Parker Beam is a remarkable man. A sixth-generation distiller, he has worked at Heaven Hill in Bardstown, Kentucky, since 1960, and has been the Master Distiller there for 25 years. He is a member of Kentucky’s first family of Bourbon---his grandfather was the brother of James Beauregard Beam, otherwise known as Jim Beam. If that’s not enough, he’s a true gentleman: modest, gracious, self-effacing and a pleasure to spend time with.
At Heaven Hill, Parker is responsible for overseeing a broad product line, including Evan Williams and Elijah Craig. Under his direction, those whiskies have been consistent in quality and have also represented exceptional value (see my post of January 13 on Evan Williams Single Barrel Bourbon 2002). Since 2007, he has put out a limited edition bottling called Parker’s Heritage Collection. These have generally been single barrel Bourbons of considerable age, drawn from the sweet spot in the rickhouse and bottled at barrel strength.
The seventh edition of Parker’s Heritage Collection is hitting the market this fall. He selected 100 barrels of ten year-old rye-based Bourbon (from a total Heaven Hill inventory of close to one million), which were bottled without filtration at 96 proof, or 48% alcohol by volume. The 7th Edition Parker’s Heritage Collection Promise of Hope will be available for $90; for each bottle sold, Heaven Hill will donate $20 to his foundation, the Promise of Hope Fund, dedicated to finding a cure for Amyotropic Lateral Schlerosis (ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s Disease). Parker was diagnosed with ALS earlier this year. Heaven Hill expects to raise at least $250,000 in donations for research to battle the disease.
By anyone’s standards, this is a beautiful bottle of Bourbon. Fragrant and seductive aromas of barrel sweetness dominate the nose, backed up by scents of honey, molasses, fresh herbs and menthol. It enters the mouth smoothly, displaying a ripe and harmonious texture that totally belies its high alcohol level. It’s pleasantly sharp in the mid palate, and the long finish is filled with lingering notes of honey and mint. As satisfying as it is to sip on its own, it also makes a formidable Manhattan; use the best vermouth you can find, preferably Cocchi or Antica Formula.
By invoking the name of Evan Williams (Kentucky’s first distiller) and Elijah Craig (the Baptist preacher usually credited with inventing Bourbon), Heaven Hill intentionally establishes a link with the past. By donating part of the profits of Parker’s Heritage Collection to the Promise of Hope Fund, it is forging a link to a better future.
Mark Spivak is the author of Iconic Spirits: An Intoxicating History, published by Lyons Press (Globe Pequot); for more information, go to amazon.com