The ninth annual release in the Parker's Heritage Collection from the Heaven Hill distillery gives a nod to whiskey's malt legacy with a predominantly barley mashbill.
For the third straight year, a portion of the profit will be donated for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis research and treatment. Parker Beam, the master distiller emeritus for whom the collection is named, was diagnosed with ALS (also known as Lou Gehrig's disease) several years ago. Heaven Hill's contribution will be $5 for each bottle, dubbed Kentucky Straight Malt Whiskey, purchased.
The Bardstown, Kentucky, distillery is primarily known for its huge storehouse of maturing Bourbon, but this year's release emphasizes not the emblematic corn of much American whiskey, but the barley malt traditional to Scotch whisky. The mashbill, or grain formula, is divided 65 percent malted barley to 35 percent corn. By contrast, Bourbon must have at least 51 percent corn and generally uses more than 70. The barley quotient in Bourbon is typically less than 10 percent.
In the almost decade-long series of annual Parker's Heritage releases, most have been Bourbons, including the 27-year-old second edition in 2008. Last year's example, however, was a wheat whiskey that boasted a mashbill with 51 percent winter wheat.
In American whiskey-making (including rye), barley has been traditionally used sparingly and not particularly for its flavor contribution. Its purpose is generally to promote the catalytic process that changes the starches in grains into sugars, so it can be devoured by yeast during fermentation. Without the presence of barley, enzymes would have to be added for that purpose (as is the case with whiskeys of 100 percent rye recipes). The co-master distiller Denny Potter has noted that Heaven Hill prides itself on using a high percentage of barley in its Bourbons and ryes as well as never having used enzymes in its place.
The Straight Malt Whiskey is the brainchild of the other co-master distiller, Craig Beam, who is also Parker's son. The whiskey was distilled in late 2006 in a small batch (only 141 barrels will be released). Barrels were stored on the fifth and seventh floors of Rickhouse Y, located at Heaven Hill's Bardstown facility. It was created in one dump as an eight-year-old and bottled at 108 proof with no chill filtering.
It is important to note that this could not legally be termed a malt whisky in Scotland as neither was it made from a 100 percent barley recipe, nor was it distilled in pot stills, two of the hallmarks of single-malt and blended-malt Scotch whiskies. It would also be unusual for the Scots to make a straight whiskey, that is, one exclusively aged in new barrels. Nevertheless, the whiskey is an interesting adventure in the contribution of barley, especially since it is not peated as are the vast majority of Scotch whiskies.
Parker's Heritage 2015 Edition Straight Malt Whiskey (108 proof, or 54 percent alcohol by volume; eight years old; not chill filtered; $99.99 a 750 milliliter bottle)
APPEARANCE: Rich amber color with a ruby aura as well as a slight cloudiness from the lack of chill filtering. A crowded string of small beads clings to the glass for a while.
NOSE: Very candied aroma with prominent cherry, orange and dried fruit. As the sweetness fades it takes on nuts (almonds and walnuts) as well as barrel notes. Herbs and spice come on with the addition of water.
PALATE: Extremely tight and sweet flavors at the onset, with same array of fruit as the nose. The whiskey seems very one-note until cut slightly with water. Then out pour pepper and meat. Still the overbearing influences are hard candy and honey—but they widen as well, with the addition of pear and peach notes. The bottle literature mentions smoke flavors, but don't expect the peat of Scotch: it's much more like a barbecue, sawdust or campfire effect.
FINISH: The fruit dominates the finish for a bit before some nuttiness (reminiscent of the nose) appears. The finish becomes rather long with the addition of water—and quite frankly, you're doing the whiskey a disservice without it.
Romeo by Romeo y Julieta Aging Room Small Batch F25 Capriccio (Dominican Republic; 6 inches by 54 ring gauge; $12.25; 90 points, Cigar Insider July 21, 2015) Initial tanginess subsides to segue into a strong, leathery smoke with brininess, salty earth notes and a woody, spicy finish. In this pairing the cigar serves a similar as did adding water in the solo tasting: it opens up the whiskey's flavor to great effect. The Parker's Heritage becomes heartier and less the one-dimensional fruit excursion. It reflects the leather of the cigar as well as some of its earth tones. In turn, the whiskey gives back to the Romeo by bringing out cinnamon and honey. The sweet/salt conjunction of whiskey to cigar is also a winner.