Heaven Hill 27 Year
There are those marks in time that seemingly every true bourbon nerd knows. Like the year of the Bottled-in-Bond Act. Or the year Stitzel-Weller closed. Or the year Sazerac 18 exhausted its “vatted” rye stock. The year of the Heaven Hill fire is one of those.
In 1996, Heaven Hill experienced a devastating fire, destroying many warehouses, the still house, and over 90,000 barrels of aging whiskey. Certainly the loss of aging stock was tragic, but the loss of the still house changed Heaven Hill forever.
After the fire, with no place to distill, the bourbon industry stepped up to Heaven Hill’s rescue. Distillers like Brown-Foreman and Jim Beam started contract distilling for Heaven Hill (to Heaven Hill’s specifications). Then in 1999, instead of rebuilding the distillery, Heaven Hill purchased and began operating the Bernheim distillery, which it operates today.
With this history comes differentiation. “Prefire” Heaven Hill (that product distilled and barreled before the 1996 fire) is considered to be something different from that which may have been contract distilled after the fire, or distilled at the new Bernheim facility. Today, this generally means that if you can find an old bottling of Elijah Craig 12 Year or 18 Year, or Henry McKenna or Evan Williams, you might just find that “prefire” profile.
But Heaven Hill offered us something different in the fall of 2018. They introduced a limited run of 27 year bourbon, produced “prefire,” and bottled at barrel proof. Only 2,820 bottles were produced from 41 barrels distilled in 1989 and 1990.
Nose: Nutty; dry oak; burnt sugar; earth and damp potting soil/mushroom; cherry cola; leather; chocolate chip. Very aged but well done and enjoyable. (3/5)
Palate: Flat cola; tannic oak; apple skins; vanilla; baking spice (cinnamon and allspice). This is a bit flat and tannic, although it may be as good as could be expected. (2.5/5)
Finish: Short and very tannic; bitter amaro; steel; stale cigarette ash; oak spice; burnt sugar and burnt chocolate. A “2” on our scale may be pushing it. (2/5)
Overall: This experience starts off nicely but is a downhill one. The nose shows some enjoyment and complexity of age. However, the palate and finish show the true impact of 27 years in oak. At least in a Kentucky environment. On the palate this “over-oaked” experience is tolerable, and even somewhat interesting as a novelty. But it is hardly so on the finish, leaving you with a bit of dread in going back. We found ourselves nosing this and enjoying the experience, but hesitating as we went to drink, just to avoid the finish. (2.5/5)
Value: We have never seen a bottle in a store, and likely never will. We were lucky to find a pour at Stock Hill in Kansas City, Missouri, who purportedly received one of the three bottles to hit the Western Missouri market. This was $55 for a 1.5 ounce pour. We considered it to be a novelty in terms of it being “prefire” and that it is 27 years in age. So, viewing this as “buying an experience,” we didn’t hate it. But, viewing this as $55 for these particular flavors, it wasn’t good. (2/5)
Scott is a co-founder of Flight Club and a frequent writer and reviewer on the Club’s blog.