I could pre-write the comments on this review.
They’ll go something like: “I used to love Heaven Hill Bottled-in-Bond 6 Years Old. I bought a bottle every time I was in Kentucky. But now, those [expletive] [expletives] can [verb] their [expletive] whiskey straight up their [orifice].” Rinse and repeat, ad infinitum.
Whiskey distilleries are commercial concerns, yet whiskey drinkers react with furious approbation any time these businesses act in a profit-maximizing way. When this involves a change to a well loved and fairly priced expression the torches and pitchforks really start to come out. Thus, today we’ve got another whiskey review appended to a lengthy discussion of the hurt feelings of whole bunch of people.
Before we get there, though, a short recapitulation of this expression’s history: Heaven Hill initially released its Bottled-in-Bond bourbon in 1939. If you’re unfamiliar with the bottled-in-bond classification, kindly refer to some of the others that I have had the pleasure to review in this hallowed space. A deeper dive into the history of Heaven Hill, meanwhile, can be located here.
With that business taken care of: this whiskey found a positive reception and, according to Heaven Hill, it “quickly became the number-one-selling Bourbon whiskey in the state of Kentucky.” Remaining a Kentucky exclusive, Heaven Hill Bottled-in-Bond stayed a sleeper favorite for decades. Recently, however, this whiskey was the subject of an A’bunadh-like controversy in the middle of last year.
Having discontinued the prior 6-year-old Bottled-in-Bond in September 2018, Heaven Hill took the expression in for a facelift and a re-tooling. They increased the age statement (to 7 years old) and, due to the legal stipulations around the bottled-in-bond designation, maintained the proof (100 proof, 50% ABV). So far, so good, but you’ve probably guessed what’s coming next…
The furor resulted from the increase in price, from the prior level of $15 (speculated to be breakeven-to-loss-making) to the new MSRP of $40. The reaction to this is an interesting study in whiskey psychology. Bear with me for a moment while we consider a hypothetical:
Let’s say a long-established and well-regarded Kentucky distillery decided to release a new Bottled-in-Bond whiskey with a 7-year age statement for the price of $40. How would you feel about this? I’d feel… fine? I’ve personally paid that much for some really crummy craft whiskey, so this can’t be that much worse, right? I might buy one bottle to try it out. In total, I can’t envisage my pulse racing or blood pressure increasing at the prospect.
I think a lot of the outcry related to the manner in which this change was executed, rather than to the resultant product. In a prior review of some other Heaven Hill whiskeys, I waxed philosophical about the role of expectations in shaping our perceptions of what are, on their face, simply good or bad things. People expected to be able to continue to get age stated bottled-in-bond whiskey at a mid-teens price point, whether this made sense financially for its producer or within the broader context of comparable whiskey on the shelf. When they stopped being able to get that, and it was replaced by something similar with a much higher price, they felt hard done by. I get it; it’s not a good look. The best I can offer you is an adage adapted from my professional industry: don’t love distilleries, because distilleries don’t love you.
Not all is lost, after all. For the exceedingly cost-sensitive among us, there’s still the Evan Williams Bottled-in-Bond, though I feel slightly queasy every time I mention this whiskey given that such reasonably-priced expressions in the Heaven Hill portfolio are evidently going the way of the dodo. Evan Williams Bottled-in-Bond doesn’t carry an age statement, but you’ll promptly cease caring following the first sip.
But, that’s not why we’re here today. I’ll now be reviewing the new 7-year-old Heaven Hill Bottled-in-Bond. It’s 100 proof (50% ABV), of course. As mentioned prior, the MSRP is $40; I see this around at prices of $50 or more, depending on the scrupulousness of the retailer. I didn’t pay for it, however; this was a sample from William (thanks again!).
Heaven Hill Bottled-in-Bond 7 Years Old – Review
Color: Medium-light yellow gold
On the nose: Rich and smoothly sweet to start, the nose showcases waffles fresh off the iron, a piquant nip of anise, some underripe Bartlett pear, white pepper, and a sharply mineralic note of limestone. There’s a creamy scent of vanilla frosting enveloping this, but in a way that allows the other aromas to appear individually. In total, a promising prelude.
In the mouth: Malted and yeasty notes present themselves straightaway; tasted blind, I might have mistaken this for malt whiskey. There’s the doughy flavor unbaked bread at the front of the mouth. This follows through with honey at midpalate, though the texture here abruptly turns a bit thin and lapses over into a bitter oaky flavor. A balance of woody, salty nut, and stony notes carries this into the finish. The bourbon lingers with the distinct taste of Bit-O-Honey candy; the top of the mouth remains coated with a stony aftertaste and a slightly sappy texture.
From the perspective of someone coming to this without the baggage of having relied on the prior incarnation of this expression, nor of having paid my own cash for this: it’s decent. It interests me more on the nose than in the mouth, where there’s some awkward flavors and disjointed textures as this moves through its progression. Overall, though, it’s not bad. Not great, but not terrible.
Would I grab a bottle of this off the store shelf at $40? Unlikely. I’ve done worse, but I can also do better. For as long as they last, I’d so much rather have Rare Breed near this price, or the Evan Williams Bottled-in-Bond at roughly half the cost.
Perhaps that’s the moral of this story: a whiskey that is perfectly acceptable at a low price becomes the subject of increased scrutiny as the cost rises, and especially as it starts to face more serious competition. Something for Heaven Hill, or any other distillery, to keep in mind as they’re playing around in their Excel spreadsheets.
Photograph kindly provided by Heaven Hill.