For those hardcore bourbon fanatics (like me), when I first heard about the renowned Stitzel Weller bourbon, I didn't know what the all the buzz was about. I remember attending a corporate sponsored family day at Kings Dominion here in VA and received a call from my brother who asked the question "ever heard about Stitzel Weller bourbon from Canada Dry?" My comment was that I had read something about Stitzel Weller and folks seemed to think it was good stuff. That's all I knew so of course my brother picked up some bottles, later finding out the juice inside wasn't SW bourbon but liquid crap with bourbon coloring.
Just my opinion but bourbon hype goes something like this.
Q: Hey, did you hear Bison Trail distillery is coming out with a super premium bourbon called "Bison Trail Select Reserve Presidential Heritage 400th Anniversary Single Barrel Uncut Uber Delicious Bourbon"?
A: Holy $*@#, I gotta get me some of that, it's gonna be faaaaaantastic! I'm gonna bunker me 80 bottles!
I'll be the first to admit that early on I was guilty of getting sucked into the marketing hype. But a lot of what we see today is of course current market offerings but there's a secondary market of out of production bourbons that get passed around and picked up during dusty hunting and much is made of this or that bourbon and how great it is (again, guilty as charged).
Back to Stitzel Weller bourbon and maybe a quick history. Stitzel Weller was formed as prohibition was ending in 1933 and in that same year purchased the Old Fitzgerald Distillery. The following year SW begins construction of its Shively location which opens on Derby day 1935. Up until his death in 1965, Pappy Van Winkle was key to the growth and success of Stitzel Weller. 7 years later in 1972, Stitzel Weller is sold to Norton Simon who then changes the name from Stitzel Weller to Old Fitzgerald. Fast forward a dozen years and Old Fitzgerald is sold yet again and then around 1992/93 the distillery closes down for good.
Pappy Van Winkle was serious about bourbon and not just bourbon but good bourbon. His motto "We make fine bourbon. At a profit if we can, at a loss if we must, but always fine Bourbon" goes to the heart of Pappy Van Winkles passion for quality bourbon. So does that passion translate into the best bourbon ever made? Is Stitzel Weller hype or are they the hero of bourbon goodness? For those that read the bourbon boards, there's always someone who is pining away about getting their hands on SW bourbon and will go to great lengths or expense to get it. Example:
As a practice, I don't sell my bourbon. It's for drinking and sharing with like-minded bourbon dorks. But, a couple years ago, as a test, I auctioned two 200ml bottles of Old Fitzgerald Bottled in Bond bourbon, both SW whiskey. I wanted to find out just how much hype surrounded SW bourbon and the result was those two bottles sold in quick fashion for $25 each. Just recently Buffalo Trace released the 23 year old Old Rip Van Winkle bourbon, only 1200 bottles produced. I have no doubt these will all be sold for the bargain price of $350 each. The market for SW bourbon is hot but how much of that is hype or is it really because that bourbon is simply one of the best bourbon's produced? As you know, SW bourbon used wheat as the flavoring grain whereas everyone else at the time used rye. Why not be just as happy with a current wheated bourbon like Old Weller Antique, Pappy 15, Old Rip Van Winkle or for that matter, the current Old Fitz BIB produced by Heaven Hill? To get you thinking, how and why do you think (if you do) it's better, worse or comparable to what's offered today?
As a side note, Sally Van Winkle Campbell wrote a very informative book called "But always fine bourbon" on the life of Pappy Van Winkle and Stitzel Weller (Old Fitzgerald). It's a pleasant read and is a nice addition to the bourbon library.
I'll wait for comments before giving my take on the issue. Let me know what you think.