When the Covid 19 Pandemic started in March, my nephew, Matt Kohorst, and I, have been making Youtube videos of our weekly whiskey tastings. It is something to do since we can’t go out to visit distilleries or whiskey bars. I recently opened an old decanter of Old Fitzgerald Bottled-in-Bond made in the spring 1960 and bottled in the fall 1966. We thought it would be fun to taste it against the modern wheated Bourbons to see which distillery is doing the best job and coming closest to this classic Bourbon’s taste profile. We started by comparing it to Old Rip Van Winkle 10yo and Wilderness Trail. We plan to do several other videos comparing it to other modern wheated Bourbons.
The Old Fitzgerald was made at the Stitzel-Weller Distillery in the 1960s by Master Distiller Roy Hawes. This is the whiskey that is considered as the classic flavor profile or a wheated Bourbon. The Van Winkle family controlled the distillery at the time and there was an emphasis on the quality of the Bourbon over the cost of producing the whiskey. The mash bill was 70% corn, 18% winter wheat, 12% malted barley. They made their own jug yeast using hops. The distillation proof was about 130 and the barrel entry proof was 107. They used 53 gallon barrels with a number 3 char level. After the family sold the distillery, the mash bill was changed to use less malt and more corn with enzymes helping to make a full conversion. A dry yeast was also substituted for their jug yeast. The barrel entry proof was slowly raised to a 114 proof level. This was all done to save money on production, but at a cost to the flavor profile. Stitzel-Weller Bourbon made in the late 1980s is different from this classic flavor profile of the 1960s.
The Bourbons Matt and I are going to compare with this bottle include the Buffalo Trace Old Rip Van Winkle 10yo and the Wilderness Trail I have already mentioned and many other modern wheated Bourbons. Here are the ones I have planned:
Maker’s Mark: A very similar mash bill and a barrel entry proof of 110, I expect it to be close, but of a younger age. A Maker’s Mark from the 1960s would be very interesting to compare as that whiskey would also be about 6 years old.
Heaven Hill’s Larceny: Once again a similar mash bill and age but Heaven Hill raised the barrel entry proof to 125 when they purchased the Old Fitzgerald brand.
Luxrow’s David Nicholson 1843: This is a whiskey that was contract distilled by Stitzel-Weller until that distillery closed and has remained a wheated Bourbon contract distilled at Heaven Hill. Luxrow Distillery is now distilling the whiskey so it will be interesting to see how the flavor profile of the current product matches the classic profile.
Finger Lakes Bourbon: A wheated Bourbon made in New York.
Wyoming Whiskey: A wheated Bourbon made in Wyoming, but their first master distiller was Steve Nally, the retired Master distiller from Maker’s Mark. The mash bill and barrel entry proof are very similar to the Old Fitzgerald.
I am sure that we will find other brands to compare with this bottle. I have tasted samples of Willett’s wheated Bourbon, but I have not found a bottle for sale yet. I need to see if I still have some of the Spirits of French Lick Distillery’s “The Wheater”. I might even consider the Nelson Greenbrier Tennessee whiskey since it is also made with wheat instead or rye as the flavoring grain. I am sure that other brands will come forward as our videos progress.
The point of these videos are for Matt and I to have some fun while looking at the present-day wheated bourbons as compared to the 1960s Old Fitzgerald. All of the Bourbons I have mentioned are very good Bourbons, but we want to see if any of them are on that next level, thus the name “The Stitzel-Weller Challenge”.
Photos Courtesy of Rosemary Miller