Parker's Heritage Collection:
Bourbon Finished in Orange Curaçao Barrels
Classification: Straight Bourbon
Company: Heaven Hill
Distillery: Heaven Hill
Released: September 2018
Age: 7-8 Years
Mashbill: 78% Corn, 12% Malted Barley, 10% Rye
MSRP: $90 (2018)
This is the 12th edition of the annual Parker’s Heritage Collection (PHC). For this edition, the bourbon was aged seven to eight years in the upper floors of Rickhouse Q, then finished for four months in barrels that previously held French Orange Curaçao liqueur. This is the second barrel-finished bourbon in the collection, following in the steps of the 5th Edition Cognac finished Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey. Once again, a portion of the proceeds from each bottle sold will be contributed to the ALS Association.
Traditional bourbon notes of vanilla and caramel upfront that are quickly washed over with a wave of orange soda, candied fruits, and mild barrel char. Its medium intensity of aromas are a bit strange at first, yet not alarmingly so, as the orange notes are certainly unique and welcoming. It’s worth pointing out that its aromas intensify in a more open air glass than a traditional glencairn. Something I haven’t noticed with other bourbons to this degree.
A flash of orange marmalade, orange sponge candy, slight bitterness, and sugary alcoholic bite instantly reminds me of Grand Marnier. Seasoned oak and hearty vanilla notes roll in, bumping out the majority of the Orange Curaçao barrel finish. It’s an enjoyable mingling that I can’t help but feelis a little too short and lacking complexity.
Seasoned oak and vanilla notes carry over into the finish and dominate. Sugary orange notes weave throughout, but struggle to really pop. As the heartier bourbon and barrel notes subside, orange marmalade becomes more noticeable again and nicely caps this bourbon off.
It’s hard to discuss this barrel finish without mentioning Willett XCF V1.0. Released in 2015, XCF was a 103 proof, 7 year old rye finished in orange curaçao barrels for approximately 90 days. With similar ages both in their base whiskeys and their finishing time, it’s interesting how different XCF and Parker’s are from each other.
XCF comes off as a bottled old fashioned cocktail in many ways. The Orange Curaçao notes pop and do well mingling with its rye base. The XCF’s age and lack of barrel notes helps brighten its barrel influence more so than the Parker’s. Yet, it also lacks depth and makes you wonder if Orange Curaçao barrels have this effect on all whiskeys or if these whiskeys just weren’t finished long enough.
In the end, tasting a whiskey with orange flavor notes really stands out. A whiskey might sport minor orange notes from time to time, but none to the degree that XCF and Parker’s showcase. Orange can be an overpowering flavor and it must take a ton of skill to nail it just right. Thankfully this edition of Parker’s does a good job controlling the intensity of its orange flavor without letting it do just that. Where the rye and orange notes were playful with each other in the XCF, the bourbon notes of the Parker’s helps ground this whiskey. It’s hard to say which is the better route to take, but quit easy to revel in its uniqueness.
With Parker’s fluctuating in pricing over the last few years, it’s nice to see this priced under $100 again this year. I get the sense that sourcing Orange Curaçao barrel isn’t cheap or easy. For one, XCF was priced at $140 in 2015, and two, XCF was the last Orange Curaçao barrel finished whiskey to come to market since its release. $90 still might be a high asking price for a type of barrel finished whiskey that doesn’t have a long proven track record, but you never get the sense that Heaven Hill uses subpar whiskey in these releases. Even though we haven’t loved every Parker’s release, we’ve never claimed any were straight up bad either. This year’s Parker’s has a solid bourbon as its base in addition to its unique barrel finish, all for the same price the company charged for a Parker’s release in 2014.
A unique barrel finish that mingles orange notes with traditional bourbon flavors to interesting and largely satisfying results.
The Parker’s Heritage Collection is full of surprises. Few could have predicted this year’s direction Heaven Hill took with it. Willett’s XCF was an interesting concept that begged further exploration, yet no one ran with it. By using bourbon instead of rye like XCF used, Heaven Hill showed how Orange Curaçao barrel finishing can have different effects on different types of whiskeys. The release isn’t without its faults, mainly its lack of complexity. It simply begs further exploration of this type of barrel finish. The orange focused flavor profile won’t be for everyone as it’s out of the ordinary, but that’s exactly what this Collection does best. It explores whiskey’s otherworldly avenues and untraveled paths. XCF wasn’t a homerun when it was released, but plenty of whiskey drinkers regret not jumping on it when they had the chance. I predict a similar thing happening with this Parker’s release, as it tends to happen with every Parker’s release. With a reasonable price and a solid overall barrel finish, this release is worth the trek.
The sample used for this review was provided at no cost courtesy of Heaven Hill. We thank them for allowing us to review it with no strings attached.