Despite my relative disappointment with some recent high-priced Bourbon, my resounding praise of Elijah Craig 12-Year Barrel Proof and this year’s Parker’s Heritage Collection (“Original Wheat”) drew me back into the Evan Williams Bourbon Experience to purchase the latest $250.00 extremely limited edition Bourbon from Heaven Hill: William Heavenhill 15-year Cask Strength. Like last spring’s Select Stock, this bottle is only available at the gift shop in Bardstown, but a few bottles found their way to Louisville. Unlike the wheated, Cognac-finished, Select Stock, William Heavenhill uses Heaven Hill’s standard Bourbon mash bill (75% corn; 13% rye; 12% malted barley), and there’s no fancy finishing.
What sets William Heavenhill apart from Elijah Craig 12-year Barrel Proof (aside from three additional years of aging) is that William Heavenhill was aged in barrels larger than traditional 53-gallon size. After some inquiries, Heaven Hill gave me exclusive additional information: they used nine out of thirteen custom-built 65-gallon barrels for this edition of William Heavenhill. Parker Beam found these custom-made barrels – that were actually built for a different customer – and he was intrigued. I was also told that the nine selected barrels only produced about 350 bottles, which seems low even for 15 years and cask strength, at least at average evaporation rates, but apparently three of the barrels in particular were extremely low.
Regardless, the real question is probably whether William Heavenhill is materially different when compared to a $55.00 Elijah Craig Barrel Proof? I certainly wondered, so I opened an Elijah Craig 12-year Barrel Proof from the spring of 2014, which weighed in at a conveniently similar 134.8 proof. Let’s see if there’s a $200 difference.
Bourbon: William Heavenhill Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey
Distillery: Heaven Hill (distilled in Louisville and aged in Bardstown)
Age: 15 years (in 65-gallon barrels, stored upright)
Proof: 135.6 proof
Dark brown; some of the darkest that I’ve seen. It’s even darker than Elijah Craig 12-year Barrel Proof, which used to be the darkest Bourbon in my collection.
The nose is similar to Elijah Craig 12-year Barrel Proof, but it has more oak, and more earthy and leather tones too. It has a nice balance of oak and spice along with caramel and cinnamon apple. There isn’t as much burn on the nose as might be expected from the high proof, and it has noticeably less burn than the slightly lower proofed Elijah Craig (to be fair, this particular batch of Elijah Craig Barrel Proof has the hottest nose out of all of them to date).
The high proof is evident immediately, but it’s not distracting. A little air calmed it down too, but it still has a robust blast of complex flavors. It has the oak and leather from the nose, with an overall dry taste, but much more complexity than I expected. The taste has fewer similarities compared to Elijah Craig 12 Barrel Proof than with the nose, but it’s clearly still related. William Heavenhill is creamier than the Elijah Craig and definitely drier, but despite having slightly higher proof, it’s less hot on the tongue. William Heavenhill also has a unique dry tang of black tea. This is a remarkable Bourbon.
The finish was really long, and definitely longer than my comparison Elijah Craig, with the same spice, oak and black tea flavors carrying through from the taste.
With such a limited release and with such a premium price, I would have appreciated more attention to detail on the bottle. The thick gold wax seal adds a nice touch, although the thickness and density of the wax made the strip really difficult to pull. The simplicity of the bottle itself makes it attractive, but hand-labeling the warehouse information and bottle number would have been a nice gesture for anyone dropping this kind of cash.
Regardless, I pay more attention to what’s inside the bottle than its appearances, and inside it is exceptional. It’s considerably better than my last $250 Heaven Hill purchase (the wheated, Cognac-finished Select Stock). Unlike that Select Stock, which I didn’t recommend drinking neat, William Heavenhill’s heat doesn’t absolutely require taming. Instead, much like Elijah Craig Barrel Proof and Parker’s Heritage Collection 8th Ed. Original Wheat, this is a beast that can be enjoyed neat, and then you’d better cut the proof. Adding differing amounts of water or ice gives a creamier, somewhat sweeter, taste, without sacrificing the finish.
While I really enjoyed William Heavenhill and would love to have a constant supply, I can’t say that it’s worth $200 more than Elijah Craig Barrel Proof, even though I think that this William Heavenhill is much better than my comparison Elijah Craig Barrel Proof. On the other hand, this edition of William Heavenhill is unique, so I hope you get a chance to try it. If I didn’t consider value, or if this were priced in the range of the suggested retail prices for many of this fall’s limited edition releases, William Heavenhill would have easily scored a 4.5, and maybe higher. But I do account for value, so I had to adjust the score to a 3.5.
Thanks to sharp eyes and good fortune of a friend in Savannah, I just learned that Heaven Hill bottled one of its other 65-gallon barrels of the same mash bill 15-year Bourbon (bottled at 131 proof) as a private barrel under the Select Stock label. This barrel was selected for Bourbon Bar in Atlanta, where the menu indicates a price of $40.00 per pour. That leaves three more 65-gallon barrels unaccounted for; let the hunt begin.
Score on The Sipp’n Corn Scale: 3.5 (4.5+ if not considering price)
The Sipp’n Corn Scale™:
1 – Wouldn’t even accept a free drink of it.
2 – Would gladly drink it if someone else was buying.
3 – Glad to include this in my bar.
4 – Excellent bourbon. Worth the price and I’m sure to always have it in my bar.
5 – Wow. I’ll search high and low to get another bottle of this.