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Finding an I.W. Harper dusty while antiquing

Posted on by Eric Burke

It was a Sunday afternoon in early April. My wife had recently purchased an old Beam decanter for me. Something about it had made me excited to see what else was out there and it was easy for her to talk me into going with her when she decided to visit a few antique stores. I like the consignment style stores. The ones where a person rents a space and fills it full of their old crap. I don’t find many bargains that way, but I do see more things that I remember from my own childhood. And that’s fun.

As I wandered around this particular store, I saw some cool things. I saw a couple Ezra Brooks decanters from the 60s. A bear and a Native American. I didn’t pull the trigger on either since the labels were peeling off and in that condition I didn’t feel like paying that much for what was just a curiosity to me. I saw a NDP decanter of an old Minnesota Gopher mascot in a football helmet. It was probably from about the same time. And since I’m a huge Gopher football fan, I was tempted…until I saw it was over $100. That made me much less excited even though it looked as if it may have still been sealed.

Sealed and full of bourbon most likely contaminated by high levels of lead. It’s probably a good thing I didn’t buy it, I would probably have given myself lead poisoning since I doubt I’d have had the willpower to leave it sealed. I’m more curious than that fabled cat. 

But one thing did catch my eye. It was just about halfway down the center aisle, all the way down on the bottom shelf. It was a tax stamp on a mini bottle. Even though my knees hate it when I do this, I got down and took a look. It was a bottle of Canadian Club and it said 1962 on the tax stamp. Even better it was full and the seal hadn’t been broken. There were other bottles down there too. The other sealed one was a miniature of IW Harper. It was missing the tax stamp, but the seal was unbroken and the bottle was full. And best of all, both were under five dollars each. So I grabbed them. I wandered around for a little bit but didn’t see anything else I felt like buying, paid my bill and wandered out.

I wondered a bit at the legality of selling them. I doubted the antique store had a liquor license. Plus it was a Sunday and there are no spirits sales on a Sunday. But since I got something cool and I didn’t see a boatload of cops standing there, I decided to tamp down the curiosity and think about things that were a little more important. Like how long it would take to get home and crack it open.

But I waited a bit. The next week was the season premiere of Mad Men and since Don’s favorite drink is Canadian Club and since it was from just about the right time period, I decided to drink that during the premiere. It was good, though it was so floral that I found it a bit like drinking perfume. The IW Harper though, sat on my shelf for a while. I wanted to look into it a little bit and see if I could find out anymore about it. Specifically: “What is this?” and “how old is this thing?”

The first thing I learned is that currently IW Harper is owned by Diageo and isn’t sold in the US anymore. And hasn’t been for a while. Ok so, at least the 80s. Cool. No bar code and no metric units so that pushed the youngest it could be back into the mid to late 70s. I did a bunch of searching of old ads and the earliest I could find that label used was in a 1970 ad. The next oldest ad I could find was from 1965 and had a slightly different label featured. So roughly early to mid-1970s. At that time it was owned by Schenley. That was close enough for my curiosity now I just needed to open it. 

But I waited. And waited. It got shoved behind some other samples I had and so I forgot about it. Until I found it this weekend, decided that enough was enough, and cracked it open.

IW Harper Gold Medal Bourbon (roughly mid 1970s)

Purchase info: an antique store $3.99 for a 1/10th pint

Details: 6 years old and 86 proof (no ABV listed so I deviate from my standard even though I know it would be 43%)

Nose: Started out very floral. Dark brown sugar, baking apples, allspice, cardamom and a sharp wood note. After sitting a bit it settled into a general fruity candy.

Mouth: Nice thick mouthfeel. Floral again with more dark brown sugar. Spicy with allspice and cinnamon. Oak and caramel as it moves back in the mouth. 

Finish: Long and warm with lingering floral hints.

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Thoughts: I just wish there were more. Sweet, spicy, rich and floral sum this up nicely. The color is even beautiful. It is a joy to look at, smell and taste. Just yum.