Old Fitzgerald Bottled-in-Bond (Fall 2021 Release) Review

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Rising from the ashes of Prohibition and into the midst of the Great Depression in Bardstown, KY, Heaven Hill Distillery has grown to be the largest independent family-owned and operated producers of distilled spirits products in the US, and the second-largest holder of bourbon whiskey inventory in the world. The distillery was set up in 1935 after a small group approached the Shapira family seeking capital investment to set up a distillery using their technical expertise. Following personal financial difficulties among the other members of the founding group, their interests in the “Old Heavenhill Springs” distillery was bought out by the Shapira family making the distillery a fully family-owned enterprise. With renewed purpose the family kept on one of the original investors, James L. Beam as Master Distiller, and hired the best bourbon producing talent they could find in their local Bardstown. Four years later in 1939 they released their first product, a 4 year old Bottled in Bond bourbon under the Old Heaven Hill brand. The brand quickly became one of the top selling bourbons in the State and cemented the distillery’s position as one of the top bourbon producers in Kentucky at the time. The name of the distillery originates from the family name of William Heavenhill who was an early pioneer farmer and owned the original property on which the distillery sat. When originally registering the company a clerical mistake resulted in the name becoming Heaven Hill as opposed to Heavenhill.

On November 7th 1996 a fire that started in one of the barrel ageing warehouses spread by strong winds, destroying almost the entire distillery and numerous ageing warehouses. Overall 90,000 barrels of whisky were lost and for the next 3 years the company was dependent on production capacity in neighbouring distilleries. In 1999 Heaven Hill completed the purchase of the Old Bernheim Distillery from Diageo in Louisville and once the distillery was adapted, the production and distillation end moved to Louisville whilst ageing, bottling, and shipping still occur on the original Bardstown site.

Today the modern iteration of the company, Heaven Hill Brands, has become a diversified supplier of whiskeys, liqueurs, vodkas, rums and other spirits. They own 57 rickhouses in Central KY and distribute over 48 brands including 17 bourbon labels such as Henry McKenna, Elijah Craig, Evan William, Larceny, Old Fitzgerald, and Rittenhouse rye to name a few. The distillery also has the largest number of Bottled in Bond whiskies on the market and is the only heritage distiller that features every major category of American whiskey in their 5 distinct mashbills producing traditional bourbon, wheated bourbon, rye whiskey, corn whiskey, and wheat whiskey. Under 7th Master Distiller (and fellow countryman) Conor O’Driscoll the distillery was on course to fill almost 400,000 barrels last year and with continued investment production capacity is growing every year to meet rising demand.

First released in spring of 2018, the Old Fitzgerald Bottled-in-Bond series pays homage to the vibrant history of the Old Fitzgerald brand and John E. Fitzgerald with a bi-annual release of bourbon from Heaven Hill’s wheated mashbill. The particular Fitzgerald in question is believed to have been either a distiller of repute or a treasury man well-known for pilfering honey barrels – depending on which story you chose to believe). Bottled in an ornate decanter that was inspired by the Old Fitzgerald Diamond decanter from the ‘50s, there have been multiple releases to date with 2021’s Spring edition marking the seventh release.

Historically, the Old Fitzgerald brand is well-known for the distilling pedigree behind it. First registered in 1884 by S.C. Herbst, it was one of the few American whiskies of its time to be distilled using the pot still method and continuing to do so until around 1913. With the arrival of Prohibition the brand was one of a select few which were allowed to distill under government supervision for the national medicinal trade and was subsequently sold to famous distiller Julian P. “Pappy” Van Winkle. Van Winkle famously introduced wheat to the mashbill instead of rye and once Reappeal was enacted, moved production of Old Fitzgerald to his Stitzel-Weller Distillery. There it became the first great wheated bourbon before the Distillery shut its doors in 1992. In 1999 then-owners Diageo sold the brand and the Old Bernheim Distillery in Louisville to Heaven Hill where it has continued to be produced under the watchful eye of the company widely proclaimed as the industry leader in the Bottled-in-Bond category.

As with past editions, the 2021 Fall Edition carries a black label and carries a tax strip stating the year and season the whiskey was distilled and bottled. A tax strip, in terms of traditional Bottled-in-Bond whiskies, was a signature of transparency which disclosed when the liquid was produced and bottled. As a Bottled-in-Bond bourbon this whiskey also meets all the strict requirements of the Bottled-in-Bond Act of 1897, i.e. it’s 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 2021 Fall edition sees the second time we’ve had an 11 year old age statement on this release and features stocks from Rickhouse EE. I’m very curious to see how this will compare to the Spring 2021 release which was the best of the Old Fitzgerald releases I’ve had the pleasure of trying.

Vital Stats:

Name: Old Fitzgerald Bottled-in-Bond Fall Edition
Age: 11 y.o.
Proof: 100 proof (50% abv)
Type: Bonded Kentucky straight bourbon
Mashbill: 68% corn, 20% wheat, 12% malted barley
Producer: Heaven Hill Distillery, Louisville, KY
Website: https://heavenhilldistillery.com/old-fitzgerald.php
Glassware: Glencairn

Review

Nose: The nose opens sweet with earthy maple syrup, with dark fruit, thick baking and barrel spices, especially clove, leather, and herbaceous charred oak. When you nose deeper some thick vanilla jumps out alongside a near burnt brown sugar sweetness and dark chocolate with more herbaceous oak

Palate: The palate opens viscous with brown sugar roasted almonds before dark chocolate, macerated dark fruit, a kick of oak spice, and herbaceous char make their presence known. The spice lingers once it has kicked in but as you keep chewing this notes of earthy almonds, near-butterscotch, dark chocolate, and baking spices all continue to develop on the palate.

Finish: The finish opens with some lingering tannic spice before roasted nuts, milk chocolate, dark fruit, red fruit, and herbaceous oak all emerge leading into a herbaceous, buttery, and tannic aftertaste of charred oak and soft wheat.

Overall

This is a delicious, viscous, and mature wheated bourbon at an age and a proof that will never disappoint. As with the previous 9 y.o.+ releases that I’ve tried, this bourbon has thick layers of flavour that build on your palate towards the final profile and reaching its full potential. What I mean by this is on the first sip it’s dusty and baking spice-driven, on the second sip it adds buttery and herbaceous notes, on the third sip the fruit blooms on the palate alongside the notes from the previous two sips, and on the fourth sip and onwards you’ve reached peak flavour and everything works in perfect harmony. Once I had reached the fourth sip point it was delicious with lots of that wheat and Heaven Hill character I’d expect from a release like this. By then it smelled, tasted, and danced like a mature wheated bourbon across my palate with the charred oak and herbaceous notes providing a scaffolding for the fruit and soft wheat notes. Another interesting aspect was how the viscosity kept the reigns on the spice notes as the cellulosic compounds in the barrel have broken down and added an element of oak spice that’s not commonly found in a wheated bourbon between 6 and 8 years old.

For the final tasting of this bourbon for my review I put it against this year’s 8y.o. Spring Release. As the youngest release of Old Fitzgerald Bottled-in-Bond, the 8y.o. surprised me by being the best Old Fitzgerald Bottled-in-Bond I’ve tasted yet. Therefore, at 3 years its senior, I was curious to see how the Fall release would compare, as even the 9y.o. 2020 Spring release had previously fallen short of the 8y.o. Tasted side by side, I found the 11y.o. release hits a lot of the same notes but with an overlay of oak outshining some of those bright fruit notes from the nose of the 8y.o. On the palate, the 8y.o. also has an element of brown sugar sweetness whereas the 11y.o. leans more towards a dark chocolate profile with a lot more charred oak influence coming through. To further illustrate this difference, I mixed up my unmarked glasses at one point and was still able to pick out the 8y.o. because of its fruit-heavy nose. The 11y.o. has more maturity than the 8y.o.,however, both are really good, which is difficult as I was hoping there would be a clear winner! Instead I like both for different reasons and can see myself gravitating to a different one depending on what my palate wants on the day.

Try or Buy?

With an RRP of $110 this is a try before you buy – if you can. If you’re already a fan of the series then buy with confidence.

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Before you go…

Before you go…

Before you go…

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