Thursday, December 19, 2013

A.H. Hirsch 16 Year

Age:16 Years
Price:JPY 6500 (at retail)

A.H. Hirsch 16 Year (print label)
A.H. Hirsch 16 Year may very well be the best bourbon you'll never taste and is certainly one of the most hyped.

A.H. Hirsch was produced in 1974 at the Pennco Distillery (later Michter's) in Shaefferstown, PA under contract for Adolph Hirsch. It was aged on the grounds of the distillery until the distillery went bankrupt in 1989. The bourbon was then rescued before the sale of the distillery's assets and sold to Gordon Hue.

Hue's plan was to sell the bourbon under the brand A.H. Hirsch in the Japanese market. At this time, Japan was booming as a bourbon market and extra-aged bottlings commanded quite a premium. Unfamiliar with whiskey, the Japanese thought that if Scotch can be 18 or 20 years old why shouldn't bourbon? Hue didn't bottle the bourbon himself, but instead enlisted the help of Julian Van Winkle. This whiskey was slowly bottled over the next two decades at different proof and ages.

A.H. Hirsch 20 Year
The first bottling was a 15-year-old expression bottled in 1989/1990 and the first batch of the 16-year-old expression was bottled a year later.  At this point, the majority of the bourbon was placed in stainless steel vats to arrest the aging process, though a small amount continued to age for up to 20 years. The labels of these early bottlings used a scripted font (see left) and were sold almost exclusively in Japan.

The most widely available bottling by far was the A.H. Hirsch 16 Year. This bourbon was released seven different times over the next two decades. The largest bottling (by far) was the Gold Foil version released in 2003. For the final bottling in 2009, 1000 bottles of the Gold Foil bottles were decanted into hand-blown crystal bottles and packed in wooden humidors. The details of the various bottlings are as follows:

Blue WaxScriptStandard95.6
Gold WaxScriptScotch95.6
Black WaxScriptScotch91.6
Dripping Gold WaxPrintStandard91.6
Gold WaxPrintStandard91.6
Gold FoilPrintStandard91.6
Humidor EditionPrintHand-Blown Crystal91.6

In the above table, a "script" label is similar to the A.H. Hirsch 20 Year (above) and the "print" label is similar to the label of A.H. Hirsch 16 Year (above). A "standard" bottle is a normal shaped tall bourbon bottle with sloped shoulders and a "scotch" bottle is a shorter bottle with a neck bulge.

I'm not going to provide tasting notes because the A.H. Hirsch I've had tasted flat and I suspect was the victim of oxidation and honestly, at this point, the taste is irrelevant. This is a bourbon you buy for the story.

Verdict: You already know whether you want a bottle.

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