I think I am safe in saying that the majority of Americans, when they hear the name “Fleischmann’s”, they think of the yellow packets of yeast found in grocery stores across the nation. What they might not know is that yeast business grew along-side of a very successful distilling industry founded in Cincinnati, Ohio in 1868.
Charles Fleischmann was born in Budapest in the year 1834. His younger brother, Maximillian was born 12 years later in 1846. Together, they came to America and settled in Cincinnati, Ohio and built a distillery with distiller James Graff, at Riverside, Ohio. This was just west of Cincinnati at that time. They start distilling and making yeast to be sold to the public. They started by making gin and in 1870 they introduced “Sylvan Grove” Bourbon.
They were very successful with these ventures, but became most well known for their yeast. In 1883, at Louisville’s Southern Exposition, Fleischmann built a yeast exhibit. The Southern Exposition ran for four years and Fleischmann’s yeast gained even more exposure. In 1884, the company was doing so well that they opened an office in New York City. In 1892 the distillery introduced “Royalty” , a London Dry Gin.
Maximillian died in 1890 and his older brother Charles died in 1897. The company survived their deaths and continued to grow. In 1900, they introduced “Congress Hall Rye” and the next year they built a distillery at Peekskill, New York to make their rye whiskey.
In 1908, the company released what they called an “Eastern Rye” made from 100% rye grain. In 1910 they expanded their portfolio to include a line of cordials to accompany their other distilled spirits. In 1911, in order to make Cincinnati’s air cleaner, they invested in “smoke consumers” to clean the emissions from their distillery.
Prohibition shut down their distilling business, but the yeast making business continued. This income allowed them to survive Prohibition and upon the Repeal of Prohibition, they reopened the Peekskill, N.Y. distillery and started making gin. They signed as the distributors of Black and White Scotch in 1938. In 1940 they purchased the Daviess County Distillery in Owensboro, Kentucky and began making straight Bourbon and rye. The company added Fleischmann’s vodka in 1956. In 1962, they began production of the vodka at a distillery in Clinton, Iowa.
By this time, the yeast manufacturing side of the business split off as a separate business. The distilling side continued making Fleischmann’s Gin, Vodka, Rye and Bourbon. They were importing and distributing Black and White Scotch and in 1974, Canadian LTD Canadian whisky. But the downturn of the whiskey industry in the 1970s still had an effect on the business. In 1979, Fleischmann’s was sold to Standard Brands. In 1989, Standard Brands was sold to Glenmore Distillers, and in 1991, Glenmore was sold to United Distillers.
Fleischmann’s was still a popular brand name in the United States at that time and Glenmore was selling over a million cases a year of Fleischmann’s Gin when they were acquired by United Distillers. Even so, United Distillers sold the Fleischmann’s line of brands to Barton in 1994. In 2009, Barton was sold to Sazerac and Sazerac is the present owner of the Fleischmann’s trademarks.
The Fleischmann’s Distilling Corporation has a rich history. They are more famous for their Gin and Vodka today, but were also producers of many brands of Bourbon and Rye whiskeys. They are a distiller that should be remembered and I think Sazerac should bring back the “Sylvan Grove” Bourbon brand to honor that heritage, even if its sales are limited to the Barton Distillery gift shop.
Images public domain and Rosemary Miller