The Lost Story of the Oldest Distillery in America

The Lost Story of the Oldest Distillery in America

Michter’s whiskey is considered by some people to be a rather new spirit in the industry. Can you believe that Michter’s might be one of the oldest distilleries in the American bourbon history? Ready for a quick history lesson?

 

Michter’s Distillery was born in 1753 near Schaefferstown, Pennsylvania, by two farmers who started distilling rye whiskey. Actually, back then, it was named the Bomberger’s distillery. Bomberger’s whiskey started being mass produced in 1860. The distillery was transferred and sold multiple times until it closed its doors because of Prohibition in 1919. It reopened in 1934 and was sold a few more times due to financial problems. In the 1950s, a recession hit the country, which prevented the owner from selling the whiskey. The distillery was then used for contract distilling and started operating under the Michter’s label in the 1970s. It ended up closing in 1989 after a bankruptcy filing, and the trademark was forgotten.

 

A quicker way to summarize things: At the end of the 1980s, Michter’s Distillery was the oldest distillery in the United States, but barely sold any whiskey for over 60 years! Still, it remained an icon of whiskey distilling, going from being an agricultural enterprise to a large-scale industry. 

 

Today, the distillery is a ghost building. The years have passed, and the lack of maintenance can be seen pretty easily. It was sold in 2011 to an investment group.

 

So where is the Michter’s whiskey coming from? Back in 1996, Chatham Imports acquired the trademarks of Michter’s and planned the revival. Apparently, Chatham Imports’ president used to be a Michter’s drinker. The first bottles came out in 2004. However, Michter’s had now moved to a new distillery in Louisville, Kentucky. It began by outsourcing the whiskey as a non-distiller producer. The ultimate goal is to make their own spirit, and it seems the first barrels have now been filled and we only have a few years to wait for the first new original Michter’s.

 

In the meantime, a couple wanted to revive the Bomberger’s facility back in Schaefferstown. They teamed up with Dick Stoll, a former master distiller of Michter’s Distillery who started working at the old distillery in 1955.

 

After evaluating the building, they came to the conclusion that they need a new production facility, as the old distillery was simply too much in disrepair. In 2014, they finally produced a whiskey named Bomberger’s. They filed for a trademark, and Chatham Imports decided to file for a trademark too. It became a legal battle. Who would own the Bomberger’s name – the first company to have filed the trademark or the company who now produced Michter’s whiskey?

 

As in many legal battles, the player with the most money came out as the winner. Bomberger’s whiskey became Stoll & Wolfe in honor of a pioneer of Michter’s history, master distiller Dick Stoll. Just like the new Michter’s, Stoll & Wolfe is a non-distilling producer, outsourcing its whiskey and blending it.

 

Tough to believe, but Pennsylvania was once  considered a major player in the American whiskey industry. Since then, many things have changed, but Bomberger’s distillery will always be remembered, as in 1975, it was was listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It was also declared a National Historic Landmark in 1980.

 

 

In Omnia Paratus! 
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