This advertising picture is from 1947. It is an Old Fitzgerald Bottled-in-Bond advertisement printed on a panel and made to be either hung on the wall or to stand on top of cases of Old Fitzgerald on display in a liquor store. The tagline is “Old Fitzgerald. Kentucky’s Bonded Bourbon. Old Fashioned, but still in style.” The bottle is displayed on a lace doily with several wreaths of flowers. Under the bottle image is the paragraph:
“Time Honored Customs, like giving gifts and dispensing cheer, strengthen the bonds of friendship and reflect the good taste of the host. They are the symbols of old-fashioned hospitality… Old Fitzgerald, renowned for its distinctive bouquet and flavor, is a unique “home-made” whiskey, distilled today in the traditional manner which made Kentucky Bourbon famous and, like the ancient art of dispensing cheer, is Old Fashioned But Still In Style.”
Old Fitzgerald Bottled-in-Bond was the flagship Bourbon for the Stitzel-Weller Distillery in the years following Prohibition up to the 1960s. Julian Van Winkle, Sr. preferred bonded whiskey and refused to cheapen the reputation of Old Fitzgerald by producing it in a form other than a bonded Bourbon. It was not until after his death in 1965 that the Old Fitzgerald Prime 86 proof was produced. Julian, who came to be known as “Pappy” Van Winkle in his later years, often wrote advertising stories for newspapers and magazines in which he praised, first, Old Fitzgerald and second, the benefits of a bonded whiskey. He often said that he did not want to sell his customers water. If they wanted a lower proof whiskey, they could add their own water. In fact, they would get more flavor if they added their own water than if the water was added at the distillery before it was filtered for bottling.
Julian Van Winkle lived through the years of rectified whiskey. In fact, he was selling rectified whiskey when he first started his career as a salesman for W.L. Weller & Sons. He knew that there were people making very good whiskey as rectifiers, but there were also many people who were selling sub-par whiskey as rectifiers and he saw bonded whiskey as the way of the future. He and Alex T. Farnsley purchased W.L. Weller & Sons in 1908 and by 1912, they were contract distilling whiskey at the A. Ph. Stitzel Distillery.
When Prohibition was passed in 1919, Van Winkle, Farnsley and Stitzel entered into a joint venture selling medicinal whiskey. This was bonded whiskey. It was in this period that they purchased the Old Fitzgerald brand and remaining stocks of whiskey from S.C. Herbst and the Old Fitzgerald brand became their flagship brand. The brand remained their flagship brand and a bonded whiskey for the next three decades.
In 1984 the government deregulated the distilled spirits industry, which was good in many ways as it removed many of the barriers placed on the industry by prohibitionists. However, it also removed the requirement for tax stamps as a way to save the industry on bottling costs. This meant the distinctive green tax stamp of bonded whiskey disappeared along with the information found on the stamp. The industry was in a slump and saw bonded whiskey as a relic of the past. Producers believed the consumer preferred lighter, 80 proof whiskeys. Many bonded whiskeys started having 80 proof versions of the brand and bonded whiskey as a category was dying in the market.
The 21st century has seen a rebirth of bonded whiskey as a category. I am sure Julian Van Winkle Sr. would be proud to see this re-birth of Bottled-in-Bond whiskey as a category. I think he would say “You should have listened to me in the first place and Bottled-in-Bond.”
Photos Courtesy of Rosemary Miller