Old Hermitage

Have an old/rare bottle you'd like some more info on?

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Old Hermitage

Unread postby susanandluke » Tue Sep 05, 2006 1:07 am

I have a sealed bottle of Bourbon that I know nothing about, except that it is old. I was wondering if anyone could either tell me about it or direct me to where I could learn about it. I haven't had any luck searching the web. The label reads "Old Hermitage Bourbon Sour Mash" the bottle is marked 1 Qt. and the seal says it was made Srping 1912 and bottled Fall 1917. I know this is pre-prohibition, but I don't know if that is significant or not. Any information or advice would be appreciated. Thank you.
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Unread postby bourbonv » Tue Sep 05, 2006 9:03 am

Old Hermitage was made by W A Gaines and Co. at the Old Crow distillery in Woodford County, Ky. This brand had a good reputation and dates back to the time they built the Hermitage distillery in 1868.
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Unread postby susanandluke » Tue Sep 05, 2006 1:56 pm

So, should I drink it or save it? I have a few other bottles of old bourbon too, can you help me identify them? Cyrus Noble 1/5 Gal with "National Pure Food Law" label but no year. Old Crow 4/5 Qt. with seal that either says 1911 or 1941, and Glenmore 4/5 Qt. with seal but no year on it. Thanks again for any information.
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Unread postby bourbonv » Tue Sep 05, 2006 3:02 pm

If the whiskey is not cloudy it should still be good. Drink and enjoy. I think you will suprised at how different it taste.

As far as the other brands, check out the timelines in the "Bourbon Lore" section they will give you some information about Glenmore and Old Crow. The Cyrus Noble sounds like another pre-prohibition bottle. I have seen the label but don't recall any details.
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Unread postby cowdery » Tue Sep 05, 2006 7:19 pm

True pre-prohibition whiskies are pretty rare. (As opposed to whiskey distilled before prohibition and bottled during it, as medicinal whiskey, which is pretty common.) That doesn't necessarily mean they are worth a lot of money, but they could be worth hundreds of dollars, should you have an interest in selling them. eBay is presently about the only marketplace for that sort of thing.

They are also well worth drinking, as Mike says.

You also can hang onto them. Assuming they are well sealed, nothing much will change. They won't get any better, nor will they get any worse. They might get more valuable, but probably not. The market for that sort of this is pretty limited.

Most people I know who have authentic pre-prohibition bottles have found them in antique shops or in family holdings. I'm sure your bottles have an interesting story. Care to share it?
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Unread postby susanandluke » Wed Sep 06, 2006 12:54 pm

The contents are not cloudy, as far as I can tell. These bottles belonged to my parents who acquired them in the 70's. After serving at least one bottle at a party, they noticed how old they were and decided to save them, thinking that they were quite valuable -- a thought they instilled in me also.

The way my Dad acquired the bottles is fairly simple. We live in Cupertino, California where my Dad owned a car repair garage for 38 years. One of his clients was the property manager for JimSoMare Ranch, owned at the time by a prominent San Francisco family, the Schwarbachers, and now part of Ridge Vineyards. After cleaning out the basement of the SF home of the Schwarbachers, the property manager had many bottles of alcohol and wine, and gave some to my Dad, probably as payment for work done to his personal vehicle. When my Dad realized the age of the bottles, he told the property manager, who had already consumed his bottles.

On another note, my parents were from England and preferred Scotch to Bourbon. Sadly, I have never acquired a taste for any whiskey. However, I am intrigued and may very well sample a nearly 100 year old Bourbon because I can. Perhaps to commemorate some special event, or maybe when the Old Hermitage actually turns 100. I continue to want to know as much about them as possible. If it would help, I could photograph them.
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Unread postby bourbonv » Wed Sep 06, 2006 12:57 pm

Please do photograph them. Front, back bottom, all angles necessary to get the information on the bottles and labels. I would be interested in seeing the images.
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Unread postby susanandluke » Wed Sep 06, 2006 1:00 pm

Will do. It will take a couple of days though, since I'll have to borrow a digital camera.
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Unread postby TNbourbon » Wed Sep 06, 2006 1:54 pm

susanandluke wrote:...I am intrigued and may very well sample a nearly 100 year old Bourbon because I can. Perhaps to commemorate some special event, or maybe when the Old Hermitage actually turns 100...


A wonderful attitude. Nearly all of us here are, to some degree, 'collectors', but also true is that for most of us, the whiskey's the thing -- and it was made to be consumed. I have, for example, an Old Grand-Dad BIB distilled in the season of my birth, but I 'collected' it to be drunk for some special occasion, perhaps when both it and I turn 50 next year.
Of course, popping open such a treasure makes it a special occasion! :x
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Unread postby cowdery » Wed Sep 06, 2006 4:13 pm

As Mike mentioned, The Hermitage Distillery was organized in 1862 by Gaines, Berry & Co. The distillery was actually built in 1868, on the Kentucky River south of Frankfort. One assumes that the name "Hermitage" was a reference to President Andrew Jackson's home of that name in Nashville, Tennessee, but I don't know that for sure.

The company was reorganized and incorporated in 1868 as W. A. Gaines & Co.

Although the name of W. A. Gaines was most prominent, Hiram Berry was the principal owner and president of the original firm, and in the background was E. H. Taylor Jr., who financed and ran many central Kentucky distilleries in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

The 1868 reorganization was primarily a way to increase capitalization (always a challenge in the whiskey business) and brought in Sherman Paris, Marshall J. Allen and Frank S. Stevens, of New York. Paris became president and the company's main offices were there. Berry continued to be the main "man on the ground" in Frankfort, running the distillery part of the business.

Taylor withdrew in 1870, Gaines died in 1872 and Paris retired in 1882. He was succeeded in New York by Marshall J. Allen. Berry continued as vice-president and his son, George, became corporate secretary and his father's understudy in running the local operation.

By 1887, W. A. Gaines was the largest American whiskey company.

The Hermitage Distillery itself was converted into a chair factory during prohibition. There was talk about reviving it after repeal, but nothing came of it and the facility was razed in 1945.

In about 1878, the Gaines company sold the original Old Crow plant (today's Woodford Reserve Distillery) and built a new distillery on the same road, but closer to Frankfort, next to the distillery that later became Old Taylor.

When prohibition came, both distilleries were sold to the American Medicinal Spirits company, which was later merged with National Distillers Products Corporation.

Both Old Taylor and Old Crow came back after prohibition as part of National. The Taylor plant operated until 1972 and Old Crow operated until 1985, when National merged with Jim Beam. Both distilleries are still standing, but just barely.

George F. Berry succeeded his father as vice-president at W. A. Gaines. He was quite wealthy and also married well. In 1900 he built a Colonial Revival-style mansion in Frankfort that is today known as Berry Hill. It is owned by the state and open to the public.
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Unread postby bourbonv » Wed Sep 06, 2006 4:32 pm

Chuck,
I have been working on the Taylor-Hay family papers and I am quite familiar with the distilleries involved. Gaines, Berry and Co. built the Hermitage Distillery in 1868 and that was were Old Crow was made from that point on. Gaines and Co. never owned the Oscar Pepper Distillery, which is where the Woodford Distillery is located now. They did own the brand "Old Crow". Taylor owned it briefly after James E Pepper fell into is debt. Taylor sold it to Labrot and Graham in auction to pay his debts.

Now Taylor never says for sure, but I was under the impression that the Old Crow distillery site is also the site of the Hermitage Distillery. Taylor also owned the J Swigert Taylor Distillery in the 1870's and reports it is next to the Hermitage distillery. The J Swigert Taylor distillery site later became the Old Taylor distillery. It may be that when Taylor was speaking "next to" it was more figurative than I took it. It could have been a mile or so away and still considered "next to" in Taylor's mind.
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Unread postby cowdery » Wed Sep 06, 2006 5:34 pm

You may be right about Gaines never owning the Oscar Pepper Distillery. The timeline I have seen at Woodford, probably your work, seems more accurate that most of what I've found and, obviously, the Taylor-Hay stuff you have access to is more or less definitive.

However, I know that there was a Hermitage Distillery located in Frankfort itself, on the river, not at the Crow-Taylor site on Glenn's Creek and Glenn's Creek Road. I've seen photographs of it, though I can't recall now exactly where. Cecil talks about it in some detail and although some of those details I know are wrong (including the spelling of Berry's name), I don't think the specifics of it being turned into a chair factory, sold to Allied Brewing and Distillng Co. of New York in 1933, and ultimately razed in 1945 were made up.

In her research, Amy Bennett determined that Old Taylor was built later than is usally claimed, sometime after the turn of the century if I remember correctly. I think the date usually claimed for Old Crow, 1878, may be early too. One possibility is that Hermitage was built first and Old Crow was made there before the Glenn's Creek Road plant was built.

The Gaines company was quite large and that they were operating more than one distillery at the peak of the pre-pro industry is not hard to believe.

If Perrin is correct and Taylor withdrew from the firm in 1870, that would explain why the Taylor-Hay papers don't say anything about the subsequent erection of the Glenn's Creek Road facility. An even better explanation, consistent with what you have about Hermitage being next to Old Taylor, is that the Hermitage name was moved to a Frankfort distillery, built later, and the Glenn's Creek Road site was renamed Old Crow. I would guess "next to" means "next to" and not nearby. If I understand correctly where Hermitage was located, it was closer to Stagg (BT) than to Old Crow.

Richard Taylor (no relation) gets a lot of stuff wrong in his book about Taylor and Buffalo Trace, but he also describes Hermitage as being "in South Frankfort, an area that was only sparsely developed at the time. Located on the Kentucky River between Second and Cross Streets, the now-defunct distillery is visible on the 1871 bird's eye view map of Frankfort. In addition to the disilling buildings, it consisted of seven warehouses and a cooperage."

Once again, it just kills me how hard it can be to nail this stuff down.
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Unread postby bourbonv » Wed Sep 06, 2006 7:25 pm

Chuck,
Amy is right about the Old Taylor Castle style distillery being built around 1901. It was built on the site of the previous Old Taylor Distillery, which was built on the site of the J[acob] Swigert Taylor Distillery, which was the old Swigert distillery before 1870 when Taylor bought it. Jacob Swigert Taylor was E H Taylor, Jr.'s eldest son and was put in charge of that small distillery when Taylor bought it. For the most part in the 1870's it was used for warehousing whiskey.

Actually Richard Taylor is a great grandson of E H Taylor, Jr. and cousin of the Taylor Hay family. His book is not the best history I have ever seen but enteresting if you are interested in the local Frankfort history and Taylor family history. He does confuse many points in his book. He is a poet, not a historian.

I suspect you are right in that the Hermitage distillery was the original distillery where Old Crow is today and that Gaines purchased a second distillery in Frankfort and moved the Hermitage name to that location. I know that Taylor remained friends with the people at the Gaines distillery and went out of his way not to hurt their business while he was growing his own. I know that he refused to sell whiskey to the New York firm handling Old Crow unless they were given permission by W A Gaines and Company to do so.

You are right, it can be a pain to keep track of all of this information. Woodford's timeline is based on some of my work but was put together by Chris Morris with help by myself and Sam Thomas.
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Unread postby EllenJ » Thu Sep 07, 2006 12:25 am

It's difficult enough in Kentucky, a state which is proud of its distilling heritage.
Try doing this with Pennsylvania or Maryland whiskeys!! (Let alone Tennessee or New England).
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I have pictures of my 4 bottles

Unread postby susanandluke » Sat Sep 16, 2006 10:30 pm

I am posting the pictures of my four bottles, although the order may not make sense, please scroll to the bottom first. Again, any feedback would be appreciated. Thank you & sorry for the delay.
Attachments
rightbottlesresized.jpg
These are the 2 on the right
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leftbottlesresized.jpg
These are the 2 on the left
leftbottlesresized.jpg (110.87 KiB) Viewed 4936 times
bottlerearresized.jpg
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bottlefrontsresized.jpg
Bottles are in the same left to right order in all photos
bottlefrontsresized.jpg (168.11 KiB) Viewed 4931 times
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