Monday, November 30, 2015
Behold His Majesty John E. Fitzgerald Very Special Reserve
"Stunning." "Amazing." "Mind blowingly awesome!" These are just a few of the comments in my notes reviewing the box that contains Heaven Hill's new John E. Fitzgerald Very Special Reserve Bourbon. It's a huge cube of polished wood with a giant keyhole on either side; the wood's beautiful reddish hue is reminiscent of the color of the bourbon. The box opens outward to reveal the tiny rectangular bottle sitting on a pedestal over an engraved plaque. As you open it, a trumpet fanfare plays in your head. It's as if you had just opened the Lost Ark or the final horcrux. The bottle itself is thick glass with a heavy, metal stopper that feels like it could kill a rhino. It almost makes you forget how much they charged for this half bottle.
So what is the whiskey inside this lovely tomb? Does it matter? Will anyone drink it? Well, it's none other than 20 year old Stitzel-Weller. According to Heaven Hill, this wheated bourbon was distilled in 1992, Stitzel-Weller's last year of production, and moved to steel tanks in 2013. It's bottled at 90 proof in a 375 ml bottle for a suggested retail price of $300.
The nose is fantastic, super oaky and dry like some of the best old Stitzel-Wellers. Unfortunately, the palate doesn't follow suit. It's fruity and sweet with some cocoa, but it's lacking the strong oak notes and complexity of the nose. The flavors are diluted with a watery mouthfeel. The finish is very light and a bit fruity. It's too bad that it didn't live up to the promise of the nose.
So this a good, not great bourbon. But kudos to Heaven Hill for finally producing a bourbon that people can be honest about when they declare, on illegal bourbon selling sites, that "the value of the item is in the collectible container, not its contents."
Thanks to the great Chris Stevenson for being one of the few people on the planet willing to say, "Hey I just got a Fitz 20, let's drink it."