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William Heavenhill 7th Edition

How much Heaven Hill whiskey does the world need?

Now, don’t get me wrong; I’m a fan of the distillery. I have liked more Heaven Hill whiskeys than I have disliked. Whether you’re looking to spend $15 or many multiples of that amount, there’s a bottle in the portfolio to suit your budget, and hopefully your tastes.

This is partly due to the enormous size of the company’s Bernheim distillery, reported to produce more than 420,000 barrels of whiskey per year. The announcement of a new $135 million distillery in Bardstown will see production grow by 150,000 barrels (+36%), eventually increasing to 450,000 barrels per year, more than double Bernheim’s current output.

With that amount of whiskey coming off the stills, Heaven Hill has been able to support a large – and increasing – number of labels, as well as extensions to existing brands, and the occasional reboot (with obligatory price increase).

Heaven Hill’s official site lists 21 different brands and expressions, from the humble Mellow Corn all the way up to prestige bottlings such as the Heritage Collection. This is augmented by five Kentucky Exclusives, “available at the Heaven Hill Bourbon Experience and select Kentucky retailers,” bringing the total to 26. Among these is the subject of today’s review, William Heavenhill.

I first became aware of this brand when Matt reviewed the fourth edition last year. I was curious about the name, having never heard it used by (or in conjunction with) the Heaven Hill distillery. It doesn’t appear in any of the bourbon books that I rely on as reference volumes. The distillery itself has this to say:

“For William Heavenhill, distilling was a family tradition. By some accounts Heavenhill’s Corn Whiskey supplied Bardstown’s historic Talbott Tavern in the early 1800s. But our connection to his legacy runs even deeper. The limestone spring Heavenhill used to make his Bourbon was the same spring that inspired our original name—Old Heavenhill Springs Distillery.”

Based on Heaven Hill’s penchant for playing fast and loose with the finer historical details, I’m inclined to take this with a grain of salt. Whomever the whiskey is named after, what about the specifics?

The whiskeys released under the William Heavenhill name have borne age statements from 11 to “18-19” years. A Bottled in Bond expression had the lowest strength (100 proof/50% ABV), while this seventh edition came in at the high end, at 134.4 proof (67.2% ABV).

This is the seventh edition in the series, released in May 2019. Aged 12 years, it is the first William Heavenhill to bear the label “Barrel Proof” (the first, second, and fourth releases were dubbed “Cask Strength”). Retail price for this was $250; this was a sample generously shared by Scott, who has my thanks.

Before I jump in, some editorial: this has comparable specs to Elijah Craig Barrel Proof (as another reviewerpointed out), but carries a price tag that is multiples of ECBP’s SRP (enough acronyms for you?). What will I be looking for here in order to feel like this has justified the very high price?

It’s going to have to be damn near perfect… a high bar to clear, yet that’s not enough. It will have to achieve that perfection in a new and surprising way. I’m looking for something so far removed from the classic Heaven Hill profile (yet still maintaining balance and proportionality) that I will have all my preconceptions about this distillery shattered and remade anew. If you’re thinking that this whiskey is already handicapped to the point of making a positive score near impossible, well… that’s what happens when a $250 price tag is slapped on a bottle. Nevertheless, I’ll give it the fairest possible hearing.

William Heavenhill 7th Edition – Review

Color: Medium-dark golden brown

On the nose: A surprising nose; I’m struggling to think of a comparison to anything I have tried from Heaven Hill before. There’s a floral note here that is very intense, but also very fresh; not quite perfume-like, nor reminiscent of potpourri, but rather just a powerful and focused flower scent. Under that is a touch of vanilla sweetness, as well as some faint whiffs of graham cracker and perhaps a touch of maple syrup. Really, though, that peculiar and irrepressible flower scent is the dominant aroma here.

In the mouth: There’s a moment of perfectly sweet and fruity juiciness as this meets the tongue; imagine the best tasting glass of orange juice you’ve ever had, and you’ll be pretty close. This tightens up considerably as it moves toward the middle of the mouth, shooting up the tongue in a jet of pure, unyielding minerality. This broadens out again at the midpalate with some rounded notes of nuts and polished wood. Tightening up once again as the whiskey reaches the back of the mouth, I get a tangy taste of pine sap and more of that stoniness, with perhaps a squeeze of fresh orange as a subtle accent. After these fade, there’s the lingering flavor of black coffee, another surprising note in a whiskey chock full of them.

Conclusions:

Speaking as a person who has tasted a fair deal of Heaven Hill whiskey: this is sui generis. I don’t know that I have ever experienced some of these aromas and flavors in other Heaven Hill releases, nor do I think I would have pegged this for a Heaven Hill whiskey if I had tasted it blind. It therefore fulfills the novelty/surprise part of my previously elucidated framework for evaluation.

Is it perfect, through? Decidedly not. The nose is so firmly in the grip of that floral aroma that, as much as one might like such scents, it ultimately crowds out other nuances. In the mouth, this performs competently, but not much more than that. At points the high ABV is evident in a way that feels like it restricts some of the flavor development. In fairness, though, other times I barely notice it at all.

For the price, would I pick up another bottle of this, or a different one from the series? I’m torn. I have a checkered past with Heaven Hill distillery exclusives, and I would fear that the next bottle would be another marked-up experiment to take advantage of tourists. That said, Heaven Hill can achieve some superlative results in its limited edition bottlings, and the fear of missing out on one of those outliers might be too strong to resist.

How to score this, then? With maximum ambivalence, of course.

Score: 5/10

Image courtesy of David Levine.

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