Elijah Craig is one of Heaven Hill Distillery’s top bourbon brands. Its namesake is the supposed “Father of Bourbon”—Rev. Elijah Craig was a Baptist preacher in Kentucky in the late 1700s/early 1800s, who was also a distiller and an entrepreneur. Heaven Hill would like you to believe that Rev. Craig was the inventor bourbon, but there is actually no evidence that this is the case. (Never believe bourbon marketing—it’s always dubious at best, and pure fiction at worst.) It’s highly unlikely that there was only one single inventor of bourbon—its creation was an organic process. Actually the history of bourbon is quite fascinating, and there are quite a few excellent books on the subject—I recommend Chuck Cowdery’s Bourbon, Straight as a good place to start. Regardless, Elijah Craig was an important figure in the early development of bourbon, even if his role is a bit overstated.
The standard Elijah Craig bottling is a small batch*, no-age-statement (NAS) straight bourbon. It had been labelled as a 12-year-old for most of its existence, but a few years ago Heaven Hill moved the age statement to the back of the bottle, and then dropped it from the bottle altogether (shortly after assuring customers that they wouldn’t do so). It’s now believed to be approximately 8-12 years in age, although without it being on the label, we have no way to know for sure.
*Note: The term “small batch” has no legal definition or agreed upon industry standard when it comes to whiskey—it is basically just marketing gibberish.
In addition to the standard Elijah Craig Small Batch, there is also a regularly released Barrel Proof version, which is, happily, still a 12 year age-stated bourbon. Elijah Craig Barrel Proof (ECBP) is released in batches several times per year, with each release varying in proof. ECBP is not usually easy to find, although on my recent vacation to Hilton Head Island, SC, my family and I managed to stumble upon a store that had several bottles on the shelf (between my brother, two cousins, and me, we bought out the store’s five bottle supply).
So for this “mega” review to wrap up bourbon month, I’m taking a look at two different batches of ECBP (releases 12 & 14), as well as a store select single barrel version of the Small Batch, which was aged 13 years and bottled at 94 proof for Elixir Spirits in Spring Hill, TN. Let’s see how they taste!
Elijah Craig Single Barrel (Elixir Spirits)
Chocolate malt. Coffee beans. A good, malty milk stout. Vanilla. Cherry cobbler. Oak.
Toffee. Vanilla mint. Oak. Chocolate. Maple syrup. Mixed tropical fruits, with a hint of maraschino cherry. Apricot. Baked cinnamon apples. Creamy vanilla pudding.
Woody vanilla. Fairly dry. Long and lingering oak.
Very nice. Significantly better than normal Elijah Craig Small Batch, based on the last time I had it. Similar characteristics to the Barrel Proof, but toned down (as you would expect from the much lower ABV). At around $30 or so, this is a great value bourbon.
Buy Again? Yes.
Elijah Craig Barrel Proof Release #12
Chocolate. Carob chips. Custard. Hints of fruit—bananas, strawberries, and cherries being drowned in milk chocolate. Burnt caramel. Plenty of oak. Chocolate pie.
Chocolate. So much chocolate! Chocolate-covered cherries. Shoofly pie. Fresh oak… the perfect amount of oak—this was aged just the right amount of time, any more and it may have been over-oaked; less and it would be less complex. Vanilla. Toffee. Black licorice. Old timey candy. Cinnamon and other baking spices. The mouthfeel is fantastic. Big, chewy, creamy, gritty, and mouth-coating. One of the best mouthfeels I’ve ever encountered in any whiskey, bourbon or otherwise.
Loooong. Huge chocolate. Oak. Vanilla. Toffee. Molasses. Cinnamon. Dried fruit.
Simply and absolutely delicious. One of the best bourbons I’ve ever had. Maybe even the very best. Not quite as complex as some older bourbons I’ve had, but it doesn’t matter… the flavors that are there are big, bold, and perfect, and there’s still plenty of nuance to be found.
Buy Again? Hell yes.
Elijah Craig Barrel Proof Release #14 (B517)
Big chocolate and fudge notes. Warm chocolate brownies. Cherry cordial. Coffee ice cream topped with caramel and hot fudge. Toffee. Oak.
More chocolate. Chocolate milk. Oak dipped in chocolate. Raisins and other dried fruits, cherry in particular. Cinnamon-spiced cream. The mouthfeel is nice and creamy, but thinner than ECPB #12—nowhere near as big and chewy.
Long, with more chocolate and oak, although now the chocolate is darker and a little bitter. Cinnamon and spice. Touch of fruit, especially dried tropical fruit (banana and papaya).
Not super complex, but delicious nonetheless. Huge chocolate notes from the nose through to the finish, and the raisins on the palate are a nice surprise. I can’t think of another bourbon I’ve had with such strong raisin notes.
Buy Again? Yes.
All three of these bourbons are great. They are all chocolate bombs, to one extent or another. I consistently get more chocolate from Elijah Craig than I do from any other bourbon.
But of the three, ECBP release #12 clearly stands out when tasted side-by-side. It’s a masterpiece. It might be my favorite bourbon I’ve ever tasted and is now the recipient of the highest score I’ve ever given here on the Mule (but… that’s going to change in a few weeks, as I have a single malt scotch that I’m going to be reviewing which I’ve already graded with a higher score in my notes—stay tuned!). I wish I had another bottle… or 10.
If you ever have the opportunity to buy a bottle of ECBP, do it. It’s an automatic buy for me whenever I see it. And if you’re anywhere near Middle Tennessee, take a trip to Elixir Spirits and pick up a bottle of their Elijah Craig store pick (at the time of this writing, they still have bottles in stock). It’s worth the trip.