Review: Heaven Hill Barrel Proof Bourbon 27 Years Old
Sooner or later, it seems that every distillery burns down. They pretty much always get rebuilt, but invariably those with tears in their eyes will insist that it’s just not the same.
Heaven Hill experienced a massive fire — one of the worst in modern history — in November 1996, when a warehouse caught fire in its Bardstown operation and ended up destroying some 90,000 barrels of stock, culminating in a “river of burning whiskey” that, miraculously, ended with no one getting killed.
Heaven Hill’s stills and bottling operation weren’t damaged, but the devastation was intense, resulting in a reported $30 million in losses for the company. Yet Heaven Hill ultimately survived — and thrived — in the aftermath.
And today you have the rare opportunity to taste the bourbon that survived that fire, as Heaven Hill has bottled 3,000 bottles of “pre-fire” bourbon distilled in 1989 and 1990. 41 barrels in total were picked for inclusion in this minuscule, one-time release that is intended to “represents Heaven Hill’s heritage of distilling.”
Formally known as Heaven Hill 27-Year-Old Barrel Proof Small Batch Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey, this is a vatting of all 41 barrels (i.e. these are not single-barrel bottlings). All but five of the barrels were drawn from the first and second floors of Heaven Hill’s warehouses.
The product ships to market in the late fall of this year, so don’t be surprised if you don’t see it anywhere just yet.
We received an advance look at the release and, as it’s such a monumental release, tasted it over two days. Thoughts follow.
Old bourbon can change in strange and unexpected ways, and Heaven Hill 27 is proof of that. The nose is initially boldly beefy, with an intense umami character that, over time, finds balance in more traditional bourbon aromas of barrel char, salted caramel, and black pepper. An aromatic incense note emerges later on, giving the combination a more floral, tobacco-laden character. On the palate, I was immediately struck by notes of fresh nutmeg and orange oil — a flavor bomb on the tongue — but found this was quickly stripped away by an almost overwhelming astringency. Loads of wood-driven tannin and bramble notes whisk the sweetness away, drying out the tongue. Some water’s a good idea for taming this effect, though be gentle-handed with it to avoid too much dilution of proof. That drying finish finds some peppery notes, hints of lime rinds, and an abrupt, boldly green, mentholated character. Again, the wood overwhelms here, ultimately overpowering all else in the mix.
With all of that said, it’s still a fun history lesson… though it will of course cost you dearly.
B / $399 / heavenhill.com
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