Stitzel-Weller Time Line

There's a lot of history and 'lore' behind bourbon so discuss both here.

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Unread postby bourbonv » Thu Jul 21, 2005 6:55 pm

There is a prime example here to the warning I gave about looking at sources when using these time lines. The 1849 section includes a story from a 1970 trade magazine about Weller putting a green thumbprint on every barrel - it reaks of marketing and should not be taken seriously, but was included so that we could always trace the source if we needed to do so.

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Unread postby bunghole » Wed Jul 27, 2005 4:42 pm

That's a very salient point, Mike. Also the entry about John E. Fitzgerald builds a distillery in Louisville deserves further explaination.

I think that some folks might just read or printout your timelines and take each entry for gospel.

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Unread postby Joeluka » Wed Mar 01, 2006 1:15 pm

Did Norton-Simon Inc., who made SW part of Somerset Imports continue putting out the Old Rip Van Winkle Decanters after 1972? I have an ORW Decanter from 1975 and it says its the Old Rip Van Winkle Distellery from Lousiville and the bourbon is 7 yr old and 86 proof. The decanter is full by the way. The label looks just like an empty ORW decanter from 1971 and this one says Stitzler-Weller Distiellery and its filled Old Fitz Prime. Is this whiskey Old Fitz Prime????
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Unread postby bourbonv » Wed Mar 01, 2006 3:38 pm

Actually Julian Van Winkle Jr. put out the decanter after 1972, purchasing whiskey from Stitzel-Weller to place in the decanters. Norton Simon did a few more decanters after 1972 but very quickly got out of the decanter business.

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Unread postby angelshare » Thu Jun 29, 2006 7:38 pm

Professor Veach, Professor Veach! A question regarding:

1992 - Guiness changes name of Old Fitzgerald back to Stitzel-
Weller. (M Veach, 14/8/92).


Does this mean that for a brief period of time in the early 1990's, there was only S-W brand bourbon and no OF until HH bought the label?

The reason we ask is this: we've got a bottle of Old Fitz BIB "distilled, aged and bottled by Old Fitzgerald Distillery" with a slightly different looking label than the current HH one. Based on the glass markings, we THINK it was bottled in 1993. If this is S-W, and our interpretation of the glass marking is correct (two significant "ifs," of course), we were having trouble reconciling how our bottle falls into the timeline.
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Unread postby cowdery » Fri Jun 30, 2006 3:35 am

Mike's statement should have read: "1992 - Guinness changes name of Old Fitzgerald Distillery back to the Stitzel-Weller Distillery. (M Veach, 14/8/92)."

There never was a Stitzel-Weller brand of whiskey, and there was no interruption in the selling of Old Fitzgerald. The basic expressions, such as Old Fitz Prime and Old Fitz BIB were probably SW whiskey until 1997, or thereabouts, when the wheated bourbon made at Bernheim came of age. That has continued to be the source under Heaven Hill, which now owns that distillery.

So, post-prohibition, and leaving aside some possible very brief aberrations (e.g., Buffalo Trace making some), all Old Fitzgerald products are either SW or Bernheim (and, specifically, new, post-1992 Bernheim).

So if the bottle you have is, in fact, from 1993, it is SW whiskey.

What DSP no. is on the label?
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Unread postby angelshare » Fri Jun 30, 2006 7:11 am

Thanks, Chuck - the DSP is KY 16.
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Unread postby EllenJ » Fri Jun 30, 2006 7:49 am

cowdery wrote:.. .There never was a Stitzel-Weller brand of whiskey, and there was no interruption in the selling of Old Fitzgerald

Although that's true for any of the Old Fitzgerald expressions one is likely to come across today, there WAS a pre-prohibition version whose only relationship was that S-W bought the brand name. The distillery was the John E. Fitzgerald and I believe the brand was simply called "Jno. E. Fitzgerald", and not "Old" Fitzgerald. It was a premium product, marketed through only finer clubs, steamships, and railroads, and thus had a very topshelf reputation. Pappy Van Winkle liked to leave the impression that the S-W product was a continuation of that same whiskey, although it bore no relationship whatsoever, other than legal ownership of the brand. We have many examples of this same marketing decepti... uh, technique today; examples might be the "new" Michter's or J. W. Dant. Note, not all "resurrected" brands are that way. For instance, Jim Beam has tried to preserve (as well as they could) the character of the Old Grand Dad and Old Overholt brands they obtained from National Distillers. And Heaven Hill took great pains to create a completely new (to them) kind of whiskey (wheated, as opposed to rye-style) in order to preserve the integrity of Old Fitzgerald. I'll leave it to forum discussion as to how successful they may have been.
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Unread postby bourbonv » Fri Jun 30, 2006 9:12 am

Chuck is right, the statement should include the word Distillery. Remember, these timelines were simply reference works put together to help Chris Morris and myself keep track of various histories and sometimes they might be a little confusing, because we knew what I meant. If you have questions, please feel free to ask "What the hell do you mean by "____"" and I will be happy to clarify.

John,
Actually the distillery in Frankfort where Old Fitzgerald was made was the Old Judge Distillery. The brand did start as "Jno. E. Fitzgerald" but by 1900 it was simplified to "Old Fitzgerald".

The Stitzel-Weller Distillery name was changed to the Old Fitzgerald Distillery in the early 1970's after the distillery was sold to Norton-Simon. This was done because Old Fitzgerald was the biggest selling product from the distillery as well as a way to signify different ownership.

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Unread postby cowdery » Fri Jun 30, 2006 7:29 pm

EllenJ wrote: The distillery was the John E. Fitzgerald and I believe the brand was simply called "Jno. E. Fitzgerald", and not "Old" Fitzgerald. It was a premium product, marketed through only finer clubs, steamships, and railroads, and thus had a very topshelf reputation. Pappy Van Winkle liked to leave the impression that the S-W product was a continuation of that same whiskey, although it bore no relationship whatsoever, other than legal ownership of the brand. We have many examples of this same marketing decepti... uh, technique today....


Interestingly enough, John, what you have just repeated was a marketing decepti... uh, technique too. Later, better, research has revealed that the Herbst Company of Milwaukee, a wholesaler, created the Fitzgerald brand and along with it, the mythology of Fitzgerald's distillery in Frankfort, the marketing through clubs and railroads, etc. The real John Fitzgerald was the gauger at Old Judge, who helped himself when he had a thirst and always seemed to pick the best barrels. It started as an inside joke at Herbst to call a particularly good barrel of whiskey "a Fitzgerald." When they decided to create a new, premium brand, that seemed like the perfect name for it.

The pictures of the "Old Fitzgerald Distillery" used in pre-prohibition advertising are clearly doctored photographs of Old Judge.

When Pappy Van Winkle bought the brand name during prohibition he also got the "story," which continuted to be sold...I mean, told...and is still told by Heaven Hill today, though to their credit they tell both stories.

But you are absolutely right that whatever the whiskey may have been that was sold as Old Fitzgerald before prohibition, it bore no resemblance to the Van Winkle Old Fitzgerald.
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Unread postby Mike » Fri Jun 30, 2006 8:19 pm

angelshare wrote:Thanks, Chuck - the DSP is KY 16.


I have a bottle of Old Fitzgerald BIB with all the same characteristics (including the KY 16 DSP). I am not familiar with what the numbers on the bottom of the bottle mean, but the numbers 01 and 94 are there, along with 16 A and something that looks like DD. It is a liter bottle I bought in Cumberland, KY at a place that was going out of business. I paid $15 for it.........what a bargain! Whatever the provenance of it, it is excellent bourbon in my opinion!!
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Unread postby bourbonv » Sat Jul 01, 2006 10:14 am

Chuck,
There actually is no proof that Fitzgerald was a guager or even in Kentucky. The letter that everybody uses to make this claim simply says that he ahd the warehouse keys. It does not even say the Kentucky warehouse keys - he could have worked at the Herbst office in Milwaukee. When I get time, I will send you a digital scan of the Bixler letter that was sent to me.

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Unread postby EllenJ » Sat Jul 01, 2006 4:54 pm

I've read that story as well, but I always thought of THAT one as the obvious fabrication. I just shows you never can tell.
Still, the general gist of it -- an insider who can have his pick of anything at the distillery personally chose THIS particular barrel as his favorite and we bottled the rest of the contents just for you -- still strikes me as just a bit suspect.
Of course, it's possible that the owners of Old Judge palmed that one off on Pappy (they say the best storytellers are also the most gullible listeners), but I'd be more inclined to suspect he hatched the whole thing (photo retouchings and all) himself.
And for those readers not familiar with this ongoing theme, I don't mean to imply anything derogatory by these observations. I have enormous respect for whiskeymen, fishermen, salesmen, and other tall-tale artists. My father could sell you your own underwear and charge you for custom-fitting, and you'd gladly stand in line to buy 'em! I feel those of us who understand that aspect of the whiskey-biz get more enjoyment and a better appreciation than do those who are True Believers.
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Unread postby cowdery » Sat Jul 01, 2006 7:01 pm

EllenJ wrote:Still, the general gist of it -- an insider who can have his pick of anything at the distillery personally chose THIS particular barrel as his favorite and we bottled the rest of the contents just for you -- still strikes me as just a bit suspect.


First of all, John, come on, that's not what it says at all, not even remotely, and it wouldn't, since the gauger story wasn't promulgated by someone trying to sell whiskey or anything else. It was put out there by Sally Van Winkle, researched for her by Sam Thomas. The only disagreement I have with her is that she thinks Pappy believed the original story and didn't know the later one, while I suspect he did.

Mike is correct that the conclusion that Fitzgerald was the "government man" at Old Judge is mine. He may have been at a bonded warehouse at another location, but why would Herbst have a bonded warehouse at a location other than at his sole Kentucky distillery? However, Sam Cecil's statement (undoubtedly from Whit Coyte) that Fitzgerald went on to be the "superintendent" of a distillery in Hammond, Indiana, which is in my neck of the woods (i.e., Chicago), puts him nearer to Milwaukee (where Herbst was based) than to Frankfort, Kentucky. So maybe he wasn't at Old Judge.

I wonder, Mike, if you have ever asked Mary Hite about this, as she is Tom Bixler's granddaughter (i.e., Claude's grand-niece).

That Fitzgerald was a gauger seems beyond doubt as "a certain individual who carried keys to a bonded warehouse" seems unlikely to refer to anything else. Even the owner of the distillery would not have had those keys.

It also seems beyond doubt that there never was an Old Fitzgerald Distillery (until Norton-Simon renamed SW) except as a DBA for Old Judge.

(See The Bourbon Country Reader Volume 5, Numbers 1 and 2 for more information.)
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Unread postby bourbonv » Sun Jul 02, 2006 1:17 pm

Chuck,
I am not sure what Pappy Van Winkle believed about the Old Fitzgerald story. I do think that believed parts of the story as given by Bixler from Herbst. Herbst would have had a bonded warehouse in Milwaukee if he did any bottling of bonded whiskey in that city. I suspect that he did just that and Fitzgerald might have worked in that city. Then again Fitzgerald is a name that pops up in Frankfort History from time to time. Just recently I came across a reference to Fitzgerald Drugstore in Frankfort, but that business only went back to about 1920. Still I am curious if a John Fitzgerald ever worked at its predecessor, Capital Drugs.

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