Thursday, November 10, 2016

Old Grommes

This is the story of Old Grommes Very Very Rare Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey.

Old Grommes was a brand used for a series of Japan-market bottlings from the late 1980s to the mid 1990s. This brand is well known among whiskey enthusiasts in Japan, but is almost unknown in the United States.

In all, there were eight bottlings of Old Grommes. The 12 year 101 proof  is by far the most common.
NameAgeProofBottler Listed on Label
Old Grommes Very Very Rare10 Years90Original Grommes Co.
Old Grommes Very Very Rare12 Years101Original Grommes Co.
Old Grommes Barrel Proof12 Years121Original Grommes Co.
Old Grommes Very Very Rare12 Years125Unknown
Old Grommes Very Very Rare16 Years101Old Grommes Co.
Old Grommes Very Very Rare17 Years101Original Grommes Co.
Old Grommes Very Very Rare19 Years80Original Grommes Co.
Old Grommes Very Very Rare20 Years80Original Grommes Co.

Who made Old Grommes? This turns out to be a very difficult question with many answers.

Old Grommes 16 Year
I'll address the easiest bottle first. Old Grommes Very Very Rare 16 Year is different from the other bottlings. It lists a different bottler on the label than the other releases - "Old Grommes Co." instead of "Original Grommes Co." - and the label design and bottle shape are different.

Old Grommes 16 Year is a Julian Van Winkle bottling of the same whiskey that went into A.H. Hirsch. "Old Grommes Co.," the bottler listed on the label, is a trade name registered by Julian Van Winkle. Chuck Cowdery confirms in his book on A.H. Hirsch, and this forum post, that Julian Van Winkle bottled some of the A.H. Hirsch whiskey using the name Old Grommes.  In addition, Shot Bar Bourbon, a now-shuttered bourbon bar in Ginza, also confirms that Old Grommes 12 Year and Old Grommes 16 Year are different bourbon.

Now for the remaining bottlings.

The bottler name listed on the other bottlings is "Original Grommes Co." of Chicago, Illinois. At first, this suggests an association with the firm Grommes & Ulrich, a pre-prohibition grocer and liquor wholesaler in Chicago. The brand Grommes & Ulrich continued in use after prohibition by various companies with no connection to original brand. From 1963 to 2004, the name "Grommes & Ulrich" was trademarked by Consolidated Distilled Products.

A search of the Illinois Secretary of State's business name database for "Original Grommes Co." does not return any results. This means that Original Grommes Co. was not the actual name of the bottler and, instead, was a trade name. Normally, trade names would also have to be registered with the Illinois Secretary of State, but I have found that trade names used for export bottlings are often not registered.

Old Grommes 12y
The first solid lead on the source of Old Grommes comes from a blogger who mentions that Old Grommes was distilled by Jim Beam and aged in Chicago by Consolidated Rectifying. Given that this is an unsourced assertion by a blogger, I think a little more research is necessary.

I'll start with the claim that Old Grommes 12 Year is bottled by Consolidated Rectifying. A search of the TTB's public COLA registry reveals that the holder of DSP-IL-26 registered several COLAs for Old Grommes. Based on other COLA filings, I can determine that Consolidated Rectifying is the holder of DSP-IL-26. Unfortunately, pre-2003 COLAs are not available online. I submitted a Freedom of Information Act request for these COLAs, but was told that the records were no longer legible.

This, of course, leads to the question "Who is Consolidated Rectifying?"

Consolidated Rectifying was a subsidiary of Consolidated Distilled Products, the former owner of the Grommes & Ulrich trademark, until it was sold to National Wine and Spirits in 1991.  At that time, National Wine and Spirits also purchased Union Liquor Company (now Union Beverage Company), another subsidiary of Consolidated Distilled Products. Consolidated Distilled Products specialized in liquors, cordials, winevodkagin and (non-bourbon) whiskey.

According to the public COLA registry, Consolidated Rectifying (Vendor ID 001951) was responsible for about 20 other bourbon bottlings, including G&U, Hannah & Hogg and Charter & Oak. I've never heard of any of these other bottlings.

Now, Consolidated Rectifying didn't distill the bourbon in Old Grommes. This is clear both from the company's name (i.e., rectifiers don't distill) and from the fact that there is no evidence that Consolidated Rectifying owned a distillery. Further, Consolidated Distilled Products, the parent company, began as a beer distributor after prohibition and later expanded to distributing other types of alcohol, most notably fine wine. If Consolidated Rectifying didn't make the bourbon, then who did?

This where things become even more complicated. There are two batches of Old Grommes. One was released sometime in the 1990s and is Stizel-Weller bourbon. The other, was released sometime in the 2000s and is Beam bourbon. I don't know which bottlings were part of each batch, but I do know that Old Grommes 12 (the most common Old Grommes) was released as part of both batches. For Old Grommes 12, there is no way to tell the difference between these batches based on the front label, but the back label will be different.

Old Grommes that is Stizel-Weller bourbon will have a similar back label to other Japan-only Van Winkle bottlings. It will look something like the picture to the right. I have tasted this batch of Old Grommes 12 101 and barrel proof side by side with Stizel-Weller bottlings from the early 1990s and the taste was nearly identical.  In addition, the owner of the bar with one of the largest bourbon collections in Japan has he stated that he believes Old Grommes to be from Stitzel-Weller.

For the other batch, the back label will be as pictured to the left. This one states that it was distilled in Frankfort, KY and aged in Chicago, just like most descriptions I have found. Beam is the most likely candidate for the distiller and, based on the flavor of the bourbon, I think this is a good bet.

There isn't a satisfying conclusion to this post. Some Old Grommes is A.H. Hirsch, some Old Gromes is Stizel-Weller and some is Beam.

Old Grommes 10y; Old Grommes 12y 120 proof; Old Grommes 12y 125 proof; Old Grommes 20y

1 comment:

  1. have you heard of "the kentucky 12" bottled by consolidated distilled products?