Classification: Straight Bourbon
Company: Heaven Hill
Distillery: Old Heaven Hill Springs Distillery
Released: September 2016
Age: 24 Years
Mashbill: 78% Corn, 12% Malted Barley, 10% Rye
Color: Warm Copper
MSRP: $250 (2016)
This is the 10th yearly edition of the Parker’s Heritage Collection (PHC). This year’s release features two separate Bottled in Bond (BiB) vintages, one distilled in the Fall of 1990 and the other in the Spring of 1991 at Heaven Hill’s distillery in Bardstown, Kentucky (D.S.P. KY-31), which was destroyed in 1996 by fire along with seven rickhouses and over 90,000 aging barrels. As a result, this year’s bottling is sometimes referred to as “pre-fire.” At 24 years old, it is believed to be the oldest BiB bourbon released to date by any distillery. For every bottle sold, Heaven Hill will contribute $15 to ALS research and treatment in honor of the late Parker Beam who lost a six year battle with the disease in January 2017.
The bourbon in review is from the Spring 1991 batch.
Light intensity with woody components throughout. Off-smelling seasoned wood combines with allspice and a trace of ethanol to create a delicate spice. Inhaling with more intensity I get very light traces of burnt sawdust and freshly cut wood. The scents are intriguing, but don’t make for an overly welcome invitation to take a sip.
Seasoned wood comes first, leaning more towards rich than spicy. While it starts off dry, a torrent of heavy, aged oak brings a mouth-coating viscosity along with it. A hint of burnt s'mores sweetness mingles with black pepper and allspice towards the end. With the exception of the initial dryness, there’s a “soggy” flavor characteristic throughout, like funky, dank musty old wood, but it’s not as awful as it sounds. It makes for an interesting, albeit strange, experience.
Medium to long, it starts with some bitterness from the seasoned wood, but transitions to sweet with a bit of chocolate towards the end. Not surprisingly, soggy oak characteristics dominate at the start, but they find some balance against light cinnamon and black pepper spice, which are eventually overtaken by the sweetness. This combination succeeds at leaving a nice last impression.
I’ve always thought the more unique a bourbon tastes, the more polarizing it will be among drinkers. This is no exception. The Parker’s Heritage Collection is different every year, often pushing the envelope on concept and style. Close in age, the second edition of the Collection was a little older at 27 years, but it was more balanced, possibly due in part to its lower proofpoint and no doubt barrel selection.
This 24 year old 100 proof Bottled in Bond edition is, at its core, a unique example of how bourbon that’s aged well beyond the more common 4-12 year time frame can ultimately taste. Recent comparisons include the high-aged Orphan Barrels, Evan Williams 23 Year, and the annual Pappy Van Winkle 23 Year, which few will have the opportunity to taste. Probably most comparable and widely released is Heaven Hill’s own Elijah Craig 23 Year, and of course the other high aged bourbons in the series. While I’d describe my last taste of the Elijah Craig 23 Year as an oak bomb, Parker’s 10th goes a different route. With its characteristic “sogginess,” it’s as if the barrels aging Parker’s didn’t experience a tremendous amount of evaporation loss, but rather retained a good amount of moisture over the years. Maybe the barrels themselves were a bit more soggy as they aged, retaining more water than usual due to their specific location in the rickhouse. I’m just speculating about all of this, but given the resulting flavor profile, I can’t help but think there may have been a unique aging situation at play. In any event, this is a 100 proof 24 year old Bottled in Bond bourbon with a characteristically unusual flavor profile, leaving few comparables out there.
The value proposition with limited releases is a tricky one, as lack of continuous supply ultimately means scarcity will become reality sooner or later. The concept of scarcity has become a carefully manufactured marketing tool for some of the companies behind today’s releases, but marketing is not always to blame. While I’m certainly not privy to Heaven Hill’s bourbon stocks, the idea that this particular release is truly limited and they’re running low on quality high aged stock doesn’t seem far fetched.
The Parker’s Heritage Collection has generally been met with mixed feelings, and as a result, seems more attainable at MSRP than other high profile limited releases. The 10th edition is no exception. At $250 out of the gate, it’s no bargain but certainly not outlandish by today’s standards considering it’s age, unique flavor profile, “pre-fire” status, and most notably what consumers seem to be willing to pay for the exclusivity they’ll enjoy in owning a bottle.
But taste matters. An impressive whiskey on paper, there’s more value here in the form of a collector’s item than as a bourbon with a must-have flavor profile. While I’m always one for opening and sharing, I can’t get behind the price tag for any reason other than to own a piece of history. If you think you might really enjoy this release, you’ll be better served trying before buying at this price point or at its even higher going rate on the secondary market. Considering its $250 MSRP as a starting point, even trying is going to cost you, so be prepared to pay in order to satisfy your curiosity.
A relic of a distillery that once was, Parker’s Heritage 10th edition is a unique example of how polarizing the flavor profile of a bourbon aged over two decades can be.
I give Heaven Hill a lot of credit for pushing the envelope with their Parker’s Heritage Collection limited releases. Producing a high number of Bottled in Bond whiskeys as a whole within the industry, it’s not surprising they eventually chose to release the oldest one to date. While the resulting flavor profile offers many things, mass appeal is not one of them. Maybe it’s partly due to lack of experience with and varied opinions of what we think a really old bourbon “should” or “might” taste like, the fact is I’m not surprised how polarizing this release has been among consumers. I find myself a bit ambivalent towards it, and as a result can appreciate how someone may either love or hate this release. That said, I hope Heaven Hill continues to push the envelope with their Parker’s releases each year. I’d encourage enthusiasts who didn’t find much to love with this version to keep the idea in mind that pushing the envelope, even if the end product isn’t to your liking, can ultimately be a positive thing. I’m certainly looking forward to the next edition, whatever it might be.
The sample used for this review was provided at no cost courtesy of James Saunders (@JamesSaun). We thank him for allowing us to review it with no strings attached.