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Old Fitzgerald Bottled-in-Bond Bourbon
TASTE: Watered Down Vanilla & Caramel | Buttery Oak | Black Pepper
FINISH: A moderately long finish that is dry, spicy and oak forward. Despite the oak forwardness of the finish it never turns bitter – just hot and dry. All of the magic appears to be in the nose on this whiskey.
SHARE WITH: Share this one with fellow bourbon geeks who are curious about this release and how it compares to other wheaters.
WORTH THE PRICE: Afraid not. I would put this one solidly in the $30 bracket.
BOTTLE, BAR OR BUST: Don’t let the marketing and decanter fool you folks. This is a try it before you buy it whiskey.
OVERALL: Let me start by saying that if tasting blind, this would be a perfectly drinkable whiskey. I wouldn’t spit it out and pawn it off on someone else. I would drink it. Moreover, if you poured me another glass, I would drink that as well. However, the reality is that I didn’t drink it blindly. I drank it knowing quite well that it retailed for $110 and came in a fancy decanter. So thus, my expectations were set high – as they should be based on the packaging and pricing.
The nose is fantastic and really got me excited about the bottle’s potential. It was buttery with lovely notes of tobacco and apricot slathered on a substantial slice of oak. I anticipated a thick, oily mouthfeel with heavy flavors but was disappointed to be greeted by a thin, watered-down combination of vanilla, caramel, and spicy black pepper. Sure, there was some buttery oak, but it didn’t lend enough oomph to the experience. While the finish had some length, it wasn’t very flavorful or memorable. It sure didn’t taste or finish like an 11-year old bourbon.
For $110 a bourbon needs to be memorable. It needs to be far better than anything I can get for less than $80 and needs to be superior to previous expressions within the same brand label family. Sadly, this one missed the mark.
This release is a prime example of a distillery jumping the shark and doing itself more harm than good. Heaven Hill is one of the most respected bourbon distilleries in the market and legions of fans – myself included – love their products. However, they missed the mark on this one. It’s a solid bourbon by most measures but dressing it up in fancy decanter does not make it worth $110. Save your money and stock up on Larceny, Elijah Craig or Evans Williams.
STEEPED IN HISTORY, OLD FITZGERALD RETURNS
For nearly every legendary Bourbon there’s a backstory, and few bottles bear as much legend, lore and flavor as Old Fitzgerald Bottled-in-Bond Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey. As our Spring 2018 release of this historic brand will prove, the story of “Old Fitz” contains more tales, truth and taste than ever.
The first release of the aromatic and easy-sipping 100-proof Bourbon will be 11 years old and bottled in an ornate glass decanter. Released each spring and fall, every Old Fitzgerald edition will consist of about 100 barrels.
AND SO THE STORY GOES
The story goes that in 1870, John E. Fitzgerald whiskey was a product named after a distiller working at Old Judge Distillery on Benson Creek, outside of Frankfort, Kentucky. Legend has it that he sold his product exclusively to private clubs, rail and steamship lines before renaming and trademarking it Old Fitzgerald in 1884. Official records show that in 1901, Solomon Charles “S.C.” Herbst, a spirits distiller and distributor with businesses in Kentucky and Wisconsin, registered the Fitzgerald brand. So successful was Herbst that he constructed a new bottling plant for the Bourbon in 1904. Two years later, legend claims he bought the Old Judge Distillery to continue making the product in copper pot stills.
Fast forward 18 years to find Old Judge Distillery shut down due to Prohibition. Believing the Volstead Act would be repealed, W.L. Weller, a whiskey marketing and distribution firm in Louisville, Kentucky, made the second of a pair of $2,000 payments to Herbst for the rights to the Old Fitzgerald name in 1925. Eight years later, when Prohibition ended, A. Ph. Stitzel Distillery—one of four distilleries permitted to make medicinal whiskey during that onerous dry spell—merged with Weller to form the Stitzel-Weller Distillery. Under new ownership, some bottles of Old Fitzgerald were crudely relabeled by crossing out S.C. Herbst’s name and adding W.L. Weller and Sons’.
BACK IN THE BOURBON GAME
Energized by Prohibition’s repeal, Stitzel-Weller constructed a massive distillery in Shively, Kentucky, where it began making Old Fitzgerald in 1935. Knowing well the quality of Old Fitzgerald, a clever Weller marketer named Julian P. Van Winkle, leaned heavily on its backstory to sell it. Later known as “Pappy,” Julian P. Van Winkle helped position Old Fitzgerald as a premium Bourbon known for exceptional softness created by using wheat in its grain mashbill. In 1951, the whiskey’s packaging was revised to match that high expectation. That year, the whiskey was packaged in an elegant, heavy glass “diamond decanter,” the first of what would become multiple artistic decanters released over the next two decades (and the inspiration for the Old Fitzgerald Bottled-in-Bond Series decanter.) The whiskey would also experience several line extensions under the names Very Old Fitzgerald, Very Very Old Fitzgerald, and Old Fitzgerald Prime, the brand’s first non-Bottled-in-Bond release.
* The term Bottled-in-Bond is a purity and honesty declaration made by American whiskey distillers who distill and bottle a particular whiskey in one distilling season, at one distillery, and age it in a government “bonded” or supervised warehouse for no less than four years. Passed in 1897, the Bottled-In-Bond Act was a move by distillers to distinguish their products from adulterated spirits sold by rectifiers as Bourbon.
A NEW HOME & NEW STORIES
Years later after several changes in ownership, Heaven Hill bought the Old Fitzgerald brand in 1999 and began distilling it at its Bernheim Distillery in Louisville. And just in time, too, as the American whiskey rebirth was just beginning.
Also in that same year, the publishing of Sally Van Winkle Campbell’s “But Always Fine Bourbon: Pappy Van Winkle and the Story of Old Fitzgerald” set the record straight. According to Van Winkle Campbell, Pappy’s granddaughter, Fitzgerald wasn’t a distiller at all. He was a U.S. Treasury Agent “gauger” charged with inspecting distilleries’ inventories to properly levy taxes. According to Campbell’s book, such a good inspector was ol’ Fitz that the many barrels subjected to his examinations were so noticeably lightened that bottling workers dubbed them “Fitzgerald barrels.” Where such thefts took place remains foggy, though some accounts point to S.C. Herbst’s bottling operations in Milwaukee.
Regardless of the facts, the story remains one of the most beloved Bourbon industry legends, which led to the launch of Larceny Bourbon in 2012. Also using wheat in its mashbill, Larceny is a small batch Bourbon whose package utilizes a skeleton key as its symbolic logo element. The key supports the brand story of Fitzgerald’s misuse of his warehouse privileges and pays homage to the iconic key logo and tagline of Old Fitzgerald packaging that declares, “Your Key to Hospitality.”
A BOLD AND FLAVORFUL RELAUNCH
The Old Fitzgerald Bottled-in-Bond Series will be available in the 750ml decanter each spring and fall throughout the next five years. Each bottle will prominently feature the pre-Prohibition diagonal brand name, 1940’s era brand slogan declaring, “Your key to hospitality,” the seal of the Commonwealth of Kentucky, and a tax strip across the stopper disclosing when the liquid was produced and bottled. Spring editions will be denoted with a green label; fall editions with a black label. The ages of whiskey in each release will vary and be indicated at the bottom of the label. Prices for each release also will vary.
“For 82 years Heaven Hill Distillery has nurtured and produced historic brands of quality and heritage,” said Heaven Hill Distillery Master Distiller Denny Potter, adding that the new release is non-chill filtered. “It is an honor to join a famous line of distillers behind the Old Fitzgerald name and to continue to uphold the tradition of the brand through its bottled-in-bond designation, which dates to the early 1900s.”
Old Fitzgerald Bottled-In-Bond Bourbon Background Info
BARDSTOWN, KY – Heaven Hill Distillery announced today the release of a limited-edition series of Old Fitzgerald Bottled-in-Bond Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey bottlings to be released each spring and fall. Bottled in an ornate decanter, the series reflects the traditions of both the Old Fitzgerald lineage and the bottled-in-bond designation. Launching this spring with an 11-year-old bottling, whiskey aficionados and history buffs alike will revel in the newest edition of the Old Fitzgerald family.
Inspired by an original 1950’s Old Fitzgerald diamond decanter, the newest packaging will thrill collectors as the brand was traditionally bottled in artistic decanters of all shapes and sizes. The label features the time-honored graphic of a key, commemorating an important element in original labels and the brand’s slogan since the 1940’s, “Your key to hospitality.” Kentucky’s state seal and a prominent brand banner replicate a pre-Prohibition label. Spring editions will be denoted with a green label and fall editions with a black label. The age will change with each edition and will also be indicated on the bottom of the label.
Each edition’s tax strip, which has always been a signature of transparency on bottled-in-bond products, will disclose when the liquid was produced and bottled.
“For 82 years Heaven Hill Distillery has nurtured and produced historic brands of quality and heritage,” said Heaven Hill Distillery Master Distiller Denny Potter. “It is an honor to join a famous line of distillers behind the Old Fitzgerald name and to continue to uphold the tradition of the brand through its bottled-in-bond designation, which dates to the early 1900s.”
Larceny Bourbon, a descendant of the Old Fitzgerald line, tells the legend of Treasury Agent John E. Fitzgerald who held the keys to the bonded rickhouses, and helped himself from barrels containing only the finest bourbon. The agent’s selections became known around the distillery as “Fitzgerald barrels” and were used to create a soft, wheated bourbon known as “Old Fitzgerald.”
The Old Fitzgerald Bottled-in-Bond Series will be available in the 750ml size on an allocated basis each spring and fall throughout the next five years. The spring 2018 edition meets the strict requirements of a bottled-in-bond: the product of a single distillery from a single distilling season, aged a minimum of four years, and bottled at 100 proof or 50% alcohol by volume. The first edition is available at a suggested retail price of $110.00.
Disclaimer: Heaven Hill provided Bourbon & Banter with a sample of their product for this review.
We appreciate their willingness to allow us to review their products with no strings attached. Thank you.