The Spirit: Old Fitzgerald
The Distillery: Heaven Hill
Style: Kentucky Bourbon
Proof: 100 proof / 50% ABV
Availability: Limited release
Wheated bourbon (in which wheat is used as a secondary flavoring grain instead of rye) is something of a specialty at Kentucky’s Heaven Hill Distillery. They make Larceny, an inexpensive but excellent example of this category, as well as its limited-edition sibling Old Fitzgerald, which was introduced as a bottled-in-bond bourbon in 2018.
A bit of background might be helpful here: the whiskey is named after John E. Fitzgerald, who trademarked his eponymous whiskey brand back in 1884 and started selling it five years later. A long, slightly convoluted history follows suit, as is the case with many whiskey brands, during which Old Fitzgerald became the property of different distilleries and parent companies over the years. But in 1999, Heaven Hill purchased the Bernheim Distillery and acquired the Old Fitzgerald brand name along with it. Fast forward to the present day, and the bourbon is now released twice a year in spring and fall editions. It’s bottled in bond, as mentioned before, which means it’s 100 proof, at least four years old, and the product of one distillery and one distilling season.
This year’s spring release is an eight-year-old bourbon, which is the youngest age statement yet for the modern-day series. According to the distillery, the whiskey was made in the spring of 2013 (on two production dates) and bottled this spring with barrels coming from different floors in three rickhouses. Now, you should be aware this whiskey will likely sell for more than the SRP, due in large part to its limited release (and fancy whiskey decanter). One might argue that you could just drink Larceny instead; after all, it’s much cheaper and easier to find, and the two share a mash bill of 68% corn, 20% wheat, and 12% malted barley. But despite both being wheated bourbons produced at the same distillery from the same mash bill, there are major differences in age and proof, which result in very different flavor profiles.
This whiskey is not just known for its pretty bottle though, as Old Fitzgerald is a rich and layered bourbon with a palate amplified by the sturdy 100 proof that it’s bottled at. Of course, the flavor varies by release as each is unique. Some might be wondering whether it’s worth it to shell out the cash for an eight-year-old version of Old Fitzgerald when there are previous releases nearly twice as old available. But it’s important to remember that older age statements in whiskey, especially in bourbon, don’t equal quality, and this is certainly the case here. The spring 2021 release is full of chocolate and vanilla notes, swirling around a palate of espresso, a bit of char, and ripe stone fruits. The sweetness of the wheat shines through as expected, and the tannins are kept to a minimum with less than a decade in barrels.
You will probably want to reserve this bourbon for sipping instead of mixing, based on the price and the palate. But by all means do as you please, because the best way to enjoy any whiskey is exactly how you like to drink it.