Very Special Old Fitzgerald

Maker: Heaven Hill, Louisville, Kentucky, USA

Style: Wheated Bourbon

Age: 12 y/o

Proof: 90 (45% ABV)

Appearance: Dark auburn with quick legs.

Nose: Burn, sweet taffy, caramel, pecans. With a splash of water, cola notes pop out.

On the palate: Medium bodied. Cherry pie, pecan pie, and mincemeat pie (in that order). The nutty notes get stronger and stronger as it sits in the glass, until they begin to taste more grapey, like in a brandy. Water doesn’t change any of this too much, except to bring the nutty notes forward more quickly.

Finish: surprisingly dry. Burn, then some bitter walnut flavors and a reserved sweetness.

Parting words: Very Special Old Fitzgerald (VSOF) doesn’t get much respect in bourbon circles these days. It never really has. It was originally a part of the Bourbon Heritage Collection in which it played second fiddle to the revered wheater Weller Centennial. Centennial was 10 y/o and 100 proof, whereas VSOF was and is 12 y/o and 90 proof. I’ve had VSOF from that era and they are mild to the point of being dull. VSOF wasn’t helped by the fact that it was preceded by Very Old Fitzgerald and Very Very Old Fitzgerald which are regarded by wheater enthusiasts as two of the greatest bourbons ever made. Bottles of VOF and VVOF routinely go for hundreds of dollars on Ebay.

Compared to its current rival from the Buffalo Trace, Weller 12 y/o (also 90 proof), it seems a bit sluggish and muddled. Weller 12 has a bright acidic note that cuts through the rich brandy flavors and brings the fruit to the fore. If VSOF is mincemeat pie, Weller 12 is apple pie. Both are good, but unfortunately for the folks at Heaven Hill, Weller 12 is usually at least $5 cheaper than VSOF. Nevertheless, if the price is right (≤$35) VSOF is recommended.

Gone Antiquing: Old Weller Antique Head to Head

Maker: Buffalo Trace, Frankfort, Kentucky

Age: NAS (Loch & K(e)y is around 9 y/o)

Style: Wheat Bourbon

Proof: 107 (53.5% ABV)

1)     Kahn’s

2)     Loch & K(e)y

Appearance:

1)     Dark Copper with big thick legs.

2)     Similar but seems lighter. Legs are a little thinner as well.

Nose

1)     Sharp and hot with char and homemade caramels.

2)     Not as sharp. The char comes through even more. The caramels are still there, but they now are studded with pecans.

On the palate

1)     Hot, but sweet. Assertive but not aggressive, more caramel and chewy vanilla toffees.

2)     Thinner, but milder belying its high proof. More complex than the Kahn’s. Wood, vanilla, toffee, caramels, pecans and walnuts.

Finish

1)     Big and hot especially on the lips, tempered by a growing sweetness in the form of the aforementioned vanilla toffees.

2)     Milder, but still bold. The sweetness leads more than in the Kahn’s bottle, but the tingle on the lips is still there and persists for what seems like a very long time.

Parting Words: These are both very good private bottlings. The Kahn’s drinks like an exceptionally good version of the standard bottling. The Loch & K(e)y bottling (associated with Julio’s Liquors in Westborough, Massachusetts) is more refined tastes closer to a Van Winkle wheater than the standard Old Weller Antique. Both these bottlings are sold out, but if you find a friend with one of them or you have an opportunity to buy a future private bottling of Antique from either of these retailers, I highly recommend you do so!

Review: Maker’s 46

Maker: Maker’s Mark, Loretto, Kentucky (Beam Global)

Style: Wheated Bourbon (infused with toasted French oak)

Age: NAS

Proof: 94 (47% ABV)

Appearance: copper with a pearl necklace of some significance, like on Antiques Roadshow.

Nose: Wood and char, quality toasted wheat bread.

On the Palate: more toast and wood flavors morphing into spice: ginger, nutmeg, allspice and that quintessential wheater flavor:
vanilla. Some sweet marshmallow flavors as well.

Finish: Moderately hot and distinctively drier than the standard Maker’s.

Parting words: I first tasted this at the 2010 Spring Sampler in Bardstown. I liked it then and I like it now. the differences from the standard Maker’s are easy to pick up on. It has a very nice woodiness, but in a different way than old wheaters like the Pappy Van Winkles or Very Special Old Fitzgerald. It is more perfumed than tannic. I find it very pleasant. No Maker’s bourbon is going to be a life-changing experience, but 46 works well as an affordable dessert sipper.

Head to Head: Oh Weller

On trips to Chicago, Binny’s Beverage Depot is always on my itinerary.  Not only do have a friend who works at the South Loop Store, and the store have a great selection, but they always have some great private barrel selections, be they bourbon, Scotch or something else.

Binny’s barrels of Weller 12 y/o (a wheat bourbon made at Buffalo Trace in Frankfort, KY) are always very, very good, so I always pick up a bottle for myself and usually one for somebody else too.  A few weeks ago I picked up a bottle of the latest edition and since I happened to have a little bit left from my previous visit, I seized the opportunity and did a head to head.

Binny’s Weller 12 head to head

1)      Binny’s Weller 12, purchased 3/2009

2)      Binny’s Weller 12, purchased 10/2010

Color

1)      Copper

2)      Same color, but maybe slightly darker

Nose

1)      Granny Smith apple, lavender, a bit of alcohol.

2)      Peanut Butter, fresh roasted peanuts, wood.

On the Palate

1)      Silky, tart, a touch floral

2)      Same silkiness, but woodier and drier.  Much drier.

Finish

1)      Tangy, fills the cheeks, then some slow burn and slight sweetness

2)      Raspberry jam, then fading and slightly sweet and woody.

Parting Words:

I was surprised at the difference between these two bourbons.  Most suprising were the floral aromas and flavors, particularly lavender in the 2009 edition.  This is a characteristic that is most closely associated with high-rye bourbons like Four Roses Single Barrel, not wheat bourbons (which contain no rye at all) which are usually dominated by vanilla and sweet caramel flavors. 

The powers that be at Binny’s have done an excellent job in selecting barrels with distictive profiles that bring out different aspects of this rich and complex (and affordable) bourbon.