Bardstown

Review: Rittenhouse Bottled-in-Bond Straight Rye Whiskey by Jason Hambrey

Rittenhouse.jpg
ABV
50%
Aging
>4 yrs
Recipe
51% rye, 37% Corn, 12% Malted Barley
Distiller Heaven Hill (Bardstown, Kentucky)

Rittenhouse is a brand produced by Heaven Hill, the largest family-owned beverage alcohol producer in the USA and the second largest bourbon producer after Jim Beam. This rye whiskey has been around for some time, as one of the best deals (perhaps the best) in terms of price and quality for a straight rye. This whiskey is bottled in bond, a labeling measure which was put in place in 1897 in order to protect the quality of good whiskey. To put “bottled in bond” on the label, the whiskey has to be the product of one distillation season, produced by a single distillery, aged in a federally bonded warehouse under US Government supervision for at least 4 years, and bottled at 50% ABV (or 100 American proof). These restrictions are stricter than those for Bourbon (produced in US, use new oak barrels, distilled to no more than 80% ABV, and put in the cask at 62.5%, bottled at at least 40%, with the age written on the label if it is less than 4 years old) and Straight Bourbon (minimum age 2 years without colouring or flavouring added). Thus, to an extent, it is a bit stricter of a labelling regulation.


Review (2015)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: ~2014

Nose: Fresh oak and floral, candied rye in great measure, orange peel, along with some honey, and anise. Quite an expressive nose – not difficult at all to smell with your nose quite a bit away from the glass. However, if you search deeper, you find tannins and some bitterness which is too much. Thankfully, with time this is a less significant factor as the aroma develops. Caramel and vanilla come out in time, and some funky farmy earthiness with the honey and oak continuing to grow. The beginning of the nose isn’t that great, but as you get used to it and it develops it really starts to come out wonderfully.

Taste: A good dosage of rye coming through, with the oak counterbalancing and eventually winning out. There’s a lot of honey, and still has the heaven hill style in the mix of it. As I’ve said before, one great thing about visiting distilleries is getting into the barrel houses with the smells – and this reminds me of that Heaven Hill characteristic. The guy who was giving us the tour told us at the time that if Buffalo Trace barreled their bourbon there, it would taste like Heaven Hill, and likewise, if Heaven Hill barreled their bourbon at Buffalo Trace, it would taste like Buffalo Trace. The grain comes through nicely, too – rich and buttery, and the corn seems to come through on the end. Delicious stuff. Spicy on the end, too. Really – a quite fabulous integration of complex grains, oak, and spice.

Finish: after the intensity of the palate, the oak takes the reins and slows the whole thing down leaving you into slow, sweet oak and honey with some spiciness in the mix too and some apples. anise, once again.

This is so popular, and with such great demand, a worker at Heaven Hill told me that they actually sell this stuff at a loss in order to keep the brand profile high until some of the other prices rise. This is great stuff, and terrific value especially in the states – as with most Heaven Hill products, in fact. I am quite a fan of them (Evan Williams, Elijah Craig 12, Larceny, Parker’s Heritage Collection Promise of Hope)

Highly Recommended (48% of all whiskies I’ve reviewed to date get this recommendation or higher).

Value: Very high, at $47.


Review (2018)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: B35L6

  • Bottling Date: 2017

Oak, slightly nutty, vanilla, dried fruit, dry candy icing, solidified bacon fat – lots of spices (unsurprisingly). A really rich, spicy product – still with a nice light sweetness and a touch of mint. A corn sweetness grows in the glass. The palate is really nice  - rich with a great balance of oak, sweet, and spice. The corn really comes out on the palate, more than the nose – rich grainy body, yet the spicy rye is there with clove, tea, brown cardamom, and rye bread. The finish is slightly sweet, slightly tangy, full of light oak and more spice. Cinnamon, brown sugar, and light menthol.

I was writing more but I realized it was so much a duplication of the above review and there is no need! I don’t know if I would say that it is a better whisky than it’s older sibling Pikesville, but I like it better. It’s a nice distillate, and I like it with this amount of oak – Pikesville is a bit more oaky. The tanginess here is just perfect.

Highly Recommended (48% of all whiskies I’ve reviewed to date get this recommendation or higher).

Value: Very high, at $47.


Review: William Heavenhill Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey by Jason Hambrey

William Heavenhill 1.jpg
ABV
50%
Aging
11 Years; Charred Virgin Oak
Recipe
75% Corn; 13% Rye; 12% Barley
Distiller Heaven Hill (Bardstown, Kentucky)

This whiskey is distilled at Heaven Hill - and it is a true small batch - a blend of 12 barrels, all aged 11 years - from some of Parker's sweet spots in the warehouse. A typical "small batch" from Heaven Hill is 40-45 barrels, so this is certainly rarer. I wouldn't have bought this, except for all the high praise at the distillery for this distillery exclusive- people loved it there. A distillery exclusive, as far as I know. Each edition of Heavenhill is different, generally expensive - and very limited. Really, in a sense, it's the rarer special release from Heaven Hill Distillery (rarer than the well known Parker's Heritage Collection) - and includes different things - cask strength cognac finished bourbons, ultra small batch, etc...


Review (2017)

  • Batch: 3rd Release (Bottled in Bond)

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2014

The nose is rich, woody, with lots of dried fruit and maple – nutty, and bright, too. It’s different than the other bourbons coming from Heavenhill – a true bit of what a special release should be. Prune, browned butter, dried apricot, caramel sauce, oak, dill, clove, and cinnamon. That buttery richness is terrific. This to me, is just what I like a rich bourbon to be – like Parker said, maybe 10 years old is just about how I like my Heaven Hill bourbons. The palate is rich and sweet, full of vanilla, dried corn, spices, hazlenut spread – nice and creamy. The nuttiness is great, and the finish is full of oak, dried corn, creamy vanilla, stewed apricot, and candied mandarin segments. This is a bourbon, to the core – and it is fabulous.

One of the warehouse managers at Heaven Hill told me that he thought this was the best thing they’d bottled since the famed Golden Anniversary, and convinced me to get it in 2014. I don’t think I’d agree with him, but I really like this stuff.

Very Highly Recommended (18% of all whiskies I’ve reviewed to date get this recommendation or higher).

Value: Low, at $185.

 


Review: Parker's Heritage Collection Original Small Batch Aged 13 Years Kentucky StraIght Wheat Whiskey by Jason Hambrey

ABV
63.4%
Aging
13 Years; Charred Virgin Oak
Recipe
51% Wheat, 39% Corn, 10% Malted Barley
Distiller Heaven Hill (Bardstown, Kentucky)

Parker's Heritage Collection represents a yearly limited release from Kentucky's second biggest distiller, Heaven Hill, representing some of the most sought after and best American whiskies (including one of my favorite bourbons, Promise of Hope). The 2014 release (the 8th annual release) was perhaps the best wheat whiskey ever produced - a 13 year old, cask strength version of the original batch of (the typically 7 year old) Bernheim Straight Wheat, the only successful big brand of straight wheat whiskey in the world. the original batch was distilled in 2000. This whisky was matured on the top floors of rickhouse Y at Heaven Hill.


Review (2016)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2014

The nose – obviously – showcases much of what the standard bernheim does – only bigger and rounder. More oak too, and more wonderful Heaven Hill oakiness – I don’t know what specifically it is about the distillery but all their whiskey is slightly distinctive in the oaky notes which are brought forward. It smells much like the angel’s share in the warehouses there. Elegant - oak, apricot, menthol, incense, apple, and plump corn – quite remarkable on the nose, really, and nicely creamy. At cask strength, we also have lots of coconut, fruity candy notes – though it doesn’t translate to the flavor profile, I keep picturing Dave Broom in my head saying “rich and round”…the tropical fruity, oaky, earthy, and grain notes all are terrifically balanced – another classic from Heaven Hill.

On the palate, we have more oakiness and complexity than the standard bernheim – a clear notch above all the way through, particularly with some refined nutty notes. A bit heavier – but the complexity is immensely greater than Bernheim. It makes me wonder…they slate Bernheim these days at 7 years – why not push that to 12? It would make a huge difference. But, I suppose, distilleries aren’t adding years to whiskies but rather taking them away…back to the whiskey – the palate brings forth also lots of dried fruit, light sweetness, light baking bread, and some spice – cinnamon, nutmeg, and dry spice. The finish is full and oaky. It carries itself remarkably well at cask strength, balancing the oak with sweetness, caramel, tropical fruity – and finishing so gently with grain and spice in a finish that develops to show clear cut grain notes. The mouthfeel is incredible. However, I do think this one shines with just a touch of water.

Elegant, compex, and delicious – though they do a bit better with more corn oriented whiskies. Wheat is fascinating, but can be a bit simple at times.

Highly Recommended (48% of all whiskies I’ve reviewed to date get this recommendation or higher).

Value: Low (based on $225)


Review: Elijah Craig 12 Year Old Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey by Jason Hambrey

ABV
47%
Aging
12 Years; Charred Virgin Oak
Recipe
75% Corn; 13% Rye; 12% Barley
Distiller Heaven Hill (Bardstown, Kentucky)

This whiskey is distilled at Heaven Hill, named after Rev. Elijah Craig who, according to Heaven Hill, became the first to age his whiskey in charred oak barrels. A lot of the whiskies at Heaven Hill are frankly good value, and the whiskies are often well aged – in an age where whiskey is booming so much that everyone is pulling out younger product because of demand. Also, much of the product comes at quite reasonably price too. Part of the reason they do this is because they produce so much other product (vodka, tequila, cream liquers, rums….), so they don’t need their whiskey to make all their money.

It goes into the barrel at 62.5% before aging. This says that it is a true “small batch” bourbon, which is a bit strange given the availability of the bourbon – it isn’t that “small” (of course many substantial producers do this). However, I believe about 40-50 barrels go into a batch, so they’re not dumping everything into the batch. But that’s still over 6000 bottles per batch assuming 5% loss of product through evaporation per year….


Review (2015)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code" N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2013

Nose: For a 12 year old bourbon, I expected more oak, especially with the dark color of the product. A lot of corn comes through the nose, along with hints of rye, coconut, and buttery vanilla. There are a few light fruits of a berry character, along with plums, apricot, cherry, some oak spiciness, and some of the earthy and nutty notes of pumpkin. The actual smell of the oak is present, but it certainly doesn’t dominate – and it carries a bit of a rich, earthy feel which remind me of the older El Dorado rums, if you’ve ever tasted those. Also, it still has a nice creaminess and elegance to it.

Taste: A lot of oak on the palate compared to the nose. Light, seemingly fresh dried and charred oak, brown sugar, stewed plums, and a bit of earthiness which I find a bit characteristic of Heaven Hill – and love. It has a nice spicy thread to it as well which I quite enjoy – and there’s a nice cinnamon bite to it at the end which is quite fantastic.

Finish: Some tobacco, oak, cherries, oaky and mossy earthiness, a bit of orange, and even a few herbal influences and some yeast. It’s quite interesting because of the mix of the creaminess, oak, fruit, and spice – especially because the creamy element is something I notice more on the finish than anywhere else. The tingly spice element is quite nice – and I find cloves are beautifully present. The feel and volume is quite nice…there’s a bit of bitterness which detracts a bit, unfortunately.

I really like the way that oak does its work at Heaven Hill. It gives what I find to be really nice earthy undertones in its oaky influence, and I find these very enjoyable. It’s almost mystical how location affects aging – you could put the same barrel of whisky at Heaven Hill, and another at Buffalo Trace – and you’d get very different whiskies. Having visited many of the distilleries in Kentucky twice, it’s also interesting to have the smells and tastes of the whiskies actually remind you of the warehouses themselves that you visited. This is very good value and I highly recommend.

Highly Recommended (48% of all whiskies I’ve reviewed to date get this recommendation or higher).

Value: High (based on $48)


Review: Parker's Heritage Collection Promise of Hope 10 Year Old Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey by Jason Hambrey

ABV
48%
Aging
10 Years; Virgin Charred Oak
Recipe
~78% Corn, 10% Rye, 12% Malted Barley
Distiller Heaven Hill (Bardstown, Kentucky)

Parker’s Heritage Collection is a highly regarded bourbon which is released once a year from Heaven Hill distillery. Each year, it is produced differently, but consistently is of very high quality. in 2013, Parker Beam, who has been a master distiller at Heaven Hill for decades, was diagnosed with ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease), and consequently the release this year is raising money for ALS research with 20 dollars from each bottle going toward the research.

The whisky is a ten year old bourbon, a single barrel, bottled at 48% ABV. It was selected by Parker Beam and the entire release consists of 100 barrels, from Parker’s favourite warehouse spot.


Review (2013)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code: N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2013

Nose: Caramel comes on at first, and the whisky seems to take a bit of time to open up as it is quite dense and rich. Dark chocolate, a bit of orange citrus, dried apricot, fresh oak, along with some spice, pineapple, vanilla custard, bread pudding, cream…the wood integration in the whole experience also reminds me a bit of the woody smells of an oak forest. It’s not a nose that aggressively dominates but rather is wonderfully subtle, and keeps me interested and interested…

Taste: A beautiful example of why people describe a whisky as silky. Rich, rye-tinged bourbon enters with caramel softly and then a candy-like rye takes it up a notch. There’s some orange and a tinge of sourness. Pineapple is present throughout.  It’s so smooth and thick that it almost reminds me of custard with the mouthfeel, vanilla, and caramel notes. So wonderfully light, complex, and thick at the same time. It’s just sweet enough, it’s just creamy enough, it’s just spicy enough. It’s not a bourbon where I find much movement, so to speak – the flavours more of less stay the same throughout as the bourbon. However, the quality of that which doesn’t seem to change requires all that extra time to admire while it makes its home in your mouth. Beautiful balance.

Finish: The palate dries out with some pepper and caramel, and a bit of pineapple. There’s some oak, orange, tree bark, honey, egg pastry, all the while remaining quite sweet. It makes your mouth water and long to be filled back up with the whisky….it’s oily, and slowly that breaks down and releases dried corn flavours.

What a sublime bourbon experience. For all the experimentation being done with whisky now, all the finishes, all the exploration with oak…it is really great to have a simple, excellent, single barrel bourbon which shows how well a straight bourbon can please. One of my favorite bourbons I have ever tasted.

Exceptional (3% of whiskies I’ve reviewed to date receive this, my highest recommendation).

Value: Average (based on $143)


Review: Bernheim Straight Wheat Whiskey by Jason Hambrey

This is a straight wheat whiskey, which means that its primary grain is wheat, rather than corn or rye which are more common. In many parts of Canada and the US, wheat was the most common grain for whisky at the beginning of whisky history in those places. “Straight whiskey” means that it has been aged in new charred oak casks, for at least 2 years. To say it is “wheat” means that it is at least 51% wheat (this is 51% wheat, with the remaining 49% corn and malted barley). Wheat rounds out the profile, resulting in “softer” whiskies (like wheated bourbons, which have wheat as a secondary grain to corn rather than rye bourbons, which are more spicy due to the secondary grain of rye) and a typically more viscous product. Also, I find, they give some very interesting, unique fruity and floral notes.

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