Heaven Hill has some great old whiskeys tucked away deep in the recesses of their 49 rickhouses; they are, as they'll take care to remind you, "the world's second-largest holder of aging American Whiskey with over 700,000 barrels." They've been releasing little dribs and dabs of that huge storehouse, but they've let me get an advance taste of the first of a series of bottlings of rare, aged whiskeys (and remember: Heaven Hill has rye and wheated bourbons, rye whiskey, aged corn whiskey, and of course, the Bernheim wheat whiskey in those rickhouses) that they're going to be issuing, a series they're calling Parker's Heritage Collection, a tribute to their master distiller, Parker Beam.
I have a deep respect for Parker's abilities as a master distiller, surpassed only by my respect for his abilities at selecting special barrels for bottlings like this. He's proved that ability year after year with the Evan Williams Single Barrel Vintage bottlings, masterful whiskeys that line one shelf here at home (and for those of you who bitterly resent "all that free whiskey you get," I buy at least two bottles a year of this stuff, for myself and for friends).
This new bottling lives up to that reputation...and then some, a clear contender for my Whiskey of the Year. I'll quote: "This first edition...will be a cask-strength [guys...it's bourbon. Anything wrong with "barrel-proof"?] 1996 bourbon that has mellowed over 48 Kentucky seasons on the fifth floor of Rickhouse Y in Bardstown. The bottling was drawn from a lot of 68 carefully selected barrels, which were dumped in three "very small batches" of 22, 22, and 24 barrels each. The bourbon is then dumped at barrel-proof [there we go!] marking the first time that Heaven Hill has released a barrel-proof bourbon in the U.S. This cask-strength whiskey will only fill about 6,400 750 ml bottles, and the proofs of the three batches range from 122.6 to 130.9... Parker Beam...personally selected these barrels for their superb nose, robust flavor and long smooth finish."
That's great, but how is it? Fantastic. I'm nosing some right now, and while the heat's definitely there (I got some of the 122.6 batch), it's not burning my nose. Plenty of vanilla, sweet burnt sugar, a drying hint of oak. The flavors puddle and linger on the tongue and soar and loft in the palate: sweet corn, hot vanilla, a touch of cinnamon and a crisp fleeting peppery note, and a long, lingering finish that twists through sweet notes of maple and corn, spicy oak dryness, and the solid authority of overproof whiskey. Mighty fine stuff indeed. Hats off to Parker Beam.