More mid-1950s Columns by J.P. Van Winkle, Sr.
At the end of this post are links to further Old Fitzgerald column-ads I found recently in digitized newspapers on the Fulton History site. They were authored by J.P. Van Winkle, Sr., later known as Pappy, the long-time and long-lived President of Stitzel-Weller Distillery, the famed D.S.P. 16.
Six further columns of Pappy were reprinted in But Always Fine Bourbon: Pappy Van Winkle and the Story of Old Fitzgerald, by Sally Van Winkle Campbell, published in 1999. As stated in a note in my Part I, this book is a must read for its warm tone, the extensive information conveyed, and handsome illustrations.
Yet more columns by Pappy exist, some were reproduced on bourbon discussion forums years ago.
Of all those I have seen, none mentions wheat in the (single) bourbon mash bill of D.S.P. 16. Obviously wheat was an important part of the D.S.P. 16 taste, and it remains so for the current Van Winkle and W.L. Weller bourbons. (I have omitted discussion in these posts of the current Old Fitzgerald, including the Larceny brand, produced by Heaven Hill Distillery but may discuss that later).
This 1970 Old Fitzgerald advertisement mentions the “whisper of wheat”. Perhaps 1970 is the first year wheat is mentioned in company advertising, I am not sure. But in the Pappy era, his columns and other company ads did not mention wheat, to my knowledge.
Pappy’s columns mention many aspects of bourbon production at D.S.P. 16 that he felt were important to quality. These ranged from daily ventilation of warehouses, to sour mashing, to prolonged open small tub mashing and fermentation, to controlling proof in various stages of operation, and more. My own feeling is that Pappy, as a good marketer, emphasized production aspects that contributed to the final result but in many cases weren’t unique to D.S.P. 16, while probably omitting a key if not the most important aspect – the wheat element in the mash.
Wheat lends a certain softness to bourbon, especially when well-aged, and this surely was a key part of the D.S.P. 16 Old Fitzgerald and Weller palates, not just the wheat but the exact proportions of corn, wheat, and barley malt used. Indeed the 1970 ad above states that the wheat contributes the “mellow, nut-sweet” taste of Old Fitzgerald, versus that is “the rye commonly used in other bourbons”.
In terms now of aging, while Pappy vaunted his four to eight year old bourbon, Old Fitzgerald, and Old Weller, were sometimes released at older ages. There was a Very Old Fitzgerald and Very Very Old Fitzgerald, as well as a 10 or 12 year Old Weller. Not a great deal of it was available, but there was some and ages ranged from 10-15 years old. Obviously this appealed to those who liked a well-matured taste.
In my view, the current Van Winkle range of 10-23 year-old bourbon is a true heir to that tradition. I stated in my previous post what my favourite D.S.P. 16 bourbon was – Old Fitzgerald Prime, 86 proof. My favourite Van Winkle product is the 12-year old Lot B. There are superlative bottles among the full range, that’s the beauty of great whiskey, each bottle no matter the fine points of “vintage” or make-up tends to differ a bit, like a fine wine or beer, or for each annual release that is true I think.
In the current W.L. Weller line, some bottlings of the 107 proof Antique are particularly good, even reminiscent to my mind of Old Fitzgerald Prime ca. 1980. I have not had the chance to try the new W.L. Weller Full Proof, bottled at 114 proof and perhaps most importantly, not chill-filtered. This is yet a further variable to ponder when considering the palate of (most) modern bourbon versus bourbons from the 1950s and 60s.
Here now are the J.P. Van Winkle, Sr./Pappy columns from the mid-1950s I found in the Fulton History site. The first three are linked in my earlier post, but I mention them here for completeness. All are from 1954, in New York State newspapers, except the last which is from 1957. Of these columns, all were new to me except the last one.