It was Friday lunchtime and I was perusing a large regional spirits store. I was in search of something “interesting”, but also not wanting to drop more than $20. I’ve found good luck with some other bargain-shelfers from Heaven Hill, including JTS Brown and JW Dant – both of which are bottled-in-bond expressions. This bottle, with a label straight out of the 1950’s caught my eye.
A Brand Steeped in History
The Old Fitzgerald brand appeared in 1870 exclusively for passengers on steamships and railroads. It ultimately found its ways into the hands of the general public, as well. Pappy Van Winkle Sr. purchased the brand following Prohibition and produced it for years at the Stitzel-Weller Distillery just south of Louisville, Kentucky.
Following the closure of the Stitzel-Weller Distillery in 1992, the facility was purchased by Diageo and used for storage of its IW Harper, Bulleit, and Blade & Bow bourbons. The Stitzel-Weller brands were sold off, and Heaven Hill acquired several of them, including the Old Fitzgerald namesake.
Similar to the Old Fitzgerald 10-year Bottled-in-Bond and Larceny, this Heaven Hill product is a wheated bourbon and is bottled at a low 80-proof. The mash bill is comprised of a hefty 68% corn, 20% wheat (vs. more typical rye) and 12% malted barley. While the label is titled straight bourbon (indicating it as least 2 years old), the back of the neck indicates the product has been aged at least 36 months.
Eye: Dark honey. There are long legs that slowly drain down the side of my glass when gently swirled.
Nose: Corn with honey sweetness with light oak wood essences.
Palate: Traditional caramel followed by oak and more vanilla.
Finish: Medium with sugary sweetness followed by spice and oak.
Overall: Heaven Hill puts out a number of great products, including the Evan Williams lineup, the JTS Brown, and JW Dant brands, the now-discontinued HH 6-Year BiB, the incredible Henry McKenna 10-year BiB, and Larceny. Placed against some of these powerhouses, the basic Old Fitz can pale in comparison.
To be honest, though, this isn’t high falutin stuff. Sometimes you want to have a pour and not think too much about it – like clicking channels on cable or browsing Netflix for “background noise”. At $12.99, this isn’t Pappy; but it’s also not ethanol either. It would truly be interesting to see this at a slightly higher proof (say, 86 or so) to stand up to ice or a cocktail. Then again, sometimes a product is fine for what it is.
I’d have loved to have tried this product in its prime, when Pappy was at the helm. This must have been incredible stuff. This is one to perhaps include in a blind tasting inside your next flight and see what your friends say. They might be surprised you had plenty of change left over from a $20 bill.