View Full Version : Weller v. Old Fitz & other recommendations
I am a single malt drinker who has recently fallen in love with bourbon. Of the several I've sampled so far my favorites are Old Rip VW (15 yr old) and Weller Centennial. I've read good things about Old Fitz (12 yr.) but wonder if it might be too similar to the Weller since they are both wheated and, I think, from the same distillery. I would prefer trying something which contrasts with the Weller since one of the things I like about scotch is the variation between different regions. Is there anything analogous in bourbon to the dramatic difference between, say, Islay and Highland malts? So far I've enjoyed Makers, Woodford, WT Rare Breed, Knob Creek and a few others, but the two I mentioned above are definitely my favs. Any suggestions? By the way, I've avoided trying Bookers because I like to drink whisky neat and the proof scares me off. Thanks!
You are correct that the Weller and Fitzgerald will be pretty similar, but that's no reason not to try them. The range of difference in bourbons probably isn't as great as in scotches, but there are differences even within the same family. You have already sampled some of the best. One "family" you haven't tried is the bourbon's from the Frankfort distillery now known as Buffalo Trace. I recommend Blanton's. Especially as an experienced scotch drinker, I think you will like it. It is drier than most other bourbons. You also haven't tried any of the Heaven Hill whiskeys. I recommend Evan Williams Single Barrel Vintage. Have fun.
--Chuck Cowdery (http://cowdery.home.netcom.com)
Henry, Welcome to the joys of bourbon. I also started my straight whiskey journey with single malt Scotches, then Irish, Canadian (very brief), Tennessee, and finally found a home with bourbon. I would like to claim that it was a journey of maturing tastes, but the fact that all of my children recently entered their teen age years probably had more to do with taking a liking to whiskey than any other.
I agree with Chuck that the Weller line is similiiar to the Old Fitzgerald line. The Wellers are smoother and more laid back, the Old Fitz's are more outgoing. I just tried the Centennial tonight, and would describe it as a drop of heaven along with a variety of flavors to keep ones interest forever. The 12 YO Fitz does have some similiarities, but is quite a bit spicier and one of the most complex bourbons I have tried (in my one year of bourbon curosity). I would suggest that if you wish to explore the panorama of bourbon experiences, Old Fitz 12 is unique enough to warrent a try. I like the Centennial better. (and Weller Antique 107 gets the award for most warmth on a cold night).
All of the wheated bourbons are good. Rebel Yell is on the sweet end of the spectrum, but being a Scotch drinker, you might not be looking for sweet.
Another bourbon variation can be found in the high rye content bourbons. Old Grandad comes across as pretty dry and clean, with a rye bite. Not refined, but different. And it is available in small bottles, I tried the 100 proof.
You have already tried many of the great bourbons, I must agree with Chuck that the upper end of the Heaven Hill brands are worth a try, especially Evan Williams and Elijah Craig. The Elijah Craig's have some sooty toast flavor the might appeal to a west coast Scotch drinker. The most complex spicy bourbon I have tried is Old Rip VW 12 YO lot 'B', quite different than anything else I have tried.
Other lessons in variations, although not as refined: George Dickle for the Tennessee Variation (suggest #12, the special reserve is not worth the extra $); Fighting Cock and 10 High are thin, smooth, and light on flavor; Eagle Rare is as sweet (sugar sweet) as they come, and Old Charter 12 YO is both bold and dry. So you have some options if you get really bored.
Have fun, and invite some friends to the joys of bourbon.
Mark A. Mason, El Dorado, Arkansas
Blanton's is very good, but a bit expensive. I've had it a couple of times and it strikes me as having a very distincive flavor. And, if you can get it (I think it may still be available in KY only) try Buffalo Trace itself. I think it's very good, and the price is right...
Mark's and Chuck's suggestions are all good. Isn't it wonderful how many answers you can get by asking a bunch of bourbon nuts for suggestions on what to try next? I'm no different, either, so here goes...
Between the Old Rip 15 and the Weller Centennial, you've pretty well covered that corner of the bourbon spectrum. Others in that same area would include Old Fitz (especially the 12 year old), other Rip Van Winkle bottlings, and especially the Pappy Family Reserve 20 year old (real costly) and Weller Antique (not costly), which are about as far that direction as one can go.
So, as for contrasts...
Try Jack Daniel's Gentleman Jack. This isn't a bourbon, but rather Tennessee Whiskey (like lions and tigers, a different animal, but similar). Gentleman Jack is about as opposite from Weller Centennial as I can imagine. Unbelievably smooth, with a flavor that is both subtle and very distinctive at the same time. It's as though they've found a way to produce a Tennessee whiskey with the least possible "whiskey" flavor while retaining the most possible "Tennessee" flavor. It doesn't make sense when you write about it; ya gotta try it to understand.
Nothing in your profile identifies where you're from (you should include that, since we know bourbon's availability varies greatly in different areas), but if you can obtain Four Roses STRAIGHT BOURBON WHISKEY (*not* the blended American whiskey) you should really try that. The main reason I recommend that one to you is that it's made to sell to the Scotch-drinking market in Europe and Japan (it's only available in limited areas in the United States). It's also made in a way that's more similar to blended Scotch than to other bourbons, and that results in a very complex flavor that I would guess might especially appeal to someone who understands the differences in single-malt Scotches.
Lastly, I second Mark's advice to try a bottle of Buffalo Trace. This is rapidly becoming one of my favorite whiskey's, and again, I think a drinker of highly-peated Islay Scotch would really appreciate it's flavors.
John, I think you just answered a question I have been pondering since I first tasted Four Roses Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey. (two, one liter bottles purchased in the Amsterdam airport duty free stores and lugged carry on with about 20 pounds of other stuff for three flights, only to find the same stuff for the same price the following week in Kentucky, but I digress).
What has puzzled me is the flavor contrasts in the Four Roses. I find it to be a very smooth, subdued bourbon for polite occasions. (I know what you guys are thinking, with the likely hood of polite company at my house, these bottles will last a long time). Right in the middle of the taste, however, is the chared flavors of burnt toast. In the Reagans book, I see that Four Roses use a heavier than usual barrel char of 3.5. This explains the touch of burnt flavoring, but why add this to a bourbon that is otherwise obviously refined. Your answer makes sense: To appeal to Scotch drinkers! Learn something every day, Thanks John.
As a footnote, per the Reagans Bourbon Companion, no other distillary use a 3.5 barrel char. Only Wild Turkey and Jim Beam use a heavier char of 4, and they are meant to be full flavored. All other distillaries are reported as using a 3.
Mark A. Mason, El Dorado, Arkansas
Thanks Mark! I learned that from Al Young at Seagram's in Lawrenceburg. They actually make about a dozen different bourbon and rye whiskeys, with different mash bills and even different yeasts. They have a "library" of over a hundred yeasts! They then mix'n'match these basically standalone products to fit the profile of the particular bottling of Four Roses they're doing at the time. They do the same thing in their blended whiskeys (Seagram's 7, Crown-Royal, etc), but they make only straight bourbon at the Kentucky plant (ironically, their only other US plant is also located in Lawrenceburg -- but that's Lawrenceburg, Indiana). Jim Murray, in his book, claims to have tasted some of the most wonderful bourbon and rye whiskeys he's ever known at Seagram's, but none will ever see the light of day as an independent product -- they're all destined for various blends.
You make a good point about the barrel char level, and just another example of how different this particular distiller is. For those reading the messages in this forum who are not already aquainted with what Mark's referring to, all bourbon is aged only in new, charred oak barrels. The barrel is not simply a storage medium, it's a major contributor to the nature of the product. All of the current bourbon distilleries purchase their barrels from one of two or three cooperage companies, and the degree of char (just how burnt the inside of the barrel is) is measured on a scale of 1 to 4, with 1 being the lightest and 4 the deepest possible without weakening the barrel structure. The distiller orders barrels of a particular char degree as part of his decisions for how the whiskey is going to be produced. In most cases (I believe), the decision is distillery-wide, and the same barrels with the same char level are always ordered, reqardless of what the final product may be. Most distilleries, as Mark noted, use a #3 char. Some use #4 and some use #2 (I don't think anyone actually uses #1, but I might be wrong). No one except Seagram's ever orders barrels in half degrees. Considering how different they are about all the other steps in bourbon-making, I wonder if Seagram's also uses different barrel chars for some of their "sub-products".
JULIAN!! -- We need some help here. Since this thread is mostly concerned with Weller and Old Fitz, and since no one knows more about those brands than you do, tell us a little about char levels. Here are a couple of questions that I'd sure like to know the answers to...
(1) Did Stitzel-Weller use the same char level for everything, or did it vary by product?
(2) What level did it use?
(3) Since you have your bourbon custom-made to your specifications, do you get to specify what barrel char is used, or is the selection determined by the distiller and therefore perhaps a reason for selecting a particular distiller?
(4) What char level do you use for Old Rip Van Winkle?
(5) Would you select a different char if you knew you were making a four-year-old finished product than you would if you intended the same distillate to be aged for twelve years?
That was interesting information, John. I knew Seagrams uses some pretty sophisticated blending techniques (all within the legal definition of bourbon, of course) to give their whiskeys a distinctive taste, but I didn't have those details. I have tasted Four Roses overseas and at the Four Roses plant I tasted another export brand, called No. 1 Bourbon Street, that had characteristics I would normally associate with a very good Canadian, yet full-flavored like a bourbon. I wish Seagram's would go ahead and offer a line of premium bourbons in the U. S., along the lines of United's Bourbon Heritage Collection or Beam's Small Batch Collection. They would certainly get some of my bourbon dollars.
--Chuck Cowdery (http://cowdery.home.netcom.com)
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