that began in the late 1960s. It shuttered completely in 1990.

A year after Hirsch placed his order, Pennco changed its name to Michter’s, after its most prominent whiskey. But whereas the Michter’s mash bill did not contain enough corn to qualify as a bourbon, the Hirsch whiskey certainly did, with a conventional blend of 75 percent corn, 13 percent rye, and 12 percent malted barley. There was no secret sauce, nothing radically different from the rest of the bourbon Pennco made.

In 1990 Hirsch sold the entire stock of 400 barrels to Gordon Hue, whose family owned Cork and Bottle, a liquor store based in Covington, Kentucky. Hue had significant experience with luxury whiskey, having sold small runs of bourbon bottled by Julian Van Winkle III for more than five years. A sizable amount of that whiskey went to Japan, where there was a fast-growing market for well-aged American whiskey. Hue intended to add the Hirsch to that supply stream.

Although there was nothing unique about the production of the Hirsch barrels, something had transpired during maturation to elevate it far above its similarly aged peers. Despite its 15 years in a barrel, it was not at all oaky; it was mellow and rich and mature. The writer Charles Cowdery called it “the best bourbon you’ll never taste.”

Hue turned to his friend Van Winkle to bottle his new whiskey as well. He called it A.H. Hirsch Reserve, and over the coming years would release it in small batches. There was no particular reasoning to the timing or size of its releases, just a measurement of demand – if retailers ran out, Hue and Van Winkle simply bottled more. The first release, at 15 years old, went almost entirely to Japan. 

A year after buying the whiskey, Hue had most of it transferred from barrels to a stainless-steel tank, to halt the aging process – though he kept some behind and bottled it at higher ages. The last time Van Winkle bottled a release for Hue came in 1995, as a 20-year-old bourbon. Soon after, Hue sold the remaining whiskey to a California importer named Henry Preiss.

In 2003, Preiss decided to bottle and sell almost all of what remained, and once more went to Van Winkle for help. By then Van Winkle had developed a relationship with Buffalo Trace, and through him Hue got the distillery to bottle it for him. For the closure, Buffalo Trace and Preiss sealed it in a gold foil wrapper. This was the best-recognized and, at some 2,500 cases, the widest-selling release of A.H. Hirsch.

Like many super-premium bourbons released in the early 2000s, A.H. Hirsch was ahead of its time, retailing for an unheard of price of $45. Even in 2009, it sat unwanted on liquor store shelves, gathering dust. But as bourbon collecting took off, early converts zeroed in on A.H. Hirsch, as much for its highly regarded flavor as for its beguiling backstory. 

While there are even rarer releases of A.H. Hirsch than the 16-year-old Gold Foil, most of the rest – never a large number to begin with – have long since been consumed, making it the serious collector’s only chance to taste it. And even then, the chance is small: Bottles of Gold foil only occasionally show up at auction, and when they do, bidders push up the prices well into the four figures. But what price tag can you put on bourbon history?

Misc.: The label claims that A.H. Hirsch was made on a pot still, but Cowdery had shown that this is almost certainly not the case, and that it was most likely made on a column still, just like any other bourbon. 

Collectors’ tips: After acquiring the Hirsch brand name, Preiss used it for several other whiskeys, including a Canadian, none of which contain any of the 1974 liquid. Some of these, bottled simply as “Hirsch,” are fine whiskeys in their own right. But don’t be fooled into thinking that they share anything with the original save its name.

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