Old Fitzgerald is one of the grand old brands of bourbon history. The brand dates back at least 120 years and was active through Prohibition (when it was one of the few brands legally sold as medicinal whiskey). Around that time, the legendary Julian “Pappy” Van Winkle bought the brand and then changed the bourbon’s recipe to include wheat instead of rye. After the repeal of Prohibition, Old Fitzgerald became the flagship brand of Van Winkle’s Stitzel-Weller Distillery.
Eventually the spirits giant Diageo came to own Stitzel-Weller and the Old Fitzgerald brand. Sadly Diageo closed the Stitzel-Weller distillery in 1992. They later sold the Old Fitzgerald brand to Heaven Hill, who currently produce the Old Fitzgerald line. Even with the changes in ownership and distillery of production, Old Fitzgerald continues to be a wheated bourbon in the tradition of Pappy Van Winkle, although it is no longer the premium bourbon that it was during its zenith.
Wheated bourbons—or “wheaters” as they are affectionately called by bourbon fans—are all the rage in the bourbon world right now, due mainly to the success of the Pappy Van Winkle line of luxury bourbons. Most bourbons are made from three ingredients: corn (at least 51%), a small amount of malted barley (usually around 5%), and a “flavor” grain—usually either rye or wheat. Rye is by far the most common flavor grain used, but there are a number of brands that use wheat instead, such as Maker’s Mark, W.L. Weller, Larceny, and Old Fitzgerald.
As part of my Bourbon Heritage Month celebration, I decided to open and review a bottle of Old Fitzgerald Bottled in Bond, which I picked up on my last trip to Kentucky for about $16. This bottle, in addition to being a wheated bourbon, is a bottled in bond (BiB), or bonded, bourbon. Bonded spirits are products that meet the U.S. legal requirements for a bottled in bond product, which were originally defined in the Bottled-in-Bond Act of 1897. To be labeled as Bottled in Bond, the liquor must be the product of one distillation season and one distiller at one distillery. It must have been aged in a federally bonded warehouse under U.S. government supervision for at least four years and bottled at 100 proof (50% alcohol by volume). The product’s label must identify the distillery where it was distilled and, if different, where it was bottled. Only spirits produced in the U.S. may be designated as bonded.
So, now that you know a thing or two about Old Fitzgerald, wheaters, and bonded bourbons, how does this Old Fitz BiB taste? Let’s have a look.
Old Fitzgerald Bottled in Bond Review
Freshly baked banana bread. Butterscotch candies. Vanilla marshmallows, covered in caramel. A hint of cherries. Pineapple upside down cake. Baking spices. A touch of oak.
A liquified banana split sundae. Overripe bananas, drizzled with caramel sauce. Vanilla cream. Maple syrup. A bit of wood varnish, along with sweet oak. Slightly astringent (only at the backend of the palate), yet soft and gentle. The mouthfeel is thin, yet somehow creamy.
Vanilla. Banana pudding. Oak. Cinnamon sticks. Fairly short in length.
Although I find banana notes fairly frequently in bourbon, never like this. This is a banana bomb. The banana bread on the nose is especially nice. Interestingly I’ve read a bunch of reviews of this bourbon and I haven’t seen anyone else mention bananas. For that matter, most of the reviews I’ve seen for this do not agree whatsoever on this bourbon—some people love it, some think it’s extremely mediocre (or worse), and everyone has very different tasting notes. I saw one unfavorable review that said the palate was nothing but oak. I get a little oak, but not much, and certainly not an overwhelming amount. I wonder if this whiskey varies greatly from batch to batch. Maybe I just lucked out and got a really good batch/bottle. Perhaps. Or perhaps it’s just one of those polarizing whiskeys that some people love and some hate. Regardless, to me it’s all about bananas, as well as a hefty dose of vanilla and butterscotch. It’s quite tasty.
In general, I’m not a huge fan of wheated bourbons. I prefer the spice and kick of rye, rather than the subdued nature of wheat. Maker’s Mark? Not a fan. Weller? Overrated (although still pretty good). Larceny? Not good. But this bourbon… I like this bourbon a lot. I was a little unsure about it when I first opened the bottle, mainly due to the thin mouthfeel, but it grew on me quickly as I worked my way through the bottle. (It’s weird—I originally thought the mouthfeel was extremely thin, but now I’m not so sure… it seems to have thickened up some with exposure to air, which is something I’ve never experienced before.)
Comparing this to other wheated bourbons, I like this much more than its comparable competition. It’s better than standard Maker’s Mark. It’s better than Larceny, which is also a Heaven Hill wheated bourbon. And after doing a side by side with this, W.L. Weller Special Reserve, and Old Weller Antique, I preferred this Old Fitz BiB.
This is a delicate whiskey, much softer than your normal bourbon. Although its flavor profile is typical bourbon, it has a scotch-like quality to it—gentle like a Highland single malt. If you are a scotch lover who is looking to get into bourbon, this would be a great place to start.
I really like this bourbon, especially for the price—as I mentioned earlier, I paid under $20 for this bottle. There aren’t really a whole lot of value bourbons (under $30) that I like. I’d much rather spend more money on a higher quality bottle (bottled at cask strength) than suffer through a cheap bourbon with no age statement that’s bottled
at a lower ABV. But I like this one. The only bad thing (apart from the finish, which is far too fleeting) is that it’s not all that easy to find. Apparently Old Fitzgerald BiB is only distributed to a handful of states in the U.S.—I haven’t seen it here in Nashville, but it is available in Kentucky. If you see this one in your travels, pick up a bottle. For the price, you can’t go wrong.
Buy Again? As long as it continues to be priced around $20, absolutely.
Questions about my scoring system? Refer to the Review Method & Scoring Scale page.
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