Bourbon Supreme, Williamsburg Decanter, bottled in 1969, emptied in 2016

In the past, I've talked about my antique-bottle project. I spend a lot of time in antique stores looking for the information for my spreadsheet. Of course, I almost never go into a store intending to purchase anything. But, of course, intend is the key word there. 

Tonight's review comes from one of my antique store finds. It is a decanter of Bourbon Supreme from 1969. When I bought it, the cork was intact, and the tax seal was intact. So I decided to decant the liquid out and give it a look. 

These days, Bourbon Supreme is a blended bourbon produced for select markets by Luxco. But in days of yore, Bourbon Supreme was a product of the American Distilling Company out of Pekin, Illinois. American Distilling Company was an old company, at least as far as US companies are concerned. Pre-ProWhiskeyMen mentions that the company was formed in the mid-1890s and, after taking over a few other companies, by 1908 was mashing 6000 bushels of grain per day. The company continued to grow from there, though. A 1964 article in the Chicago Tribune Magazine states that capacity had grown to 12,000 bushels per day. Of course, in the end, all things must pass and Mike Veach says that by the early 1980s American itself had been acquired by Standard Brands who was acquired by other companies until pieces of what used to be American Distilling Company found itself part of Diageo.

The Bourbon Supreme brand though did not go with the American Distilling Company. In the thread mentioned above, Mike Veach mentions that the brand passed through the hands of either Heaven Hill or Barton to its final resting spot, the David Sherman Company, today's Luxco.

Today's Bourbon Supreme doesn't sound much like anything I'd want to try, but let's see how a version from almost 50 years ago tastes. 

Bourbon Supreme, Williamsburg Decanter, 1969

Purchase Info: Some antique mall in St. Paul, MN for I'm guessing under $20. (It's been a while).

Details: 86° proof, 74 months old (my label is partially torn, this info was found by searching eBay for images of the bottle)

Nose: The nose starts with vanilla and coconut that transition to fruit, caramel, and floral notes. After more time, the fruit and floral wander away to be replaced by rich leather...mmmm...caramelly leather. 

Mouth: Sweet butterscotch with a little oak spice. 

Finish: Light and short with distinct floral notes. 

meh face

Thoughts: This has a wonderful nose, an ok mouth, and a terrible finish. It's very interesting but this might just stay a curiosity for friends to try when they visit. Serious meh on this one. Maybe it's how the decanter was handled for the last half century or maybe the stuff put into the decanter just wasn't that good to begin with.

A word on lead: There is a forum thread on straightbourbon.com that details the story of a man getting the whiskey from one of his decanters tested for lead and finding very high levels of it. I do not have the equipment to test this myself. I did, however, allow the bourbon from this decanter to evaporate and then drip the contents of a lead paint tester into the residue (saving a drop or two for the confirmation strip) and there was no red for lead. I won’t say this bourbon doesn’t contain lead or that any of the bourbons from old decanters you find will or will not contain lead. But this test satisfied my curiosity enough to allow me to do the small tasting I did for this post without fear of too much harm.

For more information on lead poisoning visit: http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/002473.htm


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Federal Law Forbids Sale or Re-Use of This Bottle - A BourbonGuy project

The video is 10 minutes long. Long story short, I want your help gathering data on old liquor bottles. Prohibition until the mid-1960s. I'm putting together a spreadsheet that when it reaches a useful mass I will be giving to the bottle dating people at sha.org to make available to the folks who use to their site. Download a pdf of the spreadsheet as it stands right now if you are curious what sort of info I'm gathering. 

If you feel like helping, here are examples of the images I'm requesting (I didn't include a label image I figured we all know what label look like). Thanks!


BourbonGuy.com accepts no advertising. It is solely supported by the sale of the hand-made products I sell at the BourbonGuy Gifts Etsy store. If you'd like to support BourbonGuy.com, visit BourbonGuyGifts.com. Thanks!

Observations on old liquor marketing and a 1979 Ezra Brooks

Ezra Brooks from 1979 aged 101 months.

I’m a big fan of old liquor bottles. We’ve talked about this. I tend to go to antique stores, estate sales and bottle shows to look at and occasionally buy old bottles. Most of these are empty and I almost always get the comment: “too bad this isn’t full, huh?” But sometimes they are full. And when they are, I like to check the contents and the seal. If it’s bourbon, it hasn’t been opened and isn’t very expensive, I’ll bring it home with me. 

When I search through old bottles, I also see a lot of decanters. Collectable decanters were a way for a struggling bourbon industry to try to stay afloat while tastes changed. And it must have worked because we have bourbon today, and there are a lot of old decanters for sale out there. 

At some point in the mid-Twentieth Century, whiskey making changed. In the United States, the uncertainty of war coupled with changing fashions led whiskey makers to lobby for an increase in the bonding period of aging whiskey. In other words, they wanted to be able to sit on their aging stocks a bit longer before needing to pay taxes on it. It was granted and whiskey making and marketing started to focus on longer aging times. Larger age statements begins to appear and age became associated with quality. Around the same time proofs started dropping as well. Where 100 (and 101) proof were once fairly standard 86 proof was becoming more and more common. 

With an increasing focus on age and decreasing proofs, it isn’t terribly surprising that the largest number on many of the old decanters you find is the age. What is surprising is that the age is stated in months not years. Unlike many of today’s whiskeys who use months for their age statements, it isn’t because the whiskey is young though. 100 months is the most common age I’ve seen on Jim Beam decanters (though I’ve also seen 155 on a few occasions). And I’ve seen numerous 101 month Ezra Brooks decanters. 

I can think of a couple of reasons why 100 months might have been used. Much like the producers who put out three year old whiskey today and label it 36 months, 100 just sounds bigger than 8. The other reason I can think of is that 100 and 101 months bear a striking resemblance to the 100 and 101 proof that consumers had been used to seeing before proofs started dropping. Kind of an early version of the Very Old Barton “6” that Sazerac uses today. I don’t know if the actual answer is one, the other, or both. In any case, 35 years later, it is fun to ponder. 

1979 Ezra Brooks Bengal Tiger decanter

Ezra Brooks - Bengal Tiger, 1979

Purchase info: $15 at a bottle and advertising show

Details: From the Ezra Brooks Wildlife Collector Series. 101 months old (8.417 years). 80 proof.

Nose: Green apples, baking spices and a faint earthiness to go along with some oak. After some time it transitions to a strong butterscotch bomb.

Mouth: Not as sweet as I was expecting. Baking spices, brown sugar, oak and earthiness. 

Finish: On the longer side of medium. Sweet with lingering baking spices and green apple. 

With Water: The mouth gets a bit livelier and the green apple comes through more. The nose gets spicier with a touch of anise. Water kills the finish. 

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Thoughts: As Ezra Brooks has always been a sourced whiskey, it was really interesting to see what was being sourced in 1979. With it’s apple and spice notes, it reminds me a bit of a Brown-Forman bourbon. (Though I doubt that it is since Ezra Brooks debuted by impersonating their biggest brand and were sued by them). Based on this bottle, it is the equivalent of an ok $30-45 bottle today. But that said, I don’t know that I’d seek out another bottle of it. It’s pretty good, but not the best I’ve ever had.

A word on lead: There is a forum thread on straightbourbon.com that details the story of a man getting the whiskey from one of his decanters tested for lead and finding very high levels of it. I do not have the equipment to test this myself. I did however allow the bourbon from this decanter to evaporate and then drip the contents of a lead paint tester into the residue (saving a drop or two for the conformation strip) and there was no "red for lead." I won’t say this bourbon doesn’t contain lead or that any of the bourbon from old decanters you find will or will not contain lead. But this test satisfied my curiosity enough to allow me to do the small tasting I did for this post.

For more information on lead poisoning visit: http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/002473.htm


BourbonGuy.com accepts no advertising. It is solely supported by the sale of the hand-made products I sell at the BourbonGuy Gifts Etsy store. If you'd like to support BourbonGuy.com, visit BourbonGuyGifts.com. Thanks!

Hoffman Originals, Mr. Lucky Series, The Carolers

A very long time ago, by today’s standards, bourbon was not popular. It was so not popular that many people selling it almost of included it as a kind of “value-add” when they sold ceramic decanters. Ceramic decanters seem to have been immensely popular during the 1970s. I have people in my own family who will reminisce about purchasing a couple of them for a decent amount of money and then claim: “I don’t know that [the buyer] ever did drink any of that…”

Now the buyer in question above was a prolific drinker. And if he didn’t drink the bourbon, you can bet that he was not an edge case. This is born out by the fact that I have bought multiple ceramic decanters that are still full and sealed at antique stores or shows for under $25. Including the one above. That one only cost me $18. $18 at a bottle and advertising show where I saw a piece of Four Roses ad signage marked up to over $100. 

The piece was put out by the Hoffman Distilling Company from Lawrenceburg, KY. Haven’t heard of them? Well, don’t feel bad, I hadn’t either. They seem to be one of those pieces of history that has left very little mark on the internet. But here is what I have collected. 

  • Sam Cecil, in his book Bourbon: The Evolution of Kentucky Whiskey claims that the distillery was built in 1880 and after passing through many hands, was in disrepair by the mid 1970s. Saying on page 98 of his book: “I visited the distillery in the mid-1970s, and the still house was falling down.”
  • Mike Veach tells us on BourbonEnthusiast.com that in 1966 “The Hoffman Distilling Company of Lawrenceburg, Ky. with a capacity of 300 bushels per day is listed with Ezra Brooks as one of its four brands. The executives of the distillery are Ben G, Ripy, William R. Ripy, and Robert Ripy (1966 Red Book, p.33).”
  • He also says on another post “The Hoffman distillery is the distillery that created Ezra Brooks in the 60's. It went out of business in the 70s and Julian Van Winkle bought the old distillery.”
  • Speaking of Ezra Brooks, our friend Brian at Sipp’n Corn mentions Hoffman in his post on the lawsuit where Jack Daniel’s sued Ezra Brooks over the marketing of Ezra Brooks in the 1950s and 60s. If you want to read more about that lawsuit, you can
  • Ellenjaye.com has a post about what became of the Hoffman Distillery after it was purchased and renamed by one Julian Van Winkle III. You may have heard of him. He really doesn’t figure into this story except as a footnote though. 
  • And finally a reclaimed wood supplier in Oregon has a nice long post about the distillery from the point of view of one who might want to sell you wood from the rick houses. 

Most of the research I found claims the distillery went out of business in the mid-1970s and the location was used as a bottling house by various brands and run by a member of the Ripy family at that time. One of the brands that seems to have been bottled there was Hoffman Originals, a brand that seems to have survived the distillery proper (though I can find no mention of any actual relation between them other than having the same name and bottling location) by selling ceramic decanters of the variety described above. They put out quite a few decanters throughout the 1970s and 1980s. Jim Crawford at jimsbottles.com has an extensive set of posts on their Mr Lucky series (the series of decanters which included the Carolers decanter shown below, click for larger images).

This decanter depicts two leprechauns singing Christmas Carols. It is a full sized (4/5ths quart) decanter bottled by the Hoffman Distilling Company, Lawrenceburg, KY. And because neither bourbon nor the bottle were enough to sell this, it is of course also a music box. It is from 1979. The cork was intact and the tax stamp was unbroken. It was $18. I decided to pick it up. 

Hoffman Originals, Mr. Lucky Series, The Carolers Base (back)

Hoffman Originals, Mr. Lucky Series, Carolers, 1979: The Bourbon.

Purchase info: $18 at a bottle and advertising show. 

Details: Bottled by the Hoffman Distilling Co, 80 proof, bottle copyright 1979.

Nose: As is to be expected from a bottle that has been closed for over 35 years, this smells of acetone at the initial pouring. After letting it sit in the glass for a while, we started picking up notes of rich butterscotch, cloves, ripe apples, fresh flowers and hints of lemon zest.

Mouth: Peppery and sweet with more butterscotch and cloves along with a large dose of floral notes.

Finish: The finish follows the mouth and nose with lingering sweet, clove and floral notes along with a gentle, medium length burn.

Thoughts: This whiskey is pretty tasty though not to the standards of other older bottlings I’ve found. Being sourced whiskey, maybe this was lower end stuff bought only to fill the bottle? Or maybe, time just hasn’t been kind to this one. I don’t know. It’s fine, just kinda…meh when neat. Adding water does open it up allowing more sweet notes to come to the forefront, but it loses it’s burn. It goes to show that just because a whiskey is a “dusty” doesn’t necessarily follow that it is really good. Fun to try though.

A word on lead: There is a forum thread on straightbourbon.com that details the story of a man getting the whiskey from one of his decanters tested for lead and finding very high levels of it. I do not have the equipment to test this myself. I did however allow the bourbon from this decanter to evaporate and then drip the contents of a lead paint tester into the residue (saving a drop or two for the conformation strip) and there was no red for lead. I won’t say this bourbon doesn’t contain lead or that any of the bourbon from old decanters you find will or will not contain lead. But this test satisfied my curiosity enough to allow me to do the small tasting I did for this post.

For more information on lead poisoning visit: http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/002473.htm


BourbonGuy.com accepts no advertising. It is solely supported by the sale of the hand-made products I sell at the BourbonGuy Gifts Etsy store. If you'd like to support BourbonGuy.com, visit BourbonGuyGifts.com. Thanks!

A Tale of Two (Wild) Turkeys

A few weeks ago I ran across something a little too good to pass up. I was out antiquing and found a seller who had a bunch of miniature liquor bottles for sale. Full, sealed bottles. They were only available as a set so I took the entire lot. Out of that lot I got three bourbons of varying antiquity. A early 1970s IW Harper, a Blanton’s (can’t be older than the early-mid 1980s when the brand debuted) and the one I was most excited about a Wild Turkey from 1979. 

Since I am a lover of most things Wild Turkey, and constantly have a bottle of 101 on my shelf, I thought it might be fun to taste this along side of the current release. The 1979 version is eight years old and both are the 50.5% ABV that Wild Turkey built their reputation on. I was initially going to do the comparison blind. Unfortunately for the plan (but fortunately for me) the 1979 juice was so much darker that I had no trouble picking out which was which. So I decided to just taste them side-by-side and compare them that way. 

The 1979 pour needed a lot of time to breathe before we got down to business. Upon pouring it was very strong with the scent of nail polish remover. After about a half hour or so that dissipated and instead there were thick notes of maple, brown sugar and oak with a lovely fruitiness underneath. By way of comparison, I found the 2016 pour presenting an anise note that I had never picked up in it before. 

Back to the 1979. The mouth had a nice thick mouthfeel with herbal hints of mint, spice, brown sugar and oak. It reminded me very much of a barrel proof Four Roses Q yeast bourbon. The finish was warm and long. 

Moving over to the 2016, the mouthfeel was thinner but retains a nice velvety texture. There were fewer sweet candy flavors from the oak and the rye flavors were more pronounced. The finish was warm and while shorter than the 1979, was still of decent length. 

I found this to be a fascinating process. While I would have said that the 1979 pour was tasty if tasting it by itself, I don’t know that I would have had quite as much fun if I hadn’t had the current release to contrast it off of. And as for the current release, I might not have found the interesting anise notes in the nose or realized how pronounced the rye notes were on the palate if I hadn’t had the older one to contrast it with. Overall this was just fun. And honestly, isn’t that why we do this?


BourbonGuy.com accepts no advertising. It is solely supported by the sale of the hand-made products I sell at the BourbonGuy Gifts Etsy store. If you'd like to support BourbonGuy.com, visit BourbonGuyGifts.com. Thanks!