- DISTILLER: Heaven Hill Distillery
- MASH BILL: 68% corn, 20% wheat, 12% malted Barley
- AGE: 13 Years
- YEAR: 2019
- PROOF: 100 (50% ABV)
- MSRP: $130
NOSE: Warm peach pie, caramel | dried grain, vanilla, malted milk ball candy |lemon curd
TASTE: Medium body, caramel, raisin | graham cracker | toasted oak
FINISH: Long, luxurious and warm | honeyed (toddy-like) |lingering oak
SHARE WITH: Any whiskey lover.
WORTH THE PRICE: If the $130 MSRP doesn’t intimidate you, buy it. I’ve seen far costlier whiskies that can’t hold a candle to this.
BOTTLE, BAR OR BUST: Bottle, if you can justify the splurge.
OVERALL: This geezer among the current line is a terrific whiskey that demonstrates what careful aging can do to improve a product, especially wheated bourbons, which many believe age better than rye bourbons.
This 13-year-old release officially puts Old Fitzgerald Bottled-In-Bond in competition with wheated Weller and Van Winkle bourbons, some of the most prized American-made bottles. As one of the industry's older BIBs, it also has that important distinction of being made in one distilling season only and never mingled with older or younger whiskeys. That ups the uniqueness ante for me.
Having tasted many Weller and Van Winkle releases on several occasions, I can say this Old Fitzgerald is a totally different animal that’s drawn a new line in the sand for wheated bourbons. My hope is the price of this or subsequent bottles won’t skyrocket in step with its competitors’, but that’s unlikely.
Each Spring and Fall, a new edition of the Old Fitzgerald Bottled-in-Bond decanter series is released. Bottled in an ornate decanter inspired by an original 1950’s Old Fitzgerald diamond decanter, the series reflects the traditions of both the Old Fitzgerald history tied to John E. Fitzgerald and the historic Bottled-in-Bond designation. The Old Fitzgerald line is well-known for its distilling pedigree as the brand was first registered in 1884 by S.C. Herbst, and was eventually sold to Julian P. “Pappy” Van Winkle during Prohibition. Pappy moved production of Old Fitz to his distillery where it became the first great Wheated Bourbon. In 1999, Heaven Hill bought the Old Fitzgerald brand and began distilling it at the Bernheim Distillery in Louisville.
I’m among the many saddened by the disappearance of the 4-year-old Old Fitzgerald Bottled-In-Bond during 2017. Like most BIBs, it was a terrific bargain, a great sipper and one of my favorite cocktailers for recipes with citrus (think Gold Rush).
But since businesses aren’t charities, they must improve products and profitability, so Heaven Hill smartly moved to make Old Fitz’ a more premium product and sell it at a super-premium price. Why not, when much older versions of it--from Stitzel-Weller days--now fetch thousands of dollars on the secondary market? There was brand equity to be built and reaped by putting longer-aged Fitz’ into eye-catching retro-Fitz’ decanters and boosting price by eight times its final 2017 cost.
With the first 9-year-old release in the spring of 2018, I wasn’t wowed, but I liked it well enough to look forward to the fall edition, which was noticeably better. But when I saw a 13-year-old was next up for spring of 2019, I was really intrigued.
HOW IT COMPARES TO ITS YOUNGER SIBLINGS: Having had bits of the 9-year and 11-year handy, I tasted them alongside this year’s 13-year release.
2018 Spring 11-year
NOSE: Minerality (think damp cave); fruit gel candy, oak, vanilla.
PALATE AND FINISH: Flavors are concentrated markedly: fruit, grain, toasted bread, graham cracker and lemon cream.
2018 Fall 9-year
NOSE: Big bouquet, floral, fruity, candy, lots of grain up front, mown hay field, lemon peel,
PALATE AND FINISH: Lean, light, oak, caramel, unassertive even for a 9-year old.
2019 Spring 13-year
NOSE: Oak leads, backed by banana and some baking spice; overall significantly subdued bouquet compared to younger siblings.
PALATE AND FINISH: Slightly oily, warmed butter, oak, baking spice, light caramel, vanilla; oak delivers drier finish than the other two but leaves delicious lingering notes of cinnamon, brown sugar. Overall balance balance and boldness makes this whiskey the best of the trio.
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.