Monday, August 1, 2016
Ten Years of Parker's Heritage Collection
Last week, Heaven Hill cleared a label for the tenth release of its Parker's Heritage Collection, which will be a 24 year old bottled in bond bourbon. Given that it's now been around for a decade, I thought this would be a good time to look at the Collection as a whole over the years. For each bottling, I've included the original price.
First Edition (2007) Cask Strength Bourbon ($80): The very first release of Parker's was a high power bourbon. Composed of 68 barrels distilled in 1996, it was released in three batches at slightly different proofs (122.6, 127.4 & 129.6). This was a delicious monster of a bourbon (and as per the world of 2007, it sat on shelves for months). The 122.6 proof is still my favorite of the entire Parker's series.
Second Edition (2008) 27 Year Old Bourbon, 48% abv ($185): These days, we're used to bourbon aged well into its third decade, but back in '08, few bourbons pushed past the 20 year mark and this 27 year old was, by far, the oldest bourbon available when it came out. That being said, it's a rare bourbon that can hold up over 20 years, and this one had some musty, old woody notes. It was good but didn't reach the heights of the first release.
Third Edition (2009) Golden Anniversary, 50% abv ($150): In honor of Parker Beam's 50 years at Heaven Hill, the Third Edition of Parker's combined bourbons from each decade he was on the job going back to the 1960s. This one made waves for receiving the highest rating to date from Malt Advocate Magazine (now Whisky Advocate): 97 points. I liked it but wasn't quite that enthusiastic; I thought it was on the sweet side. (I'm not sure why I never wrote this one up on the blog but I did rate it for the LA Whiskey Society).
Fourth Edition (2010) 10 Year old Wheated Bourbon, 63.9% abv ($80): After a couple of years of high priced Parker's that I liked but didn't love, Heaven Hill dropped a cask strength ten year old wheated bourbon and lowered the price back down to $80. And it was great! It had a great balance of sweet, savory and oaky notes. This was particularly surprising since Heaven Hill's standard wheated bourbons were mostly an afterthought back then. This is my second favorite after the First Edition.
Fifth Edition (2011) Barrel Finished, 10 years old, 50% abv ($80): This was a ten year old bourbon finished for six months in Frapin Cognac casks. The Cognac really came through and made for a tasty, if not exceptional bourbon.
Sixth Edition (2012) Blend of Mashbills, 11 years old ($80): The sixth edition was a blend of rye and wheat recipe bourbons bottled at cask strength. Like the first edition, this one was released in three batches at three different abvs (65.8%, 68.95% & 69.7%). This bourbon managed to capture the good elements of both mashbills and was a solid bourbon. This was probably the last of the very good to great Parker's Heritage Collection whiskeys. After 2012, the series really went into decline.
Seventh Edition (2013) Promise of Hope, 10 years old, 48% abv ($90): In 2013, Parker Beam, the Heaven Hill Master Distiller who the Heritage Collection was named for, announced that he had ALS. The Promise of Hope bottling helped raise awareness of ALS, and for every bottle sold, $20 went to ALS research. This was a ten year old, single barrel, rye recipe bourbon; 100 barrels were released. It was a noble cause to be sure, but while it was a decent bourbon, dry with a chaotic palate, it wasn't great.
Eighth Edition (2014) Wheat Whiskey, 13 years old ($90). For years, Heaven Hill was the only major distillery that produced a straight wheat whiskey (Bernheim Wheat), so it made sense that they would use one in a Parker's Release. This one had two batches at different abvs: 63.4% and 63.7%. I thought the 63.7% was decent for a wheat whiskey, but I found the 63.4% to be a sour and acidic mess. Most others didn't see much of a difference between the two.
Ninth Edition (2015) Malt Whiskey, 8 years old, 54% abv ($100). This was a pretty surprising release. Who even knew that Heaven Hill had made malt whiskey, but here it was, and it was pretty bad. I found it soapy and cardboardy with no complexity. Definitely my least favorite of the entire series.
Will this year's 24 year old return the Parker's Heritage Collection to its past glory? Will it set a record for pricing of the series? Will anyone be able to find it? Will Heaven Hill ever appease the whiskey geeks who have been pining for a 10 year old cask strength rye or a really old corn whiskey? Time will tell.
ADDENDUM (To keep the list complete)
Tenth Edition (2016) 24 Year Old BIB, 50% abv ($250). Pre-fire Heaven Hill bourbon distilled in 1990 and 1991.
Eleventh Edition (2017) 11 Year Old Single Barrel, 61% abv ($130). This single barrels that were bottled for this edition all came from Rickhouses in Deatsville which, according to Heaven Hill, was Parker Beam's favorite rickhouse location. The precise rickhouse and floor is listed on each bottle.