In the bourbon world nothing creates more buzz than hearing of a premium whiskey release from a distillery that has sat silent for years, sometimes decades. Enthusiasts remember the release of A.H. Hirsch Reserve from the ghost distillery of Michter’s . Hirsch is now in the last throes of its availability and commands ultra premium prices when it is found. So it was that last summer we learned that Castle Brands/McLain & Kyne had acquired a limited (unknown?) quantity of premium bourbon from the now shuttered Stitzel-Weller Distillery in Shively, Kentucky. S/W has been closed for nearly 20 years much to the lament of bourbon lovers who considered it be one of the finest distilleries in America. Once owned by the Van Winkle family it produced wheated bourbons under the brands of Old Fitzgerald and WL Weller, brands that have since been acquired by other distilleries. The last owners of S/W, spirits giant Diageo, closed the distillery in 1992 and still own the property and its buildings.
McLain & Kyne have added this ‘found’ bourbon to their Jefferson’s line up as ‘Jefferson’s Presidential Select 17 year old’. JPS is a ’wheater’, typical for Stitzel-Weller, in that the secondary grain in the mash bill is wheat and not rye. Distilled in the fall of 1991 it enters the market as an ultra premium whiskey and can be purchased for around $90-100. How long quantities and prices hold is anybody’s guess.
Packaging is very attractive. Presented in a soft shouldered, short neck 750ml bottle with a ‘solid wood topped' cork, wax seal, screened silver and gold text, and hand written label displaying batch and bottle number (Batch # 5, Bottle #2292). A distinctive copper color in neutral light, it dances from amber to mahogany under different light conditions. This is a wonderful bourbon, an immediate favorite, offering notes of coconut, roasted nuts and nougat on the nose. Somewhere in between the bouquet and actual tasting, grape jelly makes an appearance. Tasting produces vanilla, caramel apples and taffy. It has a long, lingering, and satisfying finish that is not overly oaky or dry. Wheat thins are there right at the end.
There is a certain curiosity to the story of McLain & Kyne discovering this lost treasure two decades after Stitzel-Weller’s closure. When M&K broke the news last summer, the bourbon ’glitterati’ were abuzz. Amongst the speculation, respected bourbon writer and blogger Chuck Cowdery wrote; “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?” That remains to be seen, however, in December of 09 Castle Brands announced that it was selling the other side of its bourbon portfolio, ‘Sam Houston’ brand and existing inventory to Western Spirits Beverage Co. LLC. in order to concentrate its efforts on Jefferson Bourbons. You wouldn’t have to be a betting person to lay odds that there is definitely more to come. An 18 year old? The rumors are out there.