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An Exploration in Schenley's Aged Medicinal Whiskey: 14 Year Pre-Prohibition Distilled Bourbon Bottled in 1931 as a Muse for Whiskey History

Updated: Jan 29


Schenley Prohibition Whiskey Bottling - Aged Medicinal Whiskey

Schenley? That powerhouse company who ruled the whiskey world in the early 1900s thanks to a strong core spirit behind their brand and perhaps some fortuitous opportunity? Yes that Schenley - though the name and purpose has changed some through the years. If you're interested in the history of Schenley, then by all means, read on here - but if you're just looking for a review of a dusty old whiskey, jump down to the next header. I'll try to keep this concise as possible, as I'm a reviewer at heart, and other whiskey historians have already done it better than me. I do thoroughly enjoy nerding out on a little whiskey history, though, so bear with me as we go on a deep exploration of all things Schenley! You will find several links to the sources for my information throughout this article which I implore you read as they are rich with detail.


For 95 years, the Schenley Distilling Company produced whiskey out of Western Pennsylvania that had renown worldwide. Pennsylvania of course was a powerhouse of American whiskey, namely rye, throughout the 19th century. While the plant, located in a subsection of Gilpin, PA called Schenley, doesn't fall into the same region as the legendary whiskey history as the Monongahela rye riviera, it was nestled cozily at the junction of the Allegheny and Kiski. The Schenley name comes from Mary Schenley, an heiress to considerable land and appears in other locations such as Schenley Park in Pittsburgh and the bygone Schenley High School as well. Like most whiskey producers that ran wonderful operations up until the temperance movement began to take hold, Prohibition meant a new way of doing things. Enter Joseph S. Finch, who was operating another smaller distillery out of Pittsburg. Mr. Finch was brilliant enough to apply for a license to sell medicinal spirits and was granted that license, just one of six distilleries to have this privilege.


Schenley Aged Medicinal Whiskey Sardine Can Whiskey Tin
A Schenley Aged Medicinal Whiskey "Sardine Can"

Lewis Rosenstiel liked the idea of having a diverse array of distilleries and a medicinal spirits license, so he acquired the distillery, several brands, plenty of aging whiskey, and that golden ticket to continue to sell medicinal spirits. Rosenstiel marks the beginning of the really good era for Schenley writ large - it became a much larger conglomerate that expanded upon the early successes of the Schenley Distilling Company with a diversified set of whiskey sources. It was no longer a singular house brand with only one flavor profile at this point, but a common theme seems to have transcended the doom, gloom, and obfuscation of prohibition, which I will touch on later. If you're following along, the Schenley name started from that original Western Pennsylvania distillery. Rosenstiel then organizes more distilleries under the Schenley Products Company name in the 1920s which runs through prohibition. In 1933 when repeal finally happens, Schenley Distillers Company is born, the largest liquor company in the US from 1934-1937. It was during this time that the James E. Pepper brand thrived with the fantastic Schenley-owned Frankfort, Kentucky distillery putting out some spectacular whiskey. James E. Pepper later opened a distillery in Lexington, KY as well.


A Lexington, KY James E. Pepper Example from 1931

In 1949 the company entered it's final era under the house name "Schenley Industries" which dominated the spirits sales markets for a few more decades of success. It was considered one of the "big four", it's name listed amongst the giants such as Seagram, National Distillers, and Hiram Walker. At their peak, they were headquartered in the Empire State Building and occupied four entire floors with their 400 employee staff. Some of the most notable brands they produced were Cream of Kentucky, I.W. Harper, Golden Wedding, James E. Pepper, and Old Quaker Company. Schenley also imported Dewar's, the popular blended Scotch, and distributed several Canadian whisky brands such as Schenley Reserve and Schenley Black Label. After exploring several examples of their bourbon and rye, I can confirm they seem to always have had a sweet spot for highlighting high rye in their mash bill through the years. As whisk(e)y sales declined through the glut era though, the forces that be decided that the Schenley reign had had it's run. It changed hands rather rapidly once Rosenstiel exited after his controlling interest was sold to the Glen Alden Corporation in 1968. It then changed hands to Rapid American in 1972, but was split back up due to monopoly legislation, where assets went to several sources, the most notable being Guinness. On November 11th, 1983, the last bottle of whiskey was produced at the historic Schenley Distillery in Pennsylvania.


An undoubtedly rich history runs through the Schenley name. It's a melodic history, woven together with intention, laced with the intricacies of the way things used to be done. The story of Schenley is a story about rye - the grain that catapulted a distilled spirit into revered legend.


Now onto the whiskey at hand:


Edward H. Brinkmann Whiskey - Distillery No 2 - 1st District of Ohio - The Union Distilling Co. out of Cincinnati

While above was about all things Schenley - let's see if we can dig in on this specific bottling, a clearly 'sourced' whiskey from the prohibition era. The historical records that were affixed to almost every medicinal whiskey bottling from this time will tell you a wonderful story if you're patient enough to dive into the nitty-gritty details that come with the territory. Given how rare and wonderful these examples are, it's only right that we spend a little time to honor the craft of those that built American whiskey. Schenley, while a powerhouse producer in their own right, often utilized whiskey from other distilleries. Perhaps they got this whiskey from industry friends, perhaps it was simply confiscated whiskey given to one of the lucky six regulated producers of prohibition, or perhaps they lucked into this liquid due to a taste test that resulted in the exclamation, "ah, that fits our profile nicely". So who was this mysterious Edward H. Brinkmann?



Edward H. Brinkmann was born August 5th, 1871. One of the earliest records of his accomplishments was a listing in the 1918 Cincinnati Register where he is noted as a distillery worker, located at "78th and Lockland Av".



We later learn he was a Vice President of The Union Distilling Co. out of Cincinnati, which was only ever listed on prohibition labels as "Distillery No. 2 - 1st District of Ohio", that was operational from 1884 to 1918. It appears that Brinkmann may have inherited ownership of the distillery from George Gerke and/or George E Dieterle at some point according to a 1914 annual report from the Cincinnati Chamber of Commerce. It's likely Brinkmann married into some fortuitous company as the roster from The Union Distilling Co. included many folks bearing the last name Dieterle, undoubtedly related to Edward's wife Augusta given the uniqueness of this surname.


This Schenley bottling isn't the only example we find from Brinkmann & The Union Distilling Company. This would be the same gentleman who produced Van Hook Old Fashion Fire Copper Whiskey in 1917, the same distillery that went into the Geo. T. Stagg Company bottling of Silver Grove Bourbon, and the same producer who made the Old Vandegrift Brand Pure Whiskey that was stated as being "matured in steam heated warehouses" in a 1933 bottling from Pennsylvania Distillery Inc. Brinkmann would likely not be making whiskey much longer in Cincinnati, Ohio with Prohibition swinging in to the delight of a state that mainly voted to go dry. Perhaps Brinkmann moved on to help get George Remus's Cincinnati headquarters established for a time, Remus being the infamous Chicago attorney-turned-bootlegger. Outside of what was retold in his obituary below, the world may never know, as I couldn't find much else in my research of Mr. Brinkmann. I was able to discover that he passed away at aged 67 in Cincinnati on Friday, August 19th of 1938 in an obituary published in The Enquirer:



This also led me to discover the location of the Brinkmann family's burial plots, where we can also find his late daughter Hilde Brinkmann Tatum's headstone from 1986 at the Spring Grove Cemetery in Cincinnati. have no doubt Hilde had some great stories to share about this rich history, and I'd love to learn if there are any surviving relatives of the late Edward H. Brinkmann. If you know of any further information to add, please feel free to add a comment down at the bottom of this article!



So, with all that history under our belt, are you ready to have a drink with me? Let's dive in on the liquid inside one of the most wonderous pre-prohibition archaeological Schenley whiskey endeavors I'll likely go on this year.


 

Company on Label: Schenley (Distilled by Edward H. Brinkmann)

Whiskey Type: Aged Medicinal Whiskey (likely to be a high rye bourbon distilled in Ohio)

Mash Bill Percentages: Undisclosed

Proof: 100° as is tradition for bottled-in-bond whiskey; a refractometer reading taken after tasting revealed it is still a clean 96.6° (48.3% ABV) after 93 years of storage in the screw top bottle

Age: 14 years

Further identification: The tax strip and distillery label are treasure troves of information listing that this was made in the Fall of 1917 (produced by Edward H. Brinkmann at Distillery No. 2 - 1st District of Ohio) and bottled-in-bond in the Fall of 1931 by Schenley (then operating under the ownership "Schenley Products Company"); it came in a tin sardine can that required a strip of the metal to be torn all around, thereby protecting the bottle inside from tampering during the medicinal whiskey era


 

Nose: Ooh right away the nose is buttery. I find butterscotch and what I expect is a corn forward bourbon profile laced with high rye undertones, since the label did not specify bourbon or rye. There's light linen, vanilla biscotti, and bountiful woodshop tones. In the background, slowly undulating: leather, caramel, butterscotch. After a taste, beautiful florality develops... It brings bright effervescence like freshly applied deodorant and sweet Summer skin contact. Hints of coconut shavings, buttered bread, and brown sugar all dance in the glass well into the final act. The empty glass smells of a delightful sugar cookie.


Palate: Earthy clay jumps out on the tongue on a long sip and swish. Slight varnish congeners and wicker cane chair vibes permeate the linger. There's a decent bit of citrusy rye character that shines through on subsequent tastes, but overall it's a creamy delight. My last sip is like tiramisu; delicate marsala, whipping cream, cocoa powder, ladyfinger biscuits, and just a kiss of espresso on the tip of the tongue. Mmh. It sings in a beautifully clear, feminine, mezzo-soprano range from start to finish and leaves the heart full, yet open, looking upward and outward at the oft-overlooked beauty of the orthodox that has new meaning.


TL;DR: Creamy tones transition into some high rye heft that inspires and uplifts


 

This is a classic sourced Schenley example. It's a long love story that culminates in a thematic reminder that rye has always and will always have a role in American whiskey. I'm always astounded that I am in a position, with friends as great as I have, to be able to taste something as historically magnificent as this. While it's not the best whiskey that has ever passed across my palate, it's an utterly exquisite thing to explore, and it's been an honor to have tasted it (several times now) amongst friends. To my dearest whiskey mentor, Gregory Cloyd, I thank you for this opportunity. This review is as fitting a time as ever to utilize one of Greg's favorite lines:


This is whiskey that doesn't suck.

Schenley Whiskey Brands
Tasting Through History - A Deep Exploration of Schenley Brands

2 comments

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Thoroughly enjoyed this most recent ATW review. Loved the information provided and imagery conveyed throughout the Schenley write-up! Can't wait to learn more about the history of this curious habit of yours, delivered eloquently through a most wonderful writing style. All love, SLA (a.k.a. Mama-Sue).

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Nick Anderson
Nick Anderson
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Thank you for the kind comment!

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