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Parker’s Heritage Collection Double Barreled Blend Bourbon Review

Parker’s Heritage Collection Double Barreled Blend Bourbon Review

The Parker’s Heritage Collection is a limited edition line of whiskies that are released once a year from Heaven Hill.  The brand was designed to highlight and explore Heaven Hill’s vast stocks of aged whiskey.  They also make it a point to have each release be unique from the previous ones. 

The Parker’s Heritage brand was initially a concept of Heaven Hill’s former Master Distiller Parker Beam.  But after he passed away from ALS in early 2017, Heaven Hill decided to continue with the brand to draw attention to his legacy and to raise money for the ALS Foundation. Each bottle sold results in $10 being donated to the cause. 

Parker’s Heritage has had a lot of hits throughout the years – but also some misses.  A few examples that have stood out have been the “Blend of Mash Bills” where each whiskey that Heaven Hill makes was blended together. 

A lot of people enjoyed the rare 24-year-old bottled-in-bond bourbon release and the even older 27 year old bourbon release.  There is a lot of agreement among enthusiasts that the 8-year-old Malt Whiskey release and the infamous Orange Curacao finished bourbon were two of the more forgettable ones. 

But the main thing to take away from each of these is that if you didn’t like it, next year’s would be different.

What Makes Parker’s Heritage Collection Different?

Unique, annual releases are not a new thing in the industry.  Other large distilleries have similar concepts to Parker’s.  Buffalo Trace uses their EH Taylor label to showcase interesting blends, barrel experiments or a new mash bill (like a bourbon that uses Amaranth, woof). 

Even Freddie Noe over at Jim Beam puts in the work to find new and creative ways to disappoint his fans by blending shitty malt whiskey into each Little Book batch.  But it all comes back to Parker’s Heritage because they have been doing it the longest. With this kind of notoriety, enthusiasts practically line up for its release these days. 

Seriously, fights have almost broke out in the Visitor’s Center parking lot in Bardstown just for the chance to get a bottle.  The lesson here is that people really like this line of whiskey and also that you can’t just set out folding chairs for you and your friends to hold your place in line, Steve.

For the last few years, Heaven Hill kind of forgot about the “surprise” element that made their Parker’s brand so much fun. 

This has resulted in some staleness setting into the brand over the last three years because they’ve re-used the same concept: a whiskey finished in a heavy char barrel. 

To be fair, at least they changed up the whiskey each of those years.  In 2019 they used rye whiskey, in 2020 they used a bourbon and in 2021 they used a wheat whiskey

I think I speak for all of us when I say that we were bracing ourselves for a Heavy Char Mellow Corn or Heavy Char Malt Whiskey at the rate things were going!

Mellow Corn Release in the Parker’s Heritage Collection?

Let’s talk about the possibility of a Mellow Corn release in the Parker’s Heritage Collection for a minute. It actually ties in with the story of 2022’s Parker’s Heritage. 

Bernie Lubbers went on to Bourbon Pursuit back in mid-2021 and talked about the process for selecting Parker’s Heritage. Before that, he talked about the popularity of Mellow Corn and how he was pushing for its inclusion in the Parker’s Collection.

He told the other Heaven Hill tasters that he had 20 year-old barrels worthy of being the next PHC. The tasters must have balked at the idea but a compromise was worked out to put those Mellow Corn barrels in the newest release of Heaven Hill Heritage Collection.

Anyway, Lubber’s laid out some of the inner workings of how PHC is selected each year.  First of all, he says that no barrel used in the Parker’s Collection will be under 8 years old.  Secondly, there is a panel of tasters go through the warehouses who identify barrels that could be used in this program.

What’s interesting is that they use a separate tasting panel to make the final decision.  That panel is made up of people like Bernie Lubbers and Master Distiller Connor O’ Driscoll.  As they taste through the samples, they might be given hints as to what they’re tasting. 

Sometimes it’s as simple as identifying the type of whiskey they’re drinking or if it’s finished.  Sometimes they’re given them completely blind.  The part that doesn’t make sense (or is just a lie) is that the panel has no idea what they’ve tasted until the end when they selected the final product. 

Heavy-Char Finished Whiskey

How do you get three years in a row of heavy-char finished whiskey by coincidence?  I think there’s a bit of marketing fluff in that story. 

Getting back to the 2022 Parker’s release, it was decided to use a mix of new and familiar.  This release would still have a portion of the bourbon put back into new charred oak barrels (for about a month), but that would only be part of the blend. 

The other part used older stocks of 15 year old bourbon.  The proof for all of these barrels must have been pretty high too because when it was bottled, it came out over 132 proof.  According to the law of averages, I’m assuming there were quite a few HAZMAT (over 140 proof) barrels in the final blend.  

What was the final blend anyway?  Heaven Hill laid it out for us.  The official press release (and the front of the label) says that 67% of the blend comes from 13 year old barrels sourced from the 3 top floors of Warehouse Q while 33% comes from 15 year old barrels they found near the middle of Warehouse II. 

The 13 year old barrels were the ones that were finished in a second new charred oak cask (with the same #3 char level that HH always uses).  What the press release doesn’t say is that a typical release of Parker’s Heritage is around 150 barrels.  That means that this batch would have used 100 barrels of 13 year, doubled-oaked bourbon and 50 barrels of 15 year bourbon.

This blend promises to give us a lot of classic Heaven Hill flavors that are probably going to be a bit more powerful due to the high proof.  The age should smooth over some of the expected heat. 

The flavor profile should be a bit different than a standard Elijah Craig Barrel Proof batch because there was likely more thought put into which barrels would make up this small release. 

The master tasters at Heaven Hill likely have marked which barrels have certain traits that separate them from the rest; these could include fruit flavors or even barrels that exhibit more high-rye characteristics.  It’s really hard to tell why they chose these without actually tasting the bourbon. 

Speaking of which, it’s probably time to shut up and pour myself a glass.  Thanks to a generous friend for the opportunity to experience this.  As usual, I tasted this neat in a glencairn

Tasting Notes

Nose: My nostrils are immediately filled with the scents of rich toffee, vanilla bean custard and oak galore (charred and seasoned). There are some fruit notes too – always a welcome find with Heaven Hill bourbon – in the form of Raisinets, cherry cordials and a bit of citrus zest.

It took a few passes, but eventually I do find some of the classic Heaven Hill nuttiness in the form of nut butter. It wasn’t immediately apparent to me and frankly, I’m glad it’s toned down.

Palate: The proof on the label is your first warning, but this bourbon is quite aggressive with the first sip and every sip after that.

Nothing is understated and everything is big, bold and in your face. Toffee swirls around cigar wrapper, charred oak and leather. It’s the perfect trifecta of tannins. Additional sweetness comes from Bit-O-Honey candy and cherry pie filling.

There’s even a good amount of chocolate. The spices don’t let off the gas either. It’s hard to pull out which ones are which but for sure there is a lively amount of cinnamon as well as allspice in the mix.

I don’t struggle to hold it in my mouth to find the additional flavors, but the heat does make me want to complete the sip sooner than I normally would. 

Finish: The finish is a bit drier than the palate was. All of those tannins begin to overewhelm the lighter flavors I found earlier.

Charred and seasoned oak mix with stale cigar wrapper. Even the leather becomes a bit drier. There is a dash of peppermint that is offset by a touch of vanilla. I’m even getting some anise on the end, but I wouldn’t compare it to licorice.

Sweetness is fleeting and is really only found in some residual almond brittle. The finish is long, but not that complex. I wonder if this was proofed down to 110 or so if it wouldn’t expose more flavors that are being cloaked with this layer of tannins?

Score: 8.5/10

In terms of overall profile, I found this year’s Parker’s to be very similar to the 2020 Parker’s Heavy Char Bourbon. This is both expected and unexpected.  The Heavy Char version was 3 to 5 years younger than Double Barreled Blend. 

I can taste the extra chocolate and oak/char with every sip, just like I could with the Heavy Char release.  But what separates the two is just how much more powerful the Double Barreled Blend tastes.  I was expecting something smoother and more refined because of the extra age, but nope. 

The heat it brought to my tongue was very noticeable.  I’m not going to complain though –  strong bourbon is my jam – but I can see newer bourbon drinkers struggling with this.

For having 15 year-old bourbon in the final blend, this year’s Parker’s does not necessarily come off tasting that old.  I’d say that the overall feel of the bourbon is similar to a standard bottle of Elijah Craig Barrel Proof. 

The one trait that separates them would be a decrease in the nutty notes compared to ECBP.  Yes, I did find the classic HH nuttiness occasionally, but it was nowhere near as much. 

Finding some fruit – like cherries – was a treat and something that I think Heaven Hill master tasters really hone in on when it comes to finding barrels suitable for special releases. 

Final Thoughts

I’ve been thinking for a couple weeks now if I should recommend the 2022 PHC at the end of this review.  So my conclusion will center around the fact that about 95% of the people reading this review right now won’t be able to find this bottle at its original retail price of $175. 

If you’re like me, you’ll have to look on the secondary market for one.  At the time of this writing, flippers are selling theirs for around $550.  If that’s still the case when you’re reading this, I  simply can’t recommend that you buy one. 

Is it good?  Of course it is!  This is classic Heaven Hill – only with more oak and the rare cherry note.  It’s hard to not like it.  But there’s also nothing so spectacular in here that I would fork over 3 times its retail price for one. 

If you have that kind of money and can’t live without owning each new PHC release, then what are you waiting for?  Nothing I say here will talk you out of it. 

But if you are a semi-reasonable person who wants a comparable (or slightly better) bourbon for less money, then let me suggest an alternative: Old Label Elijah Craig Barrel Proof.  These old labels typically were blended with bourbons much older than the 12 year age statement.

In fact, I’d believe most of them have significant quantities of 14-18 year old bourbon in them. They have fantastic old oak notes and are just as strong in terms of proof (almost all of them are between 134 and 140 proof). 

The best part is they don’t even taste that high in proof either, unlike this PHC Double Barreled Blend. Finally, they’ll only set you back $300-400 for more common batches.  These Old Labels (also known as Pirate Bottles) are rising in popularity and price, so don’t wait too long to make your decision. 

After all, they’re going to keep making new PHC’s but once those old label ECBPs are gone, they’re gone forever

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