28 Jul 2015
The Elijah Craig brand, made by Heaven Hill distillery, is a perfect example of both the reality and the myth surrounding the bourbon shortage that seems to make national news every few months. That the regular 12-year-old small batch version is consistently on shelves demonstrates that, at least for the largest distilleries (Heaven Hill also makes Evan Williams and a host of other bourbons), their standard release versions don’t seem to be suffering too much from the aforementioned shortage.
However, more limited offerings, especially older ones, is where the shortage is most evident. Only a few years ago I could walk into a Virginia state liquor store and grab an Elijah Craig 18-year single barrel bourbon for around $45. That release has since been discontinued and instead 20- to 23-year-old versions of Elijah Craig were released that can run over $200, if you can find them. (Elijah Craig 18 is supposed to be introduced soon, but with an expected price many times what it was only a few years ago.)
Although only a 12-year bourbon, Elijah Craig Barrel Proof is another example of the booming market for high-end limited release bourbon. A few years ago Heaven Hill began releasing barrel proof versions of the 12-year bourbon and now a small offering hits stores about three times a year. The suggested price is $50 but, depending on the store, you may see it selling for twice that much.
Each of the eight (and counting) batches is bottled unfiltered at its natural barrel-proof which varies from 128 (the release I sampled for this article) to over 140. I’ve tried a handful of the releases and while there are some variations, they share the most fundamental characteristics.
Even the 128-proof version is a beast with a strong nose full of wood, spice, and clove with notes of citrus. On the palate the high proof is very apparent, with charred wood, spice, vanilla, more clove, black pepper, and dry chocolate. I highly recommend a few drops of water in this, which eliminates the sharpness but leaves behind all the full flavors of this powerhouse. The finish is long and woody.
The appeal of Elijah Craig Barrel Proof is easy to see: Barrel proof bourbons are increasingly in demand, 12 Year barrel proof bourbons are few and far between, and none besides Elijah Craig can be found for $50. Still, I don’t recommend it unless you are certain you like barrel proof bourbons because there isn’t much subtle or gentle about Elijah Craig Barrel Proof.
As for pairings, rich, robust, earthy cigars are needed to stand up to the strong flavors of Elijah Craig Barrel Proof. I’d particularly recommend the Tatuaje Havana Verocu, RoMa Craft Cromagnon, or Drew Estate Liga Privada.
photo credit: Stogie Guys