ELIJAH CRAIG TOASTED BARREL
MASH BILL – 78% corn, 10% rye, 12% barley
PROOF – 94
AGE – NAS
DISTILLERY – Heaven Hill
PRICE – $56
WORTH BUYING? – Sure!
I’m often late to a party. (Not actual parties. For actual parties I’m the geek who shows up on time, which is usually two hours too early. 🎉🤦🏼♂️) The Elijah Craig Toasted Barrel first came out back in Summer 2020. It hit California, where I live, some time after then in early 2021 as I recall. I picked up a bottle but didn’t crack it right away.
I remember reading/hearing a range of responses, from meh to wow. Most seemed to lean toward meh, which put me in no rush to uncork the bottle. Now I finally have. Right away I was astounded that anyone would meh this bottle! At uncorking, the first word out of my mouth was “Well!” The nose was all creamy butter on cinnamon toast. The taste followed with the same, plus toasted oak chips, fire toasted marshmallow, and a bushel of dried herbs. The finish then carried on from the taste. I loved the creamy butter frosting aspect that evolved the more I sipped on it. It wasn’t a mind blower or anything wildly new. It was just perfectly enjoyable.
I generally enjoy Elijah Craig. I’ve loved many barrel proof releases, even more so the well-aged store pick single barrels, as well as the often dismissed (largely due to its price-to-experience ratio) 18 year release. There is a dependable trifecta of oak, caramel, and baking spices with Elijah Craig. As a big fan of oak in its many variations, the brand always provides me with a forest of oaky notes to explore. This toasted barrel outing took that oak straight to the campfire for some roasted marshmallows and I was perfectly happy, reaching for more repeatedly.
So here we are now, just a week after uncorking and a good handful of pours into the bottle. These brief notes were taken using a traditional Glencairn.
COLOR – glowing toasted oranges
NOSE – cream, baking and oak spices, gooey marshmallow, baked lemon tart, sarsaparilla, caramel sauce on vanilla ice cream
TASTE – the oak more forward now, the various cream and marshmallow notes blending together, a touch of that sarsaparilla cola sparkle, caramel like on a baked pie crust
FINISH – some tannic oak, the baked caramel pie crust, more oak notes lingering…
OVERALL – An extra oaky variation on the Elijah Craig theme, paired with fun cream and marshmallow notes I don’t get from other EC outings
Something about this Elijah Craig conjures old fashioned county fairs for me. The marshmallow and cream notes that arise from the toasted barrel finishing have a sweet stickiness to them reminiscent of taffies and candy stores with creaky old wood floors. I’m also getting classic American diner food desserts here—the cream and vanilla and marshmallow and sarsaparilla.
I can understand how the tannic wood notes that come in strong on the finish could be a turn off for some people. I’m not the biggest fan of prominent tannic notes myself. But because they mix with the caramel and vanilla notes to create that sarsaparilla effect, my nostalgia for sloppy root beer floats kicks in.
When I was a kid, I used to walk from home all the way out to Placerville Drive, just off the semi-dangerous Highway 50 that ran through my home town. My destination was a grubby roadside Foster’s Freeze, which opened in 1952. I’d blow the change I’d saved up on a root beer float, then walk back home perfectly happy. If I had more than change, I’d pair the float with deliciously greasy thick-cut fries. And whenever my ship had somehow come in, via extra birthday or holiday money, I’d add a sloppy hamburger—the kind that are impossible to keep together between the buns, not really that good, but great!
So I can imagine this bourbon pairing well with an outdoor picnic. Or with vanilla ice cream. Despite the tannic notes, I still can’t understand the widespread meh response to this experiment. Many bourbon and rye brands are trying their hand at the toasted barrel thing. Wild Turkey devoted their 2021 Master’s Keep release to it. Like anything else, it’s not a guaranteed success. The Wild Turkey release has been getting mediocre reviews, especially considering the price. And the 2020 Michter’s Toasted Barrel Rye was so off-putting for me I eventually traded the open bottle away to a friend for something else.
But to my tastes, Heaven Hill has managed to create a solid bourbon with their particular toasted finishing process. If they put this out again, or make it a standard release, I’ll certainly be happy to give it another go.