|4 year old; The Six; the new 7 year old|
So one of my favorite bottles was the Heaven Hill Bottled in Bond 6 Years Old in the white label. I liked the way that bottle poured down the long neck, I liked the smack in the face of its unapologetic big corn/big oak character, and I sure did like that $14 (or less) price tag. That and Wild Turkey 101 were the bourbons that led me to realize that I preferred bourbons on the low side of 12 years old.
I felt betrayed when Heaven Hill pulled the Bonded Six from the market last year. That's a little harsh; it makes sense. Why put such great whiskey in a bottle for $14 ($21 for a handle!), when whiskeys that aren't even as good are selling for four times that? It simply no longer made sense for Heaven Hill, even with their long and loyal practice of supporting markets that had supported them (in this case, the bottom shelf bandits, I guess). I get it.
But now we get Heaven Hill Bottled-in-Bond 7 year old, and it's $40 a bottle. Where's that rise in price come from? An extra year of age, and I guess the Bottled-in-Bond hyphens aren't free, and that is a very snazzy new bottle and label. But you know me Al: how's it taste?
I just went through the process of sorting all my bourbons and ryes, so I knew I had not only the Bonded Six and the new bottling, but a 'pint' bottle of Old Heaven Hill Bonded, a 4 year old that I believe is still out there. Let's taste them.
Old Heaven Hill Bottled in Bond — No age statement, but I'm guessing this probably isn't much over 4 years old. Sweet corn on the nose, some hot oaky alcohol, and some pleasantly delicate nuts and fruit pastilles there as well. Simple but well-built on the tongue: everything the nose promises, with a bit of creamy sweetness as well, and maybe a hint of green corn. Decent finish. Better than I remember, to be honest.
Heaven Hill Bottled in Bond 6 Years Old — Given the age of this bottle (I found it buried in the back of my liquor cabinet), it was likely laid down by Parker and Craig Beam. In Parker's honor, I'll note that I smell corn, and oak! I also smell lots of spicy candy, coffee cake streusel, and sweet stollen dough. Big entry: hot corn pudding, Red Hots, peppermint oil, and a beginning of the oak that will build through the finish. The heat is a rock-em sock-em kind of thing, a punch, but a gloved punch that's not going to knock your palate out. Instead, it brings you back for more, like the soothing pummeling of a massage. I want to finish the sample, but I'll have to come back to it.
Heaven Hill 7 Year Old Bottled In Bond — Trying hard to clear my head of expectations... The nose has more candy -- orange nougat, butter mints -- but also lots of cornmeal and dusty seed corn, along with whiskey-wet barrel oak. Quite different from the Bonded Six on the palate: smoother, more cornmeal and dried corn, the Red Hots are lighter and not as sweet. That's it: it's a lighter, almost brittle sweetness over a richer corn and oak underlayment, almost like a crème brûlée kind of structure (not flavor; structure). The end of the palate and into the finish is more austere, and shorter.
When I go back to the Bonded Six after this, it seems a lot sweeter, until that finish, which piles on the oak. That's where I think the Bonded Six has the advantage; the finish on the 7 Year Old is shorter, and less...magnificent. The 7 has a more interesting nose, it has more balanced flavor that we'll call 'separate but equal,' but that Bonded Six finish is something I'm going to miss.
Is the Heaven Hill 7 Year Old Bonded worth $40? At 100° and 7 years old, baby, most definitely! Especially when I look around at what else is going for $40 these days. Hell, get a bottle of this and a bottle of New Riff Bonded for about the same price, and you'll have $80 well-spent; catch the right store pricing, and you'll have enough left over for lemons, superfine sugar, and chips for a whiskey sour party you won't soon forget. This steps lightly and brightly along the edge of young bonded power and mature whiskey sophistication, a young boxer who just got his first silk suit.
Are the days of punch-in-the-face bourbon gone? There are always 4 year olds that will slap you: Beam White, Jack Black. There are 8 to 12 year olds that will body-slam you: Russell's Reserve, Knob Creek. But when I go looking for the solid haymaker to the chops that was the Bonded Six...I'm not sure it's going to be out there. Maybe I need to get out Jimmy's Remedy: Turkey 101. I'll let you know about that.