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I have a dirty secret to share with you. If you set a glass of bourbon and a glass of rye whiskey in front of me and say I can only drink one of them, I’m picking the rye whiskey. “But you’re a bourbon reviewer! How can you say that?!” many of you will ask. Easy, I find rye whiskey to have much more flavor and nuance than comparably aged bourbon about 99% of the time. But let’s just keep that between us because I don’t want the bourbon drinkers to get mad at me (don’t worry, they won’t read this rye whiskey review).
Anyway, a lot of Kentucky distilleries must think of rye whiskey in the same way. A lot of them half-ass it when it comes to their rye whiskey products. MGP seems to be the only distillery that really uses their whole ass to make and age quality rye whiskies. I apologize now to the people who don’t like the truth being told to them.
Wait, no I don’t because it doesn’t make sense that out of the seven largest distilleries in Kentucky (Beam/Makers, Heaven Hill, Wild Turkey, Buffalo Trace, Barton and Four Roses, Old Forester/Woodford Reserve), only 2 of them have released a rye whiskey with at least a 10 year age statement over the last 10 years. And 2 of them don’t even have a rye whiskey in their portfolio at all!
With the 17th release of the Parker’s Heritage Collection, Heaven Hill can finally join Beam (10 and 11 year Old Overholt) and Buffalo Trace (Sazerac 18 and Van Winkle Family Reserve 13 Year Old Rye) as the third distillery to sell a rye whiskey with at least a 10 year age statement on the label. It’s taken them long enough too. With over a million barrels of whiskey aging in their rickhouses, why haven’t they came out with a rye whiskey older than 6 year old Pikesville? And what exactly happens to the barrels that accidently age beyond 6 years? You know this had to have happened.
Parker’s Heritage Collection chooses a 10 Year Old Rye Whiskey
Bernie Lubbers once explained the selection process of what goes into a Parker’s Heritage release thusly: there is a tasting panel of Heaven Hill tasters (himself included) that blindly sample through a pre-selected group of whiskies each year in order to decide what gets the chance to be bottled under this iconic name. For instance, Lubbers claims the tasters had no clue that that they were picking a Heavy Char whiskey of some sort for THREE YEARS IN A ROW. That sounds super fishy to me. Does it to you?
I would say this about it: if the tasting panel truly was selecting these whiskies blindly, then who is in charge of pulling samples from the 55+ warehouses that Heaven Hill owns? Surely there is a way to lead the tasting panel down the path you want them to take either by loading the options up with some really terrible barrels or by giving them multiple examples of the same type of whiskies (how would they know what they were given? It’s blind). My point is that I’m not so sure that the PHC releases are as random as we think they are, but I guess I have no proof otherwise.
The 2023 panel ended up selecting 10 year old barrels of rye whiskey. After batching up the barrels that were used, the final proof ended up being an impressive 128.8. The barrels they have bottled are assumed to be their standard 51/35/14 rye whiskey mash bill which is used in Pikesville and Rittenhouse Rye. My opinion on those releases is that they are very good, but a little on the boring side.
One of the things I will give Heaven Hill big kudos on is that they list the warehouse and floor that they’ve selected barrels from. There’s not too much I can glean from this information at the moment other than it seems like they are aiming to balance out the blend by using barrels from only the odd numbered floors of their 7 story warehouses. I assume that means they’re wanting a whiskey that has attributes of all of those locations. Thanks to my friend Mike, I have a chance to find out. As usual, I sampled this neat in a glencairn.
Nose: If I was drinking this blind, I would probably be too caught up with the sweet notes of butterscotch, caramel, vanilla and faint nuttiness to ever think that this was a rye whiskey. It is only after a decent amount of studying do the extra fruit notes begin to really reveal themselves – a trait I don’t often get on Heaven Hill bourbons. I don’t find a lot of citrus notes – which are typically a dead giveaway for a high rye content – but I do find poached pears, cherry Twizzlers and raisins/dates. All of these are wrapped up in a nice amount of oak and barrel char. The nose is highly refined and that gives away the older age statement on the label.
Palate: The green notes commonly found with rye whiskies is mild throughout. But it’s the baking spice, fruit and oak that make each sip such a joy to sip. Spice comes by way of cinnamon, allspice and some clove. The fruit is citrus, light cherry and a hint of papaya (peppery!). Herbal notes like mint aren’t as absent as they were in the nose. I’m finding botanical notes too. There’s even a rich chocolate flavor that combines with caramel that really sets this apart. I don’t think I’ve had Elijah Craig Barrel Proofs with the level of chocolate that I can find here. There is something about this whiskey that makes me let out a little “wow” after each sip. It’s fantastic all around.
Finish: Long finish lovers, this one’s for you. Cinnamon spice lingers in my throat. Menthol and candy cane coats my tongue like a cough drop. Chocolate sauce is everywhere. This is conjuring up memories of Peppermint Stick Ice Cream with chocolate sauce on top while I eat it with an oak spoon. There’s so much to love here.
I have exactly one bad thing to say about this rye whiskey and if you read the tasting notes, you probably already know what it is. It doesn’t really come off as a rye whiskey. Now from here on out, everything I have to say about it will be positive.
As I sat here and pondered what I was going to write about this whiskey, I reached out to a few of my friends who have also had the chance for a pour. Responses ranged from “Whiskey of the year!” to “Good for what it is.” The ones that gave the latter response thought it had lost its rye character too much although they acknowledged this would be a stupendous high-rye bourbon – if only the label listed it as a bourbon.
That’s when I realized “why am I wasting all of this time thinking about what’s on the label?” You shouldn’t need to fit into a specific category in order to recognize when something is this good. So that’s why Parker’s Heritage 10 Year Rye is getting the score I gave it – regardless of what whiskey type is on the label it is an amazing spirit experience.
I’d like to think that any whiskey should be recommended if it’s good enough. Just read my reviews for Mister Sam Tribute Whiskey to see that it doesn’t even need to say what kind of whiskey it is to impress. If it’s good, then who cares? This is why this bottle is going to be on so many “Top Whiskey of the Year” lists.
The price and scarcity of PHC 10 Year Rye is what’s going to keep people from trying and buying a bottle. But if you have the means and if you have already bought all of the bottles that you have wanted to this year, then seek this one out. Between this and the Double Barreled release from last year, it’s almost like we’re entering a new, golden age of Parker’s releases – and I’m ready for it.
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