Stitzel-Weller Time Line

There's a lot of history and 'lore' behind bourbon so discuss both here.

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Unread postby bourbonv » Sun Jul 02, 2006 1:17 pm

Chuck,
I am not sure what Pappy Van Winkle believed about the Old Fitzgerald story. I do think that believed parts of the story as given by Bixler from Herbst. Herbst would have had a bonded warehouse in Milwaukee if he did any bottling of bonded whiskey in that city. I suspect that he did just that and Fitzgerald might have worked in that city. Then again Fitzgerald is a name that pops up in Frankfort History from time to time. Just recently I came across a reference to Fitzgerald Drugstore in Frankfort, but that business only went back to about 1920. Still I am curious if a John Fitzgerald ever worked at its predecessor, Capital Drugs.

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Unread postby bunghole » Sun Jul 02, 2006 1:45 pm

Chuck, thank you so much for your knowledge and candor!

As I asked Mike V. some months ago to explain this entry:

"1870 - John E Fitzgerald builds distillery in Frankfort Ky.
[origin of Old Fitzgerald] (N Morgan, 18/11/91). "

But gained no reply.

Now we know for sure that John E. Fitzgerald never built a distillery in Louisville (or anywhere else for that matter); was never a distiller, and never owned; distilled, or bottled "Old Fitzgerald" bourbon.

Yes, I konw that Prof. Veach never said this entry was the absolute truth - just that someone named N. Morgan said it was true in 1991.

This kind of entry needs some intellectual unpacking, and editorial comment. Surely one could be kind and say that this is mearly an innocent misrepresentation by one N. Morgan, but the facts are ...X...Y... & Z.

There can be no greater honor than to be known as the "Great De-Bunker of Bourbon Bunk" (read 'Lore' or lies if you're hardy enough).

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Unread postby bourbonv » Sun Jul 02, 2006 2:23 pm

Linn,
Sorry, I must have missed your query about Old Fitzgerald or simply got sidetracked and forgot about it. As I have said before about using the timelines, you have to notice the source. Nicholas Morgan was the Archivist for U D that hired me in 1991. Now, Nicholas is a good historian and very knowledgable about Scotch Whisky history, but his knowledge of American whiskey brands in the U D portfolio was based upon a researcher who came to Kentucky to dig up what she could and give it to Nicholas. Unfortunately that meant depending upon marketing material and other family material found at the Filson and other archives in the state. Dr. Morgan put together the first brief timelines, that I later expanded.

There never was an Old Fitzgerald distillery. Jo. E. Fitzgerald never built a distillery in Frankfort, but the marketing material for the last 70 years has said so.

To clarify something I stated earlier about bonded warehouses. There was no bottled in bond whiskey in the 1870's or 80's, but there were bonded warehouses. This allowed for whiskey to be stored until the bonding period was up and the taxes paid. If you owned a bonded warehouse, a distiller could ship whiskey to your house to be gauged and stored until the taxes were due. I suspect that this is the situation at Herbst's Milwaukee office. I don't believe Fitzgerald was ever a blend and sold as a straight, double stamp product.

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Unread postby bunghole » Sun Jul 02, 2006 4:37 pm

Thank you Prof. Veach for further clarification.
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Unread postby cowdery » Sun Jul 02, 2006 6:26 pm

Mike first shared his timelines with me many years ago and has always shared them with the disclaimer that they are (a) essentially notes-to-self, written in a kind of shorthand, and (b) merely an accumulation of statements published or otherwise made, recorded for that purpose, and not bona fide historical facts in any sense. They are "raw material."

As for Fitzgerald's location, the familiarity of Herbst and his associates with Mr. Fitzgerald's practices, and the fact that the story comes from Herbst and not directly from Bixler or someone else who was "on the ground" in Kentucky would tend to support the theory that Fitzgerald was in Milwaukee.

My gut feeling tends in that direction, but the story tells better if he is at the distillery.

Since Mr. Fitzgerald was an employee of the United States government, might they be able to provide an answer?
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Unread postby EllenJ » Mon Jul 03, 2006 5:01 am

Hey Chuck, you been hangin' 'round with those overly-adversaral types too long, buddy; the hyperbole in that sentence wasn't intended to be taken literally. It refers to the position -- #16 on the Universal Standard Marketing Cliche list, I believe -- that the product being sold is the special choice of company insiders or workers "in-the-know" and of special, higher quality than what is offered to their ordinary customers. Other examples might be "Beam's Choice", "Elmer T. Lee's Single Barrel" (as opposed to normal "Blanton's"), or even Dalmore Scotch's "Stillman's Dram", which is remarkably similar (the story that is, not the Scotch).

Also, Cecil/Coyte claim that Herbst was indeed marketing an "Old Fitzgerald" brand, despite that neither you nor I have ever seen any further evidence than that ridiculously-doctored photo you noted. They also (not surprisingly) produced "Old Judge" and "Benson Creek". Perhaps it was the JUDGE who had the keys? :smile:
Well? Mike? Was there a Judge John Fitzgerald in or around Frankfort? (naah, probably not; doesn't sound like a particularly effective name for someone involved with politics... or whisky)

At any rate, it could have been the Herbst outfit who came up with the gauger story. But that tale is just so reminiscent of Pappy's "touch" that I still lean toward thinking it was his. Salesmen often have alternate stories to fit special circumstances; perhaps he told that one to customers who didn't readily respond to his claim that local bootleggers bought Old Fitzgerald bourbon from him to improve the flavor of their 'shine.
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Unread postby bourbonv » Mon Jul 03, 2006 9:05 am

John,
It was definitely Herbst who came up with the "Fitzgerald story". The Bixler letter makes it clear that Herbst was using the story around 1900, over 20 years before Pappy entered the story. The U D archive had bottles of Old Fitzgerald from the first decade of the 20th century and Julian still has a bottle. I assume the U D bottles are now part of Heaven Hill's collection. I am inclined to agree with Sally, that Pappy believed the story as presented to him by Herbst. He really had no reason not to believe it.

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Unread postby bourbonv » Mon Jul 03, 2006 10:21 am

After looking at the letter from Bixler again this morning I have found the following facts to consider.

1) Bixler states that Herbst did not purchase the distillery until 1899 and he list the founder and then the company that bought it from the founder and sold it to Herbst.

2) He does mention Herbst's "blending plant" so it is assumed that this was his plant in Milwaukee and he was getting whiskey there to bottle.

3) The Frankfort Distillery was originally named old Judge by it's founder, a man named Mitchell.

4) It does not say whether Mitchell or Herbst created the Old Fitzgerald brand. If the story as told by Bixler is true, I suspect Herbst created the brand and it may be that Herbst used the Old Judge distillery as his sole supplier. One thing I will have to check is when was it that Herbst contracted with Taylor to make some Old Fitzgerald. If it was before 1899, then Herbst owned the brand before he bought the distillery and the Bixler story begins to ring even more true with John E Fitzgerald as an employee or gauger in Milwaukee.

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Unread postby bourbonv » Mon Jul 03, 2006 10:34 am

I just check my notes on the Taylor-Hay collection and the contract with Taylor was in 1894. Herbst owned the brand before he owned the distillery.

Just to explain, Taylor owed Herbst some money and in 1894 he signed a contract with Herbst to make some Old Fitzgerald bourbon and rye to pay this debt. Herbst chose Taylor because of the pot stills used by Taylor. That is also the reason he purchased the Old Judge distillery.

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Unread postby bourbonv » Mon Jul 03, 2006 3:12 pm

I just checked the on line census records for Milwaukee and in the 1880 census, there is a Wm. Fitzgerald, the son of John E Fitzgerald. There were no records on line for 1870 0r 1890, but in 1900 there is a John E Fitzgerald of about age 60, who was born in England.

The City directory for 1889 also list John E Fitzgerald as a Vice Pres. of a shipping firm for steamers in the city. I am beginning to think the story is coming together as his first job may have been with Herbst but he went on to bigger and better things. That could explain the exclusively for trains, riverboats and Steamships. If we have a member in Milwaukee, or fairly close, that want to spend the day at the Historical Society looking at the records, we could possibly solve the mystery of "who was John E. Fitzgerald.

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Unread postby bourbonv » Mon Jul 03, 2006 3:25 pm

I just checked the 1910 census and there is a John E. Fitzgerald, age 72, whose occupation was boiler maker. This could be our guy.

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Unread postby cowdery » Mon Jul 03, 2006 3:38 pm

You're certainly correct, John, that "insider information" is a standard marketing cliché.

But I have to repeat my counterpoint, which is that the Fitzgerald-as-gauger story has never been used in a marketing context, so to label and disdain it as a marketing cliché is way off the mark.

The source -- sole source, so far as I know -- of the Fitzgerald-as-gauger story is a private letter written in 1941 by Claude Bixler to his cousin, Thomas Basham, who was associated with Spirits Magazine. Basham had asked Bixler, on the occasion of Herbst's death, if he knew the true origin of the Fitzgerald brand name. Basham must have had some reason to doubt the story that had always been told in marketing, let's called it Fitzgerald-as-distiller, or why else would be have asked the question? There is no record of Basham ever publishing this information in Spirits or anyplace else. The letter was uncovered by Sam Thomas in a collection of memorabilia that Brown-Forman had from its previous ownership of Labrot and Graham, which Thomas was examining during Brown-Forman's restoration in the late 1990s of the distillery it now calls Woodford Reserve.

There is every reason to believe that Bixler is stating the facts as he knew them. The phrase in his letter that I would like to understand better is "when Mr. Herbst began to control his Kentucky whiskey," because that appears to have been the impetus for the creation of the Fitzgerald brand. What does "to control" mean in that context?

The "timeline" shows the Old Fitzgerald trademark as having been registered in 1884. "To control" apparently does not mean that was when he bought Old Judge, since that seems to have occurred later, and the Taylor letter is pretty good evidence that Old Fitzgerald was well established by 1894.

John, you also seem to be questioning whether Herbst owned and marketed Old Fitzgerald at all, but I must be reading that wrong, or you are pulling my leg. There is no doubt that Old Fitzgerald bourbon was a Kentucky bourbon marketed by the S. C. Herbst company. The brand was heavily advertised by Herbst throughout the pre-prohibiton era. The only question is whether or not Herbst created it, though I feel the evidence that he did is very strong.
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Unread postby bourbonv » Wed Jul 05, 2006 3:11 pm

Just another interesting note - There was a John Fitzgerald recruited in Milwaukee into Company B of the 1st Wisconsin Infantry in 1861.

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Unread postby cowdery » Thu Jul 13, 2006 8:11 pm

Throughout this discussion I had forgotten about this picture, which is from the collection of the Kentucky Historical Society and is identified as "Herbst Distilling, 1905." Could the gentleman on the left be Charles Herbst, or even John Fitzgerald himself?
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Unread postby bourbonv » Fri Jul 14, 2006 9:08 am

Chuck,
The man on the left is Herbst. I have seen other photographs of Herbst, and that is the man.
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