Friday, July 5, 2013

The Old Fitz Diamond Bottle Mystery


"I have a bottle of Old Fitzgerald and I'm trying to figure out when it was bottled, could you help please?"

It's a common enough request but this, it turned out, was more interesting than most. It is a bottle of Old Fitzgerald Bottled-in-Bond. The embossed diamonds on the shoulder stood out as unusual, as did something on the label.

One of the requirements for bottled-in-bond is that the label must show both where the whiskey was distilled and, if different, where it was bottled. The label says it was distilled at DSP-16. That's Stitzel-Weller in Louisville, which stopped distilling in 1992. You'd expect to see that. Old Fitzgerald was made at DSP-16 from 1934 until 1992. Since bonds must be at least four years old and usually aren't much more than that, it most likely was bottled before 1997.

Stitzel-Weller had bottling facilities but according to the label, this bottle was filled elsewhere.


DSP-24? That's the old Glenmore distillery in Owensboro. The distillery is long gone but the bottling house is still there, owned by Sazerac.

Did Glenmore and Stitzel-Weller ever have the same owner? Yes, but in whiskey terms only briefly, for about four years, from 1991 to 1995.

Here's how it happened.

The 1990s were a period of intense consolidation in the whiskey business. Here are the transactions that matter for our purposes. In 1984, Scotland's Distillers Company Limited (DCL) bought Somerset Importers, an American company, which owned Stitzel-Weller and Old Fitzgerald. In 1986, Ireland's Guinness & Co. bought DCL. In 1991, it bought Kentucky's Glenmore Distilleries, including the bottling house in Owensboro. In 1995, it sold that bottling house to Canandaigua Wine Co., parent company of Barton Brands, which later sold it to Sazerac.

So the two DSPs were only co-owned between 1991 and 1995. That doesn't absolutely mean this bottle was filled between those dates, but it probably was. Mystery solved.

Does that mean this is a valuable bottle? Perhaps. It is Stitzel-Weller bourbon, and the DSP-16/24 combo is rare.

Mostly it's just fun to figure these things out.

10 comments:

Anonymous said...

Richnimrod said;
This stuff is always so damned interesting! ...And, as so often happens the one to answer the questions is Chuck, who also willingly posts the story for all of us to share.... THANX for doing what you do, Col. Cowdery!

Anonymous said...


Chuck-

Excellent use of "Little Gray Cells".

Agatha Christie and Hercule Poirot would be proud of your deductive reasoning !

EllenJ said...

Ditto!

For a TRUE collector (not just someone looking for popular names, but someone seeking really rare examples) that bottle is worth its weight in, well... Pappy.

It also casts some light upon the recent examples of grey-area Stitzel-Weller that MIGHT have originated in Shively, but ALSO might have been Bernheim whiskey.

Did U.D.'s Bernheim plant have a bottling line, or was their output sent to somewhere else, such as Glenmore? That would certainly be more believable if S/W Old Fitz was already being bottled there. And how does that relate to Barton's purchase of Glenmore?

Thank you for opening this up. I knew I could count on you.

EllenJ said...

Oh, and NONE of the Old Fitzgerald bottles in my collection have diamond-shaped markings around the shoulder.

Chuck Cowdery said...

I assume there was bottling at Bernheim at one time, question is when was it pulled out. There has been no bottling there since the new distillery was built (1991-92). Stitzel-Weller also had bottling. I'm not sure when it was pulled out, but it was before they bought Glenmore. I think bottling was pulled out of Bernheim a long time ago. Until 1982, Bernheim and what is now Buffalo Trace were both Schenley, so all of the bottling for both may have been done at BT. Schenley had a big bottling plant in Lawrenceburg, IN, so it probably went there Schenley sold BT in 1982. Bottling may have been pulled out of SW in 1987, when Guinness bought Schenley. What Guinness would do when it bought these companies was keep one distillery and one bottling house. Guinness eventually became Diageo, which does its bottling now in Plainfield, Illinois.

Chuck Cowdery said...

I also recall that when United (the Guinness spirits division) sold the Schenley bottling plant in Indiana it was acquired by the last plant manager at Stitzel-Weller, and operated for a while as a contract bottler. That was probably in 1997, when Diageo was formed. Until then, United's U.S. operation was based at SW. I think that's when they moved all of the offices to Connecticut.

EllenJ said...

I lied.
Well, not exactly, but I was wrong. A further search through my collection turns up a bottle exactly like that one, complete with diamond markings on the shoulder. The "50% Alc./Vol." tells me it was bottled in or after 1991, and the molded numbers on the bottom indicate 1996. Right at where you put it.

Joe W. said...

Chuck, you are one heck of a whiskey detective. I have two in the bunker and both have a 94 on the bottom of the bottle. So, your timeframe seems to be spot on!

Matthew said...

I actually came across a bottle of Old Fitz Prime (40%/80prf) with the diamond shoulder today. The number on the bottom of the bottle was '94'. If I remember correctly it had the 88076 UPC. no DSP numbers but is it safe to assume similar arrangement with this bottle of Prime?

Chuck Cowdery said...

Odd that there's no DSP number but, still, that's a reasonable assumption.