Golden Wedding Rye is a brand with a long history. It was created by Joseph S. Finch, who buit a distillery near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in 1856. He registered the trademark, Golden Wedding Rye with Mida’s Criteria, stating it had been in use since 1869. By 1884, the distillery was owned by James D. Pontefract, who registers the Trademarks, “Golden Wedding Whiskey”, and “Finch’s Golden Wedding Rye” with the government. With the invention of machine blown glass bottles, bottled whiskey became economical for distillers to produce, so Pontefract register a “Golden Wedding Rye” label with Mida’s Criteria. The label featured an old man and an old woman toasting their anniversary. The brand was very popular in the northeastern United States. In the 1911 Mida’s Financial Index, the Jos. S. Finch & Co., DSP 4, 23rd District, Pa. was rated with a “B” rating, meaning it was worth from $200,000 to $250,000 and had offices at 129-31 McKean St., in Pittsburgh.
When Prohibition was inflicted on the United States, Jos. S. Finch & Co. applied for and received a license to sell medicinal spirits. Shortly afterwards, Louis Rosenstiel purchases the distillery and its 500,000 gallons of aging whiskey and creates the Schenley Distilling Corporation. It became one of the flagship brands in the Schenley portfolio of spirits, along with James E, Pepper, O.F.C. and Old Quaker Bourbons. Bottling was at the Schenley Distillery in nearby Schenley, Pennsylvania, so the whiskey was moved to the Schenley Distillery and the Jos. S. Finch Distillery was closed and the property sold.
With the repeal of Prohibition in 1933, Schenley invested in the Golden Wedding brand by designing new pint, 4/5 quart bottles and quart bottles using the same frosted glass, and shape as was used during Prohibition. The label was changed to two elderly men to meet the new self-imposed rule of not using women to promote whiskey.
Schenley invested in advertising the brand and in 1937, they created the ”Frosted Golden Wedding Cocktail”, which was: “Wipe the edge of the chilled glass with lemon. Twirl in powdered sugar. Fill the glass with ice and add one jigger of Golden Wedding Rye, one dash of peach brandy, one dash of Grenadine and fill the glass with soda”. In 1944, Schenley updates its label design to feature a younger couple depicted as the bride and groom. This did not last long as in 1945, Schenley acquired the Quebec Distillers, Inc. and changes its name to Canadian Schenley Limited.
With the new investment in Canadian whisky, Schenley chose to take two of its American whiskey brands and bottle them as Canadian whisky. Golden Wedding Rye and O.F.C. Bourbon become these brands of Canadian whisky. The idea was that they already had name recognition in the American market and would help build the brands quickly. In 1948, Golden Wedding Canadian whisky hit the market. It was a success. In the 1949 annual report, Schenley stated the brand is only restricted in sales by the supply of aged whisky available. New warehouses were built to meet this demand.
The brand remained in the Schenley portfolio of brands into the 1990s. However, like all whiskey sales, the brand declined in the 1970s and 80s. It is still bottled today as a three year old Canadian whisky and is owned by the Sazerac Company. This is a shame and I would like to see it return as an American rye whiskey made once again in Pennsylvania. Hopefully, Sazerac will consider partnering with a Pennsylvania distillery and release a bottling of this historic rye whiskey brand.
Photos Courtesy of Rosemary Miller