One of my favorite topics to write on and experiences to share, aside from bourbon, have to do with all things paranormal/spooky/frightening. If I can combine the two, even better.
Last year I put fingers to keys and banged out a piece about my favorite Old Grand Dad BIB, and related to one spectral encounter deep in the heart of the French Quarter in New Orleans.
This year, I’m sitting in my parlor sipping on an early 1990’s Old Fitzgerald BIB. As much as I am a disciple of all things distilled at Old Crow and the heart palpitation inducing bottles from Willett, there is just something overtly special about Stitzel-Weller bonded bourbon. It took me a while to understand its magnificence. When I first started drinking bourbon, Stitzel-Weller was something I read about occasionally, and was talked about like a long dead relative who was so loved and adored that the mere mention of their name brought tears to your eyes, you missed them so much. It was spoken about in hushed tones by only the most respected people, as if they had all the secrets about the vaults of Aztec gold hidden in caves throughout the southwest United States. When you drink it, you immediately sense the care and knowledge of craft that went into this juice. The wheated mashbill in the S-W Old Fitz is pure liquid magic.
The nose is equal parts candy, and the inside of a pioneer log cabin where the fire in the hearth has just gone out. There’s a defined component of citrus that hangs around, swirling and interwoven with an oaky caramel. Someone once described it to me as “caramel apples”. I guess that’s not far off the mark. There are gobs and gobs of creamy caramel floating in this pour. As much as my cherished Old Grand-Dad bottles are “butterscotch bombs”, the Old Fitz BIB is the “citrus caramel bomb”.
The flavor has luscious components of cocoa, citrus in the form of those fruit candies that your grandma would have had in a dish on the coffee table around the holidays. All sugary and stuck together.
The mouthfeel is rich, and combined with the flavor to deliver a quality which nothing currently on the shelf at your local can match.
The burn is that classic 100 proof surge of flavor, like a symphony building towards a final triumphant exclamation.
It’s hard to understand why any of the majors don’t want to produce something this splendid today. And all I can come up with is, they can’t. My other thought is that the hype surrounding this bourbon is not hype at all. Its truth.
I take a quick sip, let it swirl. My mouth waters. God, this is the stuff of legend.
Hey, how about a little Halloween story to go with it?
I’ve got the perfect tale. A haunted house. Well, we always believed it was anyway. The truth in fact was much more frightening.
It was called the MacArthur House. The lore of the place, like any good ghost story, had been passed down from generation to successive generation, from class to class, and I’m sure it grew and was embellished plenty over time. But it basically went like this: Sometime in the 1970’s lots of people lived in the house together, almost like a mini commune. The way it was told, people just came and went, and slept on the floors.
Until one night. The night of the murders. The story gets sketchy here, but one variation goes that someone living there butchered multiple inhabitants. Another version is that a group of devil worshippers broke into the home and had a ritual. Either way, the individual that committed the crimes was never found. The home was never destroyed, because the case was never closed.
When the tale of this place was handed down to my group of friends, we all decided we just had to see it. The mystery. The feeling of euphoria and excitement, of finding and experiencing the unknown, the legend. Very similar to drinking this Old Fitz, of which I just had another sip.
It was Halloween, 1993, right about the time this Old Fitzgerald was being dumped out of the barrel. A group of friends I ran with decided it was our turn to visit the house.
The house was pretty far out there, you had to take many country lanes many country miles to reach it. Two car loads of kids headed out, ready for adventure, with trepidation in their hearts and pretty terrible directions in their heads. Luckily my buddy Micah was familiar with the area and knew the way. You couldn’t see the wrecked structure from the road, as the people that lived out that way had taken it upon themselves to plant cedar and pine trees. As we pulled up sometime around midnight, the bats that had taken up refuge inside the branches of those pines were beginning to stir. Their presence did not calm my nerves.
We walked around the grove of trees, down a twin track of cakey mud, overgrown with brush, saplings, vines and grass. Twigs popped and snapped under our feet. October wind whistled through the branches and dying oak leaves overhead.
The story of the house continued that when the police arrived, the first thing they encountered was a corpse swinging in the wind, the way a pirate’s body was dangled from the end of a pier as a warning. There were also bodies found inside a vehicle, the remains of people trying to escape the scene.
As we drew nearer to the home, my friend Dan shined his Maglite around. That’s when we spotted the silhouette of a noose hanging from a tall oak, swaying in the wind, dangling above the rusted and rotting hulk of a period-correct Volkswagen microbus whose windows had obviously been blown out by a shotgun.
My hair stood straight up. Maybe that noose was fake, I don’t know. But the deceased might as well have been hanging from the tree. The feeling was ominous and foreboding.
“Guys, maybe we shouldn’t be here.” was a common refrain uttered by multiple people at once. The response from the bravest of the group was short and four lettered.
Right in front of us was the house. Boarded up. Rotten pine siding. Leaning brick chimney. Sinking into and being eaten by the landscape. Glistening in the autumn harvest moonlight. Beckoning us with friendly doom. It looked like house from the set of the Evil Dead.
Brent, the dumb one in our group, immediately when up to the decaying sheet of plywood that covered the front door and began pulling it back. The screws holding it to the rotted jamb immediately began pulling out, until there was enough space for a person to shimmy through.
This was it. Go time. The moment to put up, or shut up, and prove yourself to your friends. Would I go in? I don’t remember who went in first, but it was certainly not me. I was scared to death. Neither did I want to be the last person standing outside, waiting for some headless apparition to appear in that noose, nor a couple of maimed spectral forms to come crawling out of that microbus like a scene from Thriller. I slotted myself in the middle of the pack. Now was the time.
I gulped, and stepped in.
I could feel the floorboards flexing under my feet. For a quick moment I considered the foul malevolence that must reside under these floor joists in the basement, just waiting for some ignorant underclassman to plunge through, into their dark abyss; a welcome feast.
Once we were all inside, Dan turned on his flashlight. That batteries were dying out, but what was more than apparent was the blood spattered all over the walls. It was everywhere, like a modern artist had come in with a huge brush and bucket of reddish brown paint, and just started slinging the stuff everywhere. There was a mirror hanging near the entrance to the kitchen that had a bloody handprint that streaked down towards the floor.
I was speechless. Frozen in time from fear. I kept thinking “people died, right here. Right here. Right over there.” The remains of old mattresses were on the floor in various spots, also spattered with blood. I stood motionless, until I saw the piece that took me over the edge. Everyone has their limit. I was running about 99% when I turned my head and in the dim light, caked on the wall in antique arterial juice were the words “GET OUT!” That was it. I was done.
“No. Hell no. Not supposed to be here.” The adrenaline rush was real, and I can still feel it to this day.
I did a swivel so fast that there was probably enough friction to ignite the soggy wood beneath me. The largest kid in our group, Darren, was between me and the door. He was probably three times my size. I picked him up like he was and empty beer can, literally lifting him out of my way and setting him back down. I kicked the plywood off the door opening, and made for the car. I didn’t pay any attention to the noose or the microbus, but if something had come out at me, it would have been in a world of hurt.
I never went back, though many kids did, until the day the community decided they’d had enough of the place and burned it down. Now it’s gone forever, and it will only live on through stories.
Just like this glass of Old Fitzgerald. The sweet power. The magnificent, classic burn of a bourbon that will never exist again. And with the final sip, I bid you Happy Halloween!