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, 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
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