Parker’s Heritage Collection 8y.o. Heavy Char Rye Review (2019 Release)

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Rising from the ashes of Prohibition and into the midst of the Great Depression in Bardstown, KY, Heaven Hill Distillery has grown to be the largest independent family-owned and operated producers of distilled spirits products in the US, and the second-largest holder of bourbon whiskey inventory in the world. The distillery was set up in 1935 after a small group approached the Shapira family seeking capital investment to set up a distillery using their technical expertise. Following personal financial difficulties among the other members of the founding group, their interests in the “Old Heavenhill Springs” distillery was bought out by the Shapira family making the distillery a fully family-owned enterprise. With renewed purpose the family kept on one of the original investors, James L. Beam as Master Distiller, and hired the best bourbon producing talent they could find in their local Bardstown. Four years later in 1939 they released their first product, a 4 year old Bottled in Bond bourbon under the Old Heaven Hill brand. The brand quickly became one of the top selling bourbons in the State and cemented the distillery’s position as one of the top bourbon producers in Kentucky at the time. The name of the distillery originates from the family name of William Heavenhill who was an early pioneer farmer and owned the original property on which the distillery sat. When originally registering the company a clerical mistake resulted in the name becoming Heaven Hill as opposed to Heavenhill.

On November 7th 1996 a fire that started in one of the barrel ageing warehouses spread by strong winds, destroying almost the entire distillery and numerous ageing warehouses. Overall 90,000 barrels of whisky were lost and for the next 3 years the company was dependent on production capacity in neighbouring distilleries. In 1999 Heaven Hill completed the purchase of the Old Bernheim Distillery from Diageo in Louisville and once the distillery was adapted, the production and distillation end moved to Louisville whilst ageing, bottling, and shipping still occur on the original Bardstown site.

Today the modern iteration of the company, Heaven Hill Brands, has become a diversified supplier of whiskeys, liqueurs, vodkas, rums and other spirits. They own 57 rickhouses in Central KY and distribute over 48 brands including 17 bourbon labels such as Henry McKenna, Elijah Craig, Evan William, Larceny, Old Fitzgerald, and Rittenhouse rye to name a few. The distillery also has the largest number of Bottled in Bond whiskies on the market and is the only heritage distiller that features every major category of American whiskey in their 5 distinct mashbills producing traditional bourbon, wheated bourbon, rye whiskey, corn whiskey, and wheat whiskey. Under 7th Master Distiller (and fellow countryman) Conor O’Driscoll the distillery is on course to fill lamost 400,000 barrels this year and with continued investment production capacity is growing every year to meet rising demand.


First Launched in 2007 to honour Heaven Hill’s late Master Distiller of over 50 years Parker Beam, Parker’s Heritage Collection is an annual limited release whiskey that, until his untimely passing in 2017, consisted of whiskey chosen by Parker himself from some of his favourite spots in the Heaven Hill’s many warehouses or from some of his favourite blends, styles, and barrel finishes. With the first edition introducing the bourbon world to Heaven Hill’s first barrel-proof bourbon, this annual release has since grown to be one of the most sought-after whiskies of the year and has featured a wide range of Heaven Hill stocks including malt whiskey, rye whiskey, wheated bourbon, high rye bourbon, as well as some very interesting barrel finished whiskies and blends.

In the fall of 2012, Parker was diagnosed with Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) which is an incurable and progressive nervous system disease which affects nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord, causing loss of muscle control over time. With his diagnosis announced publicly in early 2013, the focus of the Parker’s Heritage Collection shifted from being a unique whiskey experience for consumers, to also becoming a platform for Parker to both advocate for those with ALS, raise much-needed funds for further research into the disease, and also directly improving the quality of life of those with the disease. As such, since the 2013 ‘Promise of Hope’ release, a part of the proceeds from the sales of each bottle sold has been going towards the US-based ALS association’s Parker’s Promise of Hope Fund. In the 7 years since the creation of the fund, Heaven Hill, their regional distributors, and local retailers have raised over $1 million toward ALS research and patient care.

Released in 2019, the 13th edition release of Parker’s Heritage Collection saw the first ever Kentucky straight rye whiskey bottled under this annual release. Made from a batch of 75 barrels, the whiskey matured in specialty barrels charred for a full minute and a half, as opposed to Heaven Hill’s standard 40 seconds. These “Level 5” barrels were then matured for 8 years, 9 months on the seventh floor of Rick house Y, allowing the whiskey to penetrate further into the heavily charred barrel due to the heat, and the resulting whiskey was bottled without chill filtration at 105 proof. This release was the first to feature whiskey matured in heavily charred barrels, as opposed to the traditionally charred barrels typically used by Heaven Hill, and was followed by a 10y.o. Heavy Char bourbon release in 2020 and a Heavy Char Wheat whiskey due in 2021. Below are some images (courtesy of Heaven Hill’s website) which show what a level 5 char looks like when compared to the traditional level 3 char. Looking at the two side by side it’s clear how a full minute and a half of heat, as opposed to a traditional 40 seconds, impacts the wood that the spirit then interacts with as it ages. Add this to a long maturation on the top floors of a rickhouse in the KY heat and the extraction is no doubt significant.

Left to right: 15s char (lvl 1), 40s char (lvl 3), 1m30s char (lvl 5)

Vital Stats:

Name: Parker’s Heritage Collection – Heavy Char Barrels Kentucky Straight Rye Whiskey
Age: 8 y.o.
Proof: 105 Proof (52.5% ABV)
Type: Kentucky straight rye whiskey
Mashbill: 51% rye, 35% corn, 14% malted barley
Producer: Heaven Hill Distillery, KY
Website: 
https://heavenhilldistillery.com/parkers-heritage-collection.php
Glassware: Glencairn

Review

Nose: The nose opens with cacao powder and barrel spices layered over herbaceous rye and dark fruit dusted with a fine coating of cinnamon. Nosing deeper, ethanol fades to more baking spices, dried red fruit, deeper herbaceous notes, and salted chocolate.

Palate: The palate opens viscous with barrel-forward notes of leather and deep maple syrup fading to dry peppery rye, earthy baking spices, and dried dark fruits. These are followed by a herbaceous kick of rye spice on the mid-palate that reveals down the cheeks before earthy roasted almonds, dark chocolate, and more herbaceous notes emerge.

Finish: The finish opens with lingering rye spice from the palate, aswell as cacao, faint dried red & dark fruit, and leads into a warm KY hug and aftertaste of tannic charred oak, herbaceous rye, and faint maple syrup sweetness.

Overall 

This is a delicious rye whiskey that brings classic Heaven Hill rye notes bolstered by added herbaceous, oak, and tannic spice notes. It is packed full of concentrated flavours with herbaceous rye and heavy-charred oak doing equal parts lifting whilst deep maple syrup and dried dark fruits bring a touch of sweetness to balance the spice and overall profile. It’s every bit the herbaceous and oak forward rye whiskey and drinks higher than its proof. The impact of the heavy char seems to be in driving these herbaceous rye notes, however, these don’t overshadow the rest of the whiskey and it still has brown sugar sweetness, it still has almond notes, and there’s still a touch of that dried red and dark fruit notes about to round the whole thing out. As a big fan of Heaven Hill’s rye whiskies this whiskey gave me that same flavour-driven experience but with those flavours and the complexity being a couple of notches higher. As an exploration of how maturation in heavily charred casks would effect a KY-style rye I would mark this a success and would definitely recommend this for those who love Heaven Hill’s rye whiskies but want to taste them with added nuance and robust complexity. When I tasted this I wasn’t sure how a 105 proof Heaven Hill rye would compare to a classic release like Pikesville 110 – which is cheaper and higher in proof. Tasting both side by side, however, this definitely stands on its own and brings flavours and complexity beyond what I’m getting from my Pikesville 110 or the rest of the Heaven Hill rye portfolio.

This is my second experience of a whiskey from the Parker’s Heritage Collection, the previous being the 10y.o. bourbon also aged in heavily charred barrels. As with the bourbon, I think this was a success and has taken a profile we all know and love and elevated in a way I think Parker himself would have approved of. These annual releases have always featured at the forefront of some of Heaven Hill’s best innovations with either their mashbills, special barrel finishes, or special blends, and this release is no different. First created by Parker Beam to showcase spirits or nuances on classic mashbills that didn’t fit other Heaven Hill brands, Parker’s Heritage Collection has maintained this tradition even after the untimely passing of the man himself and continues to do so in a way that is mindful and respectful of the standards he set, and his vision for the brand. This release continues to push the boundaries of innovation and has taught us all a valuable lesson about what works when it comes to using heavy charred barrels for ageing Heaven Hill’s KY-style rye. Do I think Parker would be proud of this release? Yes, and although I never met the man, I have heard him, and those close to him, speak about this line of whiskies with great reverence and I think every care and effort has been made by Heaven Hill’s team to craft this release to Parker’s exacting standards.

Try or Buy?

This was the release that kick started the Heavy Char Barrels trend we’ve seen continue in 2020 and now in 2021. It’s robust, it’s complex, and offers Heaven Hill fans a unique opportunity to taste their rye profile like you’ve never tasted it before. With an RRP of $150 it’s above my ‘buy now!’ $100 threshold, however, it’s worth remembering that each bottle sold has a direct positive impact on someone’s quality of life. Therefore, I’d say if you can find this for under $200, and it’s within your budget, seriously consider it.

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Before you go…

Before you go…

Before you go…

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