The Long and Winding Journey of a Whiskey Unicorn
Odysseus, Shackleton, Sir Edmund Hilary, A.H. Hirsch Reserve Whiskey. Intrepid adventurers all. Where the first three battled monsters and mountains, A.H. Hirsch took on decades of oblivion and ownership shuffles to emerge victorious as the rarest of rare, the most covetable brown liquor of them all.
Our April Rare Spirits Auction offered not one, not two, not even three, but FOUR bottles of A.H. Hirsch, which serious whiskey enthusiasts know to be like spotting the Loch Ness Monster, Godzilla, Big Foot, and Tinker Bell all having brunch together. The very last three bottles of A.H. Hirsch were sold by the most recent "producer" of the juice, Preiss Imports, in 2015, to a restaurant in Arizona. Which means that finding any A.H. Hirsch Reserve of your very own is now a matter exclusively of bushwhacking through the secondary market. It's not IMPOSSIBLE that there's any A.H. Hirsch biding its time on the highest of retail shelves, or in the back of a reclusive distributor's warehouse, but given the going price per bottle, and the extremely low supply/demand ratio, it's unlikely that many who make their living selling bourbon are holding out on us.

But how exactly did A.H. Hirsch become the ultimate unicorn of the bourbon world? As it so often goes with the best legends, it wasn't a straight-line kind of story.
Bomberger's Distillery
Step One
In 1974, beverage industry executive and investment banker Adolph Hirsch commissioned a 400 barrel batch of bourbon from the historic Bomberger's Distillery (later home of Michter's) in Schaefferstown, Pennsylvania. Hirsch's reasons for making the whiskey are lost to time, as he then left the bourbon sitting in its barrels until the distillery went bankrupt and closed in 1989.
Step Two
Enter Gordon Hue, proprietor of the Cork 'n Bottle liquor store in Kentucky. Hue was brought up in the spirits world, working at the family store from the age of 13. In 1989, Hue was on the lookout for a very good old bourbon to bottle and sell. He got a tip about a 90-year old man living in Grand Rapids, Michigan, who had 400 barrels of bourbon of which he wanted to get rid.
After Hue sampled Hirsch's bourbon, the flavor profile convinced him to buy it, regardless of the fact that it was made in Pennsylvania (anathema to a Kentuckian). But what does one DO with 400 barrels of bourbon? Hue managed to convince his friend Julian Van Winkle III to take about a third of the barrels to continue aging. The rest, by then a 16-year product, went into steel tanks in a friend's storage facility in Cincinnati for subsequent periodic bottlings. Hue named his new bourbon after the man who commissioned it and began selling 16-year old A.H. Hirsch Reserve through Cork 'n Bottle, largely to Japan and Europe.
Step Three
After a few years, Hue began having his friend Van Winkle bottle the remaining barrels of A.H. Hirsch. They turned into 37 cases of an 18-year old that were released in 1992, 121 cases of a 19-year old released in 1993, and 500 cases of a 20-year-old released in 1994-95. Obviously the even smaller quantity of these bottlings makes them that much more sought after now. Our auction included one bottle of the "red wax" 20-year bottling from Lawrenceburg, Kentucky, where the bottling was done when the Van Winkle crew was in charge.
Step Four
In 2003, Preiss Imports bought the remaining 16-year old A.H. Hirsch inventory from Gordon Hue. Theirs became known as the "gold foil" bottling. As they ran down their inventory, they decided to sell the last of it in one big A.H. Hirsch historic hurrah. So Henry Preiss had the remaining 1000 bottles of the 16-year Reserve decanted into hand-blown glass bottles he had imported from France. They were numbered and sold in wooden humidors. Then, in 2011, Henry Preiss sold his company and the distribution rights to A.H. Hirsch to Anchor. It was Anchor who sold the last three humidor sets to The White Chocolate Grill in Arizona in 2015.
And so....A.H. Hirsch comes pedigreed with exactly the complicated lore in which whiskey drinkers love to steep. That's a value-added proposition for sure, but by all accounts and bourbon chat threads, the bourbon in the bottle lives up to the hype. Chuck Cowdery, who literally wrote the book on A.H. Hirsch (The Best Bourbon You'll Never Taste) says that "If you've never tasted the A. H. Hirsch bourbon and you can, what are you waiting for? A special occasion? Opening a bottle of A. H. Hirsch Special Reserve Straight Bourbon Whiskey is a special occasion. Experience is always worth more than expectation."

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Friday, April 30th
12:00pm (EDT)