2014 Parker’s Heritage Collection Wheat Whiskey


Heaven Hill’s annual Parker’s Heritage Collection limited release is like a box of boozy chocolate… you never know what you’re gonna get. Last year, it was just a lovely selection of ten year old bourbon with that prototypical Elijah Craig profile. Before that, you could find an 11 year old cask strength small batch, a 27 ! year old, a cognac-finished… you get the idea. Box of chocolates. This year, the eighth version of the collection, we get a thirteen year old wheat whiskey. Not a wheated whiskey (a la Pappy Van Winkle or Weller or Larceny, which use wheat in place of rye as a minor contributor behind the dominant corn in the mash bill), but a wheat whiskey (a la Bernheim, which is among the very few American whiskeys that use wheat as the primary ingredient).

In fact, this Parker’s Heritage Collection release is a whole lot like Bernheim – as it comes from the very first run of the wheat whiskey that would later be bottled as Bernheim (which was first sold in 2005). This limited edition, though, is almost twice as old as regular Bernheim (which just recently added a 7 year old age statement to the bottle), plus comes to us non chill-filtered and cask strength – which is an approach that has served Heaven Hill well with their barrel proof version of Elijah Craig. The mash bill is reportedly 51% soft winter wheat, and there are actually two different batches being sold as part of the release, one at 127 proof, the other TBD. And for you detail-obsessed whiskey geeks, it was aged on the top floors of Heaven Hill’s Rickhouse Y in Bardstown. On to the notes.

Parker's Heritage Collection 2014 Wheat Whiskey Parker’s Heritage Collection, 2014, Original Batch Kentucky Straight Wheat Whiskey
127.4 Proof
Approx. $90 Retail ($5 goes to Heaven Hill’s efforts to support ALS research)
Tasting Dates: September 10 – 15,  2014
Thirsty South Rating: WOW*

The color? Deep amber, surely due to those years at the upper reaches of rickhouse Y (the higher up, the higher the temperature swings, and the more interaction the bourbon gets with the wood).

The nose? Toasty oak is quite prominent, in a very nice way. There’s a good jolt of Bit-O-Honey, with dark caramel and vanilla also coming on pretty strong. I also get a plum and dark berry fruitiness to it, that leads into hints of an oaky cabernet, even some Chateauneuf de Pape. Intriguing stuff. A touch of water softens the sweetness and amps up the warm oak, plus brings out  a background buzz of herbal spiciness that seems almost rye-like (crazy, I wouldn’t expect it from wheat, but there it is).
Parker's Heritage Collection 2014 Wheat Whiskey Label
Neat… as expected… this is really strong, but in a pleasing way. Tingly and soft at once, with a long cinnamon spice finish. The high proof works, and you can slowly sip this without fear. But a bit of water brings out the sweet depths in this whiskey and accentuates the nice balance between the many elements at play, with enough dark caramel and honey to please any bourbon fan for sure. The time in the barrel has rendered this far richer than many may expect from a wheat whiskey (regular Bernheim is known for being on the lighter side).

Parker's Heritage Collection 2014 Wheat Whiskey LabelEven better than adding a touch of water, a single ice cube works some magic here as it slowly cools and dissolves into the whiskey. The texture becomes thicker, lightly syrupy even, and the whiskey performs a tremendous tightrope walk of wood and spice and sweetness and grain and heat. I just want to chew and chew on it, and the long slow finish keeps you coming back for more. It gets more delicate, lightly floral, smoother and even chewier as the ice seeps into it, never reaching the point of being too watery. And as the ice settles in, it skirts into a more Scotch-like territory, with prominent grain notes coming forward  (as in a lighter, more floral and fruity Scotch, nothing smoky or peaty here). The cooled down finish carries mellow and warm grain plus tinges of cinnamon red hots at the end.

After enjoying the glass with an ice cube, I go back to a neat sip and that Bit-O-Honey pops out strong again. The range of expression here is crazy and fascinating. This is a drink well worthy of exploration.

There’s a good chance my love of this will be an outlier vs. others’ opinions. Is a thirteen year old barrel proof wheat whiskey going to be everyone’s cup of tea? No. Actually, I doubt anyone out there has ever tasted a thirteen year old barrel proof wheat whiskey. But this is remarkable and interesting stuff for any whiskey fan. And entirely unique. The extra age and the extra proof give this wheat whiskey an intriguing combination of wood and grain. Parker’s Heritage Collection has turned out a real winner here – something different, something stellar. Highly recommended if you can find a bottle, and the $90 recommended price is not bad at all for whiskey of this caliber.



* Thirsty South Rating Scale:
Wow – among the very best: knock-your-socks-off, profound, complex liquid gold!
Excellent – exceptional in quality and character, worth seeking out, highly recommended
Good Stuff – solid expression of its type/varietal, enjoyable and recommended
Fair – fairly standard or exhibiting obvious though minor flaws
Avoid – move away folks, nothing to see here, a trainwreck
Full Disclosure: Tasting sample provided by Heaven Hill.
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Elijah Craig 23 Single Barrel: Review and Tasting Notes

Elijah Craig 23 Bourbon whiskey

Oh, Elijah. I love what you’re up to up there in Bardstown. That 12 year old barrel proof beast of a bourbon? It’s simply one of my favorite bourbons of the past few years (though I wish it were a bit easier to find, and I wish the prices hadn’t crept up at retail from $40 to $60 in most places – but thank you anyway for keeping it coming). I was  impressed with your 21 year old single barrel release last year. And now you’ve come out with another limited release, of 23 year old single barrel bourbon – actually distilled and barreled just a few months apart from the 21 year old, but left to age a bit longer. That 21 year old single barrel showed well – not too woody, plenty of intrigue, a fine example of a nicely aged bourbon. Which, let’s face it, is an increasingly precious thing. So I was curious to see how two more years in the barrel might show itself.  Of course, Heaven Hill purposefully chose barrels for this new 23 year old that would best show at an advanced age – this time coming from the middle floors of their rickhouses. Let’s see how it stacks up to the 21.

Elijah Craig 23 Single Barrel Bourbon

Elijah Craig Single Barrel Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey, Aged 23 Years
Barrel #26, barreled on 2-26-90
90 Proof, Approx. $200 Retail
Tasting Dates: August 28-September 8, 2014
Thirsty South Rating: Good Stuff
(and pushing into Excellent on the nose)*

First off – the visuals. Comparing this side by side with the 21 year old release from last year, you’ll first note the same lovely bottle design (it better be at these prices), now with a dark camouflage-green label (and the edge of the label looking even more camo-like). We’re huntin’ old whiskey here. As for the stuff inside, the color of the 23 is just a notch deeper and more auburn than the 21, as might be expected.

On the nose, I thought (and still think) the 21 was like “sawdust baking in the summer heat in an old wooden barn… rum raisin mixed with a bit of purple grape… (working) together surprisingly well… hints of rye spice underneath, but not at all sharp or green.” This single barrel 23 follows a very similar profile – these are close cousins – but I’m getting a deeper brown sugar, and the grape notes take a backseat to ripe peach – like peaches caramelizing in a skillet, with a bit of almond paste thrown in. There’s a bit more dark oak, and still a good amount of heat (this is a powerful 90 proof). When I first opened this bottle, the wood notes often overpowered the fruit and spice and flattened everything else out, but over the course of a week being open, the bottle really settled down and heady whiffs of cinnamon brown sugar helped to push the nose into truly lovely territory – not too dark or deep or woody at all, simply harmonious.

For the 23 year old, I could copy and paste my first thoughts on tasting the 21, because they still ring true: “strong and persistent burn on the tongue, not unpleasant, but… strong for 90 proof. It manages to be full and thick without feeling syrupy, with a mouth-coating presence that seeks out every nook and cranny. There’s an almost-burnt-caramel quality to it, but it doesn’t comes across as sweet since the wood and clove-like baking spices are there tackling the sugar. This may not help to say, but it feels old in a way that is neither astonishing (as in the Pappy 23 year old) nor upsetting.” What I find, though, is that the extra age on the Elijah 23 is tipping this a bit out of balance, coming across as dried out at times. I wouldn’t call this over the hill, but it’s wobbling at the precipice.

A cube of ice mellows things out and brings out the butterscotch notes, but, just as it did in the 21, the ice strips away the unique aged character of the bourbon as well, making it more pedestrian. My preference on the 23 is to drink it neat.

I previously gave the Elijah 21 an “Excellent,” and I think the 23 delivers to that level on the nose – but I also find that the additional two years bring the 23 down a notch in terms of balance and liveliness – at least for the single barrel that I tried. Yes, if you want to experience an older bourbon, this is a great option. Like I said, any 23 year old bourbon is inherently precious stuff, and quite hard to find these days. In fact, this limited release of Elijah Craig will likely be evaporating from store shelves faster than a 23 year old bourbon makes its way  through the barrels and up towards the angels. I commend Elijah Craig / Heaven Hill for continuing to set aside good barrels to keep giving folks the opportunity to try extra aged bourbon (and consciously seeking the right barrels to go the distance). But I also look forward to allocating my bourbon dollars to the much younger 12 year old barrel proof version!

Please note that there WILL be variation from barrel to barrel – thus is the nature of single barrel bottlings.


* Thirsty South Rating Scale:

Wow – among the very best: knock-your-socks-off, profound, complex liquid gold!
Excellent – exceptional in quality and character, worth seeking out, highly recommended
Good Stuff – solid expression of its type/varietal, enjoyable and recommended
Fair – fairly standard or exhibiting obvious though minor flaws
Avoid – move away folks, nothing to see here, a trainwreck

Full Disclosure: Tasting sample provided by Heaven Hill.


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Taproom Coffee, Atlanta


Here’s the short story – there are three things you need to know about Taproom Coffee in Kirkwood: Jonathan Pascual. Counter Culture Coffee. Craft Beer. That’s it. Go.

Jonathan Pascual Taproom CoffeeOf course, there’s a long version to that story as well. Starting with Jonathan Pascual. He’s the guy who probably most famously helped kick off the rockin’ coffee program at Empire State South a few years back. Earlier this year, he started up Taproom Coffee, and there’s a good chance his smiling face will be there to greet you when you walk in the door. To give you a feel for what Taproom is all about for Jonathan, here are his words from the Kickstarter campaign that helped fund the endeavour:

The Dream: I always wanted to own and run my own place. But I didn’t feel like it should be just another coffee shop. Connecting to people in relationships is very important to me. And no matter how friendly I think I am, sometimes I feel like I just need a little something to grease the wheels of connection. I’ve come to realize that two things frequently (and easily) bring people together: coffee and beer. My dream is that through the medium of these two beverages, Taproom Coffee could provide a comfortable, approachable environment where we facilitate connections. Great coffee, great beer, great memories.

Counter Culture CoffeeSounds good, right? And how ’bout the beans? Jonathan turns to Counter Culture Coffee for the wide range of coffees available as espresso, or pour over, or by the bag to go. They do good stuff. Their mission is to “source, roast, and deliver the most exquisite, freshest coffee in the world,” and even if they’re not quite the very most exquisite in the world, they’re close enough. And just look at all those single origin lots and exotic sources and fancy names and pretty packages – Banko Gotiti, Ollke Birre, Elias Benata, Haru, Idido, Finca Nueva Armenia, Ngunguru… it’s probably a bit overwhelming, and definitely a lot colorful, but Jonathan can help guide you through the flavors and merits of each and every one.

Counter Culture CoffeeI picked up a bag of Aleme Wako (the farmer), Biloya (the village), sundried single  lot, from Kochere (the district), Ethiopia (the country), Africa (the continent), Earth (enough said). I can’t personally fill you in on all the intricacies of how it was grown and harvested and roasted – it probably deserves its own Wikipedia page (OK, this is close enough) – but I can tell you it makes a mean cup of coffee in the morning.

And now the beer? Jonathan’s pride and joy is his “Beerspresso Machine” – an old 4-group La Marzocco Linea espresso machine that he gutted in his garage and had converted into a glimpse of beer nirvana. You’ll find a nice mix of local and not-so-local craft beers on tap: the current list includes Eventide Nitro Dry Irish Stout, Monday Night Nerd Alert, Creature Comforts Reclaimed Rye, Smuttynose Noonan Black IPA… on to La Trappe and St. Bernardus and Sierra Nevada. Now the question is just whether you want beer or coffee. Or maybe one of each. Or maybe two.





IMG_9084Jonathan Pascual Taproom Coffee

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My Goodness, (not) My Guinness!

I was in Dublin last week and, naturally, visited the Guinness Storehouse for a tour / taste of what is surely one of Ireland’s greatest achievements – Guinness Stout. I love Guinness – the way it tastes, the way it looks, the way it takes a few minutes of lovely effervesence to pour a proper pint, the way that thick foamy head forms and hangs around. I also love Guinness for its admirable history of brilliant marketing – the characters, colors, slogans, and omnipresent wall murals that make it such an integral part of the Irish landscape. Guinness is a great beer, and it is a great brand. Which brings me to the vexing and confounding creation that I recently learned about – a beer called… Guinness American Blonde Lager.

Guinness My Goodness

My goodness – things are upside down at Guinness

What are the first three things that pop into your mind when you hear the word Guinness? I’m guessing they’re something along the lines of Irish, dark, and stout. And isn’t it interesting that American, blonde, and lager seem fairly antithetical to those characteristics that we so closely associate with Guinness? In other words, WHAT THE HELL ARE THE PEOPLE AT GUINNESS THINKING!????

Actually, I have a pretty good idea of what they’re thinking. They’re thinking that Guinness is not doing as well in America as it should. That other beer brands are eating their lunch. That surely there’s a way to introduce Guinness to a new crowd of beer drinkers. Sure, the first two points there are right – Guinness is not doing that well in America, and other brands are indeed eating their lunch. But is introducing an American blonde lager a way to grow the Guinness brand? Better yet, is introducing a GUINNESS American blonde lager the way for Diageo, Guinness’ parent company, to grow their portfolio of beer brands in America? If you ask me, the answer is a resounding NO and NO.

The folks at Guinness – and more rightly I should probably say the folks at Diageo – should properly recognize the great value that exists in the Guinness brand. The equities that it holds so strongly that offer opportunity… but also act as a form of tether. Sure, Guinness is bound by its history and heritage – but that tether should be considered not as a barrier to growth, but as a guideline for HOW to grow. How can Guinness take its heritage – its Irishness, blackness, stoutness – and use that as a springboard into the heart of the American beer drinking public? I can guarantee you that the answer is not by watering down everything that the brand stands for – by discarding Irish for American, black for blonde, stout for lager. Stick to your strengths, Guinness, and leave the light stuff to one of your sister brands. My goodness. That’s not MY Guinness.

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Atlanta BYOB Brouhaha

NO BYOBOver on Creative Loafing, I’ve been tracking a back and forth exchange between the Georgia Restaurant Association (who has asserted that the city is cracking down on restaurants allowing BYOB) and the mayor’s office (who asserts that there is no such crackdown). It’s a developing story, but for now we know that several restaurants in Atlanta have actually stopped offering BYOB, which is likely hurting both diners and restaurants in the city.

Hopefully restaurants around town can resume their BYOB practices without any cause for concern – it certainly sounds like the city believes that to be the case. In the meantime, I’ve asked the city some follow up questions that should fully ease concerns and push this dialog forward.

As pointed out in the article on Creative Loafing, the city-established Alcohol Technical Advisory Group II had made a wide range of recommendations to the city council last year that were never acted on, including a recommendation to simplify the city’s ordinances as they relate to BYOB. If the city acts upon those recommendations now,  situations like this will certainly be prevented in the future. Wouldn’t that be nice?

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