Whiskey drinkers tend to possess very subjective ideas about what does and does not constitute “value” within a category like scotch or bourbon, but there have been a few products over the years that were universally agreed upon to pretty much always be steals. Heaven Hill is no stranger to this—for years, they made several bourbons that the whiskey cognoscenti regularly hailed as being among the best bargains in the liquor world. One of them, the 12 year old version of Elijah Craig, was one of the few well-aged bourbons that could regularly be found for under $30. But the best pure value? That pretty much always belonged to Heaven Hill Bottled in Bond, a brand that was pretty much legendary among bourbon diehards. Aged 6 years and boasting a strength of 100 proof, but often available for $15 or even less, the whiskey was only sold regularly in Kentucky, but it still made its way around the U.S. as a sought-after value. Combining Heaven Hill’s well-liked profile with rock bottom pricing and a proof strong enough to stand up to any kind of mixing/cocktail application, it was a go-to for countless drinkers.
And then Heaven Hill retired it, in 2018.
Oh, it wasn’t a surprise—not really, anyway. As the category had grown up around it, and pricing had become more standardized across the industry, and as the rise of craft bourbon helps push all price points higher, anyone who knew whiskey could see that these kinds of deals wouldn’t last forever. It would have been crazy for Heaven Hill to keep selling that bourbon at that price forever, when comparable competitors were charging double or more for roughly the same product. And so, the distillery retired the venerable 6-year BiB Bourbon, also known as Heaven Hill “white label,” and returned to the drawing board. What they came back with is a very slightly changed version of Heaven Hill Bottled in Bond, featuring a predictably premiumized price tag.
Once again: Not really a shock here, although a lot of bourbon geeks will forever pine for the earlier bargain days. Still, at least Heaven Hill didn’t simply bring back the exact same product—Bottled in Bond now carries a 7 year age statement, rather than 6. That won’t make a lot of people really happy about an MSRP jump of $15 to $40, but then again, the original version was never sold on a national scale anyway. The biggest impact here might actually be to increase the price of the already sought-after Henry McKenna Bottled in Bond, also from Heaven Hill, considering that’s a 10-year whiskey that has previously retailed around the same level. Elijah Craig, meanwhile, has the benefit in this case of now being non-age-statement, which would theoretically help it resist price changes.
Anyway. This is from a classic HH mashbill (78% Corn, 12% Malted Barley, 10% Rye), and is obviously bottled at 100 proof. Let’s get to sampling, and see how the new version of HH BiB stands up.
On the nose, this initially strikes me as predominantly dry, with notes of peanut shells, crackery malt, dusty grain and caramel. Repeated whiffs open up a bit of red fruit underneath, including a note that I’m not sure I’ve ever specifically written down before—strawberry. Overall, though, this gives off a bit more of a savory than rich vibe, with hints of tobacco earthiness and dry oak.
On the palate, I get a bit more in the way of fruit impressions (red fruit, plums), but this is still very much a drier, Kentucky-style bourbon at the end of the day. There’s a bit of roasted corn sweetness, and a hint of vanilla bean, along with notes of peanuts, black pepper and toffee, but the alcoholic strength certainly makes itself felt as well. Overall, the profile is actually a little bit on the basic side—not flawed, but to my mind lacking the refinement of flavors found even in the NAS Elijah Craig. In comparison, that version of Elijah Craig seems a bit more elegant and composed, whereas the Heaven Hill BiB is a bit more brash and punchy, as one would likely expect for the proof. It’s actually fairly oaky as well, finishing with a lightly tannic dryness. A lack of residual sugar certainly stands out here, in comparison with a lot of stuff I’ve been drinking lately, so if that’s what you want in a bourbon take note.
All in all, this release certainly has the heat and authority for mixing and cocktail applications, but it’s difficult not to just want the version that was once available for less than half the price. So it goes in this industry—Heaven Hill BiB remains a textbook definition for Kentucky bourbon, but the days of it being the best value in the industry will now be a pleasant memory.
Distillery: Heaven Hill
City: Bardstown, KY
Style: Bottled in bond bourbon
ABV: 50% (100 proof)
Availability: 750 ml bottles, $40 MSRP
Jim Vorel is a Paste staff writer and resident brown liquor geek. You can follow him on Twitter for more drink writing.