Elijah Craig bourbon needs no introduction. This fabled brand, the namesake of the baptist preacher who is credited as being the first to put his distillate into charred oak barrels, has been in production for nearly 40 years and is a staple for many bourbon aficionados. The Elijah Craig name not only appears on the standard release 94 proof small batch bourbon whiskey, but also on the 94 proof straight rye whiskey, the intermittent barrel proof releases, an 18 year single barrel, and a 23-year single barrel. More recently, Heaven Hill announced that they would be releasing a toasted barrel expression of this award winning bourbon in September of this year.
There is no age statement on the bottle, but after the company dropped the 12-year age statement on the small batch in 2016, the distillery indicated that the small batch would be a blend of 8-12 year-old bourbon. This release is made from the standard Elijah Craig mash bill (78% corn, 12% malted barley, 10% rye) which is finished in a toasted oak barrel for an additional period of time. According to the distillery:
The process begins with fully matured Small Batch, which is dumped and then re-entered at barrel proof into a second, custom toasted new oak barrel designed in partnership with Independent Stave Company. Made with 18-month air dried oak, the finishing barrel is first toasted and then flash-charred using a moderate toast temperature and toast time. An extensive research and development process resulted in a final barrel toast profile bringing forward dark sugar flavors within the wood to create a balance of smokiness and sweetness after months of finishing.
This release comes in at the standard Elijah Craig 94 proof (47% abv) and retails for $50.
Appearance – dark amber.
Nose – the classic Elijah Craig notes of sweet caramel, vanilla, and a bouquet of baking spice are present, along with some stewed green apple and a distinct note of lightly toasted marshmallow.
Palate – that toasted marshmallow note initially transitions to the palate along with a hint of brown sugar, but the spice quickly takes over. There is a sharp, peppery rye spice that develops mid-palate, along with cinnamon and nutmeg. While the palate is generally quite spicy, there are notes of sweet caramel and milk chocolate that help balance the spice notes. The toasted barrel finish imparts a light smokiness that underscores all of these flavors.
Finish – the finish is medium with an average mouthfeel. Caramel and oak are present but the spice really lingers mid-palate. The cinnamon spice note, reminiscent of cinnamon candies, really starts to develop on the back end, along with just a touch of milk chocolate and a light smokiness. The finish is dry and slightly tannic but it does not take away from the overall experience.
Overall – Initially, I was a little skeptical of the Elijah Craig toasted barrel release. Barrel finishing is a growing trend among many distilleries but I have tried several that were very disappointing as the finishing process really took away from the underlying whiskey. This release does not fall into that category.
Heaven Hill took a delicious daily sipping bourbon and finished it perfectly, adding just enough flavor to elevate the product without taking away those signature flavors that define it. The toasted barrel imparts plenty of rich, smoky flavor on the nose that also carries over to the palate and accentuates the warm, spicy profile of the Elijah Craig small batch. The finish was relatively dry and tannic, but I thought the rich, smoky flavors were strong enough to compensate for this weakness in the finish and bring you back for another pour. I think this is a great addition to the Heaven Hill portfolio and I can’t wait to sip more of this delicious whiskey, particularly as the fall weather moves in.