By Richard Thomas
Parker’s Heritage is one of two series of annual limited editions that leave enthusiasts guessing as to what is coming. Four Roses Small Batch Limited Edition is always a bourbon, with the mystery being the very technical, nerdy issue of which of the distillery’s ten recipes will be used and how old said stock will be. Buffalo Trace Antique Collection’s five whiskeys can vary in quality from year to year, but are always the same basic thing. Parker’s Heritage (and Woodford Reserve Master’s Collection), on the other hand, might be literally anything in American Whiskey.
Earlier this month, I wrote up the latest Parker’s Heritage release. With that in mind, it’s worth looking back on Parker’s Heritage and checking out the variety the series has brought forth over the last decade.
Parker’s Heritage Cask Strength Bourbon (2007, 1st Edition)
Heaven Hill put together 68 barrels of 11 year old bourbon and used them to make three distinct batches of barrel proof bourbon (122.6, 127.4 & 129.6). This stuff was released toward the end of the period when bourbon was back, but hadn’t exactly started booming yet. Consequently, as a new series in those days it sat on the shelves for a long time, well into the following year in some places. Imagine that happening today! ($80)
Parker’s Heritage 27 Year Old Bourbon (2008, 2nd Edition)
When this was released, it was probably the oldest bourbon around, and certainly the oldest available in then-recent release. In 2008, it was still possible to get on a waiting list and buy Pappy Van Winkle 23 Year Old at regular retail price, and ultra-aged bourbons were not the chimeras they are today… but at the same time, they were novelties. There just weren’t that many in circulation.
In terms of quality, those who have had it usually say Parker’s #2 was overly woody, so you would need to be a fan of oaky, hoary, ultra aged bourbon to enjoy it. This is, for example, why most actually prefer Pappy 15 and 20 over 23. ($185)
Parker’s Heritage Golden Anniversary (2009, 3rd Edition): A sweet, highly regarded bourbon bottled at 50% ABV, this item marked Parker Beam’s 50th anniversary at Heaven Hill. The stock used spanned all six decades that Beam had been at the company, starting with the 1960s. And yes, it’s amazing to think anything was left in a 50+ year old barrel of bourbon! ($150)
Parker’s Heritage 10 Year Old Wheated Bourbon (2010, 4th Edition)
One of the best aspects of this series is the opportunity to try wishful spins on familiar products. So, if you were a fan of wheated Heaven Hill bourbons like Old Fitzgerald and wondered what it would be like if it were middle aged and barrel strength, Parker’s delivered in 2010. It was great stuff, the price fell to a reasonable level again, and it was readily available in those early days of the Bourbon Boom. ($80)
Parker’s Heritage Barrel Finished 10 Years Old Bourbon (2011, 5th Edition)
Bottled at 100 proof, this middle aged, standard mash bill bourbon’s only special note was being finished in Frapin Cognac casks for six months. This was a great preview of what a Cognac finish could do (ala Belle Meade today), but that isn’t for everyone. Compared to past Parker’s Heritage releases, 2011 was ho-hum. ($80)
Parker’s Heritage Blend Of Mashbills 11 Year Old Bourbon (2012, 6th Edition)
Making things interesting again, this stuff was a blend of Heaven Hill’s two mash bills, drawn from 11 year old stock and bottled at cask strength. In a return to the method of the 1st Edition, this was done in three distinct batches (65.8%, 68.95% & 69.7%), and in so doing transcended it’s base stock and showed how bourbon really is so much more than a mash bill and an age statement. ($80)
Parker’s Heritage Promise Of Hope 10 Years Old Single Barrel Bourbon (2013, 7th Edition)
This was the year that Parker Beam announced he had ALS, and Parker’s Heritage added its now standard pledge of donating a portion of the proceeds to ALS research. However, it has to be borne in mind that Heaven Hill has a 10 year old single barrel bottled in bond product in Henry McKenna, making this something like an extra special item at triple the price! ($90)
Parker’s Heritage 13 Year Old Wheat Whiskey (2014, 8th Edition)
After its second ho-hum release, Parker’s Heritage did its second niche fan favorite offering. Given the timeline, this release was probably drawn from stock held over from Bernheim Wheat Whiskey’s first production run. It was bottled at cask strength in two different batches, and still stands as the oldest wheat whiskey you can get. Also, it was the first Parker’s Heritage release reviewed by this website. ($90)
Parker’s Heritage 8 Year Old Malt Whiskey (2015, 9th Edition)
This was a big surprise to most observers, because so few knew Heaven Hill was making malt whiskey. Bottled at 54% ABV, it was little loved among enthusiasts. ($100)
Parker’s Heritage 24 Year Old Bottled In Bond (2016, 10th Edition)
Ultra aged and Bottled in Bond? That titling started a buzz. This release was in two batches, one from Fall 1990 and one from Spring 1991. It was not only the oldest Bottled in Bond released to date, but also drawn from surviving stock from the 1996 fire that destroyed the company’s original Bardstown distillery. It was also the last batch of Parker’s Heritage released while Parker Beam was still alive.
A lot of prestige is wrapped around last year’s Parker’s Heritage, but nonetheless it met with decidedly mixed reviews. It was also quite expensive compared to past installments, but then again it had been eight years since Parker’s Heritage had done an ultra aged whiskey. A lot about the industry changed in the interim. ($250)
Parker’s Heritage 11 Year Old Single Barrel Bourbon (2017, 11th Edition)
This year’s Parker’s Heritage veered back in the not-actually-extraordinary direction, at least on paper. Once again, the company has single barrel offerings of a similar age, so this becomes special only because its coming from better stock and (in this instance) offered at cask strength. However, those barrels really were quite nice, or at least the one my sample came from. The official asking price is less than Michter’s 10 Year Old, and it’s both stronger and at least as good. ($130)