A nice return to an old school bourbon style. This release is much closer to what bourbon used to be and it is nice to see Elijah Craig return to its roots
Notes: Heaven Hill is a distillery with a relatively long history with quite a few bourbons in its portfolio, a number of them dating back to the beginning of the company, but a number of exciting new bourbons and special editions of their older lines are generating a lot of interest (and new respect) in the bourbon community. Some of the most notable of the new series are the limited editions of the Parker Heritage Series (reviews of Number 7, Number 8, Number 9 Number 14, and Number 15), the new Larceny Bourbon (an extension/expression from the Old Fitzgerald line), and The Bernheim Wheat Whisky
Their other bourbons include of course the Heaven Hill series, the Elijah Craig 12 ( IMHO one of the perennial best buys in a bourbon), and the Elijah Craig 18-Year-Old. Some other lines of bourbons they produce are the Evan Williams line and the Evan Williams Single Barrel Vintage series they have released every year ( 2000 Vintage, 2002 Vintage, 2003 Vintage, 2004 Vintage, and the New Make Series of unaged distillate (Rye and Corn).
They have also made an interesting non-age statement blend simply called Elijah Craig which is a blend of 8 to 12-year-old bourbon and packaging it in the standard Elijah Craig bottle.
While there has been a fair amount of criticism on this ( the streamlining of a few products to make it and the dearth of the standard 12 Year anymore), it is a decent bourbon- dare I say a value brand?
This is particular bottle is part of the ongoing Barrel Proof Series, all of which are 12-Year-old bourbons selected as outstanding single barrels and bottled at barrel proof. This one being the Batch A122 weighing in at 120.8 (60.4 %) The earlier versions we reviewed are the Barrel Proof Versions at 124.2 released in January of 2017, Elijah Craig Barrel Proof 127 Proof Lot B517 in May of 2017, another further release Batch No. C917 in September of 2017, 131.4 Proof BatchC918 in September of 2018, 135.2 Proof Batch A119 in January of 2019, 127.2 Proof Batch No.B520, Batch No. A120 136.6 Proof Version released in early 2020, and the 132.8 Proof C 920 was Released this past September of 2020. The next bottle and first bottle for 2021 was the A121 at 123.6 proof. The following bottles of 2021 were batch B521 represented the second release for 2021 released in May and came in at 118.2 proof with a Mash Bill of 78% Corn, 12% Malted Barley, and 10% Rye and the third and last release was Batch C921 of September 0f 2021 at 120.2 proof.
Much has been made in some quarters about this being a lower proof than some previous releases ( which do range from 136.6 proof (68.3 %) to 118.2 proof (59.1) but it is a very minor downward shift overall, and actually a touch higher than the most previous release prior.
An explanation of Barrel Proof, please look in our classification section. The Barrel Proof series is the latest and follows on from other previous premium releases of a 20-Year-Old and of the 21-Year-Old Version, 23 Year Old Elijah Craig versions. This barrel-proof series has between 3 and 4 releases a year at different proofs due to the variations of the batches. The Elijah Craig Barrel Proof series will also vary in color and taste within a certain (company and brand profile) degree so each one will be different up to that point. Barrels falling outside that profile will probably end up in larger blends, or in extreme cases, sold off to be used somewhere else under a different name.
The Batch letter is code for which release it is for the year (A, B, C, D are batches 1,2,3,4 for the year, the First digit is the month (1-January, 5 – May, 9- September), second two numbers denote the year ( in this case 2022).
Appearance: Golden Grade A Amber Maple Syrup color, or for those not familiar with Maple Syrup grading, a nicely aging copper. Similar to its cohorts, on swirling, it leaves a light to medium coating on the glass. The whiskey then slowly forms an edge line that crenelates and seemingly grudgingly, forming a few legs.
First Impression: A bit more open than the previous release and a touch more aromatic. It still exhibits the usual markers for Elijah Craig with grain, caramel, vanilla, saddle soap, Vietnamese cinnamon, leather, orange peels or cherries, figs, spice, and a nice oak back to it. Even at 120.2 proof the grain, wood/oak, and spirit end up blending nicely. After the addition of some (nonchlorinated) water, it opens up a bit with butter, leather, orange peel, dried fruit, fig jam, tobacco, old leather, and touches of oak char.
Taste: Honeyed, spicy, yet mellow entry even at 120.8 proof ( but we are as we say, professionals ). I would recommend giving it a sip at full barrel proof just so you can appreciate the smoothness it has ( at that proof). This release of the barrel-proof Elijah Craig does match the nose/bouquet, with caramel and vanilla, with the char, oak, and leather that are signatures of the brand if a touch more open, effusive, and a bit tighter in the integration of the bouquet. If you want to appreciate the bouquet and taste even more add some water to open it up a bit. One of the things I like about barrel-proof spirits is you can proof it or mix it to your taste/requirements. Far too many whiskeys are already too watered down before you even get them these days – especially if you are making cocktails with them! With the addition of a little water, the bourbon opens its bouquet nicely and becomes a bit sweeter and open with the fruit and spice breaking out in the taste and a somewhat drier finish with dark fruit overtones. Overall more char and less sweet than a lot of other releases out there – which is fine with me. Not a fan of over-oaked but it should taste like it came from a barrel that has some age to it. Nicely warm, fruity, and slightly off-dry finish with lingering fruit, old leather and char notes.
Drinks: Speaking of which… Recommend for mixing. Absolutely fabulous for a classic Manhattan ( and will stand up nicely to a heartier vermouth than some of the other releases) Makes a nicely meatier bourbon component in most of our favorite classic bourbon cocktails. This one has a nicely weighted feel and taste. Add some more ice and/or adjust the portions a little bit ( 1/4 or less (?) and/or stir it a bit longer to taste… You can add ice and water a lot easier than removing them. Enjoy!
Bottle: Elongated Horseshoe-shaped flask-type bottle somewhat taller and leaner looking than the older versions of Elijah Craig. Helpful notation below BARREL PROOF notation on the label “UNCUT, STRAIGHT FROM THE BARREL WITHOUT CHILL FILTRATION”
Other: We are going to go out on a limb here and suggest the reason we may be seeing barrel proof is for thee reasons; 1. The demand/fascination/call for Barrel Proof editions of a whiskey, 2. The shortage of stocks of vintage whiskey especially 18 years and older, 3. Glass shortage problems make it easier to bottle a barrel-proof that uses less bottles overall.
Final Thoughts. A well done and slightly bold departure from the company profile of late, harking back to an older time and taste profile.
The main distillery website also has their plethora of other brands they either make of import also. A fairly informative site by industry standards, it does not have as much depth of information on their American Whiskies as the site below does – but offers a great overview of everything they are involved in.
Fast loading and easy to navigate. This is one of the most comprehensive bourbon ( or any other spirit for that matter) websites I have come across – and that is saying a lot! Extensive information and good pictures of how bourbon is made, the distillery, the bourbon heritage with reviews and ratings by different people and organizations of the different vintage years. Also the most extensive store of bourbon-related gear and accessories in the industry.
The more specific webpage for their higher-end America Whiskey portfolio with a good amount of information, photos, and recipes. If you become a member of the Bardstown Whiskey Society ( recommended) you unlock a lot more information and benefits from joining.