A.H. Hirsch Reserve Boones Knoll Straight Bourbon Whiskey 16yr Squat Bottle Black Wax Seal

A.H. HIRSCH RESERVE BOONES KNOLL STRAIGHT BOURBON WHISKEY 16YR SQUAT BOTTLE BLACK WAX SEAL

SPIRIT: Bourbon

VOLUME: 750ml

ABV/PROOF: 45.8/91.2

AGE: 16 years

The whiskey in Boone’s Knoll comes from the same legendary batch of 400 barrels made at the Pennco Distillery in Schaefferstown, Pennsylvania, in February 1974 and later bottled, predominantly, as A.H. Hirsch. But it took time for Hirsch to become a household name – at least in bourbon-loving households – and in that time the whiskey’s owner, Gordon Hue, had it bottled under a variety of names. One of them was Boone’s Knoll.

The Hirsch line began humbly. Its namesake, an executive at the Schenley Distillers Corporation named Adolph H. Hirsch, had ordered it from Pennco, located about an hour west of Philadelphia. A year later, the distillery would change its name to Michter’s, after its most prominent whiskey brand. 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. In other words there was no secret sauce to Hirsch, nothing radically different from the rest of the bourbon Pennco made.

It’s unclear why Hirsch ordered the whiskey; once it went into the rickhouse, he did nothing with it save for paying the annual warehousing bill. 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.

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

Although there was nothing unique about the distillation 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 at his facility in Lawrenceburg, Kentucky. He called it A.H. Hirsch Reserve, but also used other names, including Boone’s Knoll and Colonel Randolphlph. There was no particular reasoning to the timing or size of its releases, just a measurement of demand: If Japanese retailers ran out, Hue and Van Winkle bottled more. The first release, at 15 years old, went almost entirely to Japan. 

There was an earlier whiskey, prior to Boone’s Knoll, with the same name, made by the E.J. Curley Co. at a distillery halfway between Lexington and Danville. That whiskey disappeared before Prohibition, leaving the trademark available for Hue and Van Winkle to appropriate, if only briefly. Boone’s Knoll was among their releases sold only overseas, hence its 700 ml volume – and its extreme rarity. 

Release: Boone’s Knoll Straight Bourbon Whiskey

Misc.: The front label says that the whiskey was bottled by Hirsch Distillers of Lawrenceburg, Kentucky. But that is merely a “doing business as” front for Van Winkle’s Commonwealth Distillery, which – to confuse the matters further – was not a distillery at all, but a bottling facility. 

Collectors’ tips: After acquiring the Hirsch brand name in the mid-1990s, Henry Preiss, an importer, bottled most of what remained in the iconic “gold foil” bottles in 2003. He then used the Hirsch name  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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