By Richard Thomas
Heaven Hill’s Parker’s Heritage Collection, a limited edition series named for Master Distiller Parker Beam, is noteworthy as American whiskey’s big annual mystery box. One year saw a cognac-finished bourbon, another an 11 year old cask strength, small batch bourbon.
The one constant for Parker’s Heritage is that every year has brought a bourbon of some kind, but not with the 8th, 2014 installment of the series. This time around, Parker’s Heritage is a 13 year old cask strength wheat whiskey.
Heaven Hill’s turn to a wheat whiskey is so appropriate that it is perhaps even overdue, and I say “perhaps” only to allow for the wait to have some wheat whiskey measuring up to a Parker’s Heritage release. This is because Heaven Hill is the distillery behind Bernheim Wheat Whiskey, which was not only wheat whiskey’s trailblazer, but at the time of its launch in 2005 it was also arguably the first new major category in American whiskey since Prohibition. Since Bernheim wheat whiskey is one of the signatures of Heaven Hill, sooner or later Parker’s Heritage had to get around to doing a “Bernheim” version.
Parker’s Heritage 2014 Cask Strength Wheat Whiskey is 13 years old, drawn from the original stock of wheat whiskey laid down at Heaven Hill in 2000. Five years later the first of this stock was released as Bernheim, and recently there was enough aged stock on hand to raise age of the whiskey from a five year average to a seven year minimum and give it an aging statement. All the while some of that first of Heaven Hill’s wheat whiskey has aged on in the top floor of Rickhouse Y, waiting to be bottled as it was found, unfiltered and uncut at a whopping 63.7% abv (127.4 proof).
Out of the bottle and into the glass, the whiskey takes on a deeply reddened amber, but be warned when you go into sniff. I found that outside of a tumbler, I found the vapor simply too hot to take in. Thus I went straight for my spring water and put in a few drops. Some cask strengths can be enjoyed as is, and some demand a little home cutting. This started out as one of the latter right off the bat.
With a little water reducing the alcohol content, what I found was a powerfully sweet nose, flowing with floral citrus and vanilla, just what I would expect from a wheat-heavy mashbill and a long, new oak aging, with a note of barrel char lying right underneath. Closer and more considered nosing revealed a certain honeyed character to the sweet scent, and a little seasoning with cake spice.
On the palate, the whiskey makes a hard turn towards the wood and spice and away from the sweetness. The woody side, somewhat understated in the nose, really comes forward, with the flavor becoming toasty and dry (reminiscent of Bernheim in that respect) while retaining that charred undercurrent. The sweet aspect morphs into honey and caramel, with cinnamon and ginger in place of the cake spices, and a slight pinch of pepper comes in at the end. The finish is warm, but winds down with surprising speed given the strength and boldness of the whiskey.
Ultimately, this year’s Parker’s Heritage is exactly what I would expect from an older, cask strength wheat whiskey. The notes are all there, and in potent, headstrong strokes at that. What I also discovered is that, as with Bernheim and in departure from my usual practice, a couple of ice cubes brought out its best more than the water did. If you are a fan of wheat whiskey, this is a must-have, top priority purchase.
The recommended price for Parker’s Heritage Cask Strength Wheat Whiskey is $90. As I said, if you are a wheat whiskey fan this is a must-have bottle, and at $90 such fans have no excuse for no getting one.