Elijah Craig is a storied name in bourbon, and is one of the biggest brands from prolific producer Heaven Hill in Bardstown, Kentucky. They released this straight rye, the first in the Elijah Craig portfolio, in 2020 to the usual amount of industry fanfare. Just like the Elijah Craig bourbons, some of which have recently lost their age statements, this straight rye whiskey from Elijah Craig has no published age information.
The rye, which is distilled at Heaven Hill not sourced from elsewhere, shares an unusually high barley component with its bourbon siblings, as well as a 47% ABV bottling strength. That 14% barley is mashed with 51% rye (the legal minimum) and 37% corn. As Rittenhouse Rye is also made by Heaven Hill and only differs from this by 2% barley (and 2% corn) and 3% ABV, one could be forgiven for calling this Rittenhouse rye with the Elijah Craig name slapped on the bottle.
It’s priced well, in the $25 – $30 range, but then Rittenhouse 100 Proof is even cheaper.
Nose: Tart cider, fruit punch, cinnamon candy, corn syrup, and sweet oak. A rest in the glass reveals more of the expected rye spices: clove, star anise, ground cinnamon.
Palate: Moderate body. Red Vines, vanilla cake frosting, nougat, ground cinnamon and cinnamon-flavored candy. Quite sweet, and very corn-forward.
Finish: Medium length. Sweet, and a little bready (yeasty). Mild charcoal with almost no bitterness. Fades with a vegetal (grassy) twinge.
With Water: A few drops of water release some papery (dry) spice notes and uncover a bit of oak tannin on the palate. Take or leave water with this one (it doesn’t need it).
Overall: An easy-drinking whiskey that could just as easily be “rye-flavored bourbon” as “bourbon-flavored rye”. I would probably misidentify it as bourbon in a blind tasting. Still, it goes down easy, has pleasant fruit and spice flavors, and isn’t overly bitter or tannic. A bit of youth is detectable in the “corn syrup” and grassy notes, but it’s not obviously under-matured so that’s a nitpick.
If you aren’t looking for something that stands out as rye (see “rye-flavored bourbon”, above) then this is a fine purchase for under $30. I still prefer Hochstadter’s and Rittenhouse 100 myself. I missed an opportunity to do a side-by-side tasting with this and Rittenhouse so I’m just going by memory here. Considering that Rittenhouse is cheaper I can’t think of a reason to recommend this Elijah Craig. I’ve marked it “Not Recommended” but really that should be read as “Buy this if they don’t have Rittenhouse or Hochstadter’s.” Heaven Hill really should have launched this with an age statement to differentiate it.