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Friday, June 30, 2017

Bourbon and Rye Day Friday: Elijah Craig 18 year old 1991, barrel 3416

As recently as Feburary 2015, the average US retail price for Elijah Craig 18yo was listed as $58 on Winesearcher. As of June 2017, the average price is now $303. The 21yo sits at $463, and the 23yo is $507. It's fair to say that most bourbon fans will never get a chance to try any of these long-matured Elijah Craigs. One can blame the producers for raising the suggested retail price. One can blame retailers for marking up the bottles well above the SRP. One can in turn blame the secondary market for pushing the prices so high that producers and retailers are motivated to do their own price gouging in order to not miss out on revenue. Or one can be totally fascinated by the people who are quick to spend $300-$500 on these whiskies, and why they value them so highly.

I'm a big fan of the (formerly) 12 year old Small Batch from Elijah Craig, and their (formerly?) 12 year old Barrel Proof series might be my favorite bourbon on the market. But keep in mind, my palate may be different from yours. I usually find bourbons in the double-digit age range to be much too oaky, but the 12yo ECs were the most consistent exception. In any case, this palate preference is bound to save me some money.

I was lucky to have purchased this sample of the 18 year old before prices went bonkers.

Distiller: Heaven Hill
Brand: Elijah Craig
Region: Bardstown, Kentucky
Type: Straight Bourbon Whiskey
Distilled: March 28, 1991 at Old Bernheim Distillery
Age: minimum 18 years
Mashbill: 86% Corn, 6% Rye, 8% Malted Barley (maybe?)
Alcohol by Volume: 45%

The nose is divine. Toffee pudding, almond extract and molasses. Vanilla bean, mint leaves and whipped cream. There's also a darker edge to it, consisting of saline, wood ash and a medicinal note. At first the palate is pretty forward. Vanilla, salt, furniture polish and strong peppery wood spices. With time, it becomes massively bitter. There's plenty of heat to it throughout, and there is a mild sweetness underneath keeping the whole thing from being ruined by the bitterness. Its finish is tannic as hell. There's also wood smoke, tart lemon candy and a woody bitterness that is slightly milder than the palate's.

WITH WATER (~41-42%abv)
The nose becomes milder. Caramel, vanilla bean, wood char and Rolos candies. Less bitterness on the palate, and still mildly sweet. Tart citrus, corn meal, a hint of salty seaweed and plenty of tannins. The finish is a little sweeter, less bitter. Still mouth-drying. Salty, with some barrel char. Plenty of length.

If one doesn't add water, one can sniff this bourbon all night long. Just gorgeous stuff. That is one of the benefits of long maturation in a rich barrel. But on the other hand, unless you like oaky oak oakness, the palate is difficult. While it's less dreadful than the Orphan Barrels and 23yo Pappies, it's still a fight to dig through the bitterness and tannins. Adding a little bit of water helps correct this issue, slightly, but also mutes the nose's thrills.

While there's nothing I can say to keep people from spending $300+ on something like this, I will say that if whiskey was only for smelling then this bourbon would be a real treat. But whisky is for drinking. If you have no problem with drinking liquid oak, then you'll have no problem with EC18. If, like me, that is not your preference, then perhaps you'll want to skip it, unless you can find it for less than $100 (ha!). Still, if price wasn't an issue, I'd take it over the Orphan Barrels any day.

Availability - this particular barrel is probably sold out, other EC18s are available at a few dozen retailers around the world
Pricing - for EC18s in general: $300 average in US, $230 (ex-VAT) average in Europe
Rating - 83