Well let’s get this out of the way right up front: this is some old whiskey. Heaven Hill likes to occasionally release super-aged expressions to the masses, and this is one of their oldest. As far as I know, only Rittenhouse 25 and and the second Parker’s Heritage release, aged 27 years, carry higher age statements (I’m probably missing some, but those were the two that come to mind). While an initial reaction may be to get more excited the bigger that number is on the label, there really is a prime age for every whiskey, and rarely does it exceed 2 decades. Even though the somewhat-smart part of my brain knows that, the impulsive (and thirsty) part of my brain saw the big ‘ol 23 on the front of this bottle and took control of my body, walked the bottle up to the counter, and made it mine. Now here I am, trying to decide how to eat a bit cheaper until the next pay day just so this bottle can grace our collection. Oh well. Worth it. It’s sippin’ time.
Company: Heaven Hill
Distillery: Heaven Hill Bernheim distillery
Mash Bill: 75% corn/12% rye/13% barley
ABV: 45% (90 proof)
Age: 23 years (barreled on 2-22-90, barrel #58)
Nose: I expected huge oak from this old-ass Bourbon, but it’s not what I got at all. Sure, there’s oak, this thing was in a barrel for a long time, but there’s a really nice balance of oak dryness and fruity barrel funk. There’s toffee, brown sugar, and the fruit comes in like dried apricot and prunes. There’s also a toasty, banana nut bread thing going in in there.
Taste: The oak hits hard on the sip, way more than anticipated given the aroma. It dried my mouth out with the quickness, then brought some toasted almonds, more oak, orange, more oak, honey, and more oak. Once your palate makes peace with all that wood (ha!), some more subtle flavors start popping out like sweet tea, some of the tropical fruity funk from the aroma, and cola.
Finish: You guessed it, this stuff finishes dry and oaky, but some of the sweetness settles back in with that honey and brown sugar reappearing. Ultimately, the oaky char is what is left behind, and that generally isn’t my favorite ending note, but there is enough honey or something on the finish that provides a little bit of texture to offset it and make it downright pleasant.
Overall: I thought about just writing the word “oak” here and leaving it at that, but that wouldn’t be fair. Yeah, this stuff is super oaky, but crap, it’s old! This bottle of Bourbon is old enough to legally buy other bottles of Bourbon. I enjoyed this pour while sitting in my back yard next to a fire on a cool fall evening, and it really hit the spot. Something about the smell of the fire complimented this whiskey and the age and the oak didn’t bother me. While it’s something I’ll definitely need to be in the mood for, I feel like the 18 or 20 year old expressions would really nail the ideal balance on this whiskey, and I look forward to trying them some day…hopefully soon.
My official recommendation would be to go for a Elijah Craig Barrel Proof 12 over the 23, unless you just really want to spend all that extra $100-$150 on a fancy bottle for your shelf. If you do, I obvioiusly won’t judge, I did the same thing.