When I first started traveling to Kentucky to explore the world of bourbon in 2018, there was one particular bottle every liquor store owner told me I needed to buy: Heaven Hill 6-Year-Old Bottled-in-Bond bourbon. They knew that the end was near on this iconic label after repeated warnings from Heaven Hill distributors that it was going to be discontinued. Sure enough, in 2019 it was made official. Now with the famous label gone, new attention was given to its sibling; Heaven Hill Green Label.
Of course, Heaven Hill “Green Label” isn’t its official name but it was what everyone called it. It was essentially the non-bottled-in-bond version of its sibling; with the one key difference being it was only 90 proof instead of 100. Technically that means that older barrels could be used in the batch. But the neck label indicated it was a minimum of 6 years old and the “Charcoal Filtered” wording on the side label indicates that it was chill-filtered prior to bottling.
The sudden demise of an iconic label
Green Label had been continuously produced by Heaven Hill since at least the 1940’s. As to if it was ever sold outside of Kentucky during those 80+ years, I can’t find any information on. But for most enthusiasts, that’s how they’ll remember it. I heard many-a-liquor store owners telling customers from out of state that they should start stocking up on it while they were visiting Kentucky because it wouldn’t be there when they return. And then one day it happened.
Heaven Hill unceremoniously stopped Green Label production sometime in late 2021 even after announcing they weren’t going to. There were doubts about that claim after they discontinued the 1.75 Liter versions earlier that year. Many viewed this cancellation as a result of more barrels needing to be diverted to the 7-year-old Bottled in Bond label. Heaven Hill was restructuring their bottom-shelf bottles to allow for sufficient growth for more age-stated versions at the top. They made Evan Williams Single Barrel (which had been bottled at around 7.5 years old for many years) a Kentucky-only label in this timespan too. All of this was an attempt to decrease the fast turnover of 6 year old (and younger) barrels so that they could reach the ages needed for more profitable brands.
As it stands, Heaven Hill hasn’t totally forgotten about the budget shoppers. They still produce a handful of bottled-in-bond bourbons (and corn whiskey) that are priced under $20. But gone are the days when bottles wearing their own name could be found for $15 (White Label BiB) or $10 (Green Label). That’s right, this bottle I’m reviewing today was bought from a Total Wine in 2018 for $9.99.
So how does it taste? Is there any reason to grieve for a brand like this? Let’s find out. I sampled this neat in a glencairn.
Nose: There’s nothing different or exciting about this bourbon when comparing it to – say – an Evan Williams bourbon black label. I can still find caramel sweetness, vanilla and some trace nuttiness (aka a Payday bar). The oak is muted. This is a very simple bourbon with very simple notes done right.
Palate: Much of the same notes are found on the tongue as they were on the nose. The bourbon is perfectly sweet with notes of vanilla, nuts and caramel. The spice level barely registers on my tongue. This bourbon is as mellow as they come, unfortunately it’s also pretty thin when it comes to viscosity. I think most of the oak was also filtered out too.
Finish: The finish offers a little more spice than I’ve noticed so far. There is a decent amount of lingering caramel sweetness and some Halloween Candy Corn notes, but what is strange is that I did find a bit of youthful grainy notes along with some astringency/sour wood at the end. It’s not enough to ruin it though.
Overall, Heaven Hill Green Label was a forgettable experience that neither offended nor stood out. I think that was the purpose of this kind of bourbon though. It wasn’t meant to be coveted or chased, it was simply a bourbon that you could sit back and relax with. If this sounds like the kind of bourbon you’re looking for… well it’s not made anymore so I don’t know what to tell you, haha!
Occasionally I’ll see this bottle and it’s Bottled-in-Bond brother pop up on secondary market pages. Prices were initially very high (over $50 shortly after it was discontinued) but have calmed down since then. Sometimes when a bourbon is pulled from production, it doesn’t mean that it instantly becomes desirable (and therefore valuable). Usually it just means there are other kinds of bottles that could easily take its place. In this case, there are a couple Evan Williams labels that stick with the 90 proof and roughly 6 year old profile. I won’t say they are exactly the same thing, but *whispering voice* they’re exactly the same thing.
Nostalgia makes me a little sad to see a label like this go away. Granted, you can still find a look-alike label in bottom-shelf rot gut Quality House Bourbon (80 proof and 36 months old!). But let’s face it, the days of cheap, quality bourbon are slowly drying up before our eyes. There’s not much we can do about it aside from continue to buy it so that producers see there is still an interest. But even that seems like a stretch. I didn’t mean to end this review on a sad note, but if there is one thing you should take away it’s that we shouldn’t get too attached to a particular brand because sooner or later they all change. And in the case of Heaven Hill Green Label, it managed to hold for longer than most brands these days.
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