Old Judge Bourbon – Newmark, Gruenberg & Co.

Provenance: Ken Schwartz Collection

John L. Thomas, in Whiskey Bottles of the Old West, noted that there are three variants of our rare Old Judge Bourbon – Newmark, Gruenberg & Co. S.F. applied top bottle. Variant “A” has a patent date on the bottom and “KY” embossed beneath “JUDGE.” Variant “B” has no patent date or “KY” embossing. This is our museum example. Variant “C” is embossed “M. GRUENBERG” instead of having both partner names embossed on the bottle. They are rather rare bottles typically found in shades of amber. All three variants are included in the Spirits Gallery.

2012 FOHBC Hall of Fame Member, and whiskey authority Jack Sullivan, noted that “Among brands, the history of The Old Judge is among the most convoluted.”  We need not concern ourselves here with the entire history as this subject bottle represents only one stop in the timeline of Old Judge Bourbon. We have another Old Judge Kentucky Bourbon bottle by S. B. Rothenberg & Co. in an adjacent display. It came a little later, is embossed quite differently and has some great advertising to go with it.

See the museum example of S.B. Rothenberg Old Judge Kentucky Bourbon.

The Old Judge brand is said to have originated in 1857, a product of M. T. Mitchell distillery of Lawrenceburg, Kentucky.  Another source claims that the name had been used since 1866 by Emil Stern’s Son & Co. of New York City. On the West Coast, a short-lived San Francisco liquor house named Kane, O’Leary & Company in 1881 was granted a federal trademark for “The Old Judge.”  Perhaps as part of a bankruptcy,  that company transferred ownership of the brand to Newmark, Gruenberg & Co. Both concerns were addressed at 221 Bush Street in San Francisco.

See our museum example of a Kane, O’Leary & Co. flask and fifth.

Actually, in 1884, the Superior Court of the County of Alameda in the State of California requested that P. Kane, M. O’Leary, J. L. Newmark, and M. Gruenberg, co-partners, doing business under the name Kane, O’Leary & Co. appear in court. That certainly ties them all together. The Kane – O’Leary cylinder fifth is pictured below.

If you study our bottle, Newmark, Gruenberg & Co. is embossed on the face. As noted above, they were located at 221 Bush Street in San Francisco and were only in business together from 1882 to 1884 which dates our bottle. Thomas notes as early as 1879 which could be correct and relate to when a slug plate version of the bottle was made.

The following account from The Record Union newspaper in Sacramento, California on January 1, 1883, gives a good period overview of the Newmark, Gruenberg partnership.

Wholesale Dealers and Importers of Wines and Liquors, 221 and 223 Bush Street, San Francisco.

This leading house is one of the largest on the coast, and their establishment is one of the finest wholesale liquor stores in the West. This firm does not pretend to own and control one or a dozen Eastern distilleries, as many of the smaller Eastern and California liquor establishments transacting business here are in the habit of doing. They feel that they are safer in going into the Eastern markets and buying those whiskies which their long experience and thorough knowledge of the wants of the people of the Pacific coast tell them will please their hundreds of customers. They make their contracts for each season in advance with leading distillers with an established reputation, bring their whiskies around the Horn, thus giving them that age so desirable, and place them upon the market, knowing that they are just what they are represented to be in every respect.

They know that the market is open to all, and they honestly tell their patrons that they purchase their whiskies from the best distilleries of the East, and make no false pretensions as to the ownership of this or that distillery, which have no existence save on paper. By this course this firm has gained the confidence of the people, while their brands of whiskies are very popular. But the brand which is destined to become the favorite whisky of the coast, and the one which Messrs. Newmark, Gruenberg & Co. are determined shall surpass all others in purity, flavor and excellence in every particular, is the “OLD JUDGE.”

A superior article which has been introduced on this coast for several years, and its fine flavor, elegant tonic properties and absolute purity have secured for it the indorsement of the best judges on the coast, who have decided that, for medicinal and family purposes, as well as for a pleasant drink, there is no whisky equal to the Old Judge.

The Old Judge is handsomely put up in barrels, cases and bottles, and it will soon adorn not only every bar on the coast, but the sideboard of every lover of a good, pure, unadulterated whisky.

This firm imports direct and deals largely in brandies, gins, rums, sherries, ports and Irish and Scotch whiskies, and have also in stock California wines, burgundies and champagnes, bitters, cordials, syrups and mineral waters, both foreign and domestic.

Primary Image: Old Judge Bourbon imaged on location by the FOHBC Virtual Museum midwest studio led by Alan DeMaison.

Support: Reference to Frisco’s Rothenbergs Ran with “The Old Judge”

Support: Reference to Whiskey Bottles of the Old West by John L. Thomas, 2002

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