Elijah Craig bourbon, from Heaven Hill distillery, has been feeling the same press of demand affecting the entire bourbon industry. In response, several years ago they converted their flagship 12 year-old Small Batch bottling to a NAS edition, blending in whisky 4 years younger. Luckily, the cask-strength (Barrel Proof) bottling retains its 12 year age statement despite a recent label revamp. Savvy observers will note that the number is not on the front of the label, but rather tucked away on the side of the bottle. With other producers, this has historically been a precursor to dropping the age statement altogether. We shall see.
Elijah Craig is Kentucky straight bourbon. The Barrel Proof bottlings, made in three “small” batches per year, are aged for 12 years in new charred oak barrels and bottled uncut (without any water added) and without chill filtration. They are from the same low-rye mash bill as the cheaper 46% ABV (now NAS) small batch edition: 75% corn, 13% rye, and 12% malted barley (for enzymes).
Regarding the batch numbering system, from the company’s website:
The first letter of the batch number indicates which of that year’s releases the bottle was a part of, starting with “A,” while the second digit is a number that determines the month of the year the bottle was released. The third and fourth digits indicate the year.
My bottle is from batch C917, meaning it was released in September 2017 (the third batch of that year). It is a mouth-searing 65.5% ABV, which felt like a lot until I discovered that some previous batches had been as high as 70% ABV. Ouch.
Nose: Fresh-hewn lumber. Dry and sappy. Seriously, this smells like the inside of a lumber mill. While there is an oak weight to the wood aromas, there is also a piney aspect. Despite the high proof, the nose tickle is manageable. A noticeable lack of sweet notes.
Palate: Thick bodied. Liquid wood. Dense and astringent. The tongue burn is searing, but brief. Dry (still no sugar) but concentrated and heady. My wounded tongue feels like it’s hallucinating cinnamon and clove.
Finish: Long. Now a little sweetness creeps in, in the form of caramelized wood sugar. Not bitter or charcoal-heavy at all. Pungent, cheek-drying oak tannins. A fading hint of powdery cinnamon.
With Water: A dash of water mutes the aroma but adds some caramel both to the nose and palate. A little cherry creeps in, and the overall impression is far more balanced. Don’t expect a little water to save your tongue though, this stuff is still 131 proof. Water highly recommended here.
Overall: This is 12 year-old dry bourbon at its most elemental. Expect little sweetness and a metric ton of wood, but you won’t be able to fault this for pungent bourbon flavor. I highly recommend dosing it with a little water, tasting, and then dosing it with quite a lot more. Reminds me of Buffalo Trace at high proof, but with less grass and more wood. This is one of the most-afforable ways to buy quality cask-strength bourbon, but is not my favorite (that would be Stagg Jr. at the moment).