Thursday, February 28, 2013

Dusty Thursday: Pre-Fire Heaven Hill


November 7, 1996 was a sad day in bourbon history.  It was the day when fire ravaged the old Heaven Hill distillery in Bardstown, Kentucky. The distillery was destroyed.  Over the next few years, the other Kentucky distilleries pitched in to help it distill, notably Brown Forman which made all of Heaven Hill's Rittenhouse rye through last year.  In 1999, Heaven Hill bought the Bernheim Distillery, a state of the art distillery owned by Diageo which it had used to make wheated bourbon after it closed Stitzel-Weller but was now trying to unload.

Pre-fire Heaven Hill whiskeys are getting dustier and dustier.  There are a number of bottles still around, and certainly, all of the whiskeys aged over around 16 years are, of course, pre-fire, but it's pretty tough to find younger pre-fire whiskeys.  Today's is an Old Heaven Hill Bottled in Bond.  It has no age statement, but we know it's pre-fire because Bonded whiskeys are required to list the distillery number and this one clearly states DSP-KY-31 on the back label (The new Heaven Hill/Bernheim distillery would be DSP-KY-1).  This one was bottled around 2001.

Old Heaven Hill BIB, 50% abv.

The nose on this super sweet with maple syrup, cotton candy and corn syrup.  It's like a trip to the fair.  The palate is light, sweet and buttery, then it turns to a medicinal cough syrupy note which lasts into the finish.

This is not my favorite flavor profile.  It's too sweet on the nose and too medicinal on the palate.  I've had some great pre-fire Heaven Hill, but I'd likely choose a later Bernheim era Heavean Hill BIB over this one.

That's the thing with dusties; you never know what you're going to get.



12 comments:

BMc said...

Yours almost definitely is pre-fire, I agree, but I thought that distilleries were allowed to use up all of their old labels before being required to switch to new ones. If that's true, the distillery number might not be accurate with HH BiBs bottled around that time period.

sku said...

BMc, I'm not aware of any regulation that would allow that, particularly if it made the new labels inaccurate. The whole point of the BIB law is to identify the distillery.

BMc said...

Thanks for making me aware of what a label is for.

Maybe this will increase your own awareness:
http://www.bourbonenthusiast.com/forum/viewtopic.php?f=4&t=8830

Scroll down to Chuck and PaulO's comments. Admittedly, it's just two guys typing, but I doubt Chuck would make that up.

Eric said...

Someone posted news footage of the fire on Youtube a while ago. It's quite horrifying to say the least. I'm not sure about the direct link but searching on Youtube should bring it up.

sku said...

Eric, here you go: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v6XtnqDLC_k

sku said...

Hey BMC, it wasn't my intent to offend or be sarcastic. As I said, I just wasn't aware of it, and it seems to fly against everything the BIB act stands for, though with the TTB these days, nothing would surprise me. I'll ask Chuck about it. Thanks for the link.

sam k said...

I'm as confused as you are, Sku. Chuck's comment on that forum thread implies that a warehouse can be listed as a "producer," even though it does not distill whiskey, and that a simple overstock of labels (no matter how large) allows a distiller to incorrectly identify the required information indefinitely.

If this is true, the Bottled in Bond act means nothing, and the information we've been relying on for historical accuracy all these years is useless. Huh?

Maybe Chuck can clarify if he's following this.

Curtis said...

I've found a few old bottles of Cyrus Noble that I believe are pre-fire HH. They have a green (grassy) flavor profile that I'm fond of.

Chuck Cowdery said...

It was with regard to Rittenhouse that the folks at HH told me TTB allows them to use up old labels that may not accurately indicate where the spirit was distilled. I suspect there are limitations but I don't know the details. As for using the DSP where matured instead of the DSP where distilled, there was some talk that you could use the DSP where the spirit was entered into the barrel instead of the distillery but I am now pretty sure that is incorrect. For BIBs, it's pretty clear that it has to be where distilled.

sku said...

Thanks so much for the response Chuck. I wonder if the Rittenhouse thing was a special dispensation for the fire (assuming you mean they were allowed to use up the old HH labels before switching to Brown Forman).

BMc said...

Sorry I was so edgy, Sku.

Have you had any others from before the fire? I would exclude the Elijah Craig 18s, since the long aging likely take them pretty far from the typical HH profile. I've had a gold label HH 80 proof from the 1980s, and it might be the worst whiskey I've ever tasted. I'm fond of HH, though, so I assume that was not representative of the quality in general.

sku said...

Well, when I started drinking Elijah 12, it was all pre-fire, and I liked it a lot more then than I do now, but that could be due to other factors in addition to the change in distillery. And of course, those old Rittenhouses distilled in 1984 (21, 23, 25) which are very nice, though obviously long aged.

It may just be, as someone else suggested to me in response to this post, that HH gold label is not very good stuff.