|Sample from Stoll & Wolfe with a 1976 Michter's jug I picked up for my home bar|
Last month, I had the pleasure of interviewing Avianna Ponzi Wolfe, the co-owner of Stoll & Wolfe Distillery, a Pennsylvania-based whiskey company formerly known as Bomberger's.
In 2012, Avianna and her husband Erik Wolfe teamed up with Dick Stoll, the last master distiller at the shuttered Michter's Distillery in Schaefferstown, Pennsylvania. The Wolfes and Stoll had aspirations of building the Bomberger's brand in Pennsylvania as a way to bring some whiskey glory back to the Keystone State. In addition to Dick Stoll's status as the original Michter's master distiller, Erik Wolfe claims a distant blood relationship to Abraham Bomberger, the man whose family owned the historic distillery from the 1860s to Prohibition.
Last year, as most folks know, the Wolfes and Stoll (and their friend/partner Marc Reber) got into it with Chatham Imports, the NYC based parent company of today's Kentucky based Michter's. Chatham produces "Bomberger's Declaration," a well-matured, 100 proof bourbon with a flavor profile similar to that of other modern Michter's products. After some back and forth, they agreed to change their whiskey's name from Bomberger's to Stoll & Wolfe to settle the dispute.
Everyone has moved on. Michter's was recently recognized by the Kentucky Distillers Association as a Heritage Member. Stoll & Wolfe gained government approval for its new label and released the first batch of Stoll & Wolfe whiskey in October 2015. As their new slogan goes, "Names Change. Traditions Endure." They have also identified an old grain mill in Lititz, PA that will serve as their permanent home and distillery. Dick Stoll will finally "get behind a still again." 2016 will be a good year for everyone.
Avianna kindly sent me a sample of the first batch of Stoll & Wolfe whiskey. Like their two Bomberger's batches, it is a 80/20 blend of MGPI Bourbon (2.5-years-old; 75% corn, 21% rye, 4% malt) and 2-year-old rye from Finger Lakes Distillery in Burdett, New York. They bottle the blend at Thistle Finch Distillery in Lancaster, PA. I recognize that it will be extremely hard to find this whiskey until production and distribution grow. I've reviewed my sample anyway.
Having written about the Michter's saga, talked at length with Joe Magliocco and Avianna Wolfe, and read dozens of articles and blog posts on this topic, here are my conclusions:
1) The new Michter's is easy to hate, but they're also easy to like. While some folks are incredibly critical of their marketing practices, show me a big Kentucky distillery that hasn't made some exaggerated or even ridiculous claims. Joe Magliocco is a passionate guy who has assembled a passionate team, and they bottle some of the best whiskey around.
2) At face value, Stoll & Wolfe is no different than the dozens (if not hundreds) of companies who source, blend, and bottle whiskey made elsewhere in the hopes of building their own distillery and brand.
3) On the other hand, the Wolfes are remarkably resilient entrepreneurs, having gone toe to toe with one of Kentucky's biggest companies and survived. They too are very passionate about their company. They will always be connected to the Michter's trademark dispute, but I suspect they will benefit from that little struggle. I really admire their and Dick Stoll's plan to give Pennsylvania something it lost on a cold February Day in 1990- whiskey to call its own.
Stoll & Wolfe
80% MGP Bourbon and 20% Finger Lakes Rye
Color: Tawny, on the light side.
Nose: Smells like a young rye. It is earthy but clean and crisp. I primarily get Pine Sol cleaner, but there is enough fruit and vanilla sweetness to keep the aroma pleasant.
Tasting Notes: My first impression is soft and sweet. Peach cream, orange, and honey. Cinnamon spice, grain, and oak drive the quick finish.
Overall: B-. I am probably getting too used to 8+ year old and/or cask strength whiskeys. Stoll & Wolfe Batch One is too delicate for my palate. But it is a very drinkable and well balanced blend. The story here, of course, is the story. I'll buy and drink whatever they make, eagerly awaiting a Dick Stoll distilled whiskey to knock back with old friends.
Stoll & Wolfe
* Thanks to Ethan Smith for putting me in touch with the Wolfes and for answering many of my Michter's questions.