Sipp’n Corn Tasting Notes: Heaven Hill Parker’s Heritage Collection 13th Edition—It’s Finally a Rye!

Reviews posted on consecutive days?  It must be National Bourbon Heritage Month!  This makes the timing right for the perennial highly-anticipated limited edition Parker’s Heritage Collection from Heaven Hill, which for the first time ever is a Rye Whiskey.

Heaven Hill continues to honor its late Master Distiller Emeritus Parker Beam while also continuing to support ALS research and patient care with the 2019 release of Parker’s Heritage Collection.  Heaven Hill used its standard 51% rye-grain mashbill, but this time the barrels were Level 5 char (instead of level 3, which means an additional 50 seconds of flame) and they were all aged high in the warehouse (7th floor).  So, the combination of the heavier char and hottest location in the warehouse should produce a spicier, more oaky whiskey from greater interaction with the barrel.  Of course, this limited edition whiskey is non-chill filtered to retain more flavor.

Parker’s Heritage Collection Tasting Notes

Bourbon:        Parker’s Heritage Collection, 13th Edition (2019) Kentucky Straight Rye Whiskey
Distillery:       Heaven Hill, Bardstown, Kentucky (distilled in Louisville and aged in Bardstown)
Age:                8 years, 9 months
ABV:              52.5% (105 proof)
Cost:               $149.99

Brown with a shimmer of gold.

Heavy oak and leather, but wow, there’s a blast of alcohol heat too.  While there’s a hint of some cotton candy sweetness, that’s about the only sweetness.

My first impression on the first pour was that it was way too hot neat.  The first week I needed to try it on ice, which really improved it for me.  It retained its rye spice, oak, and cinnamon, but added a little more balance with vanilla and a mint kicker.  I came back for a second pour a week later and the heat had definitely dissipated.  During the second week I didn’t add ice and enjoyed it neat with a robust blast of oak, char, pepper, and baking spice for an overall dry, spicy experience.  My third and final tasting had the same sort of heat and spice as the first time; I wish that I could have duplicated that middle tasting.

The finish had the same night-and-day difference for me between tastings.  During the first week when it seemed too hot, the finish was overshadowed by the burn, but on ice, the finish was warming with caramel sweetness before shifting back to spice and oak for a dry finish.  On my second tasting, I never wanted ice or a splash of water; I enjoyed the robust finish that was overall spicy and dry, but it had an almost sherry-cask-finished dark sweetness.  My final tasting gave me more of the heat again as a big robust whiskey.

Bottom Line
Pikesville Rye is one of my favorite whiskies, so I was hoping for Pikesville on steroids for PHC 13.  That’s not really where it landed for me.  Kudos to Heaven Hill for including a Rye Whiskey in the Parker’s Heritage lineup and for continuing to support the fight against ALS, but expect some push-back at this price.  The proof doesn’t sound high in today’s climate of barrel-proof mania—and Heaven Hill no doubt would have received all kinds of grief if it released PHC 13 under 100 proof—but especially on the first taste it might have been over-proofed.  I still don’t understand the chemistry enough to know why some 120 proof whiskies mask their high ABV while other lower-proof whiskies seem to taste so much higher, but regardless, be ready to add a splash of water to PHC 13 or to pour it over ice.

But I also re-learned my lesson about going back for a second try.  The tasting experience is influenced by your surroundings, your mood, what you had for dinner, and innumerable other factors.  My second try was so much better than the first to the point that I wouldn’t have bought it during the first week whereas I would definitely buy it the second week.  My third try was somewhere in between, so I’ll be on the hunt for PCH 13, and I recommend it as a buy for barrel-proof fans, rye fans, and anyone who favors dryness and spice over sweetness in their whiskey.

Disclaimer: The brand managers kindly sent me a sample
for this review, without any strings attached.
Thank you.

Sipp’n Corn Tasting Notes: 2019 Four Roses Limited Edition Small Batch

I love this time of the year!  It’s Bourbon Heritage Month and that means Four Roses releases its annual Limited Edition Small Batch.  With its unique 10 recipes Four Roses has a tremendous single barrel program, but it really allows Four Roses to shine by blending, which no other distillery can match.

This year Master Distiller Brent Elliott used the following recipes and ages:

OESV – 11 years
OESV – 15 years
OESK – 15 years
OBSV – 21 years

While the percentages were not disclosed, this Limited Edition is mostly the lower-rye recipe mash bill (although of course at 20% rye grain that’s still far more rye that other distillers use), and a majority of the “V” yeast, which Four Roses describes as “delicate fruit.”

Four Roses Limited Edition Tasting Notes

Bourbon:        2019 Four Roses Limited Edition Small Batch Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey
Distillery:       Four Roses, Lawrenceburg, Kentucky (and aged at Cox’s Creek)
Age:                 11-21 years (% not disclosed)
ABV:                56.3% (112.6 proof)
Cost:                $140.00
Bottles:           13,440 for U.S. distribution only

Old copper.

Unmistakable Four Roses dark berries, honey, caramel, and oak and as well-rounded as I can imagine.

Whoa—Four Roses touts being “Mellow,” and this Limited Edition nails Mellow.  It’s silky, has subtle complexity of butterscotch, berries, and vanilla cream balanced by cinnamon and oak.  This is an elegant bourbon that keeps revealing more flavors sip after sip.  This is a bottle that will go way too fast.

Long, full, sweet and buttery with a lingering balance of oak.

Bottom Line

I don’t know how Four Roses continues to perform at this level.  First, in my book Small Batch Select destroyed the field this year for best new bourbon of 2019.  But this whole time Four Roses had an Ace in the hole; its 2019 Limited Edition Small Batch has got to be in the running for best bourbon of the year.  This is a fantastic bourbon that should be tops on your hunting list this fall.  Look for it at the distillery and at the bottling facility on September 21, and then at retailers later in the month.

Disclaimer: The brand managers kindly sent me a sample
for this review, without any strings attached.
Thank you.

Sipp’n Corn Tasting Notes – Old Taylor (1953) Bottled in Bond; Old Fitzgerald Decanter; and Cream of Kentucky

The Frazier History Museum presents a bourbon series and I was lucky enough to be part of it earlier this summer to discuss Bourbon Justice alongside legendary Master Distiller Jim Rutledge and incomparable Heaven Hill brand ambassador and author Bernie Lubbers.

In addition to the lively discussion, The Frazier provided a guided tasting of two current-day classics—Jim’s revival of Cream of Kentucky and Heaven Hill’s Old Fitzgerald Decanter—along with a vintage Old Taylor distilled and aged at the historic Old Taylor Distillery, which is now the home of Castle & Key.

We had a lively discussion and an engaged crowd, and some folks who missed it have asked about tasting notes, so here we go:

Bourbon:        Cream of Kentucky (Batch 2, 2019)
Distillery:       Sourced by J.W. Rutledge Distillery, Crestwood, Kentucky
Age:               11.5 years
ABV:              51% (102 proof)
Cost:             $149.99

Bourbon:        Old Fitzgerald Decanter Series (Second Release, Fall 2018)
Distillery:       Heaven Hill, Bardstown, Kentucky
Age:                9 years
ABV:              50% (100 proof)
Cost:               $89.99

Bourbon:        Old Taylor (distilled Fall 1953; bottled Fall 1957)
Distillery:       The Old Taylor Distillery, Millville, Kentucky
Age:                4 years
ABV:              50% (100 proof)
Cost:               priceless

Tasting Notes

Surprisingly, the much younger Old Taylor was just as dark—if not darker—than Cream of Kentucky and Old Fitzgerald, and it wasn’t because the Cream of Kentucky or Old Fitzgerald were light.  As the oldest and because it was bottled at (barely) the highest proof, the Cream of Kentucky should have been the darkest.  Maybe because of lower entry proof, higher barrel char level, tighter wood grain, or aging conditions, however, the Old Taylor never would have been taken for a four-year bourbon in a blind tasting.

Jim remarked how much difference a mere four months of aging meant for his second run of Cream of Kentucky; the aromas are sweeter and less peppery.  The Old Fitzgerald 9-year had more baking spice, familiar aromas of baking fresh bread, brown sugar, caramel, and oak. Old Taylor was remarkable—again, there’s no way that this is a four-year old bourbon.  Warm, deep aromas of oak, pepper, and caramel make this an inviting nose.

The second batch of Cream of Kentucky also has a fruiter palate according to Jim, but I wouldn’t call it fruity just yet; it’s still more focused on oak and baking spice.  The Old Fitzgerald had more caramel with a transition to pepper spice, not really what I might have picked blind as a wheated bourbon, but checking all of the boxes and with the most complexity of the three.  It will sound like a broken record, but the Old Taylor was unlike any other four-year old bourbon that I’ve ever tried:  creamy, spicy, less sweet than the nose, and full-bodied.

The finish on all three bourbons were fantastic, but in different ways.  Cream of Kentucky was more elegant and gentle.  The Old Fitzgerald was more robust, like a big warm hug that trails off with vanilla and oak.  And Old Taylor had the biggest initial burst of warmth that trailed off with lingering oak.

Bottom Line
There’s a reason that Kentucky passed a Vintage Spirts law—many truly dusty bourbons pack in a unique experience that can’t be duplicated by current-day brands.  Sure, there’s also the sense of exclusivity and historical awe, but for people focusing on the spirit itself, it’s about experiencing bourbon made the old way, producing a depth of flavors rarely found today.  If you have the opportunity, definitely try mid-century or older bourbon.

Of course, many current-day brands are still worth pursuing hard.  Cream of Kentucky and these limited release Old Fitzgerald Decanters are two that should be at the top of every enthusiast’s list.

Jim Rutledge is not only one of the best distillers, but he has the added dimension of being a genius blender.  His decades of experience distilling at Four Roses gave him the unique role of blending ten recipes to create a consistent profile for Four Roses and blending a handful of recipes of varying ages each year to create his award-winning Limited Edition Small Batches.  I will buy any bourbon that Jim has touched, and even though Jim didn’t distill it, Cream of Kentucky is one of those.

And finally, as for the Old Fitzgerald, Heaven Hill not only continues to lead the way in both age-stated bourbon and Bottled in Bond bourbon, but it also does so by reinvigorating a once-famous brand that had slipped to a “value brand,” and seemed all but replaced by Larceny.  I have a soft spot for historical brands but those names aren’t worth anything unless you strive to exceed the quality of the past.  That’s what Heaven Hill has done with the Old Fitzgerald Decanter Series.

Sipp’n Corn Review – Kentucky Straight Rye Whiskey Battle Royal Revisited

When I put together my Rye Battle Royal at the end of 2016, I had stocked away four extra complete sets of samples.  I assumed—but wanted to check—that my palate and preferences might shift and I also wanted to get a few more local blind reviews.  I tried them blind again this time, but I knew which ten Rye whiskies were in the mix and certain characteristics of some, like the color of the Willett 25-year and the heat of Booker’s Rye, were dead giveaways.

In the end there was a narrowing of the spread between the top two, 3rd place almost fell to 4th, and there was some shifting among the bottom half.  I’d like to see how new entrants into the Rye market would fare against this lineup—especially Wilderness Trail which I think would place in the top three—but I decided against introducing factors that didn’t exist in 2016 in order to keep the comparison intact.  I saved one last box of the 10 samples to revisit in another few years.  In the meantime, here’s the old January 2017 post, updated with a few of the new comments and with the adjusted rankings:


Over the past few years, American Straight Rye Whiskey has begun to experience a renaissance much like the early years of the Bourbon craze.  And like the Bourbon market, distillers and other producers are clamoring to repackage earlier, lower-shelf brands as premium, super-premium, and limited edition offerings.  Jim Beam “yellow label” Rye was a cheap option that was phased out in favor of a new green label option, reimaged to include the slick marketing claim that it is crafted from a “pre-Prohibition recipe.”  And Beam did not stop there; it also released a super-premium Booker’s Rye limited edition with a suggested retail price of $299.00, which was named 2016 “Whiskey of the Year” by many.  That all sounds eerily similar to what happened with Bourbon …

For this review, I wanted to take a large cross-section of Rye Whiskey from usually-available to scarce (but attainable), and from young to old.  Every one of my selections was bought at retail prices without going to the secondary market or waiting in line for a chance to purchase.  Even without lotteries and lines, I was able to get a Booker’s Rye and a Willett 25, so keep that in mind the next time you’re tempted to camp outside of a store.  It might have been nice to include the strictly-allocated brands that flippers clamor to get, but then this comparison wouldn’t be realistic for the vast majority of consumers.

I decided to go with all American Straight Rye Whiskies so that I was comparing apples to apples, and so that I could be assured that there were no coloring or flavoring additives.  I also avoided anything finished in other barrels; this is pure Straight Rye Whiskey.  To further narrow the field, I went with Kentucky Straight Rye (sorry MGP), even if it is not labeled as Kentucky (like Pikesville).  This knocked out most merchant bottlers, including—admittedly—some that might have challenged for high rankings.

This undertaking was big enough that I knew I needed help, so I assembled a panel of friends with trusted palates for a blind comparison.  I arranged the samples by proof, but did not tell the group anything about the order.  They only knew that they were trying Straight Rye Whiskey.  My own initial tasting and scoring was also blind, but I re-tasted non-blind after compiling and averaging all of the rankings.

Here are the contestants, ordered by proof:

1.  Russell’s Reserve Kentucky Straight Rye Whiskey Small Batch

Distillery:  Wild Turkey, Lawrenceburg, Kentucky
Age:  6 years
Proof:  90 proof
Percentage rye grain:  51%
Cost:  $45.00

2.  Woodford Reserve Kentucky Straight Rye Whiskey

Distillery:  Distilled at Brown-Forman, Louisville, Kentucky and bottled at Woodford Reserve, Versailles, Kentucky
Age:  NAS
Proof:  90.4 proof
Percentage rye grain:  Unknown
Cost:  $40.00

3.  Knob Creek Kentucky Straight Rye Whiskey

Distillery:  Jim Beam, Clermont, Kentucky
Age:  NAS
Proof:  100 proof
Percentage rye grain:  Unknown
Cost:  $35.00

4.  Rittenhouse Bottled in Bond Kentucky Straight Rye Whiskey

Distillery:  Heaven Hill New Bernheim Distillery, Louisville, Kentucky and aged in Bardstown, Kentucky
Age:  NAS
Proof:  100 proof
Percentage rye grain:  51%
Cost:  $30.00

5.  Willett Family Estate Single Barrel Kentucky Straight Rye Whiskey

Distillery:  Undisclosed (but maybe Old Bernheim)
Age:  25 years
Proof:  100 proof
Barrel No. 1773
Bottle 73 / 84
Percentage rye grain:  Unknown
Cost:  $350.00 (more recent releases cost $750)

6.  Russell’s Reserve Kentucky Straight Rye Whiskey Single Barrel (Liquor Barn)

Distillery:  Wild Turkey, Lawrenceburg, Kentucky
Age:  NAS
Proof:  104 proof
Barrel No. 16
Warehouse E, 2nd floor
Percentage rye grain:  51%
Cost:  $69.00

7.  Russell’s Reserve Kentucky Straight Rye Whiskey Single Barrel (Bourbon Crusaders) (via Joyal’s)

Distillery:  Wild Turkey, Lawrenceburg, Kentucky
Age:  NAS
Proof:  104 proof
Barrel No. 35
Warehouse E, 2nd floor
Percentage rye grain:  51%
Cost:  $65.00

8.  Pikesville Straight Rye Whiskey

Distillery:  Heaven Hill New Bernheim Distillery, Louisville, Kentucky and aged in Bardstown, Kentucky
Age:  6 years
Proof:  110 proof
Percentage rye grain:  51%
Cost:  $50.00

9.  Willett Family Estate Small Batch Kentucky Straight Rye Whiskey

Distillery:  Willett Distillery, Bardstown, Kentucky
Age:  2 years
Proof:  111.8 proof
Percentage rye grain:  Unknown
Cost:  $35.00

10.  Booker’s Kentucky Straight Rye Whiskey

Distillery:  Jim Beam, Clermont, Kentucky
Age:  13 years
Proof:  136.2 proof
Percentage rye grain:  Unknown (but not standard Beam)
Cost:  $320.00

And the Winner (still) is…

 In this comparison of ten Kentucky Straight Rye whiskies from across the age spectrum, from two years old to aged as long as you’ll ever see, and from affordable to market-leading expensive, I wondered whether the two heavyweights could withstand the challenge.  They mostly did, but what I really learned was that after the top three and bottom two were established pretty conclusively (but my no means unanimously), personal preference was the key.  Between those bookends, the panelists had some dramatically-different reactions to the same whiskey, although it’s also true that the averages were fairly delineated from top to bottom.

In other words, drink what you like and what makes you happy, and just use ratings, rankings, and reviews as a guide, except maybe for the extremes. With that said, the oldest, rarest Rye won, but it needed a photo-finish to do it:

2016—2019 Rye Battle Royal Results:

1.  Willett Family Estate 25-year Rye

Boom – this Willett was ranked 1st by five out of the seven panelists and one more first-place vote in 2019.  Believe the hype about these extra-aged Ryes that have been trickling out from Willett.  The color—a dark mahogany—ranks up there with the darkest that I’ve experienced.  Intense aromas of brown sugar, dark fruits, tobacco, and heavy oak previewed a thick, syrupy mouthfeel with rich, layered flavors.  Those who don’t like oak might want to move on (although it’s not as oaky some other extra-aged whiskies), but it also nails dark fruit (plums, cherries), dark chocolate, pralines, brown sugar, orange peel, and rich caramel for a true desert quality.  The finish has a remarkably long swell.  Enjoy a whiskey like this neat, over a long, relaxing time.

2.  Pikesville

Even though the oddsmakers had Pikesville coming in third, it retained its major upset by coming in second, barely behind Willett 25.  With the 2019 results added, Pikesville really distanced itself from the third-place spot.  Pikesville barely qualifies as Rye Whiskey with 51% rye grain and 39% corn, which in many ways makes it similar to a high-rye Bourbon.  In part because of the corn percentage, it’s sweeter than I often think of for Ryes, but it’s extremely well balanced with rye spice, black pepper, and mint, so it’s not just a “sweet Rye.”  It’s simply a fantastic whiskey, beginning with well-rounded nose and continuing with a great mouthfeel and solid warming finish.  If you’re looking to spend $50 on a Rye, Pikesville makes your decision easy.  Pikesville was scored consistently high by the panel, never dropping below 4th by anyone, but not garnering any first-place votes, either.

3.  Booker’s Rye

2016 Whiskey of the Year?  That’s something that I contemplated when I reviewed it during the summer of 2016, and it has since received this accolade from the big-time reviewers.  We certainly can’t dispute those who think so, but it fell to an average of 3rd place here by the thinnest of margins in 2016, and almost fell to 4th place when adding the 2019 reviews.  One 2016 reviewer rated it much lower and thought that it smelled like “cinnamon flavored paint thinner” and was too hot and tannic.  Still, there’s no denying that Booker’s Rye is a legitimate Whiskey of the Year.  Comments remarked on its “dark and sultry nose,” and it absolutely bursts with layers of spice.  Plus it also has outstanding balance and a fantastic finish (one panelist wrote the finish spread like “ripples on a calm lake”).  Once you consider the price on the secondary market, why not just buy a case of Pikesville?

4.  Knob Creek Rye

Here’s where some reshuffling started.  Already the volume King of Bourbon, Jim Beam is making a run at Rye King with its Booker’s Rye, and a very respectable Knob Creek Rye.  Leather, woody and spice balanced by nougat, with noticeably high ABV, were common comments.  Knob Creek Rye has a medium finish that holds onto the rye spice and pepper throughout.  Claiming the second-lowest price of the contestants, Knob Creek Rye certainly takes the title of price performer, and it increased two spots in the 2019 reviews.

5.  Russell’s Reserve Rye – Single Barrel (Liquor Barn)

The profiles of some Russell’s Reserve Bourbon private barrels have varied greatly, so I wanted to see whether the Rye would be more consistent, and I wanted to compare two of the best sources of private barrel selections.  It turns out that they share some similarities, but this one was much sweeter, with butterscotch, buttered popcorn, and vanilla playing the primary role with nuttiness but with great spice in the backbone.  The Liquor Barn barrel also has a much more prominent Big Red cinnamon flavor.  While receiving rankings mostly straight down the middle, this Russell’s Reserve received one 2nd-place vote and one 10th-place vote.

6.  Russell’s Reserve Rye – Single Barrel (Bourbon Crusaders)

This is a great Rye, so 5th place surprised me more than any other result, let alone 6th place after being leapfrogged by Knob Creek, and it’s much lower than my personal scoring.  This is a classic Rye where it’s spicy without screaming heat, and sweet without sugary candy.  Starting with aromas of oak and black pepper, the taste continues with oak, pepper, and baking spices balanced by cherry, crème brûlée, and crisp fruit with cocoa that hits at the tail end right before the beginning of the medium finish.  I have a bottle of this left and I’ll take it any day over Knob Creek Rye, but the averages didn’t agree with me.

7.  Russell’s Reserve Rye – Small Batch

Wild Turkey nails a sweet Rye with its six-year Small Batch.  The proof seemed a little low for this Rye, and I can’t help but wonder what this would be like at the 101 that Wild Turkey has made famous.  Light bananas, macadamia, and well-rounded candy notes made for a delicious—albeit sweet—Rye.  A less-than-subtle nose and the lack of a rye-grain kick makes this less of what we expected in a Rye Whiskey, but it was enjoyable in its own right.  In the new round of tasting, it even received a first-place vote!

8.  Rittenhouse Bottled in Bond Rye

Rittenhouse BIB received consistent 8’s and 9’s in the first round, which spelled doom and resulted in a 10th place finish by a narrow margin.  But 2019 scores reshuffled the bottom three and lifted Rittenhouse up to 8th place.  Rittenhouse was mistaken as a young craft Rye with muddled flavors and an orange marmalade quality, and there’s some green wood, but there’s also dark fruit, cinnamon, and the expected rye spice.  While by no means a show-stopper, Rittenhouse BIB hits the Rye Whiskey criteria, and as the lowest-priced Rye out of the ten, it is often considered a great value.  I think this would fare well in a $30-and-under Battle Royal, but it fell flat with this group.

9.  Woodford Reserve Rye

Woodford Reserve’s core brands of Distiller’s Select and Double Oaked Bourbon enjoy great popularity for good reason, but the Rye hasn’t caught on yet.  After a nice nose, most panelists thought that the taste was thin and weak.  One panelist noted an acetone finish with “cinnamon that coats your nasal passages.”  One of the best comments that I’ve ever read (good or bad) about whiskey described the “funky” finish in these terms:  it “tosses you about like a wagon ride over a cobblestone street, with each wheel shaped differently.”  Woodford Reserve Rye was ranked 10th by several panelists, which is exactly where I put it in 2016 and this time around.

10.  Willett Family Estate 2-year Rye

Willett is having great success with its own distilled Rye and Bourbon, and a few years ago when its first two-year Rye was released, I picked one up to see how it would compare in this field.  Unfortunately, many panelists thought that it could have used more time in the barrel.  A couple of panelists loved it though.  The “love it” or “hate it” impression was shown by the widest spread of votes in two distinct camps (2nd and 3rd place, versus 9’s and 10’s, with nothing in between).  Comments for this polarizing Rye ranged from “crisp and lively” and “lovely golden raisin,” to “fish oil pills” and “vile stuff.”  Personal preference for young whiskey—or an aversion to it—probably explains these two extreme camps.  Low votes in the 2019 round doomed its final ranking.

If your favorite Rye isn’t on this list, spend some time in 2019 comparing it with Pikesville, a Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel, or Knob Creek, or any of the other readily-available Ryes, and you might be surprised.  As Rye continues to expand, you’re bound to have plenty of choices.

Rye Battle Royale

Bourbon History Matters as a Matter of Law

I’m pleased to announce that The Kentucky Journal of Equine, Agriculture, & Natural Resources has published an article that I wrote with Melissa Whitehead, a former associate at my firm who helped with the Sazerac v. Peristyle litigation.  The 2018 ruling by the Sixth Circuit—on National Bourbon Day no less—established groundbreaking rights under the fair use defense and was lauded as a “Top 10 Trademark Ruling of 2018” by Law360.

While this law journal article digs deep into the legal analysis of the defense that prevailed in Sazerac v. Peristyle, you’ll also see that it cites to works by many non-legal friends who will be familiar to bourbon enthusiasts.  And, ultimately, it’s about the importance of history to bourbon.  Enjoy.

Link: Bourbon History Matters as a Matter of Law

Full citation: Brian F. Haara, Sazerac Brands v. Peristyle: Bourbon History Matters as a Matter of Law, 11 Ky. J. Equine, Agric., & Nat. Resources L. 307 (2019).  © Brian F. Haara 2019.