Old Fitzgerald is a delicious wheated bourbon produced by Heaven Hill Distillery and released twice a year in the fall and the spring, with an occasional distillery-only release. The Old Fitzgerald lineup is entirely Bottled-in-Bond, referring to regulations set in the Bottled-in-Bond Act of 1897 which dictate specific requirements that ensure the quality of the spirit, amongst them is the requirement to be bottled at 100 proof or 50 percent alcohol by volume. With roots that date back to the 1800’s today’s post examines the depth and breadth of this iconic brand.
On its own, being 100 proof doesn’t make a bourbon Bottled-in-Bond. There are some basic rules outlined in the Bottled-in-Bond Act of 1897 that we detail below:
Twice a year since 2018 the Old Fitzgerald decanter series has been released, occurring in both the fall and the spring with an occasional distillery-only release accompanying the bi-annual offerings. Based upon the labeling you can discern the type of release with all spring releases designated by a green label and all fall releases bearing a black label. As mentioned, there are occasional distillery only expressions released, of which there have been two (2018 and 2020) with a third expected this year. These are designated as Very Very Special or “VVS” releases. In the case of a VVS release, these are designated by a red label. The 2024 VVS release is expected to be a 13-year expression that commemorates “25 years of distilling Old Fitzgerald.” The Old Fitz line is allocated so these releases have a limited distribution and are difficult to come by for most. Below we outline the current 14 bottlings in the series, their specific details and the current average secondary price as regularly updated on the Bourbon Blue Book.
With such an iconic brand comes a long history that is both rich and complicated. Intriguingly, the Old Fitzgerald story begins in Prussia where a young Solomon C. Herbst left his homeland in 1859 at the age of 16 for America to avoid the Prussian military draft. Solomon found his way to Milwaukee, which makes sense given its large German population (I’ve been to Summer Fest there, and yes, it’s a thing) and worked as a tinsmith before becoming a partner in a wholesale liquor firm at 22, the beginning of bigger things.
As Herbst looked to manage his expenditures through the supply chain, which was driving up his costs as a wholesaler, he bought a small distillery known as the Old Judge Distillery. It was at this time that the myth of “Old Fitzgerald” began to be spun. He romanticized the notion that the distillery was sold to him by an old Irish master distiller named John E. Fitzgerald. This couldn’t be further from the truth however, and as it’s told the name Fitzgerald was attributed to a U.S. Treasury agent who oversaw bonded warehouses and had a reputation for being a lush with a taste for good whiskey. Fitzgerald would tap honey barrels for himself, with a particular affinity for lighter barrels on the fifth floor of the Stizel-Weller warehouses and for some time at least, good whiskeys would be called “Fitzgerald’s.”
Following the Old Judge purchase, Solomon would later go on to buy the Frankfort Distillery, and in 1905 re-registered the name “Jno. E. Fitzgerald” as well as “Old Fitzgerald Bourbon.” Allegedly, his Old Fitzgerald whiskey was sold exclusively to steamship lines and private clubs during this time in a very high-brow fashion.
In his seventies, Solomon was forced to shut down both his distilleries due to Prohibition. Selling them to “Pappy” Van Winkle during this time for “medicinal whiskey” production, allowing the brand name to stay alive. In his later years Solomon is said to have revealed the naming of the brand was quite a funny insider joke.
In 1999, Diageo sold the brand (along with the Bernheim Distillery) to Heaven Hill, which current produces and markets Old Fitzgerald.
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