A demise of rye and its rebirth

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Re: A demise of rye and its rebirth

Unread postby bourbonv » Fri Oct 09, 2009 2:07 pm

Chuck,
I agree that the distilleries in Pennsylvania are long past, but some of the sites might still remain with warehouses. Even if the warehouses are gone, it would be possible to do something similar to what Schenley did with Dickel and build new at an old site. That would become a tourism destination if a company did that and did it right. I don't see anything happening like that in the near future, but then again, never say never...
Mike Veach
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Re: A demise of rye and its rebirth

Unread postby gillmang » Fri Oct 09, 2009 2:33 pm

Right, I saw that add too Jeff.

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Re: A demise of rye and its rebirth

Unread postby gillmang » Fri Oct 09, 2009 3:47 pm

Re Henry McKenna (from http://www.weimax.com):

HENRY McKENNA
Hank emigrated from Ireland to Kentucky where he was farming and distilling. He ended up doing more of the latter and less of the former. His recipe used a high percentage of wheat in the whiskey. McKenna also insisted on aging the spirit in wood until it was smooth. His distillery fell idle during Prohibition, his heirs running the place from 1934 until selling it to Seagrams in 1941. It's now a brand owned by Heaven Hill. We periodically get a call for this rather basic, 80 proof Bourbon. It's got a touch of wood and a bit of herbal/minty notes. Liter bottles are around $15.
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Re: A demise of rye and its rebirth

Unread postby bourbonv » Fri Oct 09, 2009 3:55 pm

Gary,
I am not sure where this guy got his information, but I know that there was no wheat in the Henry McKenna bourbon. Mary Hite, who is one of the retired curators of the Oscar getz Museum, comes from a long line of distillers (Bixler family). Her grandfather and father worked at the McKenna distillery before it was sold to Seagram and the mash bill did not include wheat. I asked her about this because Henry McKenna also started as a Miller and seemed natural for the mash bill to have wheat in the recipe, but Mary said the recipe used by her family was the same as Henry McKenna used and it was a traditional bourbon - no wheat in it. The McKenna family did not sell the recipe to Seagram. If a copy of the original recipe exists, I would say it is in Mary's family papers.
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Re: A demise of rye and its rebirth

Unread postby gillmang » Fri Oct 09, 2009 4:05 pm

Okay thanks, Mike. Now that I think about it, perhaps Weimax is saying that McKenna originally distilled a whiskey from wheat (a straight wheat whiskey) before making bourbon that is. However, I thought Michael Jackson wrote in 1987 (in his World Guide to Whisky) that Henry Mckenna bourbon used wheat in the mash. Maybe my memory is faulty, but I thought he wrote that. Do you have a copy you can check at the office? If not I'll check it when at home tonight.

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Re: A demise of rye and its rebirth

Unread postby bourbonv » Fri Oct 09, 2009 4:11 pm

Gary,
The Jackson bppk is one that I had at United Distillers, but I don't have myself. I keep thinking I need to get a copy. I don't recall anything about McKenna being made with wheat, but since Mckenna was of only marginal interest to my job at U.D., I may have missed it. If there was wheat in the whiskey, it came from Seagram and I know Seagram at one time wrote some negative press about using wheat.

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Re: A demise of rye and its rebirth

Unread postby bourbonv » Fri Oct 09, 2009 4:22 pm

Jeff,
That would not be my source of choice. Kroll only talked to marketing people for research.
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Re: A demise of rye and its rebirth

Unread postby bourbonv » Fri Oct 09, 2009 4:52 pm

I would not say "made up" as much as "got it wrong". I met one of the ladies before she passed and I don't recall anything said about wheat in the bourbon. And of course, Mary Hite knew them well.
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Re: A demise of rye and its rebirth

Unread postby gillmang » Fri Oct 09, 2009 8:19 pm

Well, this is very interesting. I thought at some point I heard that Henry McKenna bourbon had been wheated. So far, the only source that confirms it is Kroll - a book I have never read (a gap in my knowledge, the only major bourbon study I don't have - actually I never read Crowgey either - I need to get out more).

And, I just checked - Michael Jackson does not state in his 1987 World Guide that McKenna is wheated - he doesn't say either way. So I must have read it somewhere else, perhaps in a source borrowing from Crowgey. Does Sam Cecil state anything on this? I can't find my copy.

I must say I am inclined to believe Kroll, due also to having tasted this product many times in the 1980's. It had a dryish, light palate such as many wheaters have. On the other hand, my memory might be wrong on this. The Kroll account might have assumed wrongly that because McKenna initially used a wheat-heavy whiskey recipe, his bourbon used wheat. But this is not so of course necessarily. At the time, the market offered wheat whiskies and white wheat whiskeys. Some of these were straight whiskeys (like Bernheim Wheat today) and some were probably like vodka, high rectified. A corn-heavy mash, once McKenna switched to corn as the base, would of course be the decisive turn to bourbon, and no ad in the 1900's I have been able to find talks about what the minority grain was although numerous other aspects of (craft-style) bourbon production are referred to. Mike's account, which relies also on an interview with a descendant of those involved in distilling the whiskey in the 1900's, suggests clearly that rye was the minority grain used.

Chuck, if you still have any Fairfield whiskey, can you taste it and opine on the question?

Gary
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Re: A demise of rye and its rebirth

Unread postby p_elliott » Sat Oct 10, 2009 3:31 am

No offense Chuck but neither Crowgey or Cowdery's books are helpful in this particular discussion. And this discussion has gotten way out of my league but I'll read along.
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Re: A demise of rye and its rebirth

Unread postby gillmang » Sat Oct 10, 2009 8:39 am

I checked Cecil, but while he gives a fair amount of detail on the origin and development of McKenna's business, there is no mention of mashbill. Cecil does state, in regard to sour mashing, that after restoration in the 1930's the McKenna distillery continued the original method of same, which was to sour the mash overnight and "break it up" the next day. He states that apart from McKenna, only George Dickel did this (Cascade) when set up in the 1950's. I can't understand as yet what this means exactly or if it differed from using the yeast from the "old" as referred to in the 1960's and 70's ads. I think it is two different things.

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Re: A demise of rye and its rebirth

Unread postby gillmang » Sat Oct 10, 2009 9:43 am

Mike, as I mentioned in a comment just posted on an older review you did of a Fairfield Henry McKenna, you must be right that it was rye-recipe. You state in your review that the retired distiller who made the bourbon told you the mashbill included 25% rye. Your review by the way is exactly as I recall the bourbon from the 80's, with its honeysuckle and appley notes. I must say to me at the time, hence my memory, it did not suggest rye content, but clearly it did use rye. It is interesting that Harrison Kroll suggests the contrary. Perhaps there is still an issue what McKenna's original bourbon formula was, but by the 1950's and 1960's it would seem rye was being used in the mashbill.

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Re: A demise of rye and its rebirth

Unread postby cowdery » Sun Oct 11, 2009 5:58 pm

I've never possessed any Fairfield McKenna but I have tasted it a couple of times, most recently from a bottle found by DougDog. It's entirely possible that McKenna was wheated before Seagram's took over, but it most certainly was not under the Seagram's ownership.

I keep thinking I bought a copy of Kroll, but I'll be damned if I know where it is. I referred to it back when I did the documentary (1991-92) and was not impressed. If that's the only source for the McKenna-was-wheated claim I wouldn't be very persuaded.

The thing about wheaters is that we know for sure that they were made before Prohibition but we don't have any really reliable information indicating by whom. We have some pretty good information that suggests the Stitzel-Weller recipe came from the Stitzel family, but it's unlikely they were unique. Who else made wheated bourbon pre-pro, we just don't know.

A few days ago I was reviewing Joseph Fleischmann's book from 1885 (thanks, Gary) and noticed that, apparently, West Virginia was also a big producer of rye whiskey back in the day.
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Re: A demise of rye and its rebirth

Unread postby gillmang » Sun Oct 11, 2009 6:55 pm

Chuck, I thought I had read an early post on the other board where you said you had a few bottles of Henry McKenna made in Fairfield (this around 1999).

Surely indeed wheat must have been used in some bourbon mashbills before Old Fitzgerald and Maker's Mark. I think the only way to know for sure will be if the Government ever gives access to distillery records it holds, the ones Sam Cecil tried to obtain.

Gary
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Re: A demise of rye and its rebirth

Unread postby cowdery » Mon Oct 12, 2009 1:33 am

What I had, of which I have one left, are Lawrenceburg McKenna's.
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