Whisky Advocate

A pilgrimage to Michter’s distillery

February 5th, 2010

I was born in Lebanon County, Pennsylvania, home of the Michter’s Distillery and Michter’s whiskey (which has most recently been sold under the A. H. Hirsch label). I remember buying and enjoying Michter’s whiskey for many years, while the distillery was open.

The distillery closed its doors for good on February 14th, 1990, and there’s an effort underway to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the closing of the distillery by offering tours (and more) this coming February 14th. The former Master Distiller and plant manager will even be in attendance.

I’ll be on vacation, sadly, and can’t make it. For those of you who live in (or near) Pennsylvania and would like to attend, here are the details that I have on the event as provided to me by Malt Advocate magazine’s Copy Editor (and bourbon enthusiast) Sam Komlenic. Sam will be there representing Malt Advocate.

They’re billing it as a “Toast to Michter’s.”  The current owner is collaborating with Ethan Smith (the driving force behind the event), and they will offer two tours, at 10 and 1.  Former plant manager and master distiller Dick Stoll will be in attendance, along with his wife Elaine, who was a tour guide.  Dick is the man who locked the doors at the close of business on February 14, 1990.  They are anticipating other former employees and perhaps some industry notables.

 The accessible buildings have no heat, and it remains an abandoned site, so appropriate dress for winter industrial archaeology is recommended.  They are encouraging folks to bring along any Michter’s memorabilia to display.  More here:

 http://www.bourbonenthusiast.com/forum/viewtopic.php?f=4&t=7137&p=30828#p30828

The distillery proper is amazingly intact.  Since it was abandoned by an amorphous “holding company,” the principals of which were never identified, it was never scrapped out.  Ethan has posted some photos here:

 http://forgottenpa.blogspot.com/2009/11/inside-michters.html

For more information, contact Ethan directly (ethangsmith@dejazzd.com).

IMPORTANT UPDATE: As Ethan in @10 mentions below, this event has been cancelled due to the massive snow storms PA got this past week. I’ll keep you posted on the new date.

24 Responses to “A pilgrimage to Michter’s distillery”

  1. sam k says:

    Wait a minute…one of the two most revered silent distilleries in the U.S. (Stitzel-Weller is the other) is offering tours of its extant innards and no one feels compelled to comment? Where are all you rabid Hirsch fanatics? What about all the Pennsylvania whiskey aficionados?

    I’d love for you all to join me in a week at the amazingly intact remains of one of the world’s most important distilleries. There are many questions to be answered, and stories to be told, and there will be folks in attendance to deal with both. I hope you can join us there, in legendary Schaefferstown, PA!

  2. Alex says:

    Really great photos on the forgotten PA site. So the Michters we see now, and the Hirsch, are currently produced in Bardstown, KY? I recently had a Hirsch aged corn whiskey – very interesting – it was like liguid popcorn.

    Had to be on Valentine’s Day – pretty sure the wife would wouldn’t see this as too romantic. Please share a recap of the anniversary events and more pics.

  3. sam k says:

    Yeah, the date leaves a bit to be desired, but it’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity! I’ll bring back more pics, for sure.

  4. thomas mckenzie says:

    I know it is valentines day, but a good time will be had by all.

  5. Ethan Smith says:

    I am the Ethan Smith that is hosting the tour along with the owner on the 14th. The 14th was chosen not to mess up your day with your sweetheart, but because it will be the 20th anniversary of Dick Stoll, Michter’s master distiller, locking to doors to Michter’s. I apologize for doing this that day, but I thought it would be a fitting date. Also, we have experienced a lot of snow recently here in PA. We are digging out the best we can, but just be prepared for there to be snow on the ground. The temperature is only going to be in the 20’s to low 30’s so PLEASE dress properly for the occasion. Boots and an old Carhartt would work best. I will not allow anyone into areas that are unsafe. If there is something that you want to see in an unsafe area, please ask me before going into the area. Being that this is an abandoned industrial site, being safe is crucial and the safety of my guests is of the utmost importance that day! I can’t wait to meet everyone there. This is a once in a lifetime opportunity that should be a great time for everyone!

    Thanks,

    Ethan.

  6. I love Michter’s whiskey. Unfortunately, it’s not always available

  7. sam k says:

    The real Michter’s is never available…hasn’t been distilled for over 20 years!

  8. Ethan Smith says:

    John,
    I really appreciate you posting up a little ad here for the event. Michter’s needs saved and the time is now! The goal of the 14th is twofold- One is to bring fans of Michter’s together to celebrate it’s mark it left on the whiskey world and show that the place isn’t gone. Secondly, I am trying to raise awareness that if someone doesn’t come in and save the place (even if it’s just a physically exterior restoration) it won’t exist much longer. It is still a National Historic Landmark and National Historic Place so if someone were to want to purchase and refurbish it, grants and tax credits are available to help defray costs. With the explosion of micro distillers and the brisk sales of high-end whiskies, Michter’s would be a great starting place for a new distiller or one looking for some extra capacity!

    Thanks,

    Ethan.

  9. sam k says:

    John, you’re right…Ethan is tackling this project with a fervor that is almost superhuman. He has coordinated the opening of the distillery for the event, has made the connections to get dignitaries to attend, and he will have cleared roughly three feet of snow before this Sunday’s festivities.

    I have heard from PA, OH, NY, and MD fans who will be attending. This is going to be an exciting day at the distillery, and my first there since shortly after it closed. I can’t wait!

  10. Ethan Smith says:

    ATTENTION EVERYONE ATTENDING!!!!!

    THE EVENT IS CANCELED!

    Due to an unsafe snow load on the buildings, 8 foot snow drifts, a broken plow, and snowed shut township roads, we can’t safely proceed with the festivities on the 14th. If you have made hotel arrangements, don’t forget to cancel them and also tell anyone else you have told about the event. I apologize for the inconvenience this may have caused, but it is not feasible, nor safe, to hold this event. We are going to try again this spring!

    Thank you,

    Ethan Smith.

  11. Tom S says:

    sorry to hear of the cancelation, but my good fortune and opportunity to line up for the rescheduling. I would love to tour the site, I was there in the early 90’s, must have been right after it closed. I remember an article in the Philly Inquirer about a British bloke who was trying to renew the brand, soon after my friend and I took a trip(we are in Bucks County) to visit the place and a microbrewery in Adamstown, as well. Michters was closed up, but we did enjoy a couple of pints and lunch at the beer-hall, which was somewhat close, if I recall correctly. Keep me posted.

  12. sam k says:

    Tom, you are correct. They are not very far apart. In fact, the Black Horse Inn, just up the road from Stoudt’s, was part of my initiation to great bourbon. I stopped there between Michter’s and my destination in Philadelphia in 1989 or ’90. They had Stoudt’s on tap, plus Michter’s and other fine pours available. I had a Michter’s, then asked for a Booker’s (first time I had seen it anywhere) and the fetching brunette behind the bar asked if I’d ever tasted Blanton’s, which they also featured. She said she liked it better than the Booker’s…smoother and with more finesse.

    I tasted three American classics that day, and am forever indebted to the classy lass with the greatest bourbon sensibility I’ve yet encountered!

  13. Joe Mulligan says:

    Hi, I just did a search and came across this site. I used to work for a dairy that delivered waste whey to the pig farm near the distillery. I remember a mean old St. Bernard named “Sour Mash” who guarded the distillery. I took a few tours of the distillery and purchased a ceramic bottle in the image of “Sour Mash” which I still possess. Though the seal is broken on the bottle, is it worth anything? An an ignorant question from a non drinker, does bourbon go bad? What happens as it ages? Just curious,

    Thanks
    Joe

  14. Ethan Smith says:

    The Sour Mash decanter is one of the most desirable Michter’s decanters out there. Only 500 were made to commemorate the death of Sour Mash after she was run over one night out front the distillery. The decanter was designed by General Manager George Shattls and Master Distiller Dick Stoll. The decanters fetch $50-$100 depending on condition (full, sealed, tag present, tax strap intact, etc.). If the tax strap has been torn, there is a good chance that the cork has become unseated and the whiskey inside has oxidized. This was VERY common on Michter’s decanters and I have about 20 of them that the whiskey inside had spoiled so I dumped and cleaned them. If oxidized whiskey is allowed to sit inside the decanter, it can begin to eat the china from the inside out. If you’re interested in selling the decanter, let me know. I would be interested in it due to its rarity.

    And for everyone following this: I still have not heard that the owner is out of the hospital so planning a new tour date has not moved forward. EVERYONE will be notified when a new date is selected!!!

    Thanks,

    Ethan Smith.

  15. Jim Thomas says:

    Please include me on information regarding the tour. I was cleaning my parent’s basement and came acroos a sealed Michter’s decanter in the shape of Pennsylvania.

  16. Ethan Smith says:

    Jim,
    The tour has been indefinitely canceled now due to snow damage to the buildings from our record-breaking back-to-back snowfalls in February. Several roofs have collapsed in and others are now structurally unsound. The insurance company wants no one on site other than the owner and anyone related to property maintenance.

  17. Darrell Kutz says:

    My mother lives on the square in Schafferstown, she just gave me a Michter’s 1982 Penn State National Collegiate Champions decanter, This decanter has never been filled and has the original unused cork with a footbal and looks like it was just made. Does not say made in china on the bottom. I love it.

  18. Ethan Smith says:

    The 82 Penn State decanters are really nice. They were also one of a very small number of decanters sold by Michter’s that were sold empty through the Jug House. As to why it doesn’t say “Made in China”- It was made right here in the USA by Hall China of East Liverpool, OH. If you want to add to your collection, try finding the 1977 Penn State decanter and the ULTRA rare 1986 Penn State decanter.

  19. Chad says:

    Were all three PSU decanters made by the Hall China Co?

  20. Ethan Smith says:

    Not that I know of. I think it was only the 82 and 86 Penn State ones. The earlier 77 Penn State one was made most likely by Regal China, but that’s just a guess.

  21. […] bourbon blogs state that Michter’s was the oldest American brand of whiskey before it closed in […]

© Copyright 2014. Whisky Advocate. All rights reserved.