A.H. Hirsch Reserve 20yr Old Red Wax Reserve Bourbon

A.H. HIRSCH RESERVE 20YR OLD RED WAX RESERVE BOURBON

SPIRIT: Bourbon

VOLUME: 750 ml

ABV/PROOF: 46/92

AGE: 20 years

 Red-wax Hirsch ranks among the rarest of the American whiskey unicorns, with just a few hundred ever produced. At 20 years it is the oldest in the series, with most of the other releases having gone into steel tanks in 1990 at 16 years. These took on four more years in the barrel and went on sale in 1994 and 1995.

The Hirsch line began humbly enough, 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.

That same year 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.

The 20-year-old release appeared in very limited quantities in 1994 and 1994. It differs from the others in age, obviously, as well as the label, with its red filigree lettering and gold detailing, and its proof, which is slightly different from the more typical 92.

Release: A.H. Hirsch Reserve 20 Year Old Reserve Bourbon

Producer: Bottled by Old Commonwealth, sold through Cork and Bottle

Misc.: The bottle is the same green-tinted glass, and the same shape, that Van Winkle used for several other whiskeys in the mid-1990s, including his own Pappy Van Winkle Family Reserve.

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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