Everyone wants Pappy Van Winkle, but Old Fitzgerald came first.
The Old Fitzgerald brand (originally Jn.E.Fitzgerald bourbon) was created by S.C. Herbst around 1870. In the 1890’s Herbst purchased the Old Judge Distillery and renamed it the Old Fitzgerald Distillery. The Old Fitzgerald brand survived Prohibition (It was sold as medicinal whiskey) and was purchased soon after by Pappy Van Winkle for $10,000. He introduced to the recipe “a whisper of wheat” which the Van Winkle line is famous for. It was distilled at Stitzel-Weller until the distillery was sold in 1972 to Norton Simon. It would later be bought by United Distillers (now Diageo). United Distillers built the modern Bernheim Distillery in 1992 and production of the wheated line of bourbons ( Old Weller, Old Fitzgerald, Rebel Yell, Cabin Still) would now be done there.
The sale of Bernheim, however was more complicated, because it was divided among at least three or four buyers, plus the seller retained portions. Of the Bernheim brands that had been Stitzel-Weller, Heaven Hill bought only the Old Fitzgerald label (and probably the formula and yeast). The Old Weller brands were sold to Buffalo Trace, where they will now be produced. Rebel Yell went to the David Sherman Company in St. Louis, Missouri. The existing stock of all those brands is warehoused all together at the Stitzel-Weller facility in Shively.
All that being said, Old Fitzgerald is now owned by Heaven Hill. The recipe is the same and what’s more, it’s being distilled at Bernheim! Heaven Hill purchased the Bernheim Distillery in 1999 to continue production of their products after the devastating fire that destroyed their distilling headquarters in Bardstown.
“Old Fitz” has been around since before Prohibition and has a history that gives it a special place in bourbon lore. Look for the 12 year old- it’s a great bourbon!!