Heaven Hill Heritage Collection 17-Year Barrel Proof Bourbon

Drink Reviews whiskey
Heaven Hill Heritage Collection 17-Year Barrel Proof Bourbon

There are a few routes that exist in the bourbon world when it comes to generating instantaneous hype for a new release. One can go the route of novelty, which these days often means eccentric secondary barrel finishes in various styles of fortified wine, beer or alternate spirits. You can re-barrel a bourbon into newly charred barrels, or talk up proprietary toasting technology. You can play around with the mash bill, or bring in a celebrity blender. Or, if you’re one of the big boys of the industry, there’s one last thing that never fails: A big ‘ole age statement, presented at barrel proof.

Enter, Heaven Hill’s newly announced extension of what it has dubbed the “Heritage Collection,” 17-Year Old Barrel Proof Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey. This is the inaugural release of what is intended to be an annual series released in the spring, being a more traditional counterpart to the Parker’s Heritage series (annual fall release), which is focused on experimentation. The Heritage Collection, on the other hand, will presumably fit into this similar mold: Extra-mature whiskey from the classic Heaven Hill bourbon mash bill (78% corn, 10% rye, 12% malted barley), bottled at barrel proof. This particular, 17-year-old release weighs in at 59.1% ABV (118.2 proof).

Of course, given the legal necessity of a bourbon’s age statement reflecting the youngest bourbon in a blend, this particular release is actually significantly older on average. In truth, it is made up from 28% barrels that are 20 years old, 44% from 19-year-old barrels, and 28% from 17-year-old barrels. Mathematically, that puts the average age of the bourbons in this group at a very impressive 18.7 years—very old indeed. According to the distillery, barrels for the release were pulled from warehouses in Deatsville, Glencoe, Schenley and the Heaven Hill main campus.

“Over many years, we have been quietly aging some exquisite whiskeys to be introduced under a new collection within our Heaven Hill Distillery portfolio,” said Max L. Shapira, Heaven Hill President, in a statement. “Of our 1.9 million barrels resting across six rickhouse sites, our master craftspeople have kept watchful eyes on this limited stock of special barrels and we are finally ready to release the first edition.”

With that said, it’s not as if an extra-aged release like this is without a certain level of risk for a distillery like Heaven Hill. A gaudy age statement is, in fact, less of a slam dunk indicator of quality than many novice bourbon geeks would likely assume—in fact, the vast majority of bourbon barrels over the age of 10-12 years tend to decline in quality, becoming overly oak-heavy, tannic or bitter. Only a small percentage tend to continue developing in a positive way past this point, and Heaven Hill is effectively trying to pick and blend those barrels here. Even the company’s existing portfolio points to the fact that this is difficult to do, as the 18-year-old and 23-year-old, limited release Elijah Craig Single Barrel expressions have a tendency to be quite divisive among whiskey geeks. The fact that this first Heritage Collection release is a blend, however, rather than a collection of single barrels, likely implies a greater degree of consistency.

There’s only one way to know for sure, though. So with that said, let’s get to tasting this bottle, which bears an unsurprisingly intense MSRP of $275.

On the nose, this 17-year-old (or 18.7, take your pick) bourbon presents the expected notes of old oak, slightly musty and funky, but not predominant over the rest of the profile. Rather, the first things one is likely to notice are dark fruit syrup impressions, along with dark chocolate, mild spice, caramel corn and a slightly tart woodiness. Ethanol is quite mild on the nose for the 118.2 proof, suggesting that this one has mellowed considerably in its old age. It’s an appreciably delicate nose, in fact, without any one element dominating the others, though it does suggest a certain fruity richness first and foremost.

On the palate, this bourbon delivers a big punch of flavor up front, quite sweet and syrupy up front with big fruit dollops of blackberry and black cherry, transitioning into spice notes of clove and ginger, delicately bitter molasses, and the expected assertive oakiness. Thankfully, this does not read as overly oaked or tannic—rather, the balance between sweet/fruity and dry/okay works quite nicely, supported by sturdy but not overwhelming alcoholic heat. Compared with something like 2020’s fabulous Heaven Hill 85th Anniversary 13-Year Single Barrel Bourbon, it reads as a bit more sweet and decadent, and further away from the platonic ideal of the Heaven Hill house flavor profile, likely thanks to the fact that it has had more time to diverge. The balance isn’t quite as sublime on that release, but it’s not too far off either.

Suffice to say, this is delicious stuff, and a release that seems to grow in stature and richness a bit as it sits in the glass for a little while. I shudder to think of what kinds of prices it will no doubt command on the secondary market, but if you have the means, it’s something that any Heaven Hill fan will no doubt be happy to taste.

Distillery: Heaven Hill
City: Bardstown, KY
Style: Kentucky straight bourbon whiskey
ABV: 59.1% (118.2 proof)
Availability: Limited, 750 ml bottles, $275 MSRP

Jim Vorel is a Paste staff writer and resident liquor geek. You can follow him on Twitter for more drink writing.

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