The Whiskey Revo­lu­tion­ary

Forbes - - Forbes Life - By Mag­gie MCGRATH

Two decades ago Joe Magliocco re­vived Michter’s, a de­funct rye and bour­bon brand that traces its roots back to Ge­orge Wash­ing­ton. along the way, he changed the in­dus­try.

When Pam Heil­mann com­pleted one of her first dis­til­la­tions of Michter’s Amer­i­can Whiskey in 2015, the in­com­ing mas­ter dis­tiller proudly came to Joe Magliocco, Michter’s owner, with the tech­ni­cal re­sults: From the hun­dreds of bushels of grain, she was able to pro­duce an ex­tra bar­rel of whiskey, the equiv­a­lent of about 200 bot­tles. That kind of ef­fi­ciency mat­tered in her pre­vi­ous job run­ning dis­till­ing op­er­a­tions at Jim Beam’s Booker Noe plant (which makes Knob Creek and Booker’s bour­bons, among oth­ers). Magliocco, how­ever, was in­ter­ested in only one thing.

“I said, ‘Pam, that’s re­ally nice,’ ” Magliocco re­calls, “‘but how the hell’s the whiskey taste?’ ”

Such straight shoot­ing is a hall­mark of the 60-year-old New Yorker, but the fo­cus on qual­ity over quan­tity is one of the rea­sons he brought Michter’s back from the dead in the first place. In the mid-’90s, when con­sump­tion of Amer­i­can whiskey was at a nadir, Magliocco was look­ing to add a pre­mium rye to his port­fo­lio at Chatham Im­ports in Man­hat­tan—ide­ally with a brand the mar­ket had for­got­ten.

His in­stinct proved pre­scient. “I think Joe is one of the main driv­ers of res­ur­rect­ing rye brands,” says Eric Gre­gory, head of the Ken­tucky Dis­tillers’ As­so­ci­a­tion. “Ev­ery­body has a rye now.”

Magliocco set his sights on Michter’s, whose roots date to 1753, when the dis­tillery—then called Shenk’s, and later Bomberger’s, af­ter new owner Abraham Bomberger—was founded in Penn­syl­va­nia. Like many spir­its brands, Michter’s had an ir­re­sistible ori­gin myth: Ac­cord­ing to leg­end, Ge­orge Wash­ing­ton bought enough whiskey at the dis­tillery to get his troops through win­ter at Val­ley Forge. (Dur­ing the 1980s, Michter’s slo­gan proudly pro­claimed it “the whiskey that warmed the Amer­i­can Rev­o­lu­tion.”)

Pro­hi­bi­tion shut­tered op­er­a­tions in 1919, and the brand strug­gled un­til the 1950s, when Lou For­man gave it a new life and new moniker: Michter’s, af­ter his sons Michael and Peter. In 1989, how­ever, af­ter a pro­longed down­turn for the whiskey in­dus­try, Michter’s filed for bank­ruptcy.

Chap­ter 11 even­tu­ally trans­formed into chap­ter

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