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Rare John E. Fitzgerald bourbon released

Heaven Hill Brands has announced the release of the ultra rare John E. Fitzgerald Very Special Reserve Bourbon.  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

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.

Recent interest in bourbon history and rare bottlings has created awareness of and strong interest in whiskeys produced at Stitzel-Weller, as past bottlings distilled at have become highly sought after and very expensive in the secondary collector’s markets. The release of John E. Fitzgerald Special Reserve, available only in a 375ml bottle to maximize the very limited supply for a retail price of US$300, will resonate strongly with Bourbon history lovers and aficionados who understand the connection of this bottling to the original Old Fitzgerald family and to the Larceny brand that Heaven Hill launched to honour the legend of John E. Fitzgerald.

The legend goes that treasury agent John E. Fitzgerald was allowed free access to the bonded bourbon warehouses, and helped himself from only barrels containing the finest bourbon. The agent’s selections became known around the distillery as “Fitzgerald barrels” and were used to create a softly wheated bourbon known as Old Fitzgerald. The agent’s larcenous behaviour was kept secret until the unveiling of the Larceny line, which revealed his story in full. John E. Fitzgerald Very Special Reserve honours both the superb taste of this lawless gauger and the legacy of the Old Fitzgerald line of distillers, who have exceeded the agent’s already high standards.

The packaging

The packaging for John E. Fitzgerald Very Special Reserve is as stunning and special as the bourbon inside. The 375ml bottles resemble 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.

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 flavour 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.

 “With the second largest inventory of Bourbon in the world, and one of the broadest ranges of styles, ages and proofs in the industry, it is rare for Heaven Hill to release barrels not produced by the company,” notes Susan Wahl, senior brand manager for whiskeys at Heaven Hill Distilleries. “Because these barrels represent the DNA of our Old Fitzgerald and Larceny, and because the original Stitzel-Weller distillery is so highly regarded by those in the know, we felt like the release of the John E. Fitzgerald Very Special Reserve would provide both context and credibility for the Old Fitz and Larceny bottlings.  These 3,000 bottles will not remain on the shelves for long, if at all.”

22 October 2015 - Felicity Murray The Drinks Report, editor