Elijah Craig Showdown
Elijah Craig (EC) Showdown
EC Uncut Single Barrel 9yr old v. EC Barrel Proof B523 v. v. EC Small Batch Toasted.
The Elijah Craig bourbon brand, introduced in 1986 by Heaven Hill, is named in honor of Reverend Elijah Craig (1738/1743-1808). He was a Baptist preacher, educator, and entrepreneur in Fayette County, Virginia and a prominent member of the community. He began distilling around 1786 and is now credited by some, with little evidence, to being the first to discover the beneficial impact of storing distilled whiskey in charred oak barrels. By this time, it was not uncommon to char the inner surface of used barrels so they may be ‘cleaned’ and reused as storage or transportation of a new commodity.
In 1792 Fayette County became Scott County, Kentucky, following Kentucky statehood in 1792 and Elijah became a Kentuckian. He died in 1808, and little is known of the subsequent history (if any) of the farm distillery.
Heaven Hill, which was founded in 1935, adopted the name of ‘Elijah Craig’ for a new brand release in 1986.
EC Single Barrel: VA ABC Store Pick.
Barrel Number: Single Barrel #6232786
Mash bill: All three whiskies reviewed here are believed to share the common Heaven’s Hill mash bill of 78% corn, 10% rye and 12% barley.
Age Statement: 9 years.
ABV: 63.2%. Uncut
Cost: ~$85/750ml bottle.
Color: 1.2 Chestnut Oloroso (Whisky Magazine Scale).
Swirl: Thin but well-defined rim, very fine puckering with a few thin legs developing.
Nose: Very pronounced, Rich caramel, toffee and burnt sugar with some mild oak. Mild confectionary sweetness develops with some baking spices. Impressive.
Taste: Quite light and slightly tingly at first. Caramel/Toffee develops with some chocolate in the background. Additional sips reveal hints of mint with some dry spice. This is a complex and beautifully balanced profile. It is wonderfully mellow, drinking below its proof point.
Finish: Provides plenty of deep warmth without fire and fades slowly becoming a little dry at the end.
Proofing: While eminently drinkable at full strength, adding a touch of water to bring it near to 45-50% ABV relaxes the whiskey, suppressing the caramel a little to allow the complex nature of this dram to be fully experienced.
Verdict: Whoever picked this barrel knew what they were doing. It’s a winner.
EC Barrel Proof: Batch B523
Batch: The latest in the ongoing Barrel Proof Small Batch Releases. This is Batch B, which is the second of the year and was released in April of 2023. Unstated batch size.
Age Statement: The age statement, which used to be consistently 12+ years for these releases, states just 11-years and 5 months for this batch causing some consternation among followers.
ABV: 62.1%. Uncut
Cost: ~ $75/750ml bottle.
Color: 1.2 Chestnut Oloroso (Whisky Magazine Scale).
Swirl: Thin rim with moderate, fine puckering and broad ‘sheet’ flow at first giving way to multiple fine legs running down the glass.
Nose: Seems a little restrained, caramel with some cereal notes, slightly flowery with an alcohol prickle consistent with the ABV.
Taste: Nice body, sweet, but quite hot. Classic deep and rich caramel emerges with a hint of vanilla and carries the whiskey through. This is offset with some dry and spicy oak notes in the background. Nice balance, if a little one dimensional. Certainly nothing is out of place.
Finish: Medium / Long, with little to comment on. A slow fade of flavors.
Proofing: Adding a touch of water to bring it near to the 45-50% ABV level tames this somewhat hot whiskey and allows a more pleasant, relaxed, and smooth experience.
Verdict: While not reaching the heights of some of the prior releases this is a straightforward, high-quality bourbon. If you like classic caramel rich bourbon profiles, you will like this.
EC Toasted Small Batch
What does ‘toasted’ really mean? The basic concept of toasted barrels originated in the wine industry. For whiskey, the use of new toasted oak (either barrels or just staves) as a commercial ‘finishing’ technique for the retail market dates to around 2010, with the introduction of Maker’s Mark 46 using toasted French Oak staves inserted into the maturation barrel. Other early examples include Woodford Reserve Double oak (2012) and Michter’s Toasted Barrel Finish (2014). The EC version reviewed here was first released in 2020.
The idea of using toasted wood is to heat the fresh new wood up enough to split and crack it but not char it, exposing uncaramelized semi -sweet wood sugars and providing a greater surface area for interaction with the spirit. The addition of a light char after toasting is an option said to accelerate the effect of flavor transfer and possibly add some additional filtration.
There is evidence that the taste profile of toasted whiskies is difficult to keep consistent and you can expect some barrel to barrel and even batch to batch variation.
Make no mistake though, this ‘new oak’ finishing technique adds significant oak wood flavor to the taste profile. If you do not like a lot of wood in your bourbon you should stay clear.
Age statement: NAS but assume 8-12 years maturation in a charred oak barrel (the core Small Batch product) and several months in the new ‘toasted’ oak barrel.
Cost: $55/750ml bottle
Color: 1.3 Russet Muscat. (Whisky Magazine Scale).
Swirl: Thin rim with fine puckering, several fatter legs developed.
Nose: Fresh oak tannins, vanilla and confectionary sweetness, some cracker/cereal notes. Slight wood smoke.
Taste: Coats well, almost oily with plenty of body. Dry but pleasant oak offsetting the classic EC caramel- vanilla based profile. Really smooth and well balanced. Hints of mild chocolate and raisins emerge. Less aggressively ‘woody’ than some other double oaked products.
Finish: Medium, fades gently away, leaving a light oak finish.
Verdict: Wow, this is a well-executed ‘toasted’ bourbon and represents great value at $55. Easily competes with other double wood releases in the $60-$80 range.