Saturday, April 30, 2016

The Trials and Ascent of George T. Stagg

The name George T. Stagg on a bottle of whiskey for many years has been a familiar sight in virtually every liquor store in America.  Beyond the name and the brand was a Kentucky-born man, shown below, whose life might be characterized as having achieved his fame amidst a series of trials that he not only surmounted but that actually contributed to his rise to wealth and fame.  Five events in Stagg’s story are particularly significant.

1. The Civil War — 1861-1865:  George Stagg was born in 1935 in Garrard County, Kentucky, a town in the central part of the state.  He came from Dutch Reformed stock.  His family had originated in Bergen County, Pennsylvania, where his great-grandfather had been commanded a regiment of the New Jersey Militia during the Revolutionary War.  His father moved to Kentucky and bought a farm where George grew up.  In 1858 he married a local girl, Elizabeth “Bettie” Doolin, and settled down to raising a family in Richmond, Kentucky, where he worked in a shoe store.

Stagg’s life plans were interrupted when the outbreak of Civil War intruded.   Perhaps remembering the fighting spirit of his ancestor, In November 1861 he enlisted in the Union Army.  Although Kentucky was split in its allegiances between North and South, Stagg’s religious views on slavery likely motivated his choice.  His unit, the 21st Kentucky Infantry Regiment, saw significant combat.  It took part in the Battles of Stone River, Resaca, Kennesaw Mountain, Nashville and the siege of Atlanta.  During the conflict, the 21st Kentucky lost 57 enlisted men and three officers killed, with another 158 dying of disease.

Through the flash and fire, Stagg remained steady and rose through the ranks as his courage and ability were recognized.  He received a field commission to first lieutenant in January 1862 and a promotion to captain a year later.  By the summer of 1863 he was chosen as an aide to General Ambrose Burnside.  The Civil War had been a testing grounds for Stagg and he had showed his mettle.

2. The Whiskey Ring Exposed — 1875:  After the conflict ended, Stagg moved with his growing family to St. Louis,  Missouri, where the pre-war shoe salesman met a wealthy local businessman named James Gregory.  Gregory likely was impressed with the 30-something’s highly-developed sense of organization, meticulousness in keeping records, and leadership qualities.  Together they established a firm they called “Gregory & Stagg, Commercial Merchants and Distillers Agents.”  It meant that Stagg was busy selling Kentucky whiskey in markets throughout the United States.

His work brought him in contact with distillers and whiskey rectifiers of St. Louis and other Midwest cities, some of whom were part of a national scheme to defraud the Federal government of its liquor tax revenues.  At the heart were corrupt federal tax agents taking kickbacks for themselves and operatives of the Grant Administration.  Stagg blew the whistle on the scam and a series of raids occurred across the Nation, many in St. Louis, resulting in rolling up the “Whiskey Ring” and sending many of its participants to jail.

Like many “whistle-blowers”  Stagg himself came under scrutiny from individuals skeptical about his motives.  A suspicious House of Representatives Committee in May 1876 held extensive hearings on the scandal.  An Federal Internal Revenue officer was questioned extensively about Stagg’s role in the affair, with the implication that the whiskey salesman might have been in cahoots with the culprits.

The officer, Elverton R. Chapman, vehemently fended off those innuendoes, testifying that Stagg had tipped him off about illegal whiskey being dumped in a local warehouse and then shipped to New Orleans, and, moreover, had told him whom to call as witnesses.  Chapman asserted:  “The most valuable assistance that we got in St. Louis was from Mr. George T. Stagg, of the firm of Gregory & Stagg,, commission-merchants in St. Louis.  Mr. Stagg is entitled to more credit for the exposure of the St. Louis whiskey ring than any other man that lives.”  With this ringing endorsement not only had he fended off Congressional criticism, Stagg had reached another rung in the his climb toward whiskey fame.

3. Financial Panic — 1877 - 1879:   In 1873 a severe financial downturn in Europe and America threw many previously successful distillers into serious financial trouble.  Among them were Col. Edmund Taylor, considered the king of Kentucky bourbon [See my post on Taylor, January 2015].  The Louisville Courier-Journal reported in June 1877 that Taylor owed Gregory & Stagg’s firm $150,000 (equivalent to $3.75 million today).  An “…examination of the books shows that receipts have been given for 7,014 barrels of whiskey, whereas his actual stock does not exceed 4,722 barrels.” the newspaper reported.  With more than a hint of fraud involved, Taylor’s total debt approached  $11 million in current dollars.

Stagg saw Taylor’s financial plight as an opportunity.  Up to this time he had been considered a gifted salesman, a pitchman for Kentucky whiskey but not a real player in the industry.  Stagg set out to change all that.  The partners paid off Taylor’s loans and as a result gained control of the colonel’s two distilleries, located adjacent to each other on the Kentucky River at Leestown on the Frankfort and Lewis Turnpike.  One was known as the OFC (Old Fire Copper) Distillery and the other the Carlisle Distillery, named for John G. Carlisle, then a congressman from Kentucky, later Secretary of the Treasury.  Shown above is the OFC distillery when owned by Taylor;  below as it grew under Stagg.

Stagg recognized that keeping Taylor and especially his name associated with the enterprises was important.   He established the E. H. Taylor Jr. Company in 1879, with himself as president and Taylor as vice president.   Stagg had 3,448 of 5,000 shares in the company;  he gave Taylor, who was overseeing the operation, just one.  Out of the financial panic that had brought down the icon of Kentucky bourbon,  Stagg had vaulted himself into the forefront of the state’s whiskey industry.

4.  Grilled by Congress — 1882.  With Stagg’s emergence into the forefront of Kentucky distilling, came new responsibilities and challenges.  As a member of the Kentucky Distillers Association, he helped push a Carlisle bill that lengthened the federal bonding period for whiskey and reduced the tax burden on distillers.  Stagg’s efforts subsequently earned him a trip to Washington to testify before a Select Committee of the U.S. Senate investigating whether illegal funds had been raised to pass the legislation, including whether any money had been channeled to members of Congress.

Stagg faced stern questioning by the Senators when he appeared before the committee on May 29, 1882.  He was asked again and again whether he had paid his own way to Washington and for his expenses while in D.C.  The senators wondered whether he had contributed to anyone else’s expenses:  “A. I have not. — Q. In no way? — A. “In no way.”   So the grilling went on to what he had spent to advance the Carlisle bill.  “All the money I have expended, or known to be expended, was $35 for printing a brief which I presented to the Finance Committee of the Senate and $50 to the Public Printer to publish speeches to be circulated in the trade…,”  Stagg testified.

Cool under the senators probing and sometimes hostile questions, Stagg acknowledged he had heard he and other proponents of the Carlisle bill “were charged with fraud.”  He staunchly responded:  “I will say that I have never presented a case in court with cleaner hands than this one has been presented to the Senate and House of Representatives.”   With that, the Select Committee sent him on his way.  Stagg seemingly had vindicated not only himself but his industry.  His reputation continued to rise.

5.  The Wrath of the Colonel — 1886-1890:  During the six years Taylor was working for Stagg, relations between them deteriorated sharply.  By late 1886 the Colonel was straining to exit the company.  Clearly tired of dealing with the distiller’s strong personality,  Stagg cut a deal.  In return for Taylor’s single share of stock, he gave back a small third distillery he had acquired from Taylor’s son and loaned the Taylors the money to start up again as independent distillers.  George also agreed to remove Taylor’s name from the parent company of the OFC and Carlisle Distilleries.
Stagg soon had second thoughts about removing Taylor’s name.  The Colonel’s reputation for quality whiskey had spread beyond Kentucky to the entire Nation and having his name on the corporate letterhead was significant. Taylor was outraged by Stagg’s change of mind and, litigious by nature, began a series of contentious and costly lawsuits against him and his partners.  When the last of these court actions were settled in 1890, the company adopted the name George C. Stagg and Co.  Now the liquor salesman turned distiller had his name in the forefront of the Kentucky whiskey industry.  Once again adversity had turned to Stagg’s ultimate advantage.

The Cost of Responsibility:  Although in 1890 Stagg was only 55 years old, his many responsibilities were taking a toll on him.  In his Senate testimony, he had talked about his lifestyle.  Although he still was a partner in the St. Louis commission house and additionally running the Frankfort distilleries, he said, “I am scarcely in Saint Louis.  I have not been there, perhaps, for more than a few days at a time for a year and a half, or two years…I do the selling for these houses in the Eastern markets.”   

With Taylor’s departure, Stagg’s work load had increased sharply.  In addition to his other burdens, he was running two distilleries plagued with over-production, lagging sales, falling whiskey prices, and continuous wrangles with government authorities. Moreover, his health was failing.  In 1890 Stagg turned to Walter P. Duffy, an aggressive and somewhat notorious New York purveyor of “medicinal whiskey” [See my post on Duffy, May 2011].  

By the early 1890s Duffy quietly had purchased all of Stagg’s stock and gained control of the company.  George retired.  Not long after, he died in 1893 at the relatively young age of 58. He is buried, together with his wife, in the Richmond, Kentucky, Cemetery, Section A, Plot 99.  His monument is shown here.

Through the years that other owners guided the distillery complex, it continued to bear the name of George T. Stagg, until it was rebranded as Buffalo Trace in the summer of 1999.  The Frankfort site is still named for Stagg on its listing in the National Register of Historic Places.  Moreover, his name lives on in the award-winning bourbon that bears his name.  Scattered throughout this post are illustrations of artifacts that bear Stagg's imprint, some of them issued after his death.  They are reminders that George T. Stagg had faced major challenges during his foreshortened lifetime and not only had surmounted them, he had thrived.

Note: My thanks to Andrew Barker for the information on the Stagg gravesite.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Philip Lobe Sounded a Ram’s Horn Over Baltimore

In the Bible, at the orders of their leader, Joshua, the Israelites marched seven times around the walls of Jericho, then the priests blew their rams horns and the walls of the city fell.  When Phillip Lobe introduced “Ram’s Horn Rye” on the streets of Baltimore, nothing quite so drastic occurred, but the city’s drinking public definitely took notice.

The whiskey man who named it such, Phillip Lobe, was born in Hesse-Kassel, Germany, in April 1851 and emigrated to the United States at an early age.  Shown here in maturity, the 1870 census found him at 18 working for a Baltimore butcher named Gompright and living with the Gompright family.  Over the next ten years, Lobe apparently decided that liquor, not loin chops, was his real meat.   In the 1880 census he was listed as “keeps liquor store.”

The answer lies in Lobe's 1874 marriage to Mary Goldheim., a woman who had been born in the Prussian part of Germany. She was the daughter of an established Baltimore liquor dealer named Lazarus Goldheim, a man who had come from Germany with his family in 1847 and already was selling a whiskey he called "Ram's Horn."  He hired his son-in-law and he and Lobe worked together until 1878 when Lazarus retired and Phillip took over the business.

Lobe initially did business at 278 West Pratt Street, the address where Goldheim had established himself in 1871. With the success of his liquor trade, Lobe was forced about 1882 to move to larger quarters down the block at 220 West Pratt.  When that space proved too small within two years he moved to 204 West Pratt.  That address would be his corporate home for the next 18 years.

Much of Lobe’ success was due to his Ram’s Horn Rye.  A ram’s horn had played an important part in his Jewish heritage.  In the earliest Biblical reference, Abraham finds a ram caught by his horn in a thicket and sacrifices it to Yahweh.  More commonly a ram’s horn was played as a trumpet, called a “shofer.”   It is referred to 72 times in the Old Testament, including its sound crumbling the walls of Jericho.  Applied to rye whiskey, Lobe’s Ram’s Horn attracted widespread attention, although he never bothered to trademark the name.  A photo from the Maryland State Archives shows a horse-drawn Lobe van rumbling down a Baltimore street delivering his whiskey to local saloons and restaurants.

He sold his whiskey to those establishments in large quantities, usually in gallon size ceramic jugs with his underglaze label on them.  Note that he was requesting that customers “return when empty.”  A frugal man, Lobe would clean, refill and sell them again. 

He marketed his retail whiskey in glass as with the “LFS Special” quart bottle shown here. Smaller quantities were sold in flasks, including an amethyst pint and a clear half-pint.  All bottles contained his embossing.  
Lobe’s popularity was enhanced, no doubt, by the quality of his items gifted to favored customers buying his products.  Of special note was a label- under-glass back of the bar bottle with a color image of his Rams Horn label.  He also gave away a well-designed shot glass with an outline of a ram’s head etched in the glass, likely to both wholesale and retail customers, as well as a corkscrew with Ram’s Horn advertising.
Some good luck also attended Lobe’s business career.  When the Baltimore fire of 1904 burned out a large part of Baltimore’s downtown and many of its liquor dealers, Lobe’s Pratt Street address was just outside the burned area.  He likely was able, at least for a time, to take advantage of lessened competition to increase his base among both wholesale and retail customers.

He also was fortunate in having two sons who were interested in  following in his footsteps.  As they matured both Henry and Ferdinand Lobe, the latter shown right, were brought into the firm, eventually becoming managers.  They assisted their father with a final move in 1913 to 9 North Howard Street.  The company name became Phillip Lobe & Son.

Their business history was not without its problems.  In November 1911, the U.S. Attorney for Maryland, acting for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, seized and confiscated 10 cases of Royal Crest Buchu Gin that the Lobes had in their possession.  The charge was that while the tonic was 38.8 percent alcohol that fact failed to be listed on the label as required by the Pure Food and Drug laws.  The labels clearly noted that Philip Lobe and Sons were the distributors.  The family was found guilty and fined $200 (equivalent to $5,000 today.)

As he aged, Phillip increasingly turned his business over to his sons. He lived until April 1920, dying just after his 69th birthday, and long enough to see National Prohibition enforced, causing his sons to shut down the liquor business of 36 years and move on to other occupations.   With his family grieving at his burial site, he was interred in Oheb Shalom Cemetery.  His gravestone is shown below.

I was particularly attracted to this story by Lazarus Goldheim's use of the Biblical symbol of the ram’s horn to name a whiskey and then Lobe's ability to market Ram’s Horn Rye actively and attractively.  As Phillip Lobe was lowered into his grave, I hope that a ram’s horn “shofer” appropriately was sounded over the Hebrew burying grounds.

Note:  This post has been updated as the result of an extensive article by Susan Helen Adler entitled "From Goldheim Bitters to Phillip Lobe & Son," that appeared in the July-August 2018 edition of Bottles and Extras, the magazine of the Federation of Historical Bottle Collectors (FOHBC).  Ms. Adler's excellent piece filled in gaps in my research and provided a photograph of Lobe, for which I am very grateful.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Louis Jung: Green 'Gators and “The Green Fairy”

That is Louis Emmanuel (L.E.) Jung above, apparently arising out of a Louisiana swamp amidst green alligators.  Although he manufactured whiskey, Jung made his mark in his native New Orleans with other alcoholic drinks, famously concocting and merchandising the notorious “green fairy” — absinthe.  

Jung was born in The Big Easy about 1867, the son of Alexander and Louise (sometimes given as Eliza) Jung, both immigrants from the Caribbean island of Martinique  His father was a bookkeeper.  The 1883 census found Louis at the age of 23 still living at home.  His occupation was given as “traveling clerk.”  My hunch is that he was working in sales for a New Orleans liquor outfit.

He first surfaced in New Orleans directories as co-owner of a liquor house founded by a local named Emile Baumann who in 1883 had inherited from a brother a stock of “wet” goods.  Baumann took Jung as a partner in 1884, when the young man was just 27.   From a passport application we have a description of Louis at that age.  He was five feet, five inches tall, had a high forehead, prominent nose, black hair and beard, hazel eyes, and a dark complexion.

By that time Jung had a family. In April 1881, he had married Marie M. Sabourin, a New Orleans native.  At the time of their nuptials he was 25 and she was 21.  They had two children, Jeanne born about 1883 and Lillian in 1887. Ultimately, as he made his wealth, Jung would house them in a New Orleans mansion, shown here.

Baumann and Jung ran their operation under the name “Sazerac House,” with locations at both 29 Camp Street and 116 Common.  The enterprise included both a saloon and wholesale liquor store.  The partners had a falling out about 1887 and Baumann left to run a Canal Street saloon.  Jung continued to operate the business under his own name and that same year made a successful move to patent the formula for “Peychaud Bitters,” a highly alcoholic tonic that had been invented years earlier by the then deceased A. A. Peychaud, a Haitian Creole apothecary who had settled in New Orleans.

Peychaud’s Bitters already had achieved an international reputation by the time Jung acquired the rights.  An ad trumpeted the tonic’s awards at the Grand Exhibition of Altona-Germany in 1869, and at the New Orleans Cotten Centennial Exposition in 1884.  Jung advertised that his major seller in Southern markets was Peychaud Bitters.  “There is hardly a bar in the South that it does not ornament”, he boasted. “In fact, such is the universal demand for this product, that it may truthfully be said that the saloons ‘cannot do without it.’”   Later Jung could add medals at the 1905 Louis and Clark Exposition in Portland, Oregon, for Peychaud Bitters, Peychaud cocktails and Columbo Bitters.  He was packing Peychaud’s in amber bottles with elaborate embossing on the front, covered with paper labels.

Jung eventually sold off the saloon to concentrate on the manufacture and sale of bitters, cordials and liqueurs, calling his firm “L. Emanuel Jung & Co.”  This change was marked by a move to New Orlean’s Tchoupitoulas Street, first to No. 37, and then, outgrowing that property, to 319-321.   Along the way the New Orleans entrepreneur decided to make himself the “poster boy” for his alcoholic concoctions, posing in 1904 with a diorama of ‘gators, shown above.  Note that the beard of his youth has disappeared.

Jung also discovered the attraction of another major alcoholic product — absinthe.  This heavily alcoholic beverage had originated in Algeria and was introduced into Europe by French soldiers.  A distillation of sixteen herbs, roots, seeds and leaves, including wormwood, it was widely believed for years to be poisonous to the brain.  Known as the “green fairy” for its mental effects and color (although absinthe also could be white), it became the alcoholics’ drink of choice in France.  Jung advertised it prominently along with his other liqueurs and bitters.  He sold it in quarts at $12.00 for a dozen bottles.

When the United States, following the lead of other countries, banned absinthe as poisonous in 1912, Jung did not miss a beat.  He concocted and trademarked the first American substitute, one that contained most of the ingredients but left out wormwood.  He called it “Greenopal” and marketed it as a liqueur.  His company also provided a white absinthe substitute, calling it “Milky Way,” with the logo shown below.  The ads declared: From this product was omitted only the prohibited wormwood, and the formula slightly changed to replace the wormwood.  Milky Way cannot be distinguished in taste, even by the greatest Absinthe connoisseur, from genuine Absinthe.”  Jung trademarked the logo.

By 1915, Frederick A. Wulff had joined Jung’s organization, now located at 237 Genois Street.  The company continued to prosper with products such as “Liqueur de Mandarine,” an orange-flavored liquor; “Cacao Chouva a la Vanille,” and “Liqueur de Fecamp,” a knock-off of the famous Benedictine liqueur — made at Fecamp Abbey in Normandy.  That last brand brought Jung a lawsuit from the French monks and their allies in 1917 and a court injunction against imitating Benedictine’s labels.

With the coming of National Prohibition,  Jung saw all his alcoholic concoctions  banned from manufacture and sale.  With Wulff’s help, he made the switch to a line of non-alcoholic beverages including “Ojen Cocktail,” “Kummel Cordial” and “Sloe Gin.”  Meanwhile, Jung was aging.  A 1923 photo shows him with his wife, Marie, and a granddaughter.   He now was gray, bald, and had resumed wearing a beard.  Jung also did not have long to live, dying about 1925 at circa 68 years old.

As indicated by a 1926 New Orleans business directory, the company then became “L.E. Jung & Wulff Company (Successor to L.E. Jung).”  It advertised itself as Trustees of Southern Tradition Since 1883.”  Wulff and others guided the firm through the remaining “dry” years and after Repeal resumed making their alcoholic bitters, cordials and liqueurs, including absinthe substitutes.  In the post-Prohibition era the firm issued a booklet on “Mixology,” with recipes for making mixed drinks.  About 1943, the L.E. Jung & Wulff  permanently closed its doors.  The demise may have been triggered by the difficultly in obtaining during World War Two the botanical and other ingredients needed for their beverages, or alternatively as a result of competition from much larger cocktail manufacturers like Heublein [see my post on Heublein, May 2014].

Whatever the reason for the termination, Louis Emanuel Jung and his successors had guided the business through a collapsed partnership, a ban on absinthe, a suit by French monks, and into and through National Prohibition — an unusually long 60 year run.  The longevity was a tribute to an enterprising New Orleans distiller and liquor dealer who demonstrated to the world that he was unafraid to pet a Louisiana alligator — even if it was dead and stuffed.

Note:  For anyone interested in more material on absinthe, I have a post on my BOTTLEBOOZEANDBACKSTORIES blog from March 2013 called ‘Absinthe and Art.” 

Note 2:  In October 2017 I received a letter from Catherine S. Richert of Akron, Ohio, who is a great-granddaughter of Jung. She was able to correct me on several errors about the family but corroborated the major part of the story.  I very much appreciate her help as in one case the census data was garbled as to Jung's children.  Thanks Catherine for helping complete a story on a most interesting whiskey (and other liquors) man.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Hilmar Ehrmann Hit the Blue Grass — Running

In profiling the careers of pre-Prohibition “whiskey men,”  I frequently have featured individuals who have immigrated to the U.S. from countries like Germany, Ireland, France, Switzerland and Italy.  In every instance those men spent years in the employ of others while learning the liquor business before striking out on their own.  Hilmar Ehrmann, shown left in maturity, utterly broke that mold.  Within several months of arriving on American shores Ehrmann began a liquor business in Louisville, plunging unafraid into the center of the Kentucky "Blue Grass" whiskey trade.

Ehrmann was born in Austria in April 1862, the son of K. and Eva (Baron) Ehrmann. He is recorded as arriving in this country in 1887 at the age of about 25.  Although little is known about his early life in Europe, it can be deduced that he had some experience in the craft of distilling, possibly “kornschnapps,” Germanic spirits that are distilled in processes somewhat similar to American whiskey.  Ehrmann also had more than the usual amount of wealth than the average immigrant.  No apprenticeship for him.  He quickly started a “rectifying” operation in Louisville, that is taking whiskeys distilled elsewhere, mixing them to achieve taste and smoothness, and merchandising them under his own labels.  Ehrmann initially called his operation “Deutsche Destillation,” in translation, “German Distillery.”

Hilmar appears to have been a handsome youth, although at five feet, five inches, not tall.  A passport application described him with blonde hair, brown eyes, a high forehead, round chin, and medium mouth.  His only disfiguration was a scar on his right thumb.  In 1891, at the age of 29, he married Blanche Kahn, also an immigrant from Austria, who at 18 was eleven years younger than he.   Although the couple may have known each other in their homeland, their wedding was in Louisville.  The couple would go on to have three children:  Eva, born in 1892, Herbert, 1893; and Hannah, 1895.

Whatever the products of his “German distillery” might have been, Ehrmann early on declared himself a whiskey wholesaler, setting up his operation initially at 156 East Jefferson Street.  He seems quickly to have outgrown that location, moving to East Market Street, the avenue that would be home for the life of his enterprise.  Operating as “Hilmar Ehrmann & Co.,” he continued to declare his company “distillers” on the ceramic jugs he provided to his customers, but soon added “importers and wholesalers.”  These containers come in several sizes and label styles.  He also provided whiskey in gallon glass jugs to saloons and restaurants.

Like many of his Louisville competitors, Ehrmann also saw the advantage of featuring his own proprietary brands.   Among them were “Barony,”  “Beechmont,”   
“Cream of Nelson,” and “Germania.”  Apparently unable at his “Deutsche Destillation” facility to produce quality Kentucky bourbon, Ehrmann turned to the Old Tom Moore Distillery in Daviess County to produce and bottle his private brands.  Of them, he chose to seek trademark protection for only Barony and Cream of Nelson.

As his business grew, Ehrmann became painfully aware of the difficulty of finding a reliable source both for bottling his name brands and providing raw product for his rectifying operations.   As various monopoly schemes were being played out by so-called “Whiskey Trusts,” wholesaler/rectifiers like Ehrmann could find themselves either “high and dry” or paying exorbitant prices for raw whiskey.  Whatever the cause, the German immigrant turned his eyes toward a distillery located about a mile west of Bardstown, Kentucky, on the Bardstown and Boston Pike.  The plant had been constructed about 1876 by Felix G. Walker who had run it as a fairly small operation for almost two decades.

With Walker’s retirement new ownership greatly expanded the plant.  The distillery, of frame construction with a metal roof,  subsequently had a mashing capacity of approximately 250 bushels daily.  Bonded warehouse capacity was increased from two ironclad structures to six.  The Nelson County facility was designated RD#410 in Kentucky’s Fifth Revenue District.  According to authority Chester Zoeller, about 1900 Ehrmann began to invest in Walker’s plant and by 1905 became the sole owner.  

He also adopted Walker’s flagship brand, “Queen of Nelson” as his own but changed the name of the facility to the Hilmar Ehrmann Distillery, as shown on the letterhead above.

Now reaching out to retail as well as wholesale markets,  Ehrmann began to package his whiskey in smaller quantities and use attention-getting shapes, like those shown here to attract customers.  

He was also providing giveaway items, such as the shot glasses shown above to saloons, restaurants and bartenders featuring his retail brands.   Although his customer base was American,  Ehrmann had strong European ties indicating robust earlier experience on the Continent.  As an importer of liquors he dealt frequently with producers in his native Austria, as well as Germany, France and other countries.  

With the rise of prohibitionary forces in America, Ehrmann began to move away from the liquor trade.  About 1915, he sold a partial interest in the distillery to other investors and began to engage in other occupations.   A 1919 letter to him, addressed to the Photo Repro Company in New York City from the managers of the distillery,  enclosed a clipping from the Louisville Courier Journal about impending National Prohibition.  Their letter implores Hilmar to set out for Europe immediately in order to sell the company’s holdings of whiskey and fruit brandy in England, Italy and Holland.  “The exportation of our stock seems to be our only hope…,” the letter concluded.  Shortly thereafter, Ehrmann embarked for Europe.  Asked on his passport application for the reason behind his trip, Hilmar stated cryptically:  “Disposal of wine and whiskey.”

No account exists of what success his trip achieved, but that same year Hilmar Ehrmann & Co. shut down after two decades in business.  Ehrmann made two more trips to Europe with his wife, one in 1922 on the Steamship Berengeria to visit relatives and a second in 1924 aboard the Carmonia.   Ehrmann would live another 12 years, dying in 1936 at the age of 74.  The cause given was cancer of the liver.  With his wife and children grieving by his gravesite,  he was buried in The Temple Cemetery in Louisville.  As shown here, his monument read:  “He did justice, loved mercy, and walked humbly with God.”

Those noble sentiments about his personality and spiritual life should not obscure, however, that Hilmar Ehrmann did not begin his career in Kentucky whiskey walking humbly, but rather burst onto the Louisville liquor scene with a speed that few, if any, others have equaled.  Moreover, he left a legacy.  When the Queen of Nelson brand was revived after Prohibition, the new owners in their ads pledged to uphold adherence to his standards: For nearly fifty years, the name of Hilmar Ehrmann has meant fine liqueurs, whiskies and gins of high quality…a combination of Old World experience plus many years association with the distilling industry of Kentucky.”