OLD FITZGERALD BOTTLED IN BOND
Fall 2020 Release
MASH BILL – 68% corn, 20% wheat, 12% malted barley
PROOF – 100
AGE – 14 years
DISTILLERY – Heaven Hill
PRICE – $175
WORTH BUYING? – In the grand scheme of things, given there are other similar experiences that cost less, no. But as a study in well-aged wheated bourbon gradually evolving over time in the bottle (if one is into such studies) yes.
Back in Fall 2018, I went into a store I used to frequent, which always had fair prices very near to msrp, to ask about the bottle of Old Fitzgerald Bottled in Bond 9 Year the owner had behind glass. He said flat out, “The bourbon’s okay. You’re paying for the fancy bottle.” As a business owner he had an incentive to sell me things. But he sided with honesty. I didn’t buy the Old Fitz. I bought the Redemption Wheated he recommended instead, for a third of the Old Fitz price tag. I was very pleased with it.
Some months later I was at a friend’s place for a night of tasting many things—mostly ryes, with a few other bottles tossed in the mix. The Spring 2019 Old Fitz 13 Year was among them. I found it to be a solid but unremarkable bourbon. Caramel, stone fruits, soft vanilla, no surprises. The price indeed seemed a bit much for the experience.
Then in late 2019 I won the right to purchase a bottle of the Old Fitz 15 Year release in a raffle. It was offered at msrp. Curious to give the famous Old Fitz line another go, and having read/heard good things about this particular release, I went for it. That bottle remains unopened. I had the idea to gather a few more 15-year bourbons to do a 15-year flight. (I’ve since indeed gathered a few of those, but the flight has yet to happen. Stay tuned…!)
Then, late this past Fall 2020, a friend texted me saying he’d picked up a bottle of the Old Fitz 14 Year at a BevMo for very near msrp. He’d been gunning for another bottle but someone else had just beat him to it. He bought the Old Fitz as a consolation prize, not really wanting it. He asked if I’d like it. I said sure. After those very busy late Fall / early Winter months had settled, I opened it.
At uncorking, the nose had notes of sugary cake frosting, baking spices, vanilla caramel sauce, and dry oak. The taste was then very like the nose. The finish emphasized doughy breakfast pastry notes. Overall I found it quite good, a sweet old fashioned cake of a bourbon. But still not quite as exceptional as I hope for when paying three digits.
So I let it sit for a bit. Here we are, now two months after uncorking and four pours into the bottle, tasting the Old Fitz 14 Year in a traditional Glencairn…
COLOR – russet oranges to deep cherrywood reds
NOSE – toasted baking spices, richly toasted dry oak, thick-cut caramel fudge, faint dried king apricots and bing cherries, black pepper, dry vanilla pods
TASTE – the promises of the nose deepen right up front, everything now juicier and richer by comparison, though still dry, with a creaminess beneath the various dry elements
FINISH – nicely charred oak, the caramel and vanilla notes now baked into a well-toasted breakfast pastry
OVERALL – actively (I don’t want to say precariously) balanced between dry and rich, relaxed and decadent… I get the feeling this bottle will remain on the move as it airs out, taking its time, as opposed to settling in to stay put somewhere…
Interesting. It’s darker, drier, and more relaxed now than at uncorking. And yet I have a sense it’s not done with its journey. This may be a bottle to return to every few weeks, to chart its gradual progress. There is a lot going on. The flavor notes have a clarity to them, and their sum total impact gives an impression of being unfinished—still evolving, active but in no hurry. It’s an enjoyably puzzling experience.
As I write these notes out and sip at a second pour, some of that baking spiced vanilla icing I picked up at uncorking now starts to emerge again. So the sensation of evolution is palpable in the moment as well as over extended time. This second pour is also a bit sweeter on the taste and finish as compared to today’s first pour. The dry aspects remain firmly in place, to be sure. But it’s interesting to experience it opening up to its sweeter aspects over the course of one sitting. Will this dual motif of momentary and longterm evolution remain a theme throughout this bottle’s life span?
I must agree with that shop owner that one is indeed paying for the fancy bottle with these twice-annual Old Fitz offerings. It’s a wonderfully classy, old fashioned presentation. But as someone who doesn’t buy whiskey to display it, I can’t quite justify paying for that aspect of it.
That said, similarly aged bourbons in far simpler bottles are going for similar prices and higher. Taking in the full scope of the current bourbon boom era, the Old Fitz BiB line is not at all an outlier in price. The recent slew of Doc Swinson’s “Rare” Release offerings, all aged 15 years, sourced from ?????, and served up in a common wine bottle topped with a bit of wax, go for a similar price and offer similar quality overall. At least with Old Fitz we know who made it, and can enjoy the historical legacy behind the bottle. There is a story to be told when sharing this bottle, whereas a Doc Swinson’s erases its history in favor of contributing to the FOMO frenzy.
From a diehard whiskey fan’s perspective, this is money not well-spent but just okay-spent. I’ll enjoy following this bottle’s journey. For the casual but curious drinker, I’d recommend other comparatively more affordable wheated bourbon offerings, like Maker’s 46 and Larceny store picks, Redemption Wheated, or McKenzie Wheated BiB. And for the purely casual drinker interested in wheated bourbon, the standard Larceny and/or Maker’s 46 offerings make great intros. I’d recommend Weller, but we know how that story goes…!