It’s funny how a variety of different factors can make me decide to write a whiskey review, rather than just tasting something for my own knowledge or pleasure.
Relevance in the market is certainly a major factor. When a major distillery comes out with a new core, year-round product, the fact that this bottle will be in front of consumers is always a good reason to appraise it. Novelty is another good reason—if a distillery is doing something unusual, that’s never been done before, it’s easy to justify a review.
Limited releases are a stickier situation—the less accessible a bottle is, the less relevant it truly is to any appreciable number of people. You can try to snag a swig of any given year’s Pappy Van Winkle 23 Year Old and write a “review,” but it will do nothing to influence to opinion of any reader. And likewise, I often don’t bother to review whiskeys with ultra limited bottle counts, when most readers aren’t likely to ever even physically see one.
And yet, sometimes when I taste a whiskey, the liquid in the bottle all but makes the decision for me. Sometimes, a spirit is worth writing about just because it’s really great. Enter, Heaven Hill’s new 85th Anniversary Bourbon.
This is an ultra-limited release—comically small, really. As small as most whiskey releases are capable of being, which is to say it’s a single barrel. Specifically, it’s a single barrel of 13-year-old bourbon aged in Heaven Hill’s Rickhouse G and bottled at 107 proof, in order to commemorate the distillery’s original barrel entry proof. A spiritual sibling to the previously released Heaven Hill 27 Year Bourbon, these 146 bottles will also be hand-numbered and packaged in custom wooden boxes, sitting on a cushy base of blue satin. The price? A cool $300. Painful, but at least your money is going straight to the distillery, rather than a package store jacking the price up by 200%.
If you’re wondering where these bad boys are being sold, the answer is exclusively via Heaven Hill’s Bourbon Heritage Center, which only makes sense for a release that is limited to merely 146 bottles. Suffice to say, it’s going to be very hard for most fans to find this one, but after tasting it I can report that it’s absolutely worth seeking out. This is simply one of the best straight-up Heaven Hill bourbons I’ve had to date, not even needing the 130-plus proof point of Elijah Craig Barrel Proof in order to be over-the-top flavorful. Those who favor Heaven Hill’s house style will find a lot to love here.
So with that said, let’s get to tasting.
On the nose, this is a classic Heaven Hill bourbon with no shortage of age on it. I’m getting cocoa, warm caramel sauce and nut-covered toffee. Salted pecans move into plenty of oak and roastiness, along with light nutmeg and clove spice. It gives an impression of balance—moderately sweet, moderately rich, fairly oaky. Over time, a delicate red fruitiness like strawberry begins to be teased out. Notably, the ethanol seems quite light on the nose for the 107 proof; this has clearly mellowed nicely.
On the palate, I’m first getting big waves of spicy oak, with hints of mixed peppercorns and ginger candy. There’s substantial oak flavor to this profile, but no unpleasantly bitter or harsh tannic impressions to go along with it. Instead, I’m getting more salted caramel and moderate sweetness, along with growing herbaceousness and leather that is amplified on subsequent sips. By the time I’m a bit further in the glass, the dried herbs and tobacco have become major players, but they’re nicely balanced by a sweeter earthiness and brown sugar. Alcohol heat is moderate, and more present than on the nose—it certainly lets you know it’s there, but unsurprisingly in a more gentle way than on most Elijah Craig Barrel Proofs. In comparison with say, my favorite ECBP of 2020, the B520 batch, this 13-year-old single barrel strikes me as less decadent, fruity and sweet, and a bit closer to the classic Heaven Hill house style. It’s just extremely well balanced between all of its competing elements—a classic single barrel that is indicative of the distillery’s whole ethos.
It’s just damn good bourbon—and I apologize that you probably won’t get one. If you live in bourbon country, though, keep an eye out!
Distillery: Heaven Hill
City: Bardstown, KY
Style: Single barrel bourbon
ABV: 53.5% (107 proof)
Availability: Limited, 750 ml bottles, $300 MSRP
Jim Vorel is a Paste staff writer and resident brown liquor geek. You can follow him on Twitter for more drink writing.