Here’s a few whiskey facts you probably didn’t know. What’s the name of America’s largest independent family-owned and operated distilling company, and the second largest holder of aged American whiskey barrels in the world? Heaven Hill. That name might not ring a bell, but its whiskeys probably do: Evan Williams, Elijah Craig, Old Fitzgerald, Rittenhouse Rye.
Name recognition has never really been an issue for the company’s current father-son duo of master distillers, Parker and Craig Beam. Yes — they’re both from the same legendary Beam family known for a certain bourbon brand owned by Beam Suntory. In fact, Parker’s grandfather and namesake William “Park” Beam was the brother of Colonel James Beauregard Beam (a.k.a. Jim). When it became obvious there was room for only one master distiller in the family business, Park joined the with the Shapiro family to form what is Heaven Hill today, and a member of his family has followed in his footsteps ever since. They’ve done pretty well. Since 2007, Parker, who’s a sixth-generation master distiller, has been honored by the release of an annual series of rare, limited-edition American whiskeys: Parker’s Heritage Collection. It’s become one of the most anticipated whiskey launches each year for fans and collectors alike.
The 2014 edition, the eighth offering, stands alone as the first non-bourbon entry in the series — which originally worried purists. Unlike bourbon, which by law must be made from 51 percent corn, this amber whiskey is made from 51 percent winter wheat, 39 percent corn and 10 percent malted barley, meaning it qualifies — barely — as a wheated whiskey. The “Original Batch” on the label is a nod to its juice, which comes from the original set of barrels used to make Heaven Hill’s Bernheim wheat whiskey — though at 13 years of age, it’s nearly twice as old as what’s in a Bernheim bottle. It’s also unfiltered and bottled at a cask strength of 127.4 proof.
While not technically a bourbon, most could easily think it was a wheated bourbon akin to Pappy or Weller after a whiff. Strong hints of wood, vanilla and baking spices come off the glass. The high wheat content is more apparent after a sip, with sweet notes of honey, caramel and biscuit concentrating at the front of the mouth. The combination of age and a high barrel proof is what truly sets this spirit apart, though, balancing out the sugary and mellow grain notes with a rye-like kick of dry oak and pepper. It’s a fantastic whiskey unlike any other on the market, and sure to be coveted by traditional bourbon fans and whiskey explorers.
Best of all, picking up a $90 bottle also supports a great cause. Last year’s Promise of Hope release was used in part to raise money for ALS (a.k.a. Lou Gehrig’s disease) after Parker Beam was diagnosed with the disease; $5 from every bottle of the Original Batch Wheat Whiskey will go to support research against this terrible affliction. That’s something everybody can drink to.
Aged: 13 years
Mash: winter wheat, corn, malted barely