ELIJAH CRAIG SMALL BATCH
Single barrel selected by Astor Wines & Spirits (2020)
MASH BILL – 78% corn, 10% rye, 12% malted barley
PROOF – 94
AGE – 12 years
DISTILLERY – Heaven Hill
PRICE – $39 (includes shipping)
WORTH BUYING? – Oh, for sure. Or should I say: Oak, for sure.
Like Wild Turkey, Heaven Hill’s Elijah Craig line gets a lot of attention here on The Right Spirit blog. Whether it’s the rarer 18 Year or 23 Year Single Barrel releases, their Rye or Toasted Barrel releases, or any number of Barrel Proof or well-aged single barrel store picks from their Small Batch line, Elijah Craig always has something to offer. The flavor profile moves in and around a trifecta of oak, caramel, and baking spices, often accented with fruit notes like orange peel or cherry. And like Wild Turkey, though some outings I enjoy more or less than others, the quality is always there.
Once I got a taste for these double-digit aged single barrel releases of the Small Batch line, however, I never turned back to the standard non-age-stated release. The price jump to the single barrels is typically a mere hop. And, I really enjoy the idiosyncratic tour of the oak grove these well-aged singular outings tend to offer. Bottled at the Small Batch release’s standard 94 proof, there’s enough heat to support flavor without singeing things, as can sometimes happen with the hotter Elijah Craig Barrel Proof releases.
Also, the single barrel flavor profiles tend to sway about wildly as the given bottle takes air over time, guaranteeing an ongoing journey that’s familiar but without any fixed destination. Some people might prefer more consistency, and less oakiness. But for me there is consistently enough to be enjoyed that I’m always game to go along for the ride.
So here we are, two weeks after uncorking and nearing halfway through the bottle. These brief notes were taken using a traditional Glencairn.
COLOR – dusty orange with lots of brass and fire glinting in the light
NOSE – classic, with sweet oak, baked cherry under a vanilla dessert sauce or icing, thick dry caramel, dry baking spices
TASTE – sweet oak, long dried oak, caramel, milk chocolate, fresh cream
FINISH – late-day cinnamon roll, dried apricot, oak, oak tannin, baklava
OVERALL – a simple, classic, oak lover’s delight
Though I’d ultimately prefer the fruit notes to be a bit stronger, the sweet and dry aspects of the oak balance one another out in waves, and the cream and candy notes accent the overall dry quality. It’s a dry bourbon, for sure. In the way that some pastries are great when gooey and some when flakey, this bourbon comes across like the latter.
Elijah Craig doesn’t need more advertising. And this particular single barrel doesn’t offer anything that would shock an Elijah Craig fan. So I’m here for the appreciation of a good ol’ standby. When I’m feeling the drier, oakier vibe, I’m reaching for this. When I’m feeling the log cabin or afternoon campfire vibe, it’s this. S’mores on the menu? Pour me a glass of this. Mixing cocktails? Maybe go for the Small Batch standard release instead. You’ll get the oak, but more sweetness.
That said, this sweetly dry-oak bourbon in a Manhattan made with a dark sweet vermouth, orange bitters, and a couple of syrupy cherries? Yes please.