The ever-humble Parker Beam, late Master Distiller Emeritus of Heaven Hill, was the inspiration for the Parker's Heritage Collection we continue to enjoy today. First introduced in 2007 as a simple way of honoring their most cherished employee and leader, this label leans in on the experimentation side of things. From straight malt whiskeys to curaçao finishes, wheat whiskeys to hyper-aged bourbons, and now another straight rye whiskey - this release has never been about consistency.
Parker's Heritage quickly became much more than a nod to a self-effacing whiskey legend when Parker openly disclosed in 2013 that he had been fighting a battle with the neurodegenerative disease amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) since 2010. That year Parker went to his constituents at Heaven Hill and proposed using the already established whiskey brand that utilized his name to bring awareness towards ALS. He thought $5 or $10 on top of the sticker price could do some good in the world of ALS research, potentially resulting in the discovery of a cure that could help the roughly 5,000 people per year that are diagnosed. Thus launched Parker's Heritage "Promise of Hope", the first philanthropic release in the lineup, a tradition that has continued through to today under the Promise of Hope fund. That first release alone resulted in a $400,000 donation to the Kentucky chapter of the ALS Association. More than $1.2 million has been donated to date.
The grandnephew of Jim Beam (yes that one) and son of Earl Beam (the prior Master Distiller for Heaven Hill), Parker had all the opportunities to be an honest whiskey scholar. He did not waste that opportunity. After taking the reins from his father, he propeled new bourbon brands like Elijah Craig and Evan Williams into the bourbon boom that we know today. Poking fun at some of the luck and responsibility he inherited, Parker said,
If you are born with a name like Beam, it opens a few doors. Then, it’s up to you to produce a quality product that lives up to the tradition of the Beam family.
The world lost a good one when Parker passed on January 8th, 2017 at the age of 75. He's been credited, alongside other whiskey legends like Elmer T Lee and Booker Noe, as being responsible for the reinvigorated whiskey industry we get to experience today.
Now you might be wondering, my dear reader, how does the whiskey taste? You are here for a review afterall. A 10 year cask strength Kentucky straight rye whiskey with no funny business. No extra finishes, no special chars listed for the barrels that held this whiskey... Just a 142 barrel blend of well-aged 51% rye whiskey stock. At 64.4% alcohol by volume, this is certainly no slouch in the proof department. Heaven Hill describes this years rendition on their website saying:
The 17th edition of the Parker’s Heritage Collection consists of 10-year-old Kentucky Straight Rye Whiskey pulled from 142 barrels. For this release, we used our traditional rye mashbill of 51% rye, 35% corn and 14% malted barley. It was barreled in August, October or December of 2012 and aged on the first floor of Rickhouse H1 and H2, the fifth floor of Rickhouse FF, the third and seventh floors of Rickhouse BB, and the second floor of Rickhouse DD. At bottling, the liquid was non-chill filtered. This is only the second Rye in the collection and is the longest-aged Rye Whiskey in the Heaven Hill Distillery portfolio, making this a truly special edition.
Now on its 17th installment, this release has oft been overlooked by a good proportion of the whiskey world. Perhaps due to its limited availability or wild inconsistencies in profile year to year, I really don't see Parker's getting talked about too much in most circles. I have enjoyed everything that I've tried including the 10 year heavy char bourbon and the double barreled bourbon. I've crushed an entire bottle of the 15th edition wheat whiskey and apparently never found the time to write about it. I also have the 13th Edition 8 year rye available to taste alongside the 17th Edition. Look for some comparisons between these releases at the bottom of the page. So don me your reading spectacles if they'll be so required, we have some new whiskey to review.
Company on Label: Heaven Hill
Whiskey Type: Kentucky Straight Rye Whiskey
Mash Bill Percentages: 51% rye, 35% corn, 14% malted barley
Age: 10 years
Further identification: This is the 2023 release of Parker's Heritage Collection, now on its 17th edition, first made available in September at an MSRP of $185 - of which a portion goes to supporting ALS research
Nose: Wonderful classic Kentucky barrel funk jumps out of the glass first in an elegantly silky nose-feel. It leaves chocolate, soft nuttiness and bread tones that remind me of a traditional nougat bar. Returning my nose shows off more baked bread tones like biscotti alongside fragrant flares of creamy tiramisu. Caramel, black pepper and fried dough can be dug up with some effort. Everything about this is so soft and decadent, I would likely be fooled if you told me this was almost 130 proof. It noses closer to 100. Vanilla, soft earthy tones and rock sugar sit behind the more prominent notes in this generally quite subtle whiskey. Citrus tones swing in late in silky elegance. This is an exceptional nose. I'd say it's time for a taste.
Coming back from sipping yields more barrel funk, this time also contributing crème brûlée and delicate nutmeg. Vanilla tones continue to be the main background component as things come together to form a cookie dough profile. I could leave my nostrils anywhere in this glass and breath to my hearts content with no heat in any corner of the glencairn showing up. The empty glass smells of cinnamon rolls covered in freshly glazed icing. Mmm.
Palate: At first sip I find a powerhouse of flavor. The plain biscotti note from the nose is now delicious lemon biscotti with oodles of zest balanced by creamy confectioners sugar that sits fluffy on the tongue. One of my favorite parts of this pour is that the mouthfeel is incredibly creamy, if the confectioners sugar description didn't already make that abundantly clear. It coats the roof of the mouth with plenty of wood tones and leaves subtle Thanksgiving fixings on the tongue. Returning for another sip builds in plum, cranberry sauce and raisin tones. This drinks far closer to a bourbon than most ryes do. Sipping further I find that again things are quite creamy with vanilla bean ice cream adorning a supple pie crust. Praline, sugar cookie and buttercream frosting build upon this classic Heaven Hill profile. After a long rest, the glass begins to illustrate some of the drying characteristics of the prevalent oak while continuing to just scream Thanksgiving to me. Perhaps it's the bready tones, the cranberry vibes, or the many parallels to good red wine that is typically served after the meal in my house - but I'm feeling quite content and cozy with this whiskey. Like a strong familial bond, this pour is incredibly well integrated from start to finish. The flavor narrative tells me there's been no funny business with this release - it's just classic, well-made Kentucky straight rye whiskey. Late in the glass classic pirouline sticks build well. My last sip is thoroughly satisfying with limoncello, cherry juice, raisin, chocolate, and raspberry tones shimmering off slowly. The finish is a little on the shorter end, which stops this just shy of my highest level of whiskey admiration.
TL;DR: Vintage, complex Heaven Hill vanilla bomb that bourbon fans will love
This handily earns my "Keep Amongst the Whiskey" distinction, functionally elevating it into more of a 4.5/5 score. I have enjoyed several glasses of this release, sometimes in deeper adoration than others, but it has always been poised and well presented. This is one of my favorite whiskeys to nose right now. If you can find one of these limited edition releses, I highly recommend you buy it if it fits your budget.
Bonus Comparison - Parker's Heritage Collection 13th Edition: 8 Year Heavy Char Rye Whiskey
I love using samples as palate calibration whenever possible. I also adore the fact that the whiskey community is so committed to the concept of sharing, and this taste from @bourbon_and_the_bible is a prime example of that. I'm surely grateful to be able to try this. Let's see how the 13th edition stacks up against the 17th. The first differentiator that sets these ryes apart is the barrel char level. The 17th edition doesn't list any special barrel characteristics, so we can pretty safely assume they're all char 3 barrels. The heavy char distinction of the 13th edition rye tells us that a char level of 5 was used. Heaven Hill has a really great interactive graphic on their website that shows the difference between char levels:
The second obvious contrast is the proof. The latest release is a full cask strength 128.8 proof while the 13th edition was watered down to a neat 105°. The 13th edition was also a smaller batch (75 vs 142 barrels) and aged exclusively on the 7th floor of Rickhouse Y, whereas the 17th edition makeup comes from a mix of locations. Both were non chill-filtered and blended with purpose. Let's dive in.
On the nose I get light bubblegum, confectioners sugar and damp tobacco. It's significantly lighter than the cask strength 17th edition rye, but it's also more inherently rye too. Delicate florality and citrus undercurrents do well to highlight effect of the grains on this barely-legal rye. The empty glass smells of pine boughs, patchouli and wicker chairs.
Sipping the 8 year heavy char rye shows off the effect the heavily charred staves has on the palate. Deep oak still ladened with tannins hits first before a wave of cardamom, cinnamon and buttercream frosting wash over the taste buds. The 8 year manages to drink slightly harsher than the 10 year despite being significantly lower in proof. My last sip shows off earthy tones with black pepper, allspice and leather finishing out a decent pour. Overall I like the new 10 year quite a bit more than the 8 year. Significantly more complexity abounds on the 17th edition, leading me on a winding rabbit hole of elegance and grace as I continue to sip through it. While the 8 year is nice - it doesn't really shine, but it helps to illustrate that this new release is just gorgeous whiskey.