Several months ago, Stephen Netherton landed upon a pretty dusty find here in Kansas. Old Fitzgerald hasn’t been brought into the state in years, and finding the Bottled in Bond expression anywhere tends to be difficult. That find led to a review, with some pretty tasty results. Lucky for me, Stephen shared a pour with me shortly after his review.
Fast forward a few months. While shopping online over my lunch hour, I stumbled upon a few 1.75 liter bottles of Old Fitzgerald Bottled in Bond located just outside of Chicago. I’d been searching for months to no avail, but finally I had come upon it. And only after working my way through the checkout process did I learn that they would not ship that particular item to Kansas. After communicating this problem to fellow members, Jay Cary saved the day with a Chicago connection that was able to go into the score and buy a few for later export to Kansas.
Last week I twisted open that handle and had a pour. I have to say I loved it. It now stands as one of my favorite value pours. At 100 proof, for me, it hits that mark where flavors are ideally concentrated without the overshadowing of proof. However, this newer bottle certainly did not live up to my memory of the sample I tried from Stephen’s bottle.
Only a revisit of the older bottling next to the newer one would decide. I shared a sample of the newer bottle with Stephen, and he shared a sample with me.
Scott: From the outset, the newer bottle has a much harsher burn. While it contains some of that same honey/caramel/vanilla flavor of the older bottle, those flavors are much simpler and younger. They simply don’t stand up to the richness of the older bottle and contain much less of the rich butterscotch oak flavors that I find so strong in the older bottle.
On the palate, both pours have a buttery mouthfeel, but less so in the newer bottling. The harsh alcohol burn from the nose continues with the newer bottle, and is remarkably absent from the older one. The newer bottle has a bit of a brown butter flavor to accompany the caramel and vanilla. The old bottle is much richer in butterscotch flavors. Next to the newer bottle, the rich sweetness and oak really define. For me, the richness of the velvety caramel and butterscotch in the older bottle remind me of a rich, thick, aged rum, one that is undeniably sweet but also tamed by rich oakiness. And that oak. It is not like most bourbons, although I have come across it a time or two with some exceptional bourbons. For me, the oak reminded me of the soft yet defined oak of a 12-15 year Highlands/Speyside Scotch.
The older bottle leaves a lasting butterscotch finish, while the newer one is shorter and less defined. The alcohol burn on the newer bottle is distinctive.
Stephen: The color difference between the two is a dead give-away. You know immediately that the new bottle spent less time in the barrel. The taste difference is just as stark. The rich butterscotch flavors that shine in the older bottle are completely absent in the newer. Though both are bottled at the same proof, the ethanol is much more prominent in the newer bottle. The older bottle’s flavors are so intertwined with the alcohol that they are only enhanced, rather than in competition.
The newer does not seem like a watered down version of the older – it seems like a separate product altogether. The newer bottle is good in its own right, and those who have no expectations set by the older bottle will not likely be disappointed.
As previously noted, the color of the older pour is much darker than Heaven Hill wheated offerings, including the newer pour. That color, along with the richness of the oak influence leads both of us to believe that the earlier bottle remained in the barrel for a much longer period of time. As a bottled-in-bond product, we know that the whiskey in the bottle is from a single season, being not less than four years old. We suspect that the newer bottle is closer to that four to five year mark, while the older bottle has a few additional years of age.
Both are nice pours. But, for us in a head-to-head, the older bottle prevails in what can only be described as a blowout. They just don’t make them like they used to.