Drinking the Bottom Shelf: Old Fitzgerald Bourbon

Drinking the Bottom Shelf

Will Gordon drinks his way through the bottom shelf of the liquor store...so you don’t have to.


Now that the longest week of January is behind us—the annual seven-day period when we try in vain to recover false memories of hobbies that don't involve heavy cream or deficit spending—I finally have the courage to contemplate what is shaping up to be a mostly dry month. I've never spent January on (or even anywhere near) the wagon, but in a concession to the ravages of time and rum, I've decided that this year I need to do some serious physical restoration before the February mayhem rolls around.

Time was I'd drink straight through January before a quarter-hearted attempt at a semi-sober February, but these days it turns out that the second month is the busiest one at the social division of Will Gordon Industries. This is a shame; February is the ideal time to suspend drinking, because it's the shortest month and also the hardest to pronounce when the bottle's got your tongue. But alas, since WGI's development department has expanded to include Bottom Shelf research director Emily, the schedule has been reshuffled. Now January is spent gearing up for all of the February holidays she holds dear: Groundhog Day, the Super Bowl, her birthday, Valentine's Day, and Presidents' Day, which happily coincides with Enough Winter Already, Let's Go to Aruba or Failing That a Bar with a Fireplace Day.

My favorite of these days is by far Emily's birthday, because she's a terrific person who deserves to be celebrated and also because it temporarily narrows the age gap between us.*

*If you count by total years spent on earth; we feel that rounding and fractions and fastidious micro-unit tracking are for physicists and short people. What I'm saying is yes, I realize I'm always the exact same amount of minutes older than she is, but usually when people ask your age and that age is over 3, they expect your answer to be expressed as a whole number of years.

I can't tell you her exact age because I'm not really a detail man, but you can probably come up with a pretty good estimate based on her name: Most of the Emilys were born six to nine months after the last big wave of Jens and Saras, and just before all the Ashleys and Brittanys showed up.

A person's name doesn't reveal as much as I like to pretend it does (though I will still never trust a Jeff), but it often provides basic demographic clues. This is useful, but it also leads to the common problem of how to differentiate all the many Mikes and Lizes in your address book. One of the most compelling reasons to maintain a diversified gang is to avoid Kelly overload. I'm not saying I want to be the kind of 30-something pervert with a phone full of Madisons and Dylans, but I wish I didn't have to identify my research director as "Emily (wife)."

Naming things seems like fun, but I haven't had a lot of practice and I'm not sure there's a lot in my immediate future, either. Emily is steadfastly opposed to pets and the Bottom Shelf lifestyle is not yet conducive to child-rearing or boat-owning, so if I want to get some naming done anytime soon my best bet is to open a bourbon-branding consultancy. It seems like a game ripe for the changing, since three-quarters of all bourbons currently available are called "Old Something." A moderately stocked liquor store will carry Crow, Grand Dad, Forester, Weller, and Thompson, among others. Once my board of directors votes on whether we prefer to shock the world by going with "New" or "Young," we'll be all set.

When the boss asked last week if I'd ever written about Old Fitzgerald ($12.99/750mL), my first thought was "Yeah, probably; I've been on the cheap Old bourbon beat for a couple of years now," and my next thought was "Might as well search the archives lest I miss a chance to expense a bottle of whiskey," and lucky for me it turned out that I'd yet to have the pleasure.

The Old Fitzgerald story is a long and complicated one, because of course it is, it's a bourbon story. The brief, sloppy overview: Old Fitzgerald was created in 1870 and sold exclusively to railroads and steam ships. Pappy Van Winkle (the guy, not the cult) eventually acquired the brand, introduced the signature wheat-heavy mash bill, and started selling it to the public. Old Fitzgerald seems to have been bought, sold, and tinkered with the requisite thousand times since; today we're talking about Old Fitzgerald Prime Bourbon, an 80-proofer distilled in Louisville by Heaven Hill.

Old Fitzgerald Prime is one of the smoothest cheap bourbons I've ever tasted. The honeyed citrus and almond notes are joined late by a pleasant green apple surprise, and while it's a little bit thin for cocktailing—Old Fitz needs good vermouth or your Manhattan's going to taste washed-out—it's very fine for sipping neat.

If you like your bourbons wheat-strong, I highly recommend Old Fitzgerald, which is just as good as Maker's Mark, the best-selling wheatie, for less than half the price.