McLain & Kyne Distillers has announced that its new Jefferson's Presidential Select Bourbon is whiskey distilled during the last years of production at Louisville's Stitzel-Weller Distillery. Bottled at 94 proof, "this ultra-rare, ultra-premium, 17-year-old bourbon is a limited offering complementing the existing line of Jefferson's bourbons, Jefferson's and Jefferson's Reserve."
The press release continues: "Produced by what many consider to be history's finest bourbon distillery, Stitzel-Weller, Jefferson's Presidential Select is a truly superlative offering. Trey Zoeller, founder of McLain & Kyne, comments: 'The discovery of these rare Stitzel-Weller barrels is a coup for bourbon connoisseurs everywhere, who will undoubtedly discover in Jefferson's Presidential Select a spirit that more than lives up to the fine reputation of its distillery.'"
Although a new bottling of Stitzel-Weller whiskey is genuine cause for celebration, McLain & Kyne has overdone the superlatives. The last few very old Stitzel-Weller barrels that have hit the market haven't been the distillery's finest. Mostly they have had a little too much wood, although the unique Stitzel-Weller character is still evident.
Although I haven't had the new Jefferson's yet, others who have have given it that sort of report. Woody but good.
Stitzel-Weller stopped production in 1992. It was owned by the Van Winkle family from its inception at the end of Prohibition until 1972. Its lead brands were Old Fitzgerald and W. L. Weller. All of the Stitzel-Weller bourbons used wheat instead of rye as their flavor grain, a practice later adopted with great success by Maker's Mark.
Some of the most notable bottles produced there were of whiskey distilled before 1972 and bottled at 10 to 12 years old, such as the legendary Very Very Old Fitzgerald.
It's great that McLain & Kyne is telling us where this whiskey was produced. There is nothing wrong with being a non-distiller producer (NDP), which McLain & Kyne is (most NDPs like to pretend they have a still). Now I wish they would tell us how they got these particular barrels.
The company now known as Diageo was the last operator of Stitzel-Weller. It still owns the facility and uses the warehouses. Both Heaven Hill and Buffalo Trace got some Stitzel-Weller barrels when they bought Old Fitzgerald and W. L. Weller respectively. No one has ever been quite sure how much Diageo retained. Did they really mean to age it 17 years or more? How did McLain & Kyne get it?
And, most important of all, is there any left?