Heaven Hill Heritage Collection 20y.o. Kentucky Straight Corn Whiskey Review (2023)

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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 producer 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 were 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 was on course to fill almost 400,000 barrels last year and with continued investment production capacity is growing every year to meet rising demand.

Launched in 2022 and released each spring, the Heaven Hill Heritage Collection is an annual limited release of some of the distillery’s oldest stocks from its inventory of ageing whiskies. Targeted at the ultra-premium bourbon market, each release features one of Heaven Hill’s 6 distinct American whiskey mashbills aged into the double digits and hand-picked by Master Distiller Conor O’Driscoll and his team.

Now on its second release, this year’s Heaven Hill Heritage Collection features the distillery’s infamous corn whiskey mashbill. Sporting an extraordinary 20 y.o. age statement and bottled at 115 proof without chill filtration, this release comes from 110 barrels produced in October 2002 which were pulled from the third floor of Rickhouse 1K. As only the second official release of a corn whiskey from Heaven Hill, Master Distiller Conor O’Driscoll explains the thought process behind this release: “The Heaven Hill Heritage Collection reflects the true craftsmanship, patience and consistency which are hallmarks of Heaven Hill’s whiskey-making traditions…The ability to offer consumers an ultra-aged corn whiskey product is a true testament to the forward-thinking innovation the company has practised for decades and continues to practice to this day.”

For those not familiar with the legal definition of Corn whiskey in the US, in a nutshell, it has to come from a mash of at least 80% corn and be aged only in either a used or uncharred new oak container (such as a barrel). Traditionally Heaven Hill would use their own ex-bourbon barrels to age their corn whiskey, before either bottling or selling the barrels to independent bottlers.

To give this release additional historical context, we need look no further than Heaven Hill’s core Corn Whiskey brand Mellow Corn. First released in 1945, Mellow Corn championed the Corn Whiskey category for decades as one of the only continuously produced straight corn whiskies on the market that also met the legal requirements for being Bottled-in-Bond. Seventy-eight years later and the category has made its long-awaited return to popularity thanks to the efforts of many craft whiskey producers in the past decade or so. With this rising tide, brands such as Mellow Corn have also seen their boats rise as younger drinkers have started to take notice of the value for money which can be found in this small versatile category and making a release such as this more relevant than ever. Today I’ll be taking a look at this release and hopefully answering the question: Is 20-year-old corn whiskey worth your time and money? Let’s find out!

Vital Stats:

Name: Heaven Hill Heritage Collection (2023): 20y.o. Kentucky Straight Corn Whiskey
Age: 20 years old
Proof: 115 Proof (57.5% ABV)
Type: Kentucky Straight Corn Whiskey
Mashbill: 80% corn, 8% rye, 12% malted barley
Producer: Heaven Hill Distillery
Website: https://heavenhilldistillery.com/heavenhill-heritage-collection.php
Glassware: Glencairn


Nose: The nose opens with soft caramel, big vanilla, soft red fruit, faint corn, barrel spices of cloves and faint cinnamon, barrel char, and a deep herbaceous note. As you nose deeper, caramel corn notes start to emerge alongside grassy rye spice and dried red fruit notes.

Palate: The palate opens semi-viscous with soft red fruit, candied citrus peel, and dark chocolate dusted with powdered sugar. This is quickly followed by the fruit turning a touch tart as the profile becomes darker with barrel spices of cloves, roasted almonds, and charred herbaceous notes building alongside white pepper rye and tannic oak spice as it moves from the mid-palate to the front of the tongue. As the spice fades, the palate remains oak-forward with dark chocolate and herbaceous oak tannins lingering alongside a sweet spearmint note.

Finish: The finish opens with lingering heat, barrel spice, herbaceous oak, dried red fruits, a touch of dark chocolate, and peppery rye. This leads into an aftertaste that is warm and long with lingering white pepper and herbaceous charred oak. 


When Heaven Hill announced its Heritage Collection they promised to deliver some of the oldest and best stocks they have to offer. At a jaw-dropping 20 years old, this release does not fall short of this promise and is clearly also the cream of their corn-whiskey-crop. As a whiskey, it’s complex and subtle in equal measure as 20 years of interaction between the second-fill barrel and the raw spirit has produced a unique integration of the best qualities of both. The resulting whiskey has a subtle undercurrent of corn whilst red fruit, herbaceous oak, and rye spice assert their prominence alongside some hefty tannins. These give it a fiery kick which builds on the palate to a crescendo of spice and drives the flavours all the way to the finish. Adding a drop of water reduces this overall spice and expands the herbaceous notes, allowing more corn notes to come forward. The whiskey also becomes more viscous with water but remains subtle, old, and a touch astringent as would be expected from a whiskey of this age.

As only the second corn whiskey released from Heaven Hill, there’s very little that we can compare this to, even before we try to match it for age. At a quarter of the age, Mellow Corn is its closest relative, and interestingly, that is essentially what this is – choice stocks of Mellow Corn which have been aged into their 20s and bottled at barrel proof without chill filtration. Therefore, when drinking the two side by side you get a clear picture of the two ends of this spectrum. At the younger end, Mellow Corn flaunts its youth with sweet buttery corn notes, an oily mouthfeel, and grassy grain notes a plenty. At the opposite end, the punchier and more complex Heritage Collection is a masterclass in careful ageing, allowing you to taste how the flavours in Mellow Corn developed over time to make for a whiskey that is less viscous but headier and spice-forward as corn becomes less prominent, and fruit, spice, and barrel notes push through alongside syrupy caramels and thick vanilla.

Releases like this serve as a stark reminder of the pedigree and the quality of the stocks Heaven Hill has on hand. The entire concept of a Heritage Collection is to demonstrate the quality of the craftsmanship on offer from Heaven Hill as well as to give drinkers something which many of their competitors would struggle to replicate, and this release is the perfect example. As stated earlier, the Corn whiskey category has seen a recent resurgence in popularity with many craft producers releasing their own corn whiskies featuring interesting corn varieties and innovations. Unlike these other producers, however, Heaven Hill has the benefit of both time and expertise, having been producing corn whiskey consistently now for 78 years. As a result, the corn whiskey stocks they have to hand are at an age and a quality that’s unrivalled in the business. Thus, special releases such as this are not just for the devoted fans of Mellow Corn (who have been crying out for something older and bolder), but also a reminder that just because Heaven Hill operates at a larger scale doesn’t mean there’s any less craft and attention to detail involved.

As the only ultra-aged corn whiskey that I’ve ever seen, this is the kind of release you have to experience to get a full understanding of what this style of American whiskey has to offer at this level. In fact, I would highly recommend this to anyone who wants to taste a style of whiskey that sits completely apart from what you’d typically experience when drinking older aged bourbon and ryes.

Try or Buy?

With an MSRP of $290, I’d recommend you at least try and track down a reasonably-priced pour of this piece of history.


Before you go…

Before you go…

Before you go…

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