Heaven Hill out of Kentucky, getting in on the game of anything bourbon tied to the mythical Stitzel-Weller name, officially unveiled this week the 20 year old John E. Fitzgerald Very Special Reserve. This is a very limited edition release, consisting of just 3,000 375ml bottles pricing around $300 each.
The John E. Fitzgerald Very Special Reserve, which we first took note of back in late May when its bottle label was approved by the TTB, has one heck of a history, at least according to Heaven Hill. Here’s how the nation’s largest independent family owned and operated distilled spirits supplier explained this release in press materials:
Comprised of 12 barrels of wheated bourbon produced at the Stitzel-Weller Distillery, original home of Heaven Hill’s Old Fitzgerald and direct ancestor to the celebrated Larceny brand, the ultra-rare, highly allocated release will offer both an extraordinary sensory experience and a glimpse at the DNA of Bourbon lore.
Heaven Hill acquired the Old Fitzgerald line of wheated bourbons—the flagship brand that legendary whiskey man Pappy Van Winkle produced at his original Stitzel-Weller Distillery in Shively, KY—in 1999, seven years after these barrels were filled and put up in the Stitzel-Weller rickhouses. After Heaven Hill acquired the Old Fitz line, these barrels were transferred to Warehouse Y at Heaven Hill’s Bardstown campus where they aged on the first floor, allowing long, slow and balanced maturation. They were transferred into inert tanks in 2013 to arrest the aging process and preserve the incredible taste until they were bottled.
The 12 original Stitzel-Weller barrels were dumped together and bottled at 90° proof or 45% alcohol by volume. The barrels were not chill filtered, meaning the whiskey retains more of the natural esters and fatty acids than whiskey that has been chill filtered to remove these flavor compounds, providing a richer mouthfeel. The John E. Fitzgerald Very Special Reserve offers rich cocoa and vanilla notes with a long, refined finish and the softness that a wheated mashbill provides.
Owing to the fact this is a premium expression, the packaging for the bourbon is on the high end as well. The bottles are described as resembling
cut glass crystal and have the label information directly applied onto the glass, along with a gold and platinum key graphic, which hearkens back to the Larceny logo—a key—and commemorates Fitzgerald’s role as the treasury agent who held the keys to the warehouse. The bottles have an ornate satin finish metal closure with a cork, and a strip stamp on the neck and the face label both prominently feature the 20 Year old age statement. In addition, each bottle comes packed inside a handmade wooden box with die-cut keyholes and hinged doors that close with magnets.
“These 12 barrels represent a golden age in bourbon history, but also tie the past into our current Larceny and Old Fitzgerald brands,” said Heaven Hill Co-Master Distiller Denny Potter in a statement. “The bourbon is the renowned wheated mashbill that Pappy Van Winkle developed for Old Fitz at Stitzel-Weller. Its aging has been carefully managed to ensure it will be at its best, with two different aging regimens and locations so that it will not be over-aged or tannic.”
Nino Kilgore-Marchetti is the founder and editor-in-chief of The Whiskey Wash, an award winning whiskey lifestyle website dedicated to informing and entertaining consumers about whisk(e)y on a global level. As a whisk(e)y journalist, expert and judge he has written about the subject extensively, been interviewed in various media outlets and...