The latest release from Heaven Hill's highly coveted Old Fitzgerald decanter series comes with another drop in age after riding high at 10, 17, and 19 years on the previous 3 blends. While age statements aren't really the end-all-be-all in the whiskey world, typically brands will try to keep things roughly consistent under a house brand name like Elijah Craig for example. Oof - perhaps I gave a tough example given the 12 year age statement on Elijah Craig Barrel Proof has just recently been put out to pasture.
This biannual bottling of bottled-in-bond bourbon features the wheated mash bill that is distilled at the Bernheim Distillery which notably also makes Larceny bourbon. Heaven Hill did a great write up on all things wheat, and I've covered plenty of the previous releases of Old Fitzgerald, so I'll skip to the good part on this one. Let's see how a return to the 8 year age statement does for this distillate.
Company on Label: Old Fitzgerald Distillery (Distilled at the Bernheim Distillery which Heaven Hill has owned since 1999)
Whiskey Type: Wheated Bourbon
Mash Bill Percentages: 68% corn, 20% wheat, 12% malted barley
Age: 8 years
Further identification: This is the Fall 2023 Release of Old Fitzgerald which comes in a fanciful decanter style bottle bearing a gray label; it is available in limited quantities at an MSRP of $110
Nose: Upon first raising the well-rested glass to my nose a big wave of warm caramel brittle and Heath bar wafts up the nostrils. That subtle chocolate and toffee prepares me well for black tea served in light porcelain china. Blanched slivered almonds and a hint of earthiness can be found when really digging with the nose. Overall the glass is quite light, almost airy, as I struggle to find any meaningful character to this release. On a swirl of the glass a few flashes of barrel funk become detectable. With a severe case of the blandness setting in, I'm ready for a sip that I hope becomes this salvation this glass needs.
Returning my nose to the glass reveals great woodshop aromas. Sawn and worked wood can be found in every corner of the glass. Deep inhales are puffy, bright, and laden with vanilla laced oak. Little further complexity develops in this glass as I continue to work through my tasting. The empty glass smells of faint tobacco leaves and milk chocolate.
Palate: My first sip is quite nice and absolutely nothing like the nose. Cherry lands on the tip of the tongue first with subtle sweetness. It comes across a touch synthetic - perhaps a bit boozy & more like amaretto. The parallels to the almonds from the nose are starting to jive in the thin, short linger in the mouth. I find the introduction to be a little bit reminiscent of coffee cake biscuits; it's a touch drying and the lightness and thinness of it leaves much to be desired. The possibility of a pairing, however, is quite strong with this. I imagine dunking this into a cup of coffee or being able to enjoy this alongside a delicate dessert and not have the whiskey or the food be overpowered. Another sip offers a few new surprises. Bright white florals like elderflower pop up in strong waves alongside dark chocolate and subtle cinnamon. Sipping and swishing further excites out far more baking spice and red fruit. I'm notably glad that this release is not as nutty as some of the previous batches. Cranberry sauce and a hint of red wine hang in the background. Raspberry layer cake approaches me in an effort to win me over to adoration for this glass, but I'm ultimately not feeling the excitement here. As I continue to explore late into the pour the main takeaways continue to be tart, slightly tannic red berries sitting in the middle to front of the tongue before a slow spread of spice creeps outwards. Little else happens in the mouth, leaving me with a feeling of disappointment in this tame and stodgy bourbon. My last sip is a strong repeat of the same short story above - raspberry, cherry, and almond notes shine the brightest, leaving the imagination reeling and longing for more.
TL;DR: A crushable one-trick pony that offers a few sweet and spice notes
This is another great example of a whiskey that has absolutely nothing wrong with it. It's completely crushable, drinkable, and enjoyable - though I know Heaven Hill is capable of so much better than this. It's utterly comfortable, like that old pair of boots that fits just right day in and day out. This fits my 3/5 score perfectly: a middle of the road bourbon. While this marks a double-slip in quality, with this release following suit with the same score as I gave to the 10 year release from earlier in 2023, I believe Heaven Hill can once again rise to the occasion and deliver an exceptional wheated bourbon in the future. Their 17 year release was one such example of what is possible with blending prowess.
Bonus Head to Head: Spring 2021 vs Fall 2023
Putting this review head to head with the Spring 2021 release (which also carries an 8 year age statement) was the most logical thing I could do since I have a bottle of each available to me. Let's not waste any time and jump right in to compare and contrast what really should be about the same.
The 2021 release has a gorgeous, rich, viscous caramel and butterscotch nose-feel as soon as I put my nose in the glass. The 2021 is noticeable as being much more functionally complete as a good neat sipping bourbon right away. Our new 8 year offering continues to be flat and light in the glass with soft hay notes. At first sip of the older release, I find a much thicker, richer mouth coating that offers delicacies of peach cobbler, nutmeg, apricot, and anjou pear. The 2021 release then continues on to carry a nice effervescence through a significantly longer linger with delicious tiramisu tones. Wow. Switching glasses to the 2023... Nope. Where the 2023 release does shine in the comparison is with the few notes it does well on the palate - notably that cherry, almond and raspberry trifecta. Beyond that there is a clear winner here with the 2021 release outshining the 2023 release by a country mile. The deep undulations of the vanilla biscotti tones on the finish of the 2021 release pull drastically harder on my heartstrings. It's a much more lively bourbon and definitely the kind of whiskey I enjoy exploring.
Hopefully this comparison helps! If you dig this kind of perspective, consider subscribing below to stay in the loop on more of my reviews. For reference, I only send 1-2 emails a month!