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A Head-to-Head-to-Head Tasting: Very Special Old Fitzgerald 12 Year, Larceny, & Old Fitzgerald Bottled in Bond

Posted on by Eric Burke

Has it finally happened? Has my nose unclogged? Have my senses of smell and taste returned to me? Am I ever going to stop asking questions and get on with this?

Yes. To all of them. My wife and I have finally come close enough to kicking the cold/flu that felled us in the late December/Early January that we can breathe again. We can laugh without coughing again. And most importantly, our tastebuds and our sniffers work again.

Last year, round about September, I hit on the idea that to really know the minute differences of different bourbons, I needed to compare them to one another. Have them side by side. Smell one, smell the other, smell my hand*, and start over again. So while I was in Kentucky, the land of bourbon, I decided to start picking up a few things with an eye toward head to head tastings. Some of them were planned. Some of the stuff I lucked into. I was checking out when I'd notice a small bottle of something. Maybe it was a different proof than what already had. Maybe it was a mini of another release of something I had at home. I collected things all autumn long, buying bourbon in at least 6 different states along the way. It was fun. 

But by the time I was about to get started on the tasting fun. BLAM! Laid out by tiny little viruses. So unfair. And now we're back to the present. About to dig into a trio of wheaters from Heaven Hill. so how did I decide on these? Well, a little bit of luck and a tiny bit of planning. I've had the Very Special Old Fitzgerald 12 Year Old since a visit to Des Moines, Iowa this summer. I picked it up because it was something I knew I couldn't get here in Minnesota. Or at least I had never seen it. The Larceny was released right about the time I was going to Kentucky. I got a $10 rebate on the bottle and it was also on sale for roughly $22. Buying that was a no brainer. At that point it seemed I had a pretty nice head to head going. It wasn't a planned one, but hey, I'm not one to sneer at dumb luck. One problem, those two wheaters were both MSRP'd like premium bourbons. One of the things I had read about Old Fitzgerald was that it was a good value bourbon. So with the head to head in mind, I went ahead and picked up a bottle of Old Fitzgerald Bottled in Bond for ~$18 for a liter. And just like that it became a head-to-head-to-head. Three times the fun!

Here's how the wife and I did the tastings. With her out of the room, I poured each into identical Glencairn glasses. One set for me, one set for my wife. I had them on a piece of paper and in front of each I wrote a number 1-3. Then I left the room. My wife came in and moved each glass onto another prepared sheet that was labeled A, B, C. So I knew which bourbons were 1, 2 and 3 and she knew which letter corresponded to which number and neither of us knew which bourbon was in which place in front of us. A perfect double blind tasting.

So what did we think? Well, we both agreed that there were a lot more similarities between the bourbons than there were differences. In the glass all three were the same color. Though in the bottle the VSOF was a bit darker. None of these were overly complicated bourbons. All of them were sweet with a hint of spice in the mouth. So knowing that, let's dig in.

Bourbon A:

Nose: Sweet with a hint of something smoky. Once I was hit with something  sharp, almost acidic, but it was gone as soon as it appeared and never came back. I found the same thing at another time in my wife's but it was still gone so fast I couldn't place it.

Mouth: Sweet, but not overly sweet. Brown sugar with a little spice. This one was a bit thin when compared to the other two. 

Finish: Short and sweet. Not hot. Dried the mouth.

Overall: This one confused me. I smelled things that I couldn't catch before they were gone and couldn't pick out anything beyond a very gently spicy brown sugar sweetness. This is a bourbon that I could drink the heck out of though. I like it and I'd enjoy having it at my side while watching a movie or talking with friends. This was probably our favorite of the three.

Bourbon B:

Nose: Tangy and sweet play a game of cat and mouse with each other while nosing this one. One time it's a hard maple bomb, the next it's tangy, then they swap back again.

Mouth: This is a sweet one. Not as sweet as the nose, but there is a slight maple or brown sugar there amongst the alcohol. I found this one to be a bit on the thick side. Not oily, but syrupy. I guess that goes with the maple in there.

Finish: Finish was the best part of this one. There is that tang in the back of the throat that the nose promised, sweet spice on the sides of the tongue, and a hint of smokiness all around.  

Overall: My wife found this to be the harshest one out of the three we tasted. Said she only tasted alcohol. I agree it was the harshest one, but not overwhelmingly so. I like this one as well. Though good, this was probably our least favorite of the three. 

Bourbon C:

Nose: Right away I was hit with sweet baked apples. After a bit I got a lot of brown sugar sweetness.

Mouth: Sweetness at first on this one getting spicier as it moves back. I get a lot of corn in this one as well. 

Finish: I found this to have the most burn in the finish out of the three. Really drying the back of the throat.

Overall: This is a good bourbon. It won't blow you away analyzing it, though I found those backed apples on the nose to be interesting. But I drink a whiskey more often than I taste it and this is another one I'd enjoy drinking over conversation with friends or along side a movie or good book.

So which was which? Bourbon A was the Very Special Old Fitzgerald 12 Year Old. No Surprise here, my wife loves older Heaven hill bourbons. Bourbon B was Old Fitzgerald Bottled in Bond, which explains the harshness comment by my wife. And Bourbon C was Larceny.

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I like all of these in their own way. Like I said, our favorite was the Very Special Old Fitzgerald, but I wouldn't turn down any of them. And in fact, before I did the tasting, I enjoyed each and every one on numerous occasions. The BiB was great in cocktails or on it's own. The VSOF made a wicked good manhattan. And Larceny is just plain tasty.

If I could only buy one moving forward, I'd pick the BiB because it is so much cheaper and almost as good. My wife, the accountant, though disagrees with me and would choose the Larceny. She like the VSOF the best, but initially had a hard time finding differences between them. So since it is a little cheaper, she'd go that route. If you're buying though? Give either of us the VSOF.

*By the way, that hand smelling thing isn't a joke, it seems to reset the ol' sniffer for some reason.