Originally known as Shenk’s and later as Bomberger’s, the whiskey company which ultimately became known as Michter’s was founded by John Shenk, a Swiss Mennonite farmer, in Schaefferstown, Pennsylvania in 1753. In its earliest days, Shenk’s produced whiskey from rye grain, a favorite local crop in the Pennsylvania Blue Mountain Valley where the distillery was located.
According to Pennsylvania historical lore, commemorated by the Lebanon Valley Coin Club in 1978, this particular rye whiskey was so valued that when the Revolutionary War broke out, General George Washington visited the distillery and purchased whiskey to fortify his men as they hunkered down in their camp through the long, brutal winter at Valley Forge. Over 200 years later the Michter’s Pennsylvania management would say Michter’s was “the whiskey that warmed the American Revolution.”
In the mid-1800s, Pennsylvania Dutchman Abraham Bomberger purchased the distillery and it became known for many decades as Bomberger’s.
The passage of Prohibition in 1919 forced the distillery, along with other American spirits producers, to shut its doors to the public. Although the distillery did reopen after the repeal of Prohibition, it changed hands many times over the next few decades and frequently occupied a precarious financial position. During the 1950s, Lou Forman, one of the distillery’s then-owners, created the modern Michter’s brand name by combining portions of his sons’ names – Michael and Peter.
In 1989, with the entire American whiskey industry suffering a prolonged downturn, Michter’s then-owners declared bankruptcy and abandoned the premises, leaving its Pennsylvania operations in disrepair and the Michter’s name – seemingly – lost to history… were it not for a fortuitous connection to two whiskey lovers with an abiding admiration for the old Michter’s legacy and quality.
In the 1990s, Joseph J. Magliocco and his consultant and mentor Richard “Dick” Newman teamed up to resurrect Michter’s. Magliocco, who entered the wine and spirits industry after attending Yale College and graduating from Harvard Law School, was intimately familiar with Michter’s through his college days of imbibing, bartending, and selling Michter’s.
Newman meanwhile, had followed up his service in the US Marine Corps (for which he earned a Purple Heart) with an illustrious career in the whiskey business, eventually running Old Grand-Dad, Old Crow, and Old Taylor for National Distillers before becoming President and CEO of Austin Nichols, the distiller of Wild Turkey.
Magliocco and Newman began with a simple strategy – to honor the Michter’s legacy by producing the best whiskey possible, cost be damned! After filing for the unused and abandoned Michter’s trademark, they made their first major strategic decision: to resurrect Michter’s in Kentucky, in the heart of the modern American whiskey industry, to ensure access to the best whiskey talent and resources available.
Today, Michter’s has three locations in Kentucky – a 78,000 square foot distillery in the Shively section of Louisville, the architecturally significant Fort Nelson Building on Louisville’s Museum Row and 145 acres of farm land in Springfield.