In the world of distilled spirits, there are many products and people that are difficult to pin down, but few personalities are as elusive as Adolph H. Hirsch and his legendary Bourbon. Here’s what we know: Hirsch was born in Mannheim, Germany, in 1908, and came to the U.S. in 1926. On and off, he was a Schenley executive for most of his life. In 1942, Hirsch and three partners bought the Pennsylvania Distilling Company (Pennco), a contract distiller with a spotty history that primarily produced Bourbon.
In 1974, Hirsch commissioned a run of 400 barrels of Bourbon at Pennco. The distillery went out of business shortly afterward, and was purchased and renamed Michter’s; there’s no connection between that operation and another modern brand of whiskey also called Michter’s (confused yet?). When Michter’s closed for good in 1989, Hirsch’s 400 barrels of Bourbon—which he had forgotten about—were sold to a distillery in Cincinnati, which began bottling the contents and selling it as A. H. Hirsch Bourbon. Those remaining bottles of the 16 Year-Old are extremely rare; one is likely to set you back $1400, if you can find it.
Now a contemporary brand of whiskey is being bottled under the Hirsch Selections label. The available products include a Straight Corn Whiskey, a Three Year Old Canadian Rye, and a Small Batch Kentucky Reserve Bourbon. The Small Batch Bourbon is sourced for Anchor Distilling by the Kentucky Bourbon Distillers in Bardstown, KY, and bottled by them on a contract basis, as is the corn whiskey.
The tan-colored Kentucky Straight Corn Whiskey (90 proof/45% ABV, $31) exudes aromas of sweet grains, caramel and spice. It enters the mouth as sweetly as it smells, yielding a rich middle palate balanced by pepper and baking spices, the texture enhanced by more than four years of oak aging . This would make a very, very interesting Martini.
The nose of the Three Year Canadian Rye (86 proof/43% ABV, $31) is lush and generous, perfumed with scents of spring flowers and fermented melon. It is delicate and high-toned in the mouth, bathing the palate with suggestions of citrus and stone fruits before morphing into a long and spicy finish. The Small Batch Reserve Kentucky Straight Bourbon (92 proof 46% ABV, $34) yields whiffs of sweet caramel, honey and menthol on the nose. The spirit is rich and soothing on entry; the sweetness comes to the forefront in the middle palate, balanced by a nice spicy edge, and the peppery quality becomes more pronounced on the long finish. This is a sipping Bourbon that will make you look forward to those long winter nights.
Mark Spivak is the author of Iconic Spirits: An Intoxicating History, published by Lyons Press (Globe Pequot); for more information, go to amazon.com