The whiskey enthusiast universe is terribly excited about a new label Heaven Hill just had approved for an Old Fitzgerald line extension, a 20-year-old bourbon called "J.E.F." (John Fitzgerald's initials). The excitement is because of these words on the back label (shown above): "Distilled by Stitzel-Weller Distillery DSP-KY-16, Shively, KY, and Bottled by Heaven Hill Distilleries DSP-KY-31, Bardstown, KY."
This is all we know. Heaven Hill isn't talking about it yet. Label approvals don't necessarily mean a product is coming out, although they obviously have the whiskey or they wouldn't have submitted it. How is that possible, many have wondered, since the youngest Stitzel-Weller whiskey in existence is 23 years old, as the plant stopped distilling in 1992?
First, age statements on whiskey labels are allowed to understate the actual product age. You can label 25-year-old whiskey as 20-years-old if you wish. That's perfectly legal. Second, it's no secret how Heaven Hill got Stitzel-Weller whiskey. They received a boatload of it from Diageo when they bought the Old Fitzgerald Brand in 1999. They probably had a few extra barrels that they allowed to keep aging, maybe until now, or maybe until they turned 20, at which point they were transferred to stainless steel drums to stop them from aging any further.
American whiskeys aged 20 years or more are a minor part of the business. Their volume is almost too low to make them viable unless the price is astronomical, which this one might well be, so magical is the Stitzel-Weller name. Heaven Hill has a habit of underpricing its products, a habit it has been trying to break at least with regard to its top line offerings. I'm guessing this will be in line with its 20+ year-old Rittenhouse Ryes of a few years ago, about $150 for a 750ml bottle. You may have noticed that the only label submitted for the J.E.F. product is for the 375ml size, so a $70 MSRP wouldn't surprise me.
In the blogosphere, statements that such-and-such a thing is possible turn into 'facts' in an instant. This is sure to happen with this product since people will immediately start saying it's "the same as Pappy Van Winkle." (There are reasons it's not.) All we know about J.E.F. at this point is what is on the approved label and what we can logically surmise from that information. Don't believe anything else you hear about it unless it comes from Heaven Hill.