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Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Parker's Heritage Collection #4: 10 Year Old Wheated Bourbon

Ten years ago, Parker Beam started mashing wheated bourbon at Heaven Hill (well, okay, at Bernheim, the distillery Heaven Hill bought after theirs burned in 1996). The distillery had bought the Old Fitzgerald brand, and that is a wheated mashbill, so...Parker made wheated bourbon for the first time.

The Parker's Heritage Collection -- fine whiskeys from Heaven Hill's warehouses, selected by Mister Beam himself -- has put forth some real beauties lately, like this one. But this year, the Collection backs down from the extreme -- amazing -- age of the the last two (and backs down in price quite a bit, too), bringing us a 10 year old bottling of those first runs of wheated bourbon. This sample is non-chill filtered, and bottled at 127.8° of barrel proof, and it's just drinkable at full strength, which is pretty impressive. I know, I guys can all drink uncut Stagg, whatever. I'm talking about a seriously overproof whiskey that you can actually drink without wincing.

So what do I get when I do? Sweet youthful corn, King syrup, sweet grass, and just a touch of mint make up the nose. The whiskey is overproof hot, but yields oak spice, cornbread, vanilla, and more mint on the end. Let's be smart and add some water. Much the same, without the heat; more enjoyable, good balance. You know...I screwed up and added too much water, and this whiskey didn't fall apart. Good sign.

I'm tasting it with some other wheated bourbons, like Very Special Old Fitzgerald (which I reviewed ten years ago here), Maker's Mark, Weller Antique, and a 19 year old W.L. Weller from Sazerac's Antique Collection. Let's make some comparisons. The VSOF (12 years old and 90° proof; made at Bernheim, but not by Parker) is richer, but simpler at the same time: the sweetness is more pronounced. Maker's Mark is the sweetest of the lot, though it still holds up well at around 6 years of age. Weller Antique has more of the overproof bite at 107° proof and about 7 years of age; the wood is a bit more forward on the higher proof, but I still love this one. The 19 year old Weller, though, doesn't hold up well in this relatively young company, tasting decidedly old and woody.

Back to the Parker's...decided difference here. I'm recalling that Parker likes them "high and dry," from the hotter floors, not sappy, with a firm wood note. It's here, and I think they caught it before it got too big. That's really pretty nice right at full-bore.

There's a similarity (not to say 'sameness'!) among these whiskeys, and it's not a lack of rye spice, but rather a firm sweetness; not sugary, but like that King syrup, or light molasses, a more mature sweetness. I should have maybe trotted out the bottle of Bernheim...maybe another night. I do think you'll like this one. I do.


Sam Komlenic said...

Nice description. Sounds like another worthy whiskey. I commented on John's blog that I thought it was pretty pricey for a 10 year old, but if Parker nurtured it all 10 years, and comes at barrel proof, I'm much more comfortable with the price.

Not totally comfortable, mind you, but more so than before. I really like the was a pleasant surprise.

the infamous roger said...

"Wheated?" Does that mean some wheat in place of some corn?

Lew Bryson said...

Thanks, Sam. You know, I've taken to carrying the Bernheim in my flask when I'm going out with people who don't know bourbon; they really take to its smoothness. It's a nice whiskey.

Roger, "wheated" bourbons... Bourbon is made with corn (about 70%), malted barley (for the enzymatic action in the mash), and a third grain, which is usually rye, but in some whiskeys, like the ones I tasted tonight, is wheat. It gives the whiskey a different character, aroma, and taste.

Gary Gillman said...

Sounds good. I always figured the Parker-distilled wheat bourbon had potential beyond the four year old Old Fitzgerald. I always liked Bernheim Straight Wheat too, it seemed to me a perfect halfway point between good Canadian whisky and bourbon.


Anonymous said...

Is Parker Beam related to the Beams of Jim Beam? Is Heaven Hill owned by Jim Beam? If yes to the first and no to the second, does everybody get along? If yes to the second, does the U.S. have a situation like Irelands, where 90% of the whiskeys come from three distilleries?

Lew Bryson said...

Yes, Parker (and his son, Craig, also a master distiller at Heaven Hill) is part of the same Beam family as Jim Beam; the Beams were involved in a number of distilleries in the past 220 years. But although every drop of Heaven Hill whiskey has been distilled by a Beam, they are entirely independent and family-owned (the Shapira family, who invested in the distillery post-Repeal). They definitely get along, too: put all the master bourbon distillers in a room (as we did at WhiskyFest Chicago a few years ago), and it's more like a family or high school reunion than a meeting of rivals. It's a very close-knit community.

Sam Komlenic said...

Excellent comparison, Gary! I really expected Bernheim to have a particularly light flavor profile, but there are things going on in there that impress me, and I tend to be a fan of bigger whiskeys.

For as much deserved praise as has been heaped on Buffalo Trace products, whiskey fans are finally starting to take Heaven Hill seriously, which should have happened long ago. Maybe it took so long just because HH didn't do much in the way of enthusiast bottlings; just kept rolling along forever with great affordable whiskeys, which may have kept them under the radar.

Way to go Heaven Hill!

Greg said...

I love this review, especially the use of King syrup as a descriptor. I am going down the the bourbon trail in a couple of weeks, I can't wait to try some new stuff. Any suggestions for the trip? I just found your blog and added it to my reading list. I just started my own blog I don't want to step on your toes it has a similar subject matter but in my opinion spreading the word about good drink can only help our cause. Cheers!

Sam Komlenic said...

Hey coming up for air anytime soon?

Lew Bryson said...

Yeah, we were on vacation, far from WiFi. Got back last night.