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Is The New Shenk’s Homestead Bourbon A Michter’s Whiskey? What The Breadcrumbs Reveal

shenks1What is in the name of a whiskey? That is a big question in this day and age of America’s revived love affair with this spirit. There’s been a lot of debate online, in bars and at many distilleries about truth in marketing for whiskey, namely being honest on the labeling about where the liquor comes from (i.e. where it was distilled at) and who is behind it. With all of this in mind I thus became quite curious about the breadcrumb trail of one Shenk’s Homestead Original Bourbon Whiskey, which recently began surfacing for sale in the Northeast US.

The name Shenk in whiskey lore has some weight behind it. Specifically one John Shenk, according to the history of the Michter’s whiskey label, founded back in 1753 in Pennsylvania what would ultimately become Michter’s. A Swiss Mennonite farmer, he used his knowledge of grains in Shenk’s earliest days to produce whiskey from rye. Shenk’s was later purchased by fellow Pennsylvania Abraham Bomberger and renamed to Bomberger’s. This particular name is now seeing a revival under a new label as we speak.

Bomberger’s changed hands again as the decades went along, very much confusing who plays what part in producing this whiskey today. In the very recent past, for example, it was widely known that bourbon and rye produced under what is now the Michter’s label was at the very least bottled in Bardstown, Kentucky by Kentucky Bourbon Distillers (KBD) for Chatham Imports, which owns the Michter’s name.

Michter’s, in current times, is handling their own bottling and aims to be producing at least some of their own whiskey going forward. As the good whiskey writer Chuck Cowdery pointed out on his blog a few years back, however, it isn’t clear at times where Michter’s gets their current whiskey supply from. An unknown Kentucky distller? Some generic liquor out of Indiana? Leprechauns tossing around fairy dust under a full moon? Your guess is as good as any.

How this all plays into Shenk’s Homestead bourbon, which, according to at least one retailer, has a mash bill of 100 percent corn (I’m looking into this item right now), surfaces as you start to follow the paper trail for this whiskey. I worked with fellow whiskey blogger Sku on tracing this product and we found some interesting facts:

“It dawned on me the second I saw this,” Cowdery told me as I shared this story with him over Facebook, “[that] ‘Shenk’ was the family name of the founder of the distillery in PA that eventually became Michter’s. Clearly this is a Michters/Chatham product. I assume they’re doing it to secure rights to the name, after the new people in PA grabbed the Bomberger name. Interesting. My assumption is that it’s not a high priority as a product, just something to secure their rights to use the name.”

Now volumes have been written about Michter’s and how its branding plays out in the market, so I’ll leave it to you to read the lengthy posts by others on it. As for Shenk’s, I was told by a retailer that “they are the original distillery where Michter’s used to make their whiskey. They have been producing whiskey for others for a long time and now they are making under their own label.” I was also told it “is not Michter’s whiskey.” Umm, huh?

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Should this be labeled as Michter’s in some way if it is from them?

So the mystery at this point is: who actually owns this bourbon and where is it being produced? Most signs point to Chatham/Michter’s as the bottler and an undisclosed distillery as the maker (someone in KBD’s back channels 2/6/15 update – a KBD spokesperson confirmed to The Whiskey Wash they are not involved with the Shenk’s bourbon or from the infamous MGP perhaps?), so for now we will call it that. I’ve reached out to them for comment and will report back with an update if I ever hear more, which I would love because this whiskey obviously has a story to tell.

About the author

Nino Marchetti

As the founder of The Whiskey Wash, I'm crazy about whiskey, I can tell you, and I aim to share this passion with you through this site. As for my professional background, I’m a writer and journalist by trade and an Internet dot-com veteran prior to that. My most recent venture prior to this was as the founder and editor-in-chief of EarthTechling, a leading consumer focused green technology news website. I also have an extensive collection of whiskies from both start up distilleries and centuries old operations in Scotland alike, sprinkled with some other odds and ends from around the world, that have provided me with a unique picture of what’s going on with this wonderful spirit.