Heaven Hill Distillery, by way of Bernie Lubbers,
is undoubtedly the loudest voice in the room when it comes to the Bottled in Bond designation. Bonded whiskeys existed in relative darkness for the last few decades until Lubber’s light was shone on the classification. He touted them as transparent, pure, high quality, and… relatively inexpensive products.
As craft brands have been swift to jump on the bonded bandwagon to prove their age and worth, the heritage makers responded with their own versions. Plenty of new renditions of the old labels have surfaced in recent years, including Kentucky brands Old Forrester 1897, Early Times Bottled in Bond, Jim Beam Bonded, and 1792 Bonded Bourbon. Even Tennessee giants Jack Daniel’s and George Dickel released bonded whiskeys. Heaven Hill was already the king of this category, and their offerings were plentiful across several genres with Mellow Corn, Rittenhouse Rye, and Christian Brothers Brandy Sacred Bond in addition to the bourbons we all know and love- Old Fitzgerald, Henry McKenna, Evan Williams white label, and the beloved Heaven Hill.
But then, something changed. Heaven Hill began removing some of our bottom shelf favorites. Quietly, at first, they were discontinued, disappearing from shelves with no ado. The gold label was first to go. This is a gem I used to pick up in a plastic handle for around $23.99. That’s 1.75 liters or just short of half a gallon for those of you that might be unfamiliar with the large formats available on that dark and dusty bottom shelf.
Old Fitzgerald bonded was the next to go. This one was announced, so when I saw it in a store, I’d pick it up- for about $35.99 a handle (yes, I’m a bulk buyer). But by far, the largest shock wave was caused by the discontinuation of the Holy Grail of all bottom shelf bourbons, the Heaven Hill white label.
Heaven Hill white label was a six year old, age stated, bottled in bond bourbon that sold for about $12.99 for a 750 milliliter bottle. It was widely available, as long as you were shopping in Kentucky. And shop we did. It was a regular habit of mine to pick up a case when I was up there (again, bulk buyer) to bring home til the next time I visited. The frenzy surrounding the hoarding of these bottles after the announcement was staggering. Bottles were on secondary for upwards of $100. Ridiculous, right?
No. Ridiculous is when Heaven Hill takes a product off the market for a year or so, repackages it, and returns it with a new label and a secondary premium to the top shelf. Remember the Old Fitz? It came back as a very highly allocated decanter, retailing upwards of $130. Fine. It was in a really pretty bottle and all. But now, they’ve gone and messed with an icon.
The most recent victim of this bourbon gentrification is the beloved Heaven Hill label. Re-released as a now SEVEN year old bonded bourbon (versus the six year old they removed), we have the “new” white label. Not coincidentally, Heaven Hill is not releasing this label in Kentucky off the bat. Perhaps the good will of the faithful has been tested and the results are in: we won’t pay $39.99 today for what was $12.99 yesterday.
Once the best selling bourbon in Kentucky, it is no longer available in Kentucky. The new release will be available in October in the limited markets of California, Texas, New York, Georgia, Florida, Illinois, South Carolina, and Colorado.