A.H. Hirsch Reserve Colonel Randolph Very Rare 16yr Bourbon 116 proof 1990 bottled for Julian Van Winkle

A.H. HIRSCH RESERVE COLONEL RANDOLPH VERY RARE 16YR BOURBON 116 PROOF 1990 BOTTLED FOR JULIAN VAN WINKLE

SPIRIT: Bourbon

VOLUME: 750 ml

ABV/PROOF: 58/116

AGE: 16 years

The whiskey in Colonel Randolph 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, including several, like Colonel Randolph, that had graced whiskey bottles before but had long since fallen into disuse.

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, it 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, 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 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.

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 already spent five years retailing bourbon that had been bottled by Julian Van Winkle III. A sizable amount of that whiskey went 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 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 at his facility in Lawrenceburg, Kentucky. 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, as did Colonel Randolph.

Release: Colonel Randolph Straight Bourbon Whiskey

Misc.: The front label says that the whiskey was bottled for Colonel Randolph & Co. 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: The back label is entirely in Japanese, making it clear that it is intended for that market. Hue and Van Winkle used the Randolph label, and the full-proof bottling, sparingly – only 130 cases, or 780 bottles, were ever released.

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