Parker’s Heritage Cognac-Finished Bourbon—A Bargain Whiskey for 80 Bucks?

A Franco-American Reunion Yields an Exquisite Spirit

In what just might be the spirits equivalent of when George Washington met Lafayette, Heaven Hill Bourbon’s Parker Beam and Alain Royer, the former owner of Fussigny Cognac, have collaborated in an outstanding Franco-American Bourbon finished in Cognac barrels for six months. The whiskey is the fifth edition of the Parker’s Heritage collection, a limited series with which the company honors Beam, a sixth-generation distiller.

Made with 10-year-old, non-chill-filtered Bourbon from a rye mash bill, the 100-proof whiskey is an intense roller coaster ride with all the complexity, sweetness and nuance that its union with Cognac suggests. And, considering its high quality, this is a bargain whiskey at $80. With a finish that will not be stopped, it’s truly a spirit for savoring.  

It’s also not Royer's first foray into wedding the qualities of Cognac and Bourbon. In 1999, he conspired with the storied Jim Beam master distiller Booker Noe, cousin of Parker Beam, to create Distiller’s Masterpiece, another Cognac-finished Bourbon. That effort was similarly delicious, but started with 18-year-old Bourbon and sold for $250.

Master distiller Beam relished the chance to work with Royer on a style of whiskey new to him, saying, “It’s nice to know that even after 50 years here at Heaven Hill, this old dog can learn some new tricks.”

A finishing is an added aging in a different cask than the one that the spirit originally occupied. The practice is very common in Scotland, where typically whisky is aged in used Bourbon barrels and then transferred to containers that have aged such wines as fortified Port and Sherry. It is quite uncommon in Kentucky, however, where Bourbon typically spends its entire life in the legally proscribed charred, new, white-oak barrels.

Portrait of Heaven Hill master distiller Parker Beam and Cognac innovator Alain Royer.
Alain Royer, left, and Parker Beam collaborated on all aspects of producing Barrel Finished.

Royer and Beam collaborated on choosing the aspects of the spirit—from age of the Bourbon, its grain content, to its proof and the length of finish. While a Bourbon must be made from at least 51 percent corn, the smaller grains are elective. Heaven Hill makes both Bourbons with spicy rye mash bills and with softer wheat components. The two decided on the rye mash bill for this project. They also considered, but rejected, Armagnac casks for finishing.

Royer is known in the Cognac region as something of an innovator. While with Fussigny he created the Cigare Cognac, a brandy made specifically to be enjoyed while smoking cigars. He now works for Renaud Cointreau, which markets Cognac Frapin.

The casks chosen for the finish were Frapin vessels that had held three-year-old Grand Champagne Cognac. Grand Champagne is a highly prized subregion of Cognac. The casks were wrapped and shipped to Kentucky, where they were filled with Bourbon and rested for six months.

The oversize casks themselves presented a bit of a challenge as they did not conform to the machinery used for dumping the smaller 53-gallon Bourbon barrels. As well as having to be dumped by hand, the 15 Limousin oak casks also had to be stored differently. Because of their size (92.5 gallons), they couldn’t be stacked in the standard racks. Instead they were laid on their sides in the aisles of the rickhouse.

The finishing yielded 6,000 750-milliliter bottles for the national release, which will not be repeated. So pick one up and pray that it won’t take another 12 years for someone to make another Cognac-finished Bourbon.

Parker’s Heritage Selection Collection Barrel Finished (50 percent alcohol by volume or 100 proof, $80)

APPEARANCE: You can fairly see the intensity of this liquid. The color is dark amber with reddish coppery hues. It rolls down the glass in fat, lusty legs.

NOSE: The whiskey announces its complexity and the presence of Cognac on the nose. It rolls out like Bourbon, all candied caramel, vanilla and maple, and then shifts gears to show it French influences with floral, fruity and nutty notes.

PALATE: Again, this elusive Bourbon is always changing in the mouth. Butterscotch candy, caramel, vanilla, maple syrup are the original impressions. Then it explodes on the back of the palate with spice, licorice and cinnamon, quickly turns nutty and then offers its coquettish floral and fruity side.

FINISH: All the palate sensations remain and re-announce themselves periodically in a finish that is astoundingly long (read hours). Woe to the drink that tries to follow this act.

"I forgot to add these two gentlemen look like brothers, at least in this photo; kindred spirits." —January 13, 2013 22:42 PM
"A few bottles still floating around. This stuff is FANTASTIC ! Regardless of price." —January 13, 2013 04:23 AM
"Amazing Bourbon!!!" —May 29, 2012 03:27 AM