Back in the day when American whiskey was semi-endangered, when putting quality juice in ceramic bottles modeled after race cars and Elvis and wild birds still made a significant niche market for whiskey sellers, someone had the bright idea to make September Bourbon Month.
Today, every month is bourbon month, all over the world, so much so that major distillers have been warning their buyers and partners that things may get a little tighter in the next few years, as stocks laid down eight, ten and twelve years ago are sold as quickly as they are bottled. A few of these Kentucky distillers these days have to decline international requests for more juice and delay entering new markets, so popular have their wares become here and in those established and growing international markets where they are sold.
Just by observing the range of new limited offering spirits that have emerged lately, you can tell that the folks from Kentucky and Tennessee are on to something. The list is lengthy: for example, earlier this year, Beam released two new expressions – Jim Beam Signature Craft, a small batch 86 proof spirit aged 12 years, and a 12 year old Bourbon finished with some Spanish brandy. Buffalo Trace continues to offer its annual Antique Collection, a batch always hard to source, and Heaven Hill has recently revamped its Henry McKenna line as well as a new release of Elijah Craig 21 Year Old.
Most of these, as noted, will be allocated or in limited distribution, but bars and restaurants with a significant American whiskey portfolio will probably get a shot. If not, there are still a slew of small distillers who have tweaked and torqued and twisted the old standards to develop a new style of American whiskey, unbound by the rules of bourbon, who might have something worth trying. Call it American whiskey month and give them a try as the brown spirit season comes on.
One last and most important note: Heaven Hill has marked the last handful of autumns with the annual release of the Parker’s Heritage Collection bottling, what they call a labor of love, but which they prefer to refer to this year as a labor FOR love. Let them tell the tale:
"Heaven Hill Master Distiller Emeritus Parker Beam, who has recently been diagnosed with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (also called ALS or Lou Gehrig’s Disease), and for whom the acclaimed series is named, has selected special barrels of Bourbon for this year’s edition that mirror his own personal preference for age, proof and warehouse location. Called the “Promise of Hope” bottling, this seventh in the acclaimed series will feature a remarkable cause-related component—for each bottle of the “Promise of Hope” edition sold, Heaven Hill will contribute $20 to the Parker Beam Promise of Hope Fund, a fund established through the ALS Association in honor of the legendary 6th Generation Master Distiller (www.alsa.org/ParkerBeamPromiseofHope). Heaven Hill is estimating the overall contribution to the Promise of Hope Fund will be in excess of $250,000.
In addition to being the first cause-related bottling in the Parker’s Heritage Collection series, the Promise of Hope bottling will mark the first time that a single barrel American Whiskey has been offered in the collection. Parker Beam, a past recipient of Whisky Advocate’s Lifetime Achievement Award and a charter member of the Bourbon Hall of Fame who is in his 53rd year at Heaven Hill, painstakingly sampled and selected Bourbon barrels that met his own personal “wish list” criteria. From among Heaven Hill’s nearly one million barrels in storage, Parker selected approximately 100 barrels of ten-year-old rye-based Bourbon from one of his favorite warehouses, the tiered 80-year-old Rickhouse EE in Deatsville, where they sat in high storage for 40 seasons. Each of the chosen barrels was dumped and bottled, with no chill-filtering, in 750ml bottles at Parker’s preferred bottling proof of 96° (48% alcohol/volume)."
If it's anything like the previous Parker's Heritage Collection bottles, it will be a bottle worth tracking down. But if for no other reason than Beam's lifetime contribution to the resurgence of American whiskey, all serious whiskey bars should double down and make sure they get a bottle. Men like Beam and the late Lincoln Henderson of Jack Daniel's and Woodford Reserve and Angel's Envy fame, who died last week, were lucky enough to be around when the wheel turned and their craft celebrated once again, but now it's our turn to celebrate them, in whatever way they might like.