Class: Kentucky Straight Bourbon
Reviewer: Bobby Long
Here it is, the runner up for 2017's Whiskey of the Year as chosen through popular vote by all of you! The Elijah Craig bourbon brand was introduced by Heaven Hill Distillery in the mid-1980's, and like so many American whiskeys, is named after some prolific historical figure who made an impact on the American whiskey industry. As legend has it, Rev. Elijah Craig was a Baptist minister during the late-18th to early-19th century in what is now Kentucky. Fast forward to what's important for American whiskey and you learn that he was allegedly the first person to age corn spirit in charred oak barrels. This innovation has earned his name a spot in the annals of American whiskey history, as well as on the label of a major Kentucky straight bourbon.
Heaven Hill Distillery is itself a behemoth of an operation, distilling at the Bernheim distillery in Louisville, KY, which it moved to from Bardstown (where its warehouses, bottling line, and HQ are still located) after a massive fire in 1996 destroyed over 90,000 barrels of aging whiskey as well as most of the distillery. Heaven Hill was founded in 1935 by the Shapira family, and is still family owned today. It shares a close relationship with the Jim Beam Distillery, and has had a member of the Beam family serve as Master Distiller since Earl Beam was hired to the position in 1946 (currently, his son Parker Beam is Master Distiller).
Heaven Hill produces a plethora of spirits in general, and whiskeys in particular, including Evan Wiliams, Old Fitzgerald, Henry McKenna, Larceny, Parker's Heritage, Bernheim Wheat, Rittenhouse Rye, Pikesville Rye, and its own namesake label. The Elijah Craig line of bourbons includes a mid-shelf non-age stated small batch, limited release 18, 21, and 23 year, and 12 year barrel proof small batch. The barrel proof bourbon has been enjoyed by in-the-know bourbon enthusiasts since 2013, but has recently hit a wave of popularity after receiving a few prestigious awards in 2017.
- Batch C917
- Mash bill of 75% Corn, 13% Rye, 12% Malted Barley (this is the standard mash for all of Heaven Hill's non-wheated bourbons)
- 12 Year Age Statement
- Bottled at 65.5% ABV (131 Proof)
Nose: Buttery cream and vanilla with big, rich oak and toffee backbone, alongside spices from the barrel and a note similar to that of a root beer.
Palate: Bold cream and vanilla similar to the nose. The vanilla is like a frothy root beer or a fresh cream soda. The oak is assertive and further carried by the proof. It further develops into more dominating vanilla extract and soft spices, similar to a yellow sponge cake. Very drinkable even with the high ABV.
Finish: A big burst of vanilla rushes to the front with a bit of caramel and a huge dose of oak. It transitions into creamed sweet corn for a finish that is seemingly neverending.
Buying Recommendation: Buy it now! I can’t stress to you enough the importance of not leaving it on the shelf and hoping it will be there later. This stuff started at $49.99 and its roughly $65-70 most places nowadays. Don’t let the price deceive you; this is a premium bourbon that can compete with damn near anything on the market.
The Rating Scale
At WBSE we use a true 100 point scale for scoring to allow whiskeys to further differentiate themselves (as opposed to a letter grade scale where 90% of whiskeys fall between 78-92). This allows you to more easily compare scores between different whiskeys. Here is how the scale breaks down:
1-49: Varying degrees of bad
60-69: Better than average
90+: truly exceptional
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