The past few years, I have largely sat out the fall release extravaganza in the bourbon/whiskey world. Following them online can be great fun, but knowing so few would make it to Michigan precluded me from searching for them. Outside of the obvious Pappy Van Winkle and Buffalo Trace Antique Collection releases being hard to find, rarely have I seen an Old Forester Birthday Bourbon, a Parker’s Heritage or a Elijah Craig 21-22-23 on shelves here in the great Mitten state.
THis year was different, both in selection and my personal hunt. I decided to go after more of this year’s fall releases, and was pleased to find that many more were coming to Michigan, albeit in very very small numbers. And earlier this month, when the Bourbonr Blog posted their poll winners for the best of the 2014 Fall releases, I was proud to say I was able to hunt down half of them, including 5 of the top 10.
So now it’s time to start sampling them, and I opened with an absolute doozy – the 8th Edition of Heaven Hill’s Parker’s Heritage, a 13 year old Wheat Whiskey. And in a word, wow.
The Parker’s Heritage label was started by Heaven Hill in 2007 to pay tribute to their Master Distiller Parker Beam. Parker Beam (and yes, he is of the Jim Beam family) has been with Heaven Hill since 1960, and been the Master Distiller there since 1975.
The first Parker’s Heritage, in 2007, was an 11-year old cask strength. Every fall since then, Heaven Hill has issued another limited edition, small bottling of a unique whiskey to pay tribute to Parker.
This year, it is a 13-year old Wheat Whiskey, made from the initial barrels of Bernheim Wheat Whiskey. Bernheim is bottled at 7 years old, so this years P.H. has an extra six years in the barrel – and these barrels were on the top floors of Heaven Hill Rickhouse Y. It has a minimum of 51% soft winter wheat in the mashbill, and to top that off, it was bottled at cask strength and without cold filtering. This years Parker’s Heritage is the closest thing you can get to drinking it straight from the barrel. But how was it?
The nose jumped out at me with a real serious burn. And why not – at 127.4 proof, it had better! I let it sit for a minute and tried again, but it was still hot and not giving away anything. A little water and things were looking up. There was a deep honey and caramel, and a tang of what I would describe as citrus. The wood notes were muted, but I got a hint of baking spices and even a fresh biscuit-like smell.
The taste was outstanding. The first sip was heavy in the oak and baking spices I would expect from, well, a cask strength 13-year old wheat whiskey. But unbelievably smooth. The wood taste wasn’t tannic either – there wasn’t a bitterness, just a smooth woodiness and spice. The sweeter tastes – vanilla, a touch of toffee candy – swirled around as the thick pour subsided into a soft but lingering finish full of cinnamon and clove, and again a biscuity goodness.
The first taste was so good, in fact, that I dove directly into another – and again, it was fantastic. To have such a sweet nose, a complex taste full of character but not overpowering with bitter or tannins, and a medium, smooth finish that ends dry like coconut and oak, but not harsh in any way.
The Parker’s Heritage 8th Edition is one of my favorite whiskies of all time. Perfectly blended and delivered. It just makes me all that more sad that it will not be available again. Well done, Heaven Hill.
Dan’s Rating: 9.5
Master Distiller Parker Beam was diagnosed with ALS, or Lou Gehrig Disease, several years back. In addition to a portion of Parker’s Heritage sales going to ALS research, you can visit his ALS Promise Fund page here, and support a great cause for a legendary man.