Whether you’re new to bourbon or a veteran of the game you’ve heard the name Stitzel-Weller. In (almost) mythical bourbon discussions the Stitzel-Weller name fly’s free. The same question pops up when discussing older bottles Pappy Van Winkle, Old Fitzgerald, Weller, Rebel Yell, etc. “Is it Stitzel-Weller?”. Stitzel-Weller became famous for their wheated bourbon recipe and produced some legendary bottles. Even even 20+ years after the distillery shut down it’s still some of the most sought after bourbon.
The Stitzel-Weller determination is like a murder built on circumstantial evidence and not a case with a smoking gun. Below is a list of all the Stitzel-Weller brands. There are many variations to some of these brands but this is the four.
The history and timeline can be a little confusing but here are the highlights:
1908 – Julian “Pappy” Van Winkle and Alex Farnsley acquirer a controlling interest in their employer WL Weller and Sons. Now WL Weller and Sons was just a bottler and buying most of their whiskey from Stitzel.
1933 – Stitzel joins forces with Weller and Sons to create Stitzel-Weller. They begin construction on a distillery in Shively, Ky the next year.
1935 – The new Stitzel-Weller distillery opened.
1972 – The Van Winkles sell their ownership and begin sourcing the bourbon for their own brand.
1992 – The Stizel-Weller distillery closed.
There’s gaps in this timeline but for the purpose of this article we only want to know whether a bourbon was made by Stitzel-Weller. You should read Mike Veach’s full timeline to get a more detailed account of the history.
Stitzel-Weller (SW) Clues
Is your bottle from one of these brands and was distilled, barreled or bottled during before 1992? Check the bottom on the bottle for a number. This is a decent indicator of age. Tax stamps are a better indicator but you’ll only find these on bottles that are pre-1985.
Is your bottle marked “Distilled at DSP-KY16 in Louisville, KY“? DSP or Distilled Spirit Plant is a unique code given to each distillery and KY-16 was Stitzel-Wellers. Remeber SW isn’t (wasn’t) the only distillery in Louisville. Their Old Fitzgerald brands transferred to fellow Louisville resident Heaven Hill.
Is the UPC code 88508? This is tricky because some of the SW UPC labels went with the Old Fitzgerald brand to Heaven Hill and doesn’t always confirm that your bottle is Stitzel-Weller.
Remember, these are clues. I’ve heard of distilleries using old labels after acquiring Stitzel-Weller brands. WhiskeyID is another great resource for determining the source of your bottle.
Is Pappy Van Winkle Stitzel-Weller?
According to Julian Van Winkle Stitzel-Weller was making bourbon for him from 1982 until they closed in 1992. That’s 10 years of stock. The Van Winkles took most of these barrels with them to Buffalo Trace when they partnered up in 2002. These barrels moved to the BT warehouses, got bottled or put in stainless steel drums to prevent further aging. This is where things get a little confusing. The obvious answer for when Pappy Van Winkle stopped using SW would be to back the age statements to 1992 but there have been some differing reports. This is the years I’ve always believe to be the cut off:
Sku’s interview with Preston Van Winkle lends a little more credibility to these ages. I decided to reach out to Preston as well to see if he could shed some more light. Below is the response I received:
It’s not as cut and dry as that as there are some Bernheim barrels in there as well. On top of that there was a year in the early 90s before S-W shut down for good that their still was down and coincidentally BT did some contract production for them. The below [chart above] is fairly accurate as to when the last possible bottling of 100% SW was done with the exception of the 23. I believe what we have bottled this year for the 2015 allocation is at the very least mostly SW as the the spring of ’92 was the last distilling season at SW.
Prestons comments peak my curiosity even more about when the Bernheim barrels were used. My guess is he’s referring to ORVW 10 and 12 (Lot B). Good news is the 2015 Pappy Van Winkle 23 will be all or a majority Stitzel-Weller. Buffalo Trace acquired the Weller brands in 1999. It’s probable that more SW stock came with it to add the the Van Winkles SW stock. Confused? So is everyone else. The fact is no one knows (or is saying) exactly what went in to each bottling. Until a few years ago no one cared. Yet, this is the age of information and Bourbonr’s care about this kind of stuff now.
Michter’s 10 bourbon with a 7k-10H batch code – These aren’t officially confirmed but I’ve been told from some pretty reliable sources that they are.
Jefferson’s Presidential Select 17 & 18 – I only say rumored on these because of Trey Zoeller’s comments about blending a rye bourbon in to the later batches of JPS 18. I’ve never heard a definitive cut off for which batches were blended as opposed to all Stitzel-Weller bourbon.
John E. Fitzgerald Very Special Reserve – This was distilled at Stitzel-Weller and some how ended up at Heaven Hill. It will be released this fall. Most likely at the gift shop with a price tag north of $250 for a 375ml bottle.
Miscellaneous Willett Bottlings – K&L Barrel #9948, possibly some barrels starting with “C”
Black Maple Hill Age Stated – Unconfirmed of course
There are some bottles that we will never know for sure whether they’re Stitzel-Weller. As much as I enjoy finding answers the uncertainty adds to the myth and legend of Stitzel-Weller.