Why Parker’s “Promise of Hope” is the most exciting bourbon of 2013

Parker's Heritage Collection, "Promise of Hope"

For a bourbon enthusiast, one of the most exciting websites on the web is the TTB COLA search site. You can find new releases from any distillery in the nation by simply looking up the labels they submit for approval. One of the most exciting discoveries every year is the Parker’s Heritage Collection (PHC) label. This line from Heaven Hill, named after their Master Distiller Parker Beam, has put out some of the most epic bourbons which have collected some of the most prestigious awards and illustrious recognition in the industry.

After just six short years, each release has pushed the boundaries from a different angle. The diversity of the releases has created a form of allegiance in most fans to a specific release. I am partial to the PHC4, but I wouldn’t turn my nose down at any of them.

Parker’s Heritage Collection 1-7

  • PHC1 – 10 Year Bourbon, Cask Strength
  • PHC2 – 27 Year Bourbon, 96 Proof
  • PHC3 – Golden Anniversary, 100 Proof
  • PHC4 – Wheated 10 Year, Cask Strength
  • PHC5 – 10 Year Bourbon, Cognac Cask, 100 Proof
  • PHC6 – Master Distiller’s Blend of Mashbills, Cask Strength
  • PHC7 – “Promise of Hope” 10 Year Single Barrel

Expectations could not have been higher going in to 2013, but the first reactions after the label was discovered online have been mixed. Sure, it is the least expressive release to date, and certainly not on my PHC wish list, but some people are focusing on the wrong statistics.

Most of the negativity stems from the similar statistics between the bourbon in the PHC7 and Henry McKenna. They are both ten years old. They are both single barrels. They are both Heaven Hill, and they are within four proof points of each other. The other day, I saw someone post, “You mean the $90 Henry McKenna? I’ll pass” regarding the PHC7. I found this reasoning to be kind of silly considering they were admitting they had not tried the PHC7 while relegating the quality of the bourbon to bottom shelf status in the same breath. More ridiculous is the implication that every ten year old barrel in a multi-story, thousand barrel warehouse tastes the same simply because they are all ten years old.

McKenna and PHC7

I think knowing that $20 from each bottle goes to Parker’s “Promise of Hope” Foundation, some people assume that this special charity release is far more charity than special. I understand that there is nothing sexy about a ten year old bourbon, but as far as ten year old bourbons go, this will likely be the best to ever be offered. Normally, high quality barrels are set aside to become higher age, higher priced offerings. McKenna is the middle of the road for Heaven Hill, while two year older Elijah Craig 12 Year is the flagship brand. Above that, there are special releases of Elijah that have hit 18, 20, 21, and 22 years old. There is also the Evan Williams 23 Year, so there is a good chance that the barrels Parker Beam selected were earmarked to become, say, a 2023 release of Elijah Craig 20 Year.

Parker's Heritage Collection, "Promise of Hope"

Now, I am not saying that a ten year old barrel of bourbon can sing and dance and feed your pets simply because it is hand picked by Parker Beam and supports a charity. There is no hope of a ten year old bourbon reaching the depth of a 27 year old bourbon, or packing a punch like a cask strength offering. Like you, I wish they pulled out some old pre-fire stock, or put out a cask strength rye, but the important statistics to focus on with this release are not the age or proof on the front label.

When the last bottle of PHC7 is sold, $250,000 will have been raised by simply selling bourbon to people that like bourbon. Add the “Unity” bottle that is being auctioned off at Bonham’s on October 12th, as well as the countless individual donations that have been created through the bourbon community, and you have the most successful and significant fundraising effort to take place in the bourbon community.

In a time when we talk in billions and trillions, $250,000 might not sound like much, but it is a massive amount of money when you consider that after every pledge to the ALS Association was added up in 2012, they had only collected $321,402. A few bottles of bourbon in the hands of a few bourbon lovers will increase the annual pledge budget of the ALS Association by nearly 80%. Knowing that, I hope that a few of the McKenna pessimists will still consider buying at least one PHC7.

At the end of the day, PHC7 will have created a precedent that other distilleries can use as a working model to raise funds quickly and efficiently. $250,000 in a short burst of bottles could turn in to millions of dollars over a year long campaign. While PHC7 might not be the standard bearer of the PHC line, it certainly is the trailblazer for the bourbon industry, an example that I hope doesn’t go too long before being replicated.

PHC7 in the glass

The PHC7, Promise of Hope Review

Color: Caramel, brown maple syrup.

Nose: Caramelized sugar, maple, honey, apples, apricot and cinnamon sticks.

Sip: Tons of flavor with a great rounded texture. While McKenna is a rye-bomb, PHC7 has plenty of sweetness and depth at every level. Loads of caramel, cream, and honey upfront with a cinnamon apple and berry pie in the mid palate. The back has plenty of soft char and classic Heaven Hill rye spices, but far less bitter than McKenna. There is an earthy note, almost like wet oak or hay in the back, but it is minimal compared to the cinnamon, clove and tobacco.

Finish: Pretty average in length, and quite forgettable compared to how interesting the sip was. The tobacco and caramel char last the longest, but a sweet cinnamon sugar and bakers chocolate help balance it out.

Overall Grade: B+

Peer Review DrinkHacker: A , Sour Mash Manifesto: 9.4 (Superb), LA Whiskey Society: B

For $90, PHC7 is more than enough to hold its own. I thought the nose was a little soft and the finish was short and a big fall off from the sip, but the sip was actually better than I had anticipated. There is plenty to pick through as you sip through a pour or two, and if either the nose or finish could have kept up with the sip, it would have been an easy A grade for the PHC7. While I am forced to judge the PHC7 in the $90 category, I am thoroughly impressed that a ten year old bourbon can pull off such a elegant profile.

PHC7 is a single barrel, and it is put out without a barrel number on the bottle. If you are in Colorado, you probably got the same barrel as mine for the first push, but there is a chance of a variance between barrels in different states, and in the different groups released throughout the fall.

Drink this, not that: I sipped through the PHC7 with a freshly poured, post “arts and crafts project” bottle of Henry McKenna. It is perfectly reasonable to decide you feel the PHC7 is too similar to McKenna to warrant the extra cash, but I just didn’t see it. McKenna has an overpowering rye back, that is mostly bitter dark chocolate and oak. If you are looking for a ten year old single barrel, McKenna is fine, but PHC7 has a balanced and deep palate with way more sweetness upfront than any McKenna I have had. To me, PHC7 is worth the extra $65, and I am happy to pay it.

Michter’s 10 Year Bourbon is another ten year single barrel for $90. I haven’t had the recent barrel that came to Colorado (13-H-…), so I can’t compare the two, but it is another option if you are looking for something in this ballpark. It is usually a higher proof, but aside from that, they are pretty unpredictable.

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