The most interesting thing about Heaven Hill’s Old Fitzgerald Bottled-in-Bond releases is just how much the distillery allows this product lineup to vary from batch to batch. Releasing twice a year, in “spring” and “fall” editions, Old Fitzgerald is now up to its sixth wide release, after two each year in 2018, 2019 and 2020. And in that time, these bottles have contained some seriously different bourbons, from several 9-year batches, to one that titled that scales at 15 years old in the fall of 2019. To their credit, Heaven Hill’s MSRPs on these bourbons are a sliding scale that moves with the age statement, typically just adding a “0” after the year. The 9-year-old Spring 2020 release, for instance, had an MSRP of $90, while this new Fall 2020 release is 14 years old, with an MSRP of $140. That’s a nice concession to the consumer … although it doesn’t mean much outside of control states, as package stores are now engaging in rampant gouging on these limited releases, to the point where average prices on Old Fitzgerald from online package stores sits between $300-700 as of this writing.
It’s not just the prices and age statements that have been differing from batch to batch, though—it’s also the flavors. Having now tasted three different batches of Old Fitz (Fall 2019, Spring 2020, Fall 2020) in rapid succession, I can speak to just how different they truly are, suggesting that the goal of the series is less “a very consistent profile” and more “an expression of our own changing tastes” at any given moment. For consumers, you might consider that something of a mixed bag, given the fact that it suggests liking one batch of Old Fitzgerald doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll like another, but on the other hand it’s a similar sort of variability that exists in buying single barrel bourbon brands.
Regardless, this Fall 2020 release of Old Fitzgerald is the second oldest that the series has ever seen, at 14 years old and the standard 100 proof for bottled-in-bond bourbon. There was one previous 14-year-old version of Old Fitzgerald earlier this year, but that was an entirely Kentucky allocated product bearing a red label. This bourbon bears the black label that is standard for Fall Fitzgerald releases (Spring releases get a green label), and was pulled from “different rickhouses, at different floors, and on different production dates” than the Kentucky only release. As such, this is the sixth “official” Old Fitzgerald BIB batch since the brand was redesigned from a budget wheated bourbon brand into a premium one that comes packaged in one of the most attractive bottles in the industry. That’s always a nice perk, to be sure.
So with all that said, let’s get to tasting.
On the nose, I’m initially met with warm caramel and something more biscuity/doughy, a slightly grainy influence that strikes me as a “biscuits with honey butter” sort of profile. There’s slight maple there, which was a major player in the 15-year-old Fall 2019 release, but nowhere near the same intensity, and then some pretty florals and citrus. The ethanol perks up a bit at first, and initially struck me as rather hot for a “mere” 100 proof, but with a few minutes in the glass it recedes nicely.
On the palate, my initial impression is that this is overall drier than either of the previous Old Fitzgerald batches I’ve sampled, and perhaps more influenced by the oak as well. There’s an initial flash of caramel and hint of maple, but it then switches gears to something drier and oakier, with hints of apple flesh, clove and pumpkin pie spice. There’s a darkly toasted breadiness to this as well, and more of a “remember there’s wheat involved” character. As I go back to it, I find myself appreciating the complexity here—this is less a “people pleaser” release, and a more nuanced one.
In comparison with the Fall 2019 release, which had a similarly large age statement at 15 years, this one lacks the more intense maple syrup richness, and is somewhat less decadent. In comparison with the 9-year-old Spring 2020 release, on the other hand, it is much different—less purely sweet and fruity, with much more oak and a more complex profile in general. Revisiting that 9 year in particular, I feel like my impression of it has fallen—it seems more one-dimensionally sweet in comparison with this 14-year Fall 2020 release.
What this release ultimately has is a more delicate balance—a happy medium of sorts between the previous two batches. Overall, I would still probably lean slightly in the direction of the richness of the Fall 2019 batch, but this Fall 2020 batch beats out this year’s spring release pretty handily in retrospect. I wish you luck finding a bottle at a reasonable price point.
Distillery: Heaven Hill
City: Bardstown, KY
Style: Wheated bourbon
ABV: 50% (100 proof)
Availability: Limited, 750 ml bottles, $140 MSRP
Jim Vorel is a Paste staff writer and resident brown liquor geek. You can follow him on Twitter for more drink writing.