Tuesday, August 18, 2009

New Jeffersons Is Stitzel-Weller Whiskey.

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?


Chuck Cowdery said...

To be fair to this product, which I haven't yet tasted myself, I will report that John Hansell loves it. "So far this year, this is one of my top two new bourbons," he wrote. You can read the rest here.

Anonymous said...


Did you ever get any additional insight on the barrels used for the JPS and how McLain & Kyne actually acquired it? I stumbled across a JPS 17 year Batch 3 yesterday and picked it up due to its scarcity. Were you able to review the JPS 17 and what are your thoughts in comparison to other "recent" S-W offerings (i.e. Pappy 15 and Pappy 20)?


Chuck Cowdery said...

I have had a couple fleeting opportunities to taste it. Too woody to my taste, but definitely Stitzel-Weller. As for the how and why, It's my understanding that Diageo had retained a large number of SW barrels, intending to use them in its Canadians. They probably decided it had gotten too woody for their purposes (my prejudice showing) and agreed to sell it to Mr. Zoeller.

Jason said...

The notion of any but the crappiest S-W juice going into some blended abomination of a Canadian whisky makes my heart hurt.

Chris Pelletier said...

I can't imagine these barrels to be anything other than left overs and not the cream of the crop. I don't particularly enjoy the Jefferson line for full disclosure. I find them to have a very wood forward flavor that drowns out other flavors.

Anonymous said...

There is nothing wrong with "woody" bourbon. In fact, some of my favorite daily drinkers are considered woody. For example, Elijah Craig 12 year is categorically considered woody by many but it has a depth of flavors that can only be obtained from prolonged aging. Nobody would say that Pappy Van Winkle 20 year old is "over aged" since it's the older sibling of the line and presents a flavor profile that contains a distinct oaky fudge like quality to round out the intense baking spices. Maybe the Japanese are on to something? They've always been willing to pay top Yen for older US bourbon expressions. The depth of flavors are unmatched when you add a tad bit of water and let it open up with air. Yes, my sweet spot for bourbon is 12 years but I've tasted many at 15 that I wouldn't say are "over aged" or too "woody" at all. It's all about what it has to offer underneath the gorgeous layers.